Time to Think Outside the (Lunch) Box

Although it seems like summer vacation began yesterday, with a blink of an eye, our children have been loaded back on the bus and are beginning the new school year.  With that, comes after school activities, various appointments and of course, homework.  Every day seems like a race to the finish and early in the morning, without fail, we face a dreaded challenge…school lunch.

Kids eat with their eyes first. So, if they open up a lunch box that looks good, they are much more likely to dig in. From a Bento box that keeps one food from touching the other to a thermos that keeps last night's dinner warm - you really have to think outside of the (lunch) box to keep kids healthy, happy (and fed) .


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I Left My Heart In San Francisco: Trattoria Contadina’s Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

Trattoria Contadina is what every Italian restaurant should aspire to be.  Family owned for thirty years, passed down to the grandchildren and a dedication to maintaining a high quality dining experience with locally sourced ingredients.

On my eat feast in SF, I had to check out this delicious spot. The pastas are fresh and delicious and the Veal Saltimbocca melted in my mouth.  However, the true stand out for me, was a special that night, the Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms.  Zucchini flowers stuffed with a delicious ricotta filling and then lightly battered and fried.  They were crunchy on the outside and cheesy on the inside. 

Luckily, my mother grows zucchini in her garden and supplies me with a steady supply of blossoms.   So, as soon as I got home, I got to work on recreating this simple but delicious dish.

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Sweet Tooth Friday: Lonely Chicago Pie

One of my favorite movies is The Waitress, starring Kerri Russell.  It’s a film about a young girl in an abusive marriage, who waitresses at a diner. She is so depressed, but is able to shine creatively with her pie making.  She hates her husband and her life -- creating pies keeps her sane.  With each conflict that occurs, she makes a pie in its honor. 

I relate to the character in the way she uses her imagination to create delicious food.  She lies in bed compiling ingredients in her head for her next pie.  I also do this when creating recipes -- working through a dish in my mind before I step into the kitchen to make it.  I picture ratios, ingredient combinations and method over and over until I get it right.  Once I feel happy with my idea, I begin to create.  I believe my best dishes are the ones I cook, in my head, prior to practice.

Towards the end of the film, she makes ‘Lonely Chicago Pie.’  In this scene, she stands by the stove melting dark chocolate, mashing berries and sprinkling cinnamon sugar. Not only did I love the way this dish was portrayed; it gave me a serious hankering for pie.  So, like the character, I found myself working this recipe through my head for the next few days.  How much chocolate?  I needed it to be dark chocolate, because it’s a “lonely pie.”  I added some booze to the berries to represent her sadness and of course, I wanted to add sugar, like she does, to the base, because no matter dark a day may seem, maybe there is a little hope and sweetness somewhere beneath.



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Social Saturday: Bonnie's Muffaletta

While I was in SF on my eating marathon, I received an email from Bonnie Penders, the wonderful mother of my friend Katie.  I was in SF and the Penders’ clan was in Galveston, TX enjoying some family fun in the sun.  Bonnie emailed me for some help.  She had eaten a delicious sandwich and wants to recreate it at home, so she called upon me to figure it out.  Based on what Katie told me about her mother, she is an A+ nonna.  She loves to cook and teach her EIGHT grandchildren about good food.  She is a master gardener that donates herbs from her garden to a local homeless shelter.  Bonnie knows the benefit of a fresh meal and shares with those less fortunate.  Martha Stewart could learn a thing or two from Mrs. Penders!

Therefore, this email made me all sorts of happy.  It was exciting to be called upon to figure out a delicious recipe for a friend.  If you have a cold; call the doctor.  If you eat a great sandwich, call me!  Your food advisor, Heirloom Kitchen, to the rescue! Needless to say, I was quite honored to be given this task.

Coming up with this recipe was so much fun.  I did a little digging, a lot of research and came up with what I think is the perfect replicate of Maceo Spice & Import Co’s famous Muffaletta sandwich. 

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Wild Salmon Day, Teriyaki-Style

Today is Alaska’s Wild Salmon Day and I’m celebrating with some delicious salmon delivered straight from Anchorage, Alaska -- where more than ninety percent of the USA’s wild salmon supply comes from.

Salmon is a wonderful source of Omega-3 fatty acids, extremely high in protein and even a good source of potassium.   A true super food! In addition, because it is such a sturdy fish, it stands up to delicious marinades, spices and sauces so the recipe possibilities are limitless.  Grill, smoke, sear, bake or broil, there is nothing you can’t create with this wonderful fish.

One of my go-to weeknight meals is Salmon Teriyaki; a delicious soy based sauce on top of quickly seared fresh, wild Salmon.

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I Left My Heart in San Francisco: Farmer Brown's Chicken & Waffles

I LOVE BRUNCH!  Is there anything better than sleeping in on a Sunday, rolling out of bed and heading out for Mimosas or maybe a Bloody Mary with some breakfast and lunch all rolled into one?  Before our trip I searched best brunch in SF and Farmer Browns was on every list. 

It’s a Soul Food spot in the heart of the city and I figured it would be nice to have a big, decadent meal to hold us over until our late dinner reservation.  It also had a great menu that included all the classics; cheesy grits, biscuits with sausage gravy, collards and pecan pie.  I had my heart set on some Chicken and Waffles.  When we arrived at 10:45, and the line was down the street, I knew I was in for a good meal. 

Now, service was super slow and the place was packed but if I’m truly judging, just on the food, it was really, really good.  The biscuits were fluffy and salty (we got a extra plate gratis since we waited so long).  The cheesy grits were super cheesy and very addictive.  And, the Chicken and Waffles were absolute Soul Food perfection.  The chicken was crispy, juicy and perfectly cooked.  The waffles were yeasted, light, fluffy and the perfect match to the chicken.  It was covered in golden maple syrup and I couldn’t have been happier.  The best part was I knew already knew the two recipes I would combine to recreate this amazing meal.  Paula Deen’s Fried Chicken recipe with Marion Cunningham’s Raised Waffles

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I Left My Heart in San Francisco

New York City, for me, is my first love - my ‘high school sweetheart.’  It holds so many memories and when I am there I can’t help but feel energized and happy.  Just like when in love for the first time, I never thought any other would compare. 

Recently, I have had the pleasure of making a few trips to San Francisco and I am falling in love all over again.  Now while it will never replace my first love, SF has great weather, that laid back California vibe and, of course, THE FOOD!

Touring San Francisco through my stomach was so much fun, and very filling.  I had some amazing meals and really enjoyed figuring out what made them so good.  And, while I am not a restaurant reviewer, I would like to give you my humble opinion of the places I visited. Each week I’ll present a restaurant I ate at, my favorite dish and how I recreated it in my own kitchen. So, invite you to come on this little adventure with me...maybe you will fall in love too.


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From Nonna's Kitchen: A Trip to Mumbai

Recently, I had the immense pleasure of cooking with Khurshid Mehta, a lovely Indian woman who immigrated to the U.S. in the 80’s with her husband and two young boys.  She was born and raised in Bombay (now Mumbai) India.  She is a proud Parsi woman and shared many stories of Parsi traditions and food culture. An example of immigrant work ethic and perseverance, Khurshid would work all day and would come home to cook delicious food for her family. 

Khurshid taught me an immense amount about Indian cooking in our short time together. One of the delicious recipes I learned in my Heirloom Kitchen while cooking with her was for these turkey kebabs (little meatballs.) They make for a great appetizer or as a snack with your favorite beer.


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How-To Tuesday: Caramelized Onions

One good recipe to have in your cooking arsenal is caramelized onions.  Sounds simple however, onions, when you cook them low and slow, pack quite the flavor punch.  They truly transform from crisp and white to incredibly soft, dark brown deliciousness - making them the perfect complement to pretty much anything - omelets, burgers, Philly cheesesteaks and more. 

So, grab a cast iron skillet and a handful of Spanish onions and you will see how a little work creates the most delicious condiment. So good you’ll cry! (Ok, this might also be from slicing so many onions, but still!)

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#Thursday Trend Spot: Fruit Toast, The Next BIG Thing?

In the age of Twitter and Instagram the term ‘trending’ has become quite a, well, trend.   We all are trying to keep up with what’s the latest and greatest in fashion, sports, Kim Kardashian and even the foods we eat.  Every month when numerous food periodicals show up in my mailbox it seems like everyone is cooking the same thing at the exact same time.

Lately it seems that every blog, food site and Instagrammer has come up with their version of two very simple ingredients - Avocado. Toast. Well, if you are still eating Avocado toast for breakfast you are SO last year my friend.  The new breakfast, lunch and dinner staple is still toast but now with fruit.  And, to make it even more fancy, make sure to slather some ricotta cheese on the bread first. 

While I hate jumping on any bandwagon, I must admit, its pretty good.  And, it’s nice to take a break from egg white omelets. Get creative, change up the fruit, cheeses and even the canvas - just make sure to toast the bread up to a golden brown because the higher you can pile the toppings, the better!

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Sunday Supper: Pork Milanese

Once summer rolls in, we hit the grill hard.  Eating on paper plates, al fresco dining is fun and relaxing. On Sunday though, I still like to make a nice, sit down meal inside.  Old traditions die hard I guess and I don’t feel right unless I lay the tablecloth out and make something a bit special to enjoy at the end of the week. 

Tonight I'm making Pork Milanese.  The term ‘Milanese’ means the meat is pounded paper thin and then dipped in egg and Italian bread crumbs.  Italians love this dish and they make it with chicken, veal, pork and my mom will even do it with thin sliced steak!  It’s lightly fried in olive oil and then spritzed with lots and lots of lemon.  Serve it on top of a light arugula salad and I’m telling you, it’s downright heavenly.

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Social Saturday: It's All About The Sides

Everybody loves a backyard BBQ - cold drinks, grilled meat and most importantly, some yummy side dishes.  Unlike when you eat inside and the main dish takes center stage, at a BBQ, everyone is always excited to see what you’re serving to compliment the grill.

My  Veggie Soba Noodle Salad is always a true crowd pleaser and I serve it at my annual summer party.  It’s a fantastic blend of Asian flavors, barely cooked veggies and crunchy peanuts over soba. I will warn you, it’s a bit of chopping, blanching and boiling but once you take a bite, you’ll forget all the grunt work and dig in.

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Sweet Tooth Friday: A Trip to NOLA Beignets

I love to travel.  One place that is definitely on my bucket list is New Orleans.  I know the food scene there is amazing and for me travel = food. When I do, one of my first stops will be Café Du Monde.  They are world famous and serve, ‘the best’ beignets.  Beignets are a little square of fried dough, served hot with powdered sugar. 

As you can gather from this website, I’m a big fan of trying recipes that are indigenous to a particular area of the globe so when my daughter requested that I make them, I was very excited to comply. Whether you have made it to New Orleans or not, give these little powdered squares a try.  It will feel like Mardi Gras in your mouth when you take a bite!

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Super Mom Meals: Mickey Mouse Cupcakes

This week was my darling boy’s 3rd birthday.  Just like many boys his age, he loves superheroes, legos, and of course, Mickey Mouse.  We brought the kids to Disney this year and the love affair with the big mouse grew to epic proportions.  So, for his birthday I decided to make Mickey Mouse cupcakes. 

His preschool is probably the last school on the planet that allows outside food, so for birthdays we can bring in cupcakes for the kids to share.  The night before the big day, I put on my Super Mom cape and tried to make the best Mickey Mouse cupcakes ever. 

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Sweet Tooth Friday: Super Mom Strawberry Shortcakes

My son’s preschool provides a snack for the children every day.  It’s either graham crackers, goldfish or some other simple treat, but a few of us decided that we wanted to do something a little better.  A schedule was made and each day, one of the moms brings in something extra for the kids to eat.

Yesterday was my day so I decided to put out my A game.  Dante and I got up early and made mini strawberry shortcakes.  A simple, sweet biscuit, pureed strawberries and some whipped cream and viola, the best snack ever was created. 

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