Monday, May 23, 2011


Bologna (Italy) is a light hearted, happy city with friendly people. Referred to as “La Grassa” (the fat one) Bologna sits at the center of Italy’s culinary heartland, Emilia Romagna. It is a city that serves up abundant food in the dozens of cafes and trattoria that line the streets.

Aside from the ancient University, Italy’s oldest, Bologna is best know for an enviable variety of pasta and most famously, its wonderful ragù---the rich meat sauce we know as Bolognese.

A rich ragù is a culinary wonder….tossed with silky homemade pasta, it is a marriage made in heaven.  The Bolognese claim a true ragù cannot be made anywhere else. That may be so but, with a little care, we can come very close.

Four things to remember in order to produce a delicious ragù :
  • The meat must be sautéed just long enough to barely lose its raw red color. Do not try to brown it.
  • The meat must be cooked in milk before tomatoes are added. This tenderizes the meat and adds a delicate sweetness. 
  • The sauce must cook at the barest simmer for a good 3-4 hours. Do not try to rush this. The longer the better. 
  • The best pasta for ragù is fresh pasta and the best fresh pasta is tagliatelle…long flat ribbons of pasta similar to, but denser than, fettucine. 
      Bolognese Sauce
       (4 generous portions)
      3 TBS sweet butter

      3 TBS extra virgin olive oil

      ½ cup finely diced onions

      ½ cup finely diced carrots

      ½ cup finely diced celery

      2 cloves finely minced garlic

      2 links sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing and crumbled

      ¾ LB ground chuck –or-- ¾ LB piece of chuck roast, finely minced

      1 tsp salt

      Freshly ground pepper to taste

      1 cup dry white wine

      ½ cup whole milk

      ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

      ½ tsp fresh thyme, lightly chopped

      1-28 ounce can San Marzano peeled tomatoes, crushed with their juices


      • Select a heavy deep pot (I use my Le Creuset). Set it over medium low heat and add the butter and oil.
      • When the butter has melted, add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 3 mins.
      • Add the celery, carrots and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, or until the vegetables are just soft.
      • Add the meats and the salt and cook just until the beef looses its red raw color.
      • Add the wine, turn the heat to medium high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine has evaporated.
      • Add the milk, nutmeg, pepper and thyme, turn the heat down to medium and cook until the milk has evaporated. Stir frequently.
      • Add the tomatoes and their juices and stir well.
      • Turn the heat down to keep the sauce at the laziest simmer, just an occasional bubble
      • Cook, partially covered, for 3-4 hours. Stir occasionally. Taste and correct for salt.
      To Serve:
      • Bring 4-5 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 1/2 TBS salt and gently drop in enough fresh pasta for four generous servings. Stir with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil, count to 5, then immediately drain the pasta.
      • Spoon some of the ragù in the bottom of a warmed platter or serving bowl. Add the drained pasta. Pour more sauce over the top, add 1 TBS softened sweet butter and and good handful of freshly grated Parmesan. Toss & serve without delay. Mangiare e godere.

      Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

      Wednesday, May 18, 2011

      In 1971 Hard Rock Cafe opened its first location in London in a former Rolls Royce showroom. A char-broiled burger cost 50 pence (about 80 cents). Londoners were fascinated by the noisy American music and the all American burgers. Fast forward forty years and Hard Rock is global and I’m just learning that this all American legend had its start across the pond. 

      To kick off a year of anniversary celebrations, Hard Rock has rolled out a bevy of new menu options boasting kicked up flavors and dialed back calories. To introduce the new foods in the house, Hard Rock Atlanta threw a Media Dinner for those of us (supposedly) in the know.

      The food was very good. It was carefully and creatively presented. The servers (one has been there 15 years!!) and the bartenders were pros. Lovelies Dina, Jennifer and Elise treated us like stars (thank you so much ladies).The Chef came out before each course to give a quick summary and answer questions. 

      Now, if a smiling, charming, personable Chef equals excellent food we were definitely dining on superb. Chef Anna is a college educated attorney from Argentina with Italian parents and a passion for what she does. It shows. She was a delight to listen to and I am convinced the force of her lovely personality made the food taste better. 

      (This brings to mind a scene in Like Water for Chocolate when Tita discovers that her emotions---love or sadness--- could affect her food and the people eating it)

      Okay, on to what we ate....some highlights:

      Chopped Roma tomatoes, basil, shaved Parmesan on ciabatta. Light, fresh tasting and a perfect bite.

      Smoked Salmon crostini---
      Lovely slices of silky orange salmon with a tiny bit of dill. Bring me the whole fish next time and I'll sit in the corner and be happy.

      Chicken Lettuce Wraps---
      Lots of finely sliced raw veg with minced chicken, garlic, and ginger all wrapped in a crispy lettuce leaf. Peanut dipping sauce. The dipping sauce was definitely the star with this one.

      This next one gave me a laugh which was actually a laugh at me. It's called the Anti-Cobb salad and I wrote Aunty Cobb until someone saw my notes. I'd like to call it Aunty Cobb but that won't tell you what this is. A lightened version of the traditional Cobb with grilled chicken, fresh grapefruit, fresh apple, sliced strawberries, mango, avocado, dried cranberries and a lighter than air dressing. Anti-Cobb, Aunty it whatever you will but do make sure you order it.

      The Legendary Angus Burger---

      A burger cooked slightly pink, a slice of rosy red tomato, gooey melted cheese topped with a fat crispy onion ring set inside a warm soft roll. The all American burger at its very delicious best. I am pleased and relieved that Hard Rock's legendary burger is still a very good burger indeed and has only been gilded by the addition of that lovely crunchy ring of deep fried onion . My only complaint? I wanted more of those  rings. One will just not do.

      Sweets are usually not my favorite. I'm a carbo loader (pass the bread and butter!) and will usually pass on dessert. Not this time. A white plate was put in front of me. On it, four tiny glasses sporting four tiny spoons, each glass filled with not too sweet versions of chocolate mousse, strawberry cheesecake, creme brule and chocolate peanut butter topped with chopped fresh peanuts. Accompanying the tiny glasses was one tall martini glass holding fresh berries, fresh mint and a dollop of fresh whipped cream. My favorite? The creme brule. I just enjoyed the idea of creme brule with a perfectly caramelized crust presented in a glass. But I also liked the strawberry cheesecake and the fruit and the mousse.....

      Hard Rock.....ya don't look a day over thirty! Thanks for a great time!

      A note:

      Hard Rock Cafe is committed to a wide variety of philanthropic causes and charities around the world. As they celebrate their 40th year they will be launching new initiatives and events. For information on their charities and upcoming events,  please email Atlanta Hard Rock Cafe at

      Hard Rock Cafe on Urbanspoon

      Monday, May 16, 2011

      Auntie Florence's Soup

      Auntie Florence died a year ago this June at the age of 98. She was the last of my older relatives and my Mother’s sister.  With a jolt I realized there was no generation ahead of me anymore. I was overwhelmed with a sudden urge to retouch all the lovely things she had given me and make sure all were safe and accounted for.
      Here follows, a bit of her lovely:
      Auntie Florence’s wonderful Mushroom and Barley Soup:
      • 4 cups of cold water
      • 1 beef bouillon cube (I use Knorr’s)
      • 1 cup of barley (use real barley & rinse it well, checking for stones & grit)
      • 1 large tomato, chopped with skin and seeds
      • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
      • 1 stalk celery with leaves, cut in 1/4′s
      • 3-4 carrots, peeled and cut in 2″ pieces
      • 2 pints of mushrooms (1 crimini & 1 button) sliced
      • 2 TBS ketchup
      • S&P and garlic powder to taste (easy with the salt until the bouillon cube is dissolved)
      Add everything to a heavy duty soup pot. Bring it to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, partially covered, for at least one hour or until the barley is tender. Add more cold water if needed. This soup should be fairly thick.

      Sunday, May 15, 2011

      I've Had a Craving....

      .....for Thai chicken in peanut sauce. It hit me earlier this week and won't go away....I've made it twice in the last five days. So rich and creamy and sort of spicy with crunchy peanuts on top.  It cooks up quickly and is nicely warming with the cool weather we're having. Here's my version.

      Thai Chicken in Peanut Sauce
      (Gai Pad Nam Tua)
        serves 4

      • 1# skinless boneless chicken breasts (2 large breasts) cut into strips approx. 1/2" X 3"
      • 3 green onions, with the green part, thinly sliced (put aside one for garnish)
      •  1 TBS curry powder
      • 1 TBS finely minced garlic
      • 1 TBS finely minced ginger
      • 1 1/2" X 3" strip of lemon peel  (use a vegetable peeler) cut into 1/3's

      • 1 tsp Chili paste
      • Peanut oil
      • 1 17 oz can coconut milk
      • 2 TBS peanut butter
      • 2 TBS roasted peanuts crushed                
      • 1 tsp fish sauce
      • 2 TBS brown sugar
      • Optional: 1 cup fresh spinach, cut into chiffonade (pile the leaves, roll them like a cigar and slice).

      • In a porcelain or glass bowl, mix together green onions, garlic, ginger, lemon peel, curry powder and chili paste. Add chicken and toss to coat. Set aside for 20 minutes. 

      • Heat wok or saute pan to medium high. Add peanut oil (just enough to coat the bottom of the pan), chicken mixture. Stir fry 3 minutes or until chicken loses pink color.

      • Add coconut milk, peanut butter, fish sauce and brown sugar. Bring to a boil, turn heat down to low and gently simmer for 3 minutes or until sauce begins to thicken and chicken is cooked through.

      • If using spinach, add and simmer until spinach is just wilted, about 1 minute
      •  Serve over jasmine rice. Garnish with chopped peanuts and reserved green onions.

      Monday, May 9, 2011

      Serendipity and My Friend Bill

      Every once and a while you stumble across a perfect day. Not because it was planned or had anything in it that said spectacular but one that simply evolved. One that involved a couple of bottles of wine, some great conversation and a few found ingredients for a meal. Shaken together with a friend who you adore and voila! Perfection, nirvana, happiness.

      Try this: an omelet made with organic eggs paired with arugula salad dressed with sherry wine vinaigrette, garden herbs and lovely organic tomatoes. Warm a small loaf of home made bread and set with sweet farm butter. Serve on your porch with the fan set on lazy. Drink, yak and eat.

      Sunday, May 1, 2011

      It's The Bacon and Nothing But(tie)

      Years ago, a friend and I found ourselves cold and hungry on a windy English beach. There was little there but a weatherworn hotel and an ugly old food truck that had just pulled up. Ugly, old or not, the smells from that truck said ‘food’ and we followed our noses and everyone else and queued up to order.

      As we waited our turn, we noticed that there was only one kind of sandwich available and it came with a mug of strong hot tea. Beggars are not choosers and we took what the truck offered. We settled on a nearby rock and tucked into our bacon butties and sipped our English tea.

      I thought about this yesterday as I watched CNN’s Anderson Cooper (broadcasting from London) take a tentative bite out of his first bacon buttie. His twisted face told a disapproving story and I was shocked (really!) that he didn’t like what he was tasting.

      Now we know the English are not as a rule well known for their cuisine. But there are some things that they do really, really well and one of them is the bacon sandwich that they call a buttie.

      Close your eyes. Picture a warm soft roll that’s been lightly buttered. Stuff that roll with a pile of not too crispy, not too chewy, thick cut bacon. Take a bite. Take another. No tomato, no lettuce. Just a pile of bacon, a little butter and bread to transport it to your mouth. Now that is a whole lot of Yum.

      The Bacon Buttie

      (makes 2 large sandwiches)

      1 pound of smoked, thick cut bacon (called streaky by the English)
      2 soft rolls
      Softened sweet butter
      Optional condiments: ketchup or steak sauce

      Lay the bacon out on a low sided, silpat or foil lined baking pan
      Put the pan into a cold oven.
      Set the oven to 400°
      Bake for 20-25 minutes until the bacon is barely crispy.
      Drain bacon on paper towels.
      Lightly butter the rolls and pile on the bacon.