Archives for February 2011

Maple Cinnamon Oatmeal Mix

In his Opinionator column last week, Mark Bittman laid out a good rant on how McDonald’s managed to screw up their ” ‘bowl fulla wholesome‘ also known as…oatmeal”.

I appreciate that he’s become somewhat of a food-politics populist over the past few years; and I really like that when Mark Bittman opens his opinionated mouth, the mediasphere responds quicker than popcorn in a microwave.

Two days after Bittman’s piece ran,  McDonald’s responded via their Twitter feed: “It doesn’t make sense to compare McDonald’s Fruit & Maple Oatmeal to a candy bar. Here’s why.”

The link leads to a nutriton facts page on the McDonald’s website, where you can read in bullet points how full of wholesome McD’s bowl is.

Yes, you can order oatmeal from the drive-through without fruit and sugar and get a reasonably nutritious breakfast on the run, but what you get will still be processed McDonalds-style with “11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen”.

My solution: Make your own oatmeal mix. It takes almost no time and you’ll know exactly what’s in it. Here’s the version I make.

Spaghetti Boom-Boom

Al Forno is an Italian restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, opened in the early 1980’s by two RISD students, Johanne Killeen and George Germon. The couple had traveled to Italy to attend art school and eventually fell in love – with each other and with Italian food.

Among other things, they’re credited with helping start the craze for wood-fired pizza in this country; in their attempt to recreate the thin, smoky crusts they’d devoured in Rome, George got the wild idea to throw pizza dough onto the grate of an open fire. It worked liked a charm.

I was working at a restaurant around the corner from Al Forno a few years after they opened. One busy Friday night a fellow waiter brought in some of the pizza for us to try, wrapped in foil and hot off the grill. It was nothing like the traditional pie I’d grown up with; it had a chewy, pita-like crust that was infused with the flavor of charred woodsmoke and held a light hand with toppings; it was just simply strewn with a few crushed tomatoes, fresh basil leaves and some creamy blobs of milky mozzarella.

I would never turn my back on or lose my taste for my favorite childhood pizza, but that first bite of grilled pizza was unforgettable and instantly addictive.

Johanne and George are also known for their simple, rustic pasta and they wrote a cookbook, On Top of Spaghetti, devoted to it. I was teased by a recipe name in the book for hot, spicy spaghetti topped with vegetables – La Bomba – or as George calls it, Boom-Boom.

I love all kinds of spice and heat in my food, so anything called Boom-Boom promised to set my mouth on fire in the best way.

The “Bomb” in this recipe comes from red hot chilies, a typical ingredient in food from the Campania region. Along with harissa, I’ve recently become very attached to my little jars of Calabrian chili sauce.

My own version of Boom-Boom spaghetti is made with thick hollow noodles called bucatini, and also includes fennel, both fresh and in spice form, and a fresh sheep’s milk cheese from Missouri’s Green Dirt Farm.

Of course, you can use regular spaghetti and whatever Pecorino available to you (any Italian cheese made with sheep’s milk). Enjoy the blast!


Spaghetti Boom-Boom

Serving Size: 4 - 6 servings


  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more to taste
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, smashed with back of your knife and chopped
  • 1 medium eggplant, peeled and diced
  • 1 very small fennel bulb, stems trimmed (save the fronds for garnish); thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon Calabrian chili sauce (or 2 teaspoons dried chile flakes) - or to taste
  • 2 small zucchini, unpeeled and diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed
  • 1 pound imported Italian spaghetti
  • Handful fresh basil leaves, lightly chopped
  • Fresh sheep's milk cheese or grated aged Pecorino


  1. In a large saute pan (12-inches), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the salt, onion, garlic; stir and cook until softened, 2 or 3 minutes, stirring a little.
  2. Add the eggplant and fennel bulb and stir around to mix. Cover the pan and cook 5 minutes, stir around, recover and cook another 5 minutes or until the vegetables are softened and lightly golden in color.
  3. Stir in the chili sauce, zucchini and ground fennel and cook a few minutes. The zucchini should turn bright green but don't let it get too mushy by cooking too long.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the bucatini in a large pot of water salted with 1 tablespoon salt. Reserve some of the pasta water before draining.
  5. Add a little of the pasta water to the vegetables. Serve the pasta in a large bowl tossed with the sauce. Garnish each plate with some basil, cheese and chopped fennel fronds.


Inspired by a recipe in On Top of Spaghetti

Spice-Roasted Apples & Whole Grain Pancakes

On Sunday mornings, I savor the quiet time before the house wakes up, before the day gathers into a momentum that’s not necessarily of my own making.

Before the dog jumps on me demanding food and a walk, wilting plants show me they need watering, the kitchen needs to be put back in order from cooking the night before. At any moment the kids will wander in sleepy-eyed and hungry, wanting a special weekend breakfast…

Making and eating a leisurely breakfast once a week feels does feel good – there’s no hurry to get anywhere or do anything. Isn’t that what Sundays are all about?

I love to treat the kids with their favorite breakfast food, like pancakes and waffles, but making the same buttermilk pancake recipe loaded with chocolate chips has worn a tread of boredom.

Not for them, and especially not for my son, whose personality requires that daily rituals be writ in stone and performed in exactly the same way, every day and all the time.

I rocked his little world today when I went off-road.  No chocolate chips. Instead some spices, golden flaxseeds, oats and sweet roasted apples. Yum, right?

I guess I just needed to make myself happy, because my stealth-health-mom recipe switch didn’t go over well with him.

Oh, well. I should have known better. At least I have a new recipe to share with you, and who knows, warm sweet apples might nudge away the chocolate chips over time.