chicken in red wine vinegar sauce

One of dozens of things I’ve learned from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, possibly my favorite food book of all time, is the method of pre-seasoning meat (and fish) with salt. Generously, and often well in advance of cooking.

The thought of not only planning next day’s dinner in advance – and actually starting to prepare it too – seems like one more good intention gone astray. BUT, in this case the “preparation” involves taking chicken out of the package, sprinkling it with salt, putting it back into the refrigerator and forgetting about it for 24 hours. Yup. Trust me, it’s totally doable. And that simple step has a big impact on the outcome.  [Read more…]

a week in tuscany

The long stretch of summer calls for a long tavola.

We need a table outdoors, the longer the better…inevitably guests gather – friends from home, a relative’s friends from somewhere else who thought they’d say hello…and new friends, sometimes with friends of theirs. Add another handful of pasta to the boiling pot, add a plate, a tumbler, find another chair. 

~ Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

I’m thrilled beyond belief to share that I have a chance to spend a week in Vinci, a town in Tuscany – I do! I was chosen as one of 12 finalists in the 2014 DaVinci Storyteller Experience. It’s down to popular vote now; one finalist with the most votes from each of 4 categories will travel to the Chianti region of Tuscany this fall, to spend a week soaking up the Tuscan sun. Along with amazing food, culture…and wine, of course.

I admit I’m not comfortable begging asking for votes (I’ll never run for office…), but that’s what I have to do. Can I tell you that this could be my first trip to Italy? I feel such a strong personal connection to my heritage; it’s really the soul of my cooking and the very inspiration for this blog.  Spending time in Italy is in my life plan somewhere; and not only for eating and drinking wine, but because I feel the need to connect the dots between the culture I grew up in, the food on all the tables I’ve sat around, and the origins of the ancestors I’ve never known.

My great-grandparents arrived in the United States from Italy in the late 1800’s, along with millions of other peasant Italians escaping poverty, disease and failing farmland in the Mezzogiorno. One family story is that my paternal great-grandfather Vincenzo has roots in Arezzo, the heart of Tuscany. After trying his luck in Argentina, he landed at Ellis Island in 1894. He was 23 years old; his occupation “farmer”.

I promise you that if I win and spend a week in the birthplaces of Leonardo da Vinci, the art of the Renaissance, and the cradle of Tuscan country cooking, I will bring it all back home to you. For the next month, I plan to cook and share recipes from Tuscany, for inspiration and good luck.

In the meantime, please think about voting for me as often as you can, along with talented finalists in the other categories. The voting page is on the DaVinci Wine Facebook  page; vote every day until July 31.

Grazie Mille!


photo above by Francesco Carrani

Rejoicing and Revelry – 2009 Wine Favorites


The photo above pretty much sums up what we’ve been up to at my house for the past few weeks – cultivating a heaping pile of wine corks. I usually don’t need much of a reason to pop a cork on a bottle of wine, it’s what I do just about every single day (can someone say Save the Liver?) but this season naturally brings out my celebratory personality. What can I say? I can’t resist a party.

Of course, I’ve been cooking too, along with some of my favorite people in the world. Putting a meal together with my family and friends is almost always a shared endeavor. We plan, shop, chop and cook together, wine glasses in hand. While I admit to being a total blog slacker, my sister-in-law L has been so much better at documenting our festivities on her blog – go have a peek.

After going through my pile of corks, I thought it was time to share a short list of some of the best wines I’ve had the pleasure to taste this year.

I usually try to keep my wine spending budget under $15, but a few of my faves exceed that. Needless to say that I think they’re worth the splurge. Happy New Year!

Gruet Brut, Blanc de Noirs or Rosé (New Mexico) $15 I admit that I have tiny problem – if there’s no sparkling wine in the house I start to get a little shaky. Nothing makes me happier than the promising sound of a cork popping out of a bottle of bubbly. This pick is priced right, and delivers the complex, crisp feel of something much more expensive.

Azur Rosé (California) $20 I hesitate to tell you about this Provencal-style wine since there are only a few hundred cases produced, but I fell in love with it when I first tasted it at Robust, my neighborhood wine bar this past summer. It’s a beautiful shade of pale salmon and tastes fresh and delicious, with a mouthwatering balance of fruit and acidity – perfect for sipping when it’s hot and sticky. Summer days are over and the wine is most likely sold out, but keep a look out for the upcoming 2009 release.

Felino Malbec (Argentina) $17 Paul Hobbs styles intense, high-end California wines, but has recently collaborated with a few South American winemakers to produce a handful of beautifully made – and much more affordable – wines in Chile and Argentina. This really is a great bargain – a big, rich and velvety red.