Shrimp Ravioli in Tomato Veloute Sauce

You know my frequent, hand-wringing column, "Foodie Dreams, Kitchen Nightmares"? You know, those moments when I have a hankering for something delicious, visualize it in my mind, can almost taste the blend of flavors, and then just completely crash and burn in the execution? As terrible as those moments are--the blackened pots and pans, the empty stomach, roommates curiously wondering what insanity has posessed me--when the opposite happens, when I create something beautiful and delicious and fantastic, it can be simply bliss.

Witness my dinner last night: a sweet, creamy tomato sauce enveloping fresh-made ravioli stuffed with sauteed shrimp and ricotta. Granted, it wasn't perfect--my sauce was lumpy, my ravioli sprung a leak--but in taste and execution I was remarkably pleased. Although the dish was an adaptation of something I had in a restaurant (Basso56's lobster crepes in a tomato-chive veloute), without a recipe and only a dim idea of what I'd need I came up with something quite delicious and rather simple (took about an hour in total to make).

Let me walk you through the process.

Like I said before, I was blown away by the rich flavor of my dinner at Basso several weeks ago and dreamed about recreating it (the restaurant itself being too fancy and far away for a mid-week pop-in). Luckily, since it has a menu online, I could see the basic ingredients and structure. This was helpful, but brought up a few problems: 1) where could I buy lobster?, 2) how do I make crepes?, and 3) what the f is "veloute sauce"?

My little neighborhood does not stock lobster, for whatever reason, so I skipped that ingredient and went instead for shrimp, which I tend to swap in for lobster in various recipes. I've been wanting to make crepes for ages, but without a reason--or 15 people to help me eat the leftovers--the dream has mostly died. Instead of crepes I decided to go with ravioli, since I could easily get wonton wrappers and got the added bonus of stuffing myself with ricotta and parmesan (I bought 4 different kinds of cheeses yesterday... it was nuts...).

Finally I confronted the riddle of veloute sauce. A Google search told me it was defined as one of the four "mother sauces" by chef Antonin Careme in the 19th century (which, hello, told me nothing). A little more research and I discovered that despite the French (Dave was like "What are you making?!"), veloute sauce is quite simple, being mostly flour, butter, and light stock (such as chicken, veal, or fish). I knew I wanted tomato veloute (also called Aurora sauce, which really sounds quite lovely), so I also picked up some plain canned tomato sauce and, just in case, a 1/2 pint of cream.

With a little help from the Reluctant Gourmet, I prepared the veloute sauce by browning the butter and flour and slowly adding the chicken stock (I am not ballers enough to make my own stock, although I want to try. Sigh. Someday...). It got lumpy, which was a problem, and the next time I think I would strain before adding the tomato sauce. Pour in a little sauce, taste, pour in a little more, taste, and finally I figured that since cream makes everything better, it probably couldn't hurt to add a little of that, either. The result was astounding: almost sweet in its smoothness, it was creamy and flavorful, and thick without being heavy. I looooved this sauce and would happily drown every meal in it, but paired with my ravioli, it was truly sublime.

Because I wanted a clean feel to the shrimp, I just sauteed them in a little butter without any seasoning (a white wine reduction also could have worked well). As soon as they were pink, I removed them from the pan and cut them into tiny pieces. Mixed with a little ricotta, parmesan, pepper, and nutmeg, the ravioi filling was meaty and spicy and cheesy in all the right measures (also, can I get a what what for ricotta? I love this stuff, and love how a simple spoonful is so magically cool and light). I wrapped everything in jumbo wonton wrappers, dropped it in boiling water, removed, and enjoyed. It was just so so so good. A Kitchen Dream, for sure.

This recipe makes 3-4 jumbo ravioli, enough for one big or two smallish servings.

1 dozen medium-sized shrimp
1 cup ricotta
1 tablespoon grated parmesan
2 teaspoons pepper
2 teaspoons nutmeg
6-8 large wonton or eggroll wrappers
4 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cup light stock (chicken, veal, or fish)
1 cup tomato sauce (unseasoned)
2 tablespoons cream
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, set the stock to simmer
In a larger saucepan, simmer 2 tablespoons melted butter over medium heat, taking care not to burn it
Add 3 tablespoons flour and lower heat
Mix butter and flour until well toasted
Slowly add light stock and stir well
Simmer for 10-15 minutes (a skin may appear on the sauce. Either skim off or mix in)
Add 1 cup tomato sauce and stir well
Add 2 tablespoons cream and stir well
Let sauce simmer, covered, over very low heat
Peel and devein shrimp and sautee in remaining butter over medium-low heat
When pink, remove from heat and chop finely
Set a large pot of water to boil
Add ricotta, pepper, and nutmeg to shrimp, stirring well
Wet one side of a single wonton wrapper and lay on top of another
Place a spoonful of the shrimp-ricotta mixture in the center.
Using a brush or your finger, wet down the edges of the wrapper and fold over both wrappers (so you have an extra-thick ravioli)
Crimp the folded edges with a fork
Drop ravioli in boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes
Repeat until mixture is finished, pour sauce over ravioli, and top with grated parmesan

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Happy Moanday: Busy Busy!

Well I have been scrimping on the posts, thanks to the summer uptick of work dropping onto my little lap, and sleep/food/rest deprivation has been putting a damper on updating the blog. And this week is no exception! With the holiday this weekend and people out on vacation, I've been takin' care of business, but I'm tired.

Part of that is from the cah-razy weekend I just had, where Dave and I ping-ponged between New York and New Jersey and back again. We visited my company picnic, gourging ourselves on free food and drinks (it was fun! We shot arrows and Dave beat someone in foosball and practiced surfing). I tried something quite delicious: Jamaican coco bread. It was so lovely, like eating a warm pillow made out of bread, and I think I'm going to try to replicate this week.

We (I) also went to a baby shower, thrown by Dave's sister-in-law's family. They are Italians and know how to cook and so I parked myself by the appetizers and didn't look back. Eventually, stuffed with delicious food and cake (luckily Jenna didn't go with a baby-shaped cake), we headed to Steve's house to watch soccer (the less said, the better). I fell asleep immediately and stayed that way until an unhappy Dave dragged me to the car and home. I got home so sleepy, warm, and lazy that I skipped dinner for a bowl of sherbet, turned on my fan, and fell asleep.

And now? I am ex-haus-ted, but still have to feed myself! It's a short week this week, and Dave will be coming to see me Wednesday, so I might do something light today and tomorrow, then something nice and hearty Wednesday night. Coco bread is a strong possibility (maybe with some soup?), and I've been hankering for some homemade ravioli for a couple weeks now. And, of course, it's the Fourth of July this weekend! Bring on the rocket ice pops, red-white-and-blue pie, and potato salad. I'll be at the shore with Dave's family, trying to avoid a sunburn and not be so completely stuffed with delicious food that I can't roll over (not like that's happened before...).

Plus, the sun is out! Hooray! Read more!

The Incompetent Chef: Sweet Potato Duel

DING DING!! DING DING!!! LAAAAADIES and GENtlemen! Welcome to the main event! The rumble you've aaaaall been waiting for!

In this corner.... the challenger, standing 5'3", 1 year of cooking experience and not a single grease fire.... Kendall "the Krusher"!!!!

Aaaand in this corner.... the undefeated champion, standing 4", a member of the convolvulacaeae family.... sweet "not so sweet" potato!!!

Yes folks, I am getting back on that sweet orange horse and trying my hand, once again, at sweet potato fries
(those of you new to my long travails trying to make these can get caught up here). This recipe is courtesy Divya of Dil Se, which I'm trying out (aside from the fact that it is awesome) as a part of the Taste and Create blogger series, wherein bloggers share and blog about other people's recipes (Divya made my soft pretzels). To capture every exciting moment, I live blogged! Let's get in on the action, shall we?

6:40 - oven turns on, but I'm not sweating
6:43 - how are you supposed to know when the sweet potato is clean?
6:45 - this peeler is so unappealing (hahahahahaha)
6:48 - this is where I always get confused: how thick the fries? 3/4 inches? ooooh I am nervous
6:50 - sweet potatoes cut, my abs not so much
6:54 - interrupted shortly when my roommate came home, bringing me a copy of Lizzie's new book! sweet potatoes lie unnoticed
6:59 - in oven! moment of truth...
7:03 - mmmm goat cheese....
7:08 - is that smoke I smell? already?
7:13 - smoke smell getting stronger...
7:20 - time to flip!
7:22 - they don't look too terrible! Of course, they still have another 15-20 minutes to cook.
7:35 - ok. Phew. Taking them out of the oven...
7:40 - looking good, looking good... First taste... Ooh! Delicious! Hooray!
7:41 - roommate gives thumbs up. I feel vindicated. I have tamed the orange beast.

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Chicken's Got the White Stuff

Since summer is the indisputable time of the barbecue and since I don't have a barbecue and since Dave and his roommates were throwing a barbecue party, I leaped at the chance to try out one of my many filed-away recipes. While Dave was up to his wrists in hamburger meat (I think he put rosemary in there--it was so so good) and Kevin charred up some hot dogs and Rita deep-fried wings, I prepped a very delicious white sauce chicken recipe I found on The New York Times.

The recipe, from a Bitten column, was a two-parter: a brine in which to soak the chicken before grilling, and a white sauce for covering and dipping the chicken after grilling. Brining poultry is all the rage around Thanksgiving, but I am not such a foodie to take over a meal like that for my family, so I let my curiosity fall by the wayside until this past weekend. I always liked the idea of brining, which helps meat retain moisture and tenderness as it's grilled (what's the difference between marinating and brining? nooo idea, but one definitely sounds cooler). This recipe called for a brine soak for an hour, not a problem as it gave me full run of the kitchen before anyone else.

I prepped the sauce at that time too, and it was incredibly simple and cheap to make (everything all together, all the ingredients + 8 breasts of chicken, was about $25). With the chicken soaking and the sauce cooling in the fridge, my role was mostly done. An hour later, I popped out to the grill, had Dave toss everything on, and then sat back. After everything had cooked, it got cut in half, soaked in sauce, and set out for hungry people to devour.

And devour they did! I was really quite pleased with the final result. The chicken was incredibly succulent and tender, and even the leftover chicken several hours old had a sweet moistness that tasted fresh off the grill. The sauce really added the magic, though. Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q white Sauce, it was peppery without being overpowering, smooth without being thick and creamy. It didn't quite coat the chicken and usually left you with a puddle of sauce on your plate, the better the excuse to go back for more. I also ended up dipping my burger in the sauce and the taste was truly cinematic--fiery and tangy mixing beautifully with the robust deep flavor of the hamburger.

I was pleased with the end result and the speed with which people returned to the chicken plate and kept hearing people ask "Oooh, this is so good--what's on it?" I was crowing over my fine culinary skills when someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked what was in the sauce.

"It's a mystery!" I said, smiling.

"Didn't you just say it was a New York Times recipe, from Bitten?"

"Um... It's a mystery!" I chirped.

He did not look impressed, and I thought maybe he had a food allergy (right?) and so explained what was it was made from. Mystery destroyed, still delicious.

1 cup apple juice
1 cup water
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
8 boneless skinless chicken breasts

In a medium bowl, combine the brine ingredients and mix well.
Add the chicken breasts, making sure they are completely covered.
Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Remove the chicken breasts from the brine and wipe off the excess salt.
Preheat an outdoor grill to 400 degrees.
Place the chicken breasts on the grate directly over the heat and grill for 5 to 6 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and firm to the touch.
The internal temperature of the chicken breasts should be 160 degrees.
Submerge each chicken breast into a bowl of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q White Sauce.
Remove from the sauce and serve.

2 cups mayonnaise
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup apple juice
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and blend well.
Store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

The picture is from Bitten, as people ate mine so fast I couldn't take any pictures! It did look remarkably similar, though
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Happy Moanday: Rain, Rain Go Away

Are you there, sun? It's me, Kendall. I know it's been a long time since we've hung out, what with my early work hours and all, but please don't take it personally. Where you been at? Maybe let's hang some time and grab a sno-cone?

So it has been raining continuously and New York and everything in it has finally floated off into the sea, woohoo. My hair is in a constant state of "frizz" and my Google calendar weather outlook is a steady block of "rainy, cloudy, cold." Hello summer?

I spent the weekend in Boston again, saying a final farewell to Cambridge and all my favorite places and people. I had my last meal at Border, where I almost cried I was so happy. Oh! The piping-hot nachos, the sweet bite of the margarita, the tender pastelitos, the smooth and subtle chimichurri steak... I savored each and every bite, knowing it would be maybe months (!!!) until I could try it again.

Dave and I managed to get to Walden Pond for a--very fast, very cold--swim before we headed to his house for a very wonderful barbecue. His roomies bought a big, beautiful, grown-up grill which they christened with a healthy mix of burgers, hot dogs, and chicken. I tried a quite fantastic chicken recipe--to be revealed tomorrow--and made my funnel cake, to great acclaim. People ate and chatted and drank beers and chatted and eventually we all ended up in the living room, playing Guitar Hero in between shots of tequila (which really does a number on dexterity!). The best part was that the party started about 5pm, meaning we were all conked out at the (in my opinion) reasonable hour of 11:30.

The next day we lolled around the house, got breakfast at Hi Rise, and then walked down to the square for my train. I had a final goodbye cupcake from Sweet (dark chocolate, vanilla bean buttercream, oh heaven), and then hopped off to South Station for my last-ever bus ride home to New York (one thing I'm not going to miss).

All in all it was a lovely weekend, to be followed up by a busy week and then another, busier weekend!

On Saturday my company is having its giant corporate picnic, by which time hopefully New York will have lost its unfortunate resemblance to Atlantis. If Dave and I emerge from our likely food coma (we have yet to learn to pace ourselves at that thing), we'll be going down to his parents' house for a baby shower (me) and car pickup (him).

This means I'm staying in New York and can I get a good dinner! (what what!) It has been ages since I've properly cooked something, as empty Mac n Cheese boxes litter my kitchen. My stomach is in "woah girl" mood, meaning I want something warm and comforting (a Toniatti-sauce + meatball sub sounds about right) but it's also nearing 100% humidity, meaning I want something cool and light (chilled shrimp in a light butter sauce?). I may try to recreate a quite fantastic meal that I had a few weeks ago, which consisted of a lobster-filled crepe in a creamy tomato sauce, or I may get home and, exhausted, fall back on a bowl of chili (not literally).

I've also been paired up with Divya, of the very lovely Dil-Se, for this month's Taste-and-Create event, wherein bloggers make recipes from each other's blogs and then post about it. I love Divya's blog--which leans slightly towards authentic Indian recipes--and was having a hard time deciding what to make until I saw her post on sweet potato fries. Oh yes. Them again. Maybe third (fourth, eighth...) time's the charm?

So, maybe crepes, maybe shrimp, maybe chili, and definitely sweet potato fries; Dave on the weekend, baby shower, company party, and sunshine?
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Spotlight On: Fine Lines

Those of you who are roughly between the ages of 20-30 and female and were the type of lonely child who dreamed about life on the frontier or tundra or shipwrecked beach more than whatever inane boy band on the cover of Bop!, those of you out there would be glad to learn about the healthy mix of nostalgia and faux-paintings of sad/exasperated/lovestruck teenagers that is "Fine Lines," Jezebel's back-from-hiatus column devoted to all things Young Adult.*

Written by Jezebel contributor Lizzie Skurnick (also, "Lizzie Skurnick"? Most adorable name ever. Whenever I read the column I imagine a smiley 80's style 12-year-old with big crimped hair, crushed neon socks in high tops, and a thousand bracelets), the column focuses on a different YA book a week (past selections include: The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, Jacob Have I Loved, and Homecoming). Lizzie breaks it down for the readers, usually in the kind of breathless excitement reserved for such things that you are unabashedly passionate about. And, between plot summaries and thoughtful character musings, Lizzie helpfully points out the details that make a book leap off the page and stick in your mind (stomach?).

Some might argue books like the Little House series and Julie of the Wolves would have been insti-classics regardless of the lavish descriptions of mud-packing and igloo-making, to which I say it is precisely this level of detail that, for me, tattoos these books on my heart. If you don't get hungry reading how Miyax, aka Julie, a 13-year-old who has run away on the Alaskan tundra, makes owlet stew, as "she sliced her birds into delicate strips and simmered them slowly and not too long. ... Then she drank the rich juices and popped the tender meat in her mouth," well, I just don't even want to know what kind of person that makes you.

These are the kind of books that make me imagine, seriously, where I can get a pig's tail and how to get it on a stick and roast it slowly while fighting over it with my (older, prettier--oh jealousy!) sister, a la Little House in the Big Woods. While in school we focused on plot development (the rise, the climax, the falling action), truly these were the things that made the books seem real to me (and is it any surprise that there is a whole collection of Little House-inspired cookbooks? I would do anything for one of Ma's homecooked Johnny Cakes on a cold winter morning).

Without getting too B.A. in Literature on you (finally found a use for it!), the food scenes often comprised pivotal moments in the characters' lives:
--Miyax uses the traditional Eskimo skills her father taught her to find and prepare food on the tundra, skills that, she later finds out, he has come to reject by the end of the book
--Sarah (of A Little Princess), reduced to poverty and hunger, uses the money she finds on the street to buy beautiful, sugary hot-cross buns and chooses instead to give them to a starving girl, thus learning an important lesson in charity, selflessness, and survival
--And Mary's (The Secret Garden) development as a person is handily charted by the growth of an appetite and her ability to appreciate healthy hunger and good, rich British porridge

I've listed the most foodie Fine Lines columns below, but they're all worth a read. And! If you do like them, Lizzie is currently penning a book based on the column, and you can sign up on a list to be alerted when the book is available. Until then, check out the column, set your tastebuds to "salivate" and lose yourself in the gluttonous magic of literature.

A Little Princess: Reversal of Four Buns
Julie of the Wolves: The Call of the Wild
The Secret Garden: Still No Idea What A Missel Thrush Is
Little House in the Big Woods: "I Play With A Pig Bladder Like It's A Balloon"

*At the risk of fueling gender stereotypes, I presume my male readers' knowledge of such golden stuff is woefully inadequate. It's not too late! I encourage you to raid your sisters' reading shelves, as the lessons gleamed from such strong women as Harriet the Spy and Dicey Tillerman would make anyone a better person.
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Happy Moanday: Buh-Bye Boston

Well, it's finally come to this: after four years of living in Boston and 1 year of vicarious living in Boston (and at least 18 round trips on the bus), Dave and I will spend our last weekend in Boston together with at least one of us qualifying as a resident. I'm sure I'll return to see big brother and friends, and I will always carry the small hope that I'll return to Cambridge one day (maybe to live in a cute little 200-year-old house with a little fence and pretty roses in front and a dog! maybe?). Still, it's a little bumming (good-bye Border, Herrell's, Charles River picnics, Walden Pond bike rides, sunbathing on the quad, and ooohing and aaahing over cute Cambridge houses), so Dave and I have been steadily working through our favorite Boston things.

Last weekend we did something few Bostonians would ever admit to: we took a Duck Tour. The Duck Tours are usually supremely ridiculed for blocking traffic and annoying pedestrians by shouting things at them (Dave once got heckled for trying to parallel park a suburban on a narrow, 300-year-old street. Sadly, he had a New Jersey license plate, which might as well have been a target). But, I thought they might be fun and they got good reviews at Yelp, so we meandered over to the Science Museum and bought some tickets. We were unfortunately saddled with one of the very few tour guides who decided to give a rudimentary history of Boston (by contrast, the next tour was headed by a 6'3" man in a leopard-print Viking costume). 80 minutes later we were bored, tired, and filled with more contempt for the Duck Tours.

After that we stopped by the Gay Pride Parade with Rita, Kevin, and Eileen where we feasted on funnel cake (nowhere near as good as mine) and crowd-watched (crowd-watching at a Gay Pride Parade is really quite wonderful). From there it was only a short walk to the New England Aquarium. We got there in time for the penguin feeding and the turtle/shark feeding (turtles and sharks, not turtles to sharks). Then we had a romantic dinner at the Daily Catch (in true Daily Catch fashion we were wedged between two other couples). We both had their famous black pasta which we both inhaled like it was sweet, sweet oxygen. We headed back to the square for a movie, stopping at Herrell's for some ice cream on the way (burnt sugar and butter with hot fudge, Oreos, and whipped cream).

The next day was mostly culinarily-uninspired, except that we finally, finally(!), dropped by Sweet, the new cupcake shop in the square. I got one of their red velvet cupcakes, which was just be-yond delicious and so, so beautiful. The red was like the brightest, boldest red I'd ever seen in a cupcake (most red velvets are darker and/or slightly brownish). I wonder how they got it so blindingly red. Maybe they added coloring to a white cake, rather than a yellow cake... In any case, I wish I'd had my camera to take a picture (brand new lovely camera was, unfortunately, left behind at Governor's Island. Sigh.), although it's doubtful I would have put off eating it long enough for a picture.

Our last weekend is pretty much unscheduled, except for a trip to Walden Pond and maybe a visit to Top of the Hub for dessert one night. It will be sad to say good-bye to Boston and all the wonderful adventures (and wonderful meals) we've had there. Still, as Dave likes to say, we'll soon be lucky enough to meet another big, beautiful city: Chicago!

All that is to say: I have no idea what I'll be cooking this week! Steaks, maybe, or crepes, or possibly some soup. (or Boston Baked Beans? Boston Creme Pie? New England Clam Chowda?) Read more!

A Brief History Of: Sherbet (not sherbert)

While ice cream will always melt my heart (get it?), my absolute favorite cold-dessert delight is sherbet.* Specifically, rainbow sherbet, in a sugar cone, topped with rainbow sprinkles. I'm not sure what it is about this that so completely enthralls me, but I can't get enough of it--simple, sweet, colorful, and refreshing. Exactly what I want to eat on a hot summer night, or afternoon, or morning. Or, you know, right now.

When I was a kid, my mom would buy a giant plastic container full of sherbet, which I would steadily work through during the entire summer. A few days ago it dawned on me that I am, technically-speaking, an "adult" with actual purchasing power (hello consumer stimulus!) and that I too could buy myself a huge tub of sherbert (not too much power needed--the whole thing cost about $3.99). And when I say "huge," "giant," I am not kidding: the container is the size of a large dinner plate and about 6 inches deep. It is currently living in my freezer, where it is like a hulking, intimidating Russia surrounded by cowering Hawaiis of Haggen-Das.

Sherbet is not to be confused with sorbet, at least in my opinion (we'll win over those pesky FDA snobs some day...). The main difference is milk fat content. Both are made with water, sugar, and fruit juice or puree, but sherbet is also mixed with dairy products, having milkfat of less than 3%. While the Food and Drug Administration maintains that sorbet and sherbet are essentially the same things (a tricky distinction for interstate food laws--no joke), if you've ever sat in a restaurant or at an ice cream truck and wondered what was the difference, there you go.

The origins of sherbet stretch all the way back to Roman days, when cah-razy emperor Nero decided to serve some delicious cool dessert for a banquet. He had his genial slaves carry buckets of snow from the mountains, then doused the ice in honey and wine (this is the same guy who danced while Rome burned. Foodies are so weird). According to Encarta (and isn't that a blast from the Windows 95 past. Remember "MindMaze"? That game rocked. But I digress...), "sherbet" has origins in an Arabic word, sarbat (also the origin of the word "syrup"), and was originally a popular Middle Eastern drink. It eventually worked its way through Persian and Turkish route before ending up in Europe (English: sherbet, French: sorbet, Italian: sorbetto).

Legend has it that sherbet made the jump from drink to frozen concoction when a glass of the stuff was accidentally chilled. In America, ice cream goes back to at least the 1700s, with Dolly Madison introducing the dessert to the White House in 1812. One of the first recorded recipes for sherbet in America dates back to 1905, when Mrs. E.H. Williams submitted her cranberry sherbet recipe to the Los Angeles Times. According to Wikipedia, rainbow sherbet (my fave) was invented by Emanuel Goren in the late 1950's, while he worked at Sealtest Dairies in Philadelphia. Goren developed and popularized the three-nozzle system that gave rainbow sherbet its characteristic marbleized color and flavor.

Now, sherbet is an American staple, sold in ice cream parlors and hot sidewalks around the country. Its bright colors and creamy texture make it perfect for popsicles or recreating charming children's characters in an alarming fashion.

*Sherbet is commonly misspelled with an extra "r," as "sherbeRt," possibly because, when translating "sorbet" to English, Americans were more comfortable pronouncing words ending in -bert (Herbert, Robert, Albert...) than -bet (....). This note is not meant to be condescending because I, obviously, also misspelled it until caught by spellcheck. Stupid American English.
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Mamma Mia Pizzeria

Pizza, pizza, pizza. What's left to be said about this delicious, ubiquitous food? Found across the country, in hundreds of varieties, pizza has the kind of universal appeal that makes it a favorite of picky kids, quick eaters, craving students, and high-brow chefs.

I love pizza, as probably most people on this planet do, and probably eat it once a week (if I'm being honest). I love the giant, cheap slices that can be found on almost every block in New York City and the fancy, exotic concoctions favored by Cantabs. Growing up in New Jersey, I experienced pizza with cheese so thick and ropey that you could eat a whole slice with a string of cheese still connected to the box. I'm more partial to thin crust--crispy and light--but I could also appreciate the Chicago version, with a deep, pillowy crust giving way to a frantic mix of cheese, toppings and sauce, so dense you could eat it with a spoon.

One of the best things about pizza, in my opinion, is their incredible versatility. I am not usually an adventurous eater, but I love the absurd and creative pizzas. In my pizza-eating tenure, I've come across (and enjoyed) pizzas topped with macaroni and cheese, fried egg, blue cheese (not all those at once), and something called the "meat lover's pie" which featured sausage, bacon, ground beef, steak, pepperoni, and a death wish (it was so, so, so ridiculously good).

While I am always up for dropping by a pizza place for a slice (I like to determine the closest place to get a pie whenever I arrive somewhere new), I've also had a long and happy history with making my own. My family are regular customers at a local bakery that sells "pizza setups"--pre-baked pizza crust, sauce, cheese, and a variety of toppings. From preschool, I can remember the anticipation of a Verilli's pizza: the trip to the bakery, where I'd usually get a free cookie; waiting impatiently for the oven to heat up; stealing handfuls of the fresh cheese. When we finally pulled it from the oven, you had to eat it with a fork and knife it was so hot and fresh (newbies would regularly burn their mouths).

I still make a Verilli's pizza whenever I go home, but living without it, I'm slowly learning to adapt. Being fond of baking in general, I liked the idea of baking my own dough and choosing my own toppings, so I attempted to make my own pizza dough, to be accessorized with a variety of delicious toppings.

One of the things I hate most about a recipe is setting down to prepare it and then reading something like "Cover with a towel and let sit for 12-24 hours." I've mentioned before about how I prepare and eat my dinners based off how I feel that day; making something a day in advance can be a dicy proposition, as I'm left with something I feel only lukewarm about. But! I resolved to keep the pizza oven burning in my heart and whipped up the dough one Sunday night.

Making it wasn't too different from my other baking experiences--with naan and dinner rolls--except this time I used my fancy mixer to do the grunt work. The recipe (from The New York Times) called for 4-6 minutes of continuous mixing, and when I finally pulled it from the mixing bowl it was so lovely, soft and stretchy, that I wanted to shape it into a bed and snuggle into it. But instead I formed it into a bowl, covered with a towel, and let it sit.

Actually making the pizza was incredibly easy, as it just required that I stretch out the dough (I bought a new pizza pan, with little holes in the bottom to give it a spotted crunchiness. It was good) and cover with whatever toppings I wanted. For my first pizza, I went with a classic Margarita: tomato sauce, fresh mozzerrella, and fresh basil. It was pretty good, and looked pretty enough to paint a pickcha of. The only problem was the pizza dough was still a little chewy on the inside when I pulled it from the oven. I fixed it with the next pizza (the dough makes enough for one big one or two medium-sized ones), crisping it in the oven for 5 minutes before adding any toppings. I tried one of The New York Times' Recipes for Health: an arugula, goat cheese, walnut-topped pie (I swapped out the mushrooms). It was so so good and practically screamed "I will make you feel better about yourself." I ate it, and I did.

3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.

The morning or the day before cooking, prepare the dough.
Combine the flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer.
Stir in 1 1/2 cups cold water and olive oil until a rough dough forms.
Set the bowl on the mixer and, using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed for 1 minute.
Increase the speed to high and beat for 4 to 6 minutes, until it becomes a wet and vaguely menacing mass. (If it forms into a ball, lower the mixer speed to medium-high. If not, stop the mixer to scrape down the sides once.)
Scrape and pour the dough onto a heavily floured work surface.
Keeping your fingers, the countertop and the dough well floured, fold one dough end over the other so that half the floured underside covers the rest of the dough.
Let rest for 10 minutes.
Cut the dough into 2 equal pieces.
Shape each piece into a smooth ball.
Place each ball on a well-oiled plate, generously dust with flour and loosely cover with plastic wrap.
Let the dough rise until it is at least doubled in size, about 3 hours.
Punch the dough balls down, shape into rounds and place each in a quart-size freezer bag.
Refrigerate dough between 1 and 24 hours.

1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
1 ball fresh mozerrella, sliced thin
15-20 leaves fresh basil
1 teaspoon fresh pepper
2 teaspoons oregano
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees
Roll out the pizza, using your fingers and the heels of your hands, onto a pizza pan
Lightly brush with olive oil
Cook for 5-10 minutes or until the crust is very lightly golden and stiff to the touch
Cover with tomato sauce, mozerrella, and basil
Sprinkle with pepper and oregano
Cook for 15-20 minutes or until mozerrella is melted
Remove and let cool before serving

1/2 recipe whole wheat pizza dough
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound mushrooms, trimmed, cleaned and sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
4 ounces goat cheese
4 walnuts, shelled and chopped
About 1 heaped cup arugula leaves
1/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon walnut oil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with a baking stone inside, if available.
Roll out the dough to fit a 12- to 14-inch pizza pan.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy skillet, and add the mushrooms.
Cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are tender and moist, four to five minutes.
Season with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat.
Crumble the goat cheese into a bowl, add the walnuts and lightly toss together.
Brush the dough with 2 teaspoons of the remaining olive oil, and top with the mushrooms.
Sprinkle on the thyme, and place in the oven.
Bake 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven, sprinkle the goat cheese and walnuts over the crust, and return to the oven for five to 10 minutes, until the crust is nicely browned and the cheese has softened.
Remove from the heat.
Toss the arugula with the remaining teaspoon of olive oil, the balsamic vinegar and the walnut oil.
Scatter it over the pizza, and serve.
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Happy Moanday: Hunger Pains

Another weekend, another weekend of delicious food. Dave, Steve, and Jenna were all in New York this weekend, which gave me an excuse to go out to eat (which I do, like, nevah). On Saturday, Dave and I had a picnic on Governor's Island, and then all four of us met up for pre-dinner drinks at Grey Dog Coffee in Union Square. After that, we had dinner at Basso56 (recommended by Rebecca), which was just so fantastically delicious we all left round and happy. I had smoked buffalo cheese and lobster-filled crepes in a creamy tomato sauce (just typing that is making me salivate) and finished things off with some tri-colore gelato. So amazing.

On Sunday, Dave and Steve ran off to watch soccer while Jenna and I went flea marketing (I bought a cat-shaped salt shaker, in a bid to start off a collection of spice rack chotchkeys). With no reservations for brunch, we decided to just wander around until we found some place good, and I told Jenna my tricks for picking out restaurants: stay away from tourist-heavy areas (like Times Square), avoid places with lots of families (who care more about convenience than quality), and look for places populated with cops, businesspeople, or people sitting by themselves with the newspaper. Jenna pointed out a little cafe-bakery near the market and, as soon as we saw three people buried in the Sunday Times, we knew we were at the right place. It was charming and cutely decorated, and the tattooed hipster working the counter fried us up some waffles in minutes. We were about to leave when Jenna passed their impressive display of cupcakes, and, deciding that it was fate, we bought two.

Little did I know that my funny honey would surprise me later with a huge Oreo cupcake from Crumbs--it is a pleasant day indeed that involves two serendipitous cupcakes. Dave and I came home from Manhattan to make some salmon and salad (I used my favorite balsamic-honey-orange glaze recipe), and I collapsed in a happy food-wine-cupcake coma. It was really very nice.

But! Now I'm back to reality, and the reality of cooking for myself. I'm feeling something big and filling, after my disappointing foray into chilled melon soup. Chicken tikka masala sounds pretty good, or possibly fancy mac n cheese. I'm also experimenting with grilling on the pan and in the broiler, to, I believe, good effect. Last week I made hamburgers and fries that were simple, delicious, and much healthier than anything you'd get at Burger King. This week I'm headed back to Bostontown, where Dave and I are planning a touristy weekend full of all the fun Boston things we don't usually get to do (duck tour, aquarium, Daily Catch)--should be fun! Read more!