July 31, 2012

Cooking with Fire: Baba Ganush

by Jen Wanous

Smokey, savory, so satisfying: Baba ganush. The guest star of this week’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) was eggplant. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to make this Middle Eastern specialty at home.

Please the eggplant directly on your range top. If you have an electric stove, you can use the broiler.

Rotate the eggplant a few times until they are well charred, about 10-15 minutes.

Let cool.

Peel all the skin/black parts off and discard the top stem.

In a food processor, add 1/4 cup tahini; 2 tablespoons lemon juice; 1/2 teaspoon salt; a pinch of cayenne; and one clove of garlic pressed.

Add the peeled eggplant. As the food processor is running, drizzle in 1/4 cup of olive oil.

And there you have it: baba ganush in three easy steps and only five ingredients. Enjoy with pita bread, chips, or on a sandwich. The flavors meld well after sitting over night- not that it will last that long!

Ingredients

6 small eggplant

¼ tahini (sesame paste)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

½ teaspoon salt

1 clove garlic, pressed

1 pinch cayenne

¼ olive oil

*This was originally posted on Snap Guide which is a cool app for your iPhone on how to do things. The founder went to the same culinary school as I did. Check it out.

June 30, 2012

Fear Not Formal Dining

by Jen Wanous

As an event planer and a culinary event planner at that, I have had the pleasure of dining at some of the best restaurants in the country. Not only am I enjoying the food, but often times, I am evaluating the food to decide what will be the best option for the guests of the event. One time, I had the option of choosing a dish with the most buttery, yielding cannelline beans or a close second in flavor with deeply rich morel mushrooms. My personal choice would have been the beans, but thinking of 700 people eating beans in one small space made me opt for the mushrooms.

These “tastings” are certainly perks of the job. I recently attended a James Beard dinner with a chef from California, Sondra Bernstein of the Girl and the Fig. When I entered the room and saw the intricate table setting before me, I thought back to how intimidating this used to be for me. Growing up in Southern California, we were more likely to have a barbeque at the beach than a formal dinner at a restaurant.

Learning what fork to use, what to do first and in general how to be polite has been an on-going learning experience. I have gathered some tips along the way that I would like to share. The next time you are in a fine dining situation, you can focus more on the food and less on what you should or should not be doing. Make Lady Grantham proud.

Silverware Simplified: Start on the outside and work your way in (see the diagram below).

Napkin Know-How: as soon as you sit down, unfold your napkin and place it in your lap. When you get up, and you’re coming back, leave your napkin on your chair (some fancy places will fold it again for you) and when you’re all finished, place the napkin to the left of your dish.

Silent Service Code: When you are finished with your meal, place your knife and your fork together, between 10 and 4 o’clock. This tells the server that you are finished and they can clear your plate. (See the picture below.)

Hot Hands: When drinking wine, hold the glass by the stem. (You don’t want to heat up the wine with your hand.)

To Wait or Not to Wait: When you are served hot food, it is more polite to eat it when it is served then to wait for everyone to be served first. The chef has prepared your food at a specific temperature and to wait and have it cool down is an insult. If it is cold food, you should wait for everyone to be served to then eat.

Diagram credits: Tanya Hutchison

May 28, 2012

Choice Cuts and Ethical Decisions

by Jen Wanous

With the thermometer (or iPhone) pushing 90 for the first time this year, I welcomed this holiday weekend with sunglasses and flip-flops. Ahh…summer is on its swift way. Last year, on Memorial Day weekend, I posted about pork and the different cuts of meat you can use for grilling. Turns out, this has been one of my most popular posts. (It’s hard to contend with the most popular search term: “How to Make a Vagina Cake.”) I wanted to share more details on the different cuts of pork. Below is a diagram and a recipe for Rosemary Pork, but not without some ethical reflections first.

While looking for this diagram of pig parts, I found it hard to scroll through the various images. There is an innate moral contradiction to being an animal lover (and dog owner) and supporting the slaughter of certain other animals. We live within a ethical hierarchy of consumption (as long as we’re not in Vietnam). I recently attended a local food conference in which this exact topic was discussed. I was on board with most of it, but then someone started talking about how you shouldn’t eat the roots of plants (carrots, onions, garlic, etc) because doing so kills the plant. I might have chuckled out loud. I certainly found it “tweet” worthy but overall, it reminded me that there is a wide spectrum of ethical consumption.

I’m not completely on the mindless side of the spectrum and yet every time I order a taco, “Carnitas!”  inexplicably pops out of my mouth. Well, there is a reason: pork simply tastes good. I negotiate this ethical space by decreasing the frequency and portion size of the meat I eat. I often spring for humanely raised meat, too.

Humanely raised pork is available at some farmers markets, Whole Foods, and can be sourced here: http://www.localharvest.org/. In the recipe described below, the meat can be charred on the BBQ. Happy grilling season: may your side dishes be plentiful and your meats flavorful!

Rosemary Pork

This recipe is from chef Jay Weinstein’s cookbook: The Ethical Gourmet. Serves 6.

The key to cooking meat that has great impact in small portions is to make each morsel an intense flavor and texture experience. Brining and marinating are two techniques to achieve that.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon brown sugar

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 bay leaf

2 teaspoons cracked black peppercorns

2 thick rib chops (at least 1 inch thick, about 6 oz each)

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

¼ cup olive oil

Procedure

Make brine by combining the salt, brown sugar, half the garlic, the bay leaf, and half the peppercorns with four cups cold water. Submerge the pork in this brine and allow to cure for 4 hours.

Puree the rosemary and olive oil together in a blender; stir in the remaining garlic and peppercorns. Remove the chops and discard the brine. Pat the chops dry, and rub the rosemary oil into them well. Marinate at least 30 minutes.

Heat a stovetop grill, barbecue grill, or heavy-bottom pan over medium heat. Grill or sauté the chops until the internal temperature reads 150°f on an instant read thermometer, about 4 minutes per side. The meat should be slightly pink and very juicy. Set aside and rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting away the bone and slicing the chops thinly on a bias. Serve as an accompaniment to salads, grain dishes, and pastas.

April 30, 2012

A Brunch Date with Ramps

by Jen Wanous

Ramps are a fair-weather bunch that make their appearance for only a few short weeks a year. Being from California, I had never tried them until I moved to the East Coast where they are more abundant. Their reputation preceded them when one day I heard a co-worker proudly announce: “The ramps have arrived!”

I discovered many perks of my job in the past month; one is that I walk through the country’s largest Farmers Market to get there. I saw a small bushel of these rarities one morning and was wooed by their bulbous bottoms and their light leafy tops. With ramps in hand, my mind started turning with ideas for what to do with them.

Since this was a new vegetable to me, I decided to keep things simple and let their flavors really come through. I sautéed up the bulbs first and then the leaves with a little olive oil and salt. Part of the leek family, the aroma was like a shallot or mild onion, with a little essence of garlic too. The greens were so delicate, it only took a minute to wilt. Their accompaniments were two poached eggs and a piece of toast. This was a simple and satisfying brunch with a special seasonal addition.

The other half of the bunch, I pickled to preserve past its short window of offering. To do this, in a small jar add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Add the sliced ramp bulbs and pour boiled vinegar over it. This will keep for weeks and can be used as a taco topper or paired with any other rich, meaty meal.

 

 

 

March 28, 2012

When Life Gives You Lemons: Make a Citrus Dipping Sauce

by Jen Wanous

I have been on a bit of a hiatus for the past few weeks, and with good reason — I took the plunge and submitted myself to a 9-5 (or 6, or 7). You see, post-culinary school I enjoyed my days of piecemealing jobs together, working with a variety of small food businesses- from cookie baker, to Korean taco restaurant consultant, to ice cream sales person. I loved this exposure, but I needed something more consistent to pay for the Le Creuset I’ve been wanting (paying back my culinary school loan and health insurance would be nice too). I was excited to see the posting for a job as an Events Director at StarChefs because the position perfectly combines my background in event management with my culinary training.

I started the position a few weeks ago and, as ideal as the position sounded, it has proven to be a hard transition. I have been taking big gulps of air to stay afloat in a work culture that is filled with chaos and urgency (think The Devil Wears Prada meets Top Chef). It’s a small office of 18 people with an open work space — no walls. I have been tasked with executing a 3,000 person, three day culinary symposium with workshops, demos and culinary competitions. The event will host 90 star chefs, 80 sponsors and a large staff and vendor battalion to keep everyone full and happy. The event is called the International Chefs Congress and will be held in the last week of September.

I am confident in my ability to execute this major production and I even get glimmers of optimism when someone from the office brings a daffodil for everyone or has a staff tasting of homemade beer. Wading through a new workplace environment can be very complex. Trusting myself and staying hydrated has been key.

Through all this, I am definitely learning a ton, which I am grateful for. I consider this to be another great chapter in my culinary adventure book. So, stay tuned for more posts, from workplace triumphs to kitchen adventures, I hope to write now once a month now.

Sushi Party on the Fly

I recently had a couple friends over for dinner and we had an impromptu Sushi Party. With a few simple improvisations to the traditional methods, it’s fun and easy to host your own.

The idea is to do a build-your-own sushi hand roll. Hold the sheet of nori seaweed in your hand (like a diamond), then smear the inside quinoa (not too much) and fill with fresh accompaniments. Fold the tip of the diamond (closest to you) in (like a burrito) and drizzle on different sauces. Every guest will be having fun making their own unique sushi hand roll.

Serves 4

Essentials

Package of Nori sheets (big sheets of seaweed)

Quinoa sticky rice sushi-style (recipe below)

Optional Accompaniment Ideas

– Sushi grade raw fish such as salmon or tuna

– roasted tofu (recipe below)

– avocado

– mango

– cucumber

– threads of green onion

– pickled carrot (recipe below)

– Sesame seeds (toasted)

– thin slices of jalapeño

– Suracha mayo dip (1/4 cup may plus 1-2 tbs Suracha)

– pickle ginger (click here for how to make)

– wasabi (can reconstitute powdered wasabi)

Quinoa – Sticky Sushi Rice Style

Ingredients

1½ cups quinoa, rinsed

3 cups cold water

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup brown rice vinegar

Procedure

1. In a medium pot, combine the quinoa and salt with the cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 20 mins. Remove lid and stir in rice vinegar with a fork.

Citrus Dipping Sauce

This recipe was inspired by a favorite cookbook author and blogger: Heidi Swanson.

Ingredients

Zest and juice of 1 orange

Zest and juice of ½ lemon

2 tablespoons agave syrup (or sugar)

2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar

Procedure

1. In a small pan, combine just the citrus juices and agave. Bring to a boil. Cook for 1-2 mins, add the soy sauce and vinegar. Return to a boil, cook another min or two. It will be slightly thick. Stir in the zests.

Tahini Dipping Sauce

Ingredients

½ cup tahini (ground sesame seeds)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 inch ginger minced

1 clove garlic, chopped

s&p

Procedure

1. In a mini food processor, combine all ingredients. That’s it.

Tofu Planks

Ingredients

1 block firm tofu

2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon olive oil

s&p

Procedure

1. Preheat oven to 350. Cut the tofu block into ¼ thick pieces that are about 1×3 inches.

2. On a rimmed cookie sheet, combine all ingredients. Slather on the tofu. Bake on 350 for 20 mins, flipping half way. Cut to thin threads (about the width of a chop stick).

Quick Pickled Carrots

Ingredients

2 carrots, julienned (cut long and thin)

¼ cup brown rice vinegar

couple drops sesame oil

salt to taste

Procedure

1. Combine ingredients and let sit for at least 15 mins, up to a few days.

February 24, 2012

Doling Out a Dose of Summer with Pineapple

by Jen Wanous

It’s a bit premature to be anticipating warm and sunny skies, but taking a bite of pineapple can sure have you believing in the promise of summer. Below is a video on how to tackle the task of cutting up a pineapple, including how to tell when they are ripe. Go ahead, pick up that regal fruit, there is a lot of sunshine in each sweet bite.

Beef Teriyaki with Broccoli and Bell Pepper

This is a recipe from Vivian Sicherman, it is one of her family’s favorites. The meat is marinated and then broiled, imparting a nice charred flavor. Of course, if you have a barbeque, now would be a good time to use it. In light of my current focus on pineapple, I went ahead and added some of the sweet n’ tangy fruit to her recipe. More specifically, I pureed the tough and chewy center – which would normally be tossed and composted – to the marinade.

The enzyme in the core, bromelain, is a natural meat tenderizer. This quality is what makes it a great addition to a steak marinade, breaking down the chewiness of skirt steak. However, if eaten on it own and in great quantities, it will also start work it’s magic on the inside of your mouth. The lesson here, kids, is to take caution when idly gnawing on the woody center of your freshly cut pineapple! The powerful enzyme is concentrated in the core – so, though it might leave your hunger for protein-eviscerating enzymes sated, it will probably leave your mouth feeling like the bio-hazard bin outside of one of Dexter’s charming ‘workspaces.’ Simply put, having a technique for taking it out is key when preparing.

You can use the marinade on planks of extra firm tofu too for a vegetarian version. Serve with rice. Serves 3-4.

Ingredients

2 lbs skirt steak

1 lb broccoli, chopped

1 red bell pepper, sliced

½ cup pineapple, large dice

2 tablespoons olive oil

For the Marinade

Core of a pineapple, pureed

¼ cup soy sauce

3 tablespoons brown sugar

¾ teaspoon ground ginger

1 ½ teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons white vinegar (apple cider or rice vinegar is fine)

3/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil

Procedure

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Combine all ingredients for the marinade in a small dish or large Ziploc bag. Add the steak, coat well. Marinade in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours.

*If you don’t have a food processor to puree the pineapple core, you can combine all marinade ingredients in a blender.

2. Toss the broccoli, bell pepper, and pineapple with olive oil (or sesame oil if you have it), salt and pepper. Bake 30 minutes, flipping half way.

3. Turn your broiler on high (that part of your oven, on the bottom, that you hardly ever use). On a rimmed baking sheet, place the pieces of meat (retain extra marinade). Broil for 12-15 minutes, flipping half way, until you get some black charring.

4. Pour the extra marinade in a small saucepan. On high heat, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

5. Cut meat, combine with vegetables, and pine apple, top with marinade reduction and serve with rice.

February 5, 2012

Guacamame: A Favorite Dip Reinvented

by Jen Wanous

We all know and love our dear, dear friend: guacamole. Why would anyone mess with a classic like that? Here are two good reasons: 1) avocados are dang expensive and 2) guacamole oxidizes, turning brown quickly. Enter, Guacamame. I had the fine fortune of meeting Guacamame at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco and was wowed by how closely this soybean-based dip resembled the real deal. I came home to Brooklyn determined to figure out how to make this to share with you all.

Mimicking the flavor profile of guacamole was pretty easy since soy, lacking a strong flavor of its own, is a blank slate for all the usual add-ins of guacamole: red onion, garlic, cilantro, salt, pepper, lime, tomato, jalapeño and a little cumin.

My challenge was clear: without using any avocado, how would I achieve the rich, green creaminess of guacamole?

To achieve the signature guac texture, I started with a foundation of thawed and shelled edamame (soy) beans. For the creamy element, I thought firm tofu would do the trick. I blended these together and added the distinctive acid of limejuice. I also added some olive oil to help with the richness and ensure a smooth texture.

With my food processor on high, I let that baby roll for a while, hoping to blend it to the max, for an ultra smooth, creamy consistency. What I ended up with was a stiff rendition that was pale green. The flavors were spot on, but the texture and color left more to figure out.

If firm tofu wasn’t working, maybe sour cream or a firm silken tofu would. I tried both. The sour cream batch, looked too wet and soupy, the one with firm silken tofu was much closer to what I was looking for, however, it still lacked a little creaminess. Why not add a dollop of sour cream? The base of well-blended edamame beans, firm silken tofu and a tablespoon of sour cream was the winning combo for the creamy consistency.

The last puzzle now, how to infuse the necessary green color into this concoction?  I first thought to add a drop of green food coloring but wanted to push beyond that easy way out. The other green elements that I had to work with were cilantro and jalapeño. I decided to add these two ingredients during the blending process, hoping that the pigment in the green herb and pepper would diffuse and lend a greener shade to my guac. Turns out, this easy solution added both green and an even stronger guac flavor. Bonus.

Now, with some frozen edamame on hand, a creamy, delicious dip, reminiscent of your favorite Mexican topping, is always close at hand. The pluses of guacamame: it’s about a quarter of the cost of traditional guacamole, you don’t have to wait until you have a perfectly ripe avocado and the – biggie – it lasts for a week or more, not that it will with how tasty it is.  

Guacamame

This dip mimics a beloved favorite. It can easily be doubled or tripled. Will last for at least a week.

Yields 2 cups

Ingredients

1 cup thawed edamame

¾ cup firm silken tofu (6oz)

1 tablespoon limejuice (half a lime)

2 tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup cilantro

½ jalapeño

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon salt

ground black pepper to taste

hearty pinch of cumin

2 tablespoons tomato, small dice

2 tablespoons red onion, small dice

1 tablespoon sour cream

Procedure

1. In a food processor or blender, add edamame, tofu, limejuice, olive oil, cilantro, jalapeño, garlic, salt, pepper and cumin. Blend on high for three minutes, scrapping sides half way.

2. In a small bowl add the blended mixture with the tomato and onion. Stir in sour cream.

January 26, 2012

Getting Oh So Fancy at the Fancy Food Show

by Jen Wanous

Think of a Costco on steroids. Take away the tire shop, keep only the gourmet food section and add a sample table for every product—then you have the Fancy Food Show. I visited my former hometown of San Francisco last weekend to attend this very convention.

The expansive convention center floor stretches out for easily 50 stations per row, amounting to a total of over 1,500 vendors. Each vendor has a gourmet food product and offers samples of their fancy food, almost cafeteria style (minus the hair nets). It is a prime opportunity for procurers of fancy foods to connect with major (and small) buyers from around the world.

With an aspiration to one day market a food product of my own, I went to the show to be inspired, to have an insider’s look into the industry and to meet new people in the fancy food world.

On the first day, I was wowed by only a small fraction of the 1,500 exhibitor’s goods. I went station-by-station tasting everything from Spanish prosciutto to sea salt caramel truffles to panda bear cookies to cardamom ice cream and soy chips (all in that order). Needless to say, I had a tummy ache within 15 minutes.

For round two on the second day, I had more of a game plan. I had a light breakfast and came fully prepared to gorge myself. There were many foods that caught my attention. One was a “guacamame” which was an edemame and tofu based dip that tasted (and looked) just like guacamole. It’s so much cheaper than avocados and keeps much longer. Genius. One of the clients for whom I currently consult on menu development is an Asian-Mexican fusion restaurant. You better believe that I’ll introduce this brilliant idea to them.

With a full smorgasbord waiting, I gravitated to the oils. I don’t know about you, but the price tag on most oils at the grocery is enough to scoff at—here, oils were displayed in all their glory in a plethora of flavors, all ripe for the pickin’. For the first time, I sampled hemp oil. Its grassy earthiness would go with any salad dressing. I had always wanted to try avocado oil, but sadly was disappointed by the flavor tasting like a turned avocado. What wowed me was a wok oil that boasted of lemongrass, Thai basil and chili.

Moving away from oils, another impressive sample was a chocolate cracker topped with goat cheese and peppered raspberry jam. Paired with a California Pino Grigio, it was a surprisingly perfect match.

Gluten-free products could have had an entire section to themselves. From GF sweet and sour sauce to GF crackers, it’s obviously the biggest current trend. In terms of marketing and branding, “natural” is plastered all over packages. Few were actually “organic” but the ones that were seemed to be the highest quality and best tasting. A great example of this was Jenis Ice Cream (I was a bit partial to the name), which comes from grass-fed cows and has a delightfully creamy texture.

Below are some pictures that I took while I was there, enjoy.

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January 13, 2012

Tikka Masala: Bringing the Spice of Life

by Jen Wanous

There is a local DJ who is somewhat of a celebrity here in Brooklyn and she goes by the name DJ Tikka Masala. A few years back I signed up for her text message updates in order to get free admission to a party. Now I feel like we’re buddies because she texts me every Friday night without fail. It’s nice to have a “friend” in the know. Maybe one day we’ll actually meet.

In the meantime, it was no surprise when I got a hankering for the creamy, savory Indian dish of Tikka Masala. I had the major bases covered: meat, onion, garlic, ginger, rice. I ran to my local bodega to grab yogurt, canned tomato and cilantro.

What I didn’t have was the signature spice mixture of Garam Marsala. With some quick research, I realized that I could just make it myself with whole spices I had on hand and my coffee grinder. Exciting!

The mixture varies greatly from region to region. Here is the combo that I used:

Garam Marsala
1 cinnamon stick
5 cardamom pods
2 whole white peppercorns
8 whole black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin*
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander*

* Try making this mix without the cumin and coriander and add a teaspoon to banana bread or sprinkle on top of vanilla ice cream. It lends a sophisticated flare.

A note on what separates spices from herbs:

Herbs are leaves from an aromatic plant.
Spices are aromatic (and often pungent) plant substances.

– seeds (like nutmeg)
– bark (like cinnamon)
– buds (like cloves or peppercorn)
– pods (like cardamom)
– stalks (like lemongrass)

Use your spices within one year. Store in a cool, dark place.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Despite what you might think about the origins of Tikka Masala, it is not actually a dish that has been passed down through countless generations originating in a remote village in India. The dish does not come from India at all, but from a kitchen in an Indian restaurant in London in the 1970’s. It since has become a favorite in India as well as internationally, not to mention the name of a hip DJ here in Brooklyn. The version of this dish is modified from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe I found. Since I’m lactose challenged, I used soymilk creamer and it worked great. You can serve with plain rice or rice pilaf.

Serves two. Cooking time aprox 1 hour.

Chicken Tikka

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes

½ cup plain yogurt

1 tablespoons oil

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1 clove garlic, pressed

Masala Sauce

2 tablespoons oil

1 small onion, minced

1 carrot, small dice

salt

2 teaspoons Garam Marsala (see above)

1 clove garlic, pressed

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 14-oz can diced tomatoes

½ cup heavy cream (or soy cream alternative)

mince cilantro to garnish

Procedure

1. For the chicken: combine the salt, cumin, coriander, cayenne. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel. Press the spice mixture into the chicken. Refrigerate for 30 mins. Combine yogurt, oil, ginger and garlic in a bowl, set aside.

2. For the sauce: heat oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and a couple pinches of salt. Cook until soft, about 5 mins. Stir in the garam marsala, garlic and ginger and cook for about 30 secs. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 15 mins. Stir in the cream, simmer again, stirring often.

3. While the sauce is simmering, set the oven to broil. Line a cookie sheet with foil or wax paper. Dip the chicken pieces in the yogurt mixture and place on the lined cookie sheet. Throw away the left over yogurt. Broil the chicken pieces until they are 160° and well charred, about 15-20 mins. Flip after ten mins.

4. Let the chicken sit for 5 mins (to lock in its juices), then add to the sauce. Garnish with cilantro and add salt to taste. Serve with rice.

December 29, 2011

My Grandma Clea on How-To Make Raviolis

by Jen Wanous

Ah, the holidays. It’s a time like none other to come together with relatives and chosen friend families alike. We risk our cozy comfort zones for the promise of the magic we find in connecting with others. There is so much hope (and quite a lot of pressure, too). There is the gift-giving, the long travel days, the money issues, the inevitable tensions and, of course, the self-medication (food, alcohol, shopping, TV-watching, Xanax, you name it). Congratulations, you have survived!

Through all of the stress that surrounds holidays, perfect moments peek out. So many times I’ve wished I had a camera in my hand to capture these moments: my niece growing from a toddler into a Justin Beber-obsessed girl, for instance, or my mom recounting stories of my family’s history. In 2004 I spent the last Christmas with my grandmother and happened to record one such moment. We made our traditional raviolis for Christmas Eve dinner. In the video, my grandmother explains how to make the pasta and (with some prying) the filling—as well as how not to dry out the “noodle dough.”

As the oldest of two in a first-generation Italian family in New York City, my Grandma Clea thrived, survived her many bumps in life’s road, and still managed to answer the phone with a cheery, “Good afternoon!” As a career seamstress and master chef she took homemaking to a professional level. After she moved to Florida, I visited her in the summer months and we spent time mapping out road trips, exploring new places, and visiting friends and family. If I was lucky, we would stop and get Reese’s peanut butter cup sundaes at Friendly’s. We packed lunches with plums and nectarines wrapped in paper towels. We made homemade ice cream with rock salt. And the special treat for breakfast was always French toast.

Multiple sclerosis slowly claimed her active life. I was so blessed to be with her the day she passed in the 84th year of her life. I miss the times when I would call her to ask how to make a meatloaf or other times just to hear about how she was feeling. My grandma Clea is my greatest culinary inspiration and her raviolis are perfection stuffed into a pocket of pasta, memories of which will always fill me.

My grandma Clea would always bring people together with her food and it’s her spirit of culinary adventure and culinary love that continues to inspire me on my path.