Italian tragedy… NYC comedy

Once upon a time, there lived a lovely maiden with raven hair and rosy cheeks (I’m talking about me here). This maiden liked to eat and cook or better yet, eat while cooking. One glorious semester her dreams came true when she found herself in the land of milk and honey and arancini a.k.a. SICILY. There she devoured such morsels as this…

and kissed every toad/blood orange in sight…

All was wonderful in the kingdom of Sicily until one dark and stormy night. That evening, the maiden and her fellow cooker-eaters embarked upon a Sicilian cooking class. All seemed well. The students were adorned in matching aprons as they prepared the menu rich with authentic Sicilian specialties such as Pasta alla Norma and sweet cannolis.

But all was not well. Soon the students realized that their matching aprons were actually uniforms for labor, as their cooking class turned into a Sicilian sweatshop. Put to work, their hands burned from squeezing salty eggplant and brows sweat with the piping of every pastry shells (Disclaimer: Any similarity to actual personsliving or dead, is purely coincidental).

At the end of the 3 hour “cooking class” (slave drive), the exhausted maiden sat down to a much deserved dinner only to find… there was not enough food for everyone. The evil slave-drivers had not prepared for there to be enough food for all the hardworking sweaty servants. Suddenly… the demure maiden became very impatient and hangry (hungry + angry) with rage. For everyone knows you don’t stand between an American maiden and her pasta. From that day on, she cursed the day she ever made PASTA ALLA NORMA.

Almost 3 years later, the maiden found herself in yet another amazing yet strange land where the people walk very fast and like to nosh on round bread with a hole in the middle. Yet the curse of Norma still haunted her. Until one fine day, she decided to once again test fate and purchased an eggplant…

40 minutes later, with not a single Sicilian in sight, she had done it. She had made Pasta alla Norma… and it was as Norma had always intended it to be: truly delizioso. The curse had finally been broken. The townspeople of Apt #5 rejoiced as all was right in the land and in their bellies. From that day on, the dish was renamed Pasta alla Margaret after the perseverant maiden who never lost hope when it mattered the most.

Pasta alla Norma

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • kosher or sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups basic tomato sauce, jarred or homemade
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • ½ pound penne pasta
  • about ½ cup fresh ricotta cheese (traditionally: ricotta salata)
  • freshly cracked black pepper

(1)  Slice the eggplant into ½-inch slices and sprinkle both sides generously with salt. Allow to drain in a colander for 15 minutes.
(2)  Rinse the eggplant slices in cold water and pat completely dry on paper towels. Cut into 1-inch cubes.
(3)  Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat, then add the eggplant. Sauté the eggplant, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 15 minutes.  Cover the eggplant for 5-7 minutes to cook all the way.
(4)  Once the eggplant is tender and golden brown, add the tomato sauce, chopped garlic and crushed red pepper. Bring to a simmer.
(5)  Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Cook pasta according to directions for al dente and drain, reserving ½ cup pasta water.
(6)  Add the pasta to the sauce and toss together. If a bit dry, add the reserved pasta water. 
(7)  Serve on a plate or pasta bowl with a (big) dollop of fresh ricotta (or grated ricotta salata) with freshly cracked black pepper.

Makes 4 servings

And they all lived happily ever after.

The End.

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Hangin’ at the Guggenheim

Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan is never one to shy away from controversy. His latest exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, Maurizio Cattaelan: All, which ends today is certainly a spectacle to see. Comprised of a lifetime of all but two of his works, it is a showcase of an artist’s life– all shown hanging.

The building of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum is a work of art in itself. When I saw this exhibition last weekend with one of my roommates Jess we mentioned how perfect the space was for this exhibition. The walkway of the museum, which spirals up four floors, allows for you to constantly discover different works as you ascend the building. It was like an elaborate game of I-Spy. I definitely felt like I understood a bit of the eccentric and intriguing, yet incredibly whimsical, personality of Maurizio Cattelan.

happy Sunday everyone!

I’m gonna spend my Sunday watching both the Patriots v. Ravens & 49ers v. Giants games. Hoping for a Patriots/Giants Super Bowl!!

and happy Chinese New Year tomorrow as well– here’s to the Year of the Dragon!

so American, so delicious

I rarely talk about my work on this blog which is a shame as I really do adore where I work and what I do. I suppose most of the time I think it would bore people which, to be honest, it probably would. At certain times, however, I can’t help but contain my excitement about something new happening at the Met!

This past Thursday was the press preview for the new American Painting Galleries (which opens to the public, Monday January 16!). It’s really such a classic space, with natural wood floors and open sky lights– very American indeed. The paintings, however, are really what glow. Iconic ones like Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emauel Leutze (above) as well as works by other American artists such as Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins and…

this absolutely beautiful painting by John Singer Sargent. Reminds me of my favorite show, Downton Abbey. In fact, the makeup artist of the show said that she was greatly influenced by Sargent paintings… I like to think this one in particular.

Madame X also by Sargent. Stunning.

The New York Times has even posted this interactive tour of the galleries which gives you an amazingly realistic sense of walking through the space. I’d really recommend you check it out… as your duty as an American.

Now, when I think of America one of the foods I think of is macaroni and cheese. And when I think of macaroni and cheese, I immediately think of Thomas Jefferson. Although the dish most likely existed centuries before in Italy, he can certainly be credited for popularizing the dish in America. In fact, “Thomas Jefferson is known to have had a pasta maker as early as 1793 and to have served a macaroni pie at the White House in 1802.” Are you thinking what I’m thinking… what is a MACARONI PIE and where can I get some?

Below is a recipe for stovetop mac & cheese, you know, like the kind that comes in the blue box (only much better). I remember my mom used to slice hotdogs into our mac & cheese when we were younger… I thought she was a genius.

 

  

This version has been lightened up a bit and incorporates broccoli, but still remains very classic, very American, and of course very delicious.

Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese (lower fat)
adapted from skinnytaste.com

  • 12 ounces high fiber elbow or shell noodles (I used Barilla)
  • 12 ounces fresh broccoli florets, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • 2 cups skim milk
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper 
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) shredded reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese

(1)  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente (or slightly under cook 2 minutes). In the last 1 minute of cooking the pasta, add the broccoli. Drain in a colander once done.
(2)  While the pasta is boiling, melt the butter in a large heavy skillet. Add onion and cook over low heat about 2 minutes until the onions are translucent. 
(3)  Whisk in flour and cook another minute, or until the flour is golden and well combined. 
(4)  Whisk in the milk, vegetable broth and Dijon mustard, raising heat to medium-high until it comes to a bubble.
(5)  Cook about 5 minutes or until the sauce becomes smooth and thick. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper.
(6)  Once the sauce is thick, turn heat to low, add cheese and mix well until cheese is melted.
(7)  Add cooked macaroni and broccoli and mix well. 

Makes 8 servings

The ‘Experience’

Wondering why my dear friend Alyssa looks like an extra for the next Star Trek film? Read on…

Yesterday was Alyssa’s birthday and lucky for me, she chose to spend it visiting New York City with her new fiancé Trevor and our friend Alex! It was one of the most fun, relaxing days I’ve spent in the city thus far.

First on the list was a delicious brunch at Freemans. Freemans is a bit difficult to explain. It’s a tucked away-cozy-yet-eclectic-lodge-hipster-gastropub… see what I mean? What they do have is an excellent brunch menu with an equally good drink menu. I ordered the poached eggs on top of white cheddar grits with roasted tomato and sourdough toast along with a star anise-flavored lemonade. Both were pure yum-ness. I honestly have only great things to say about Freemans. Although the brunch crowd was there in full force, we were lucky enough to be seated in the private wine room with no wait at all! Our waitress Phoebe was also just amazingly sweet. I am absolutely going back there again.

me with the birthday girl!

... and the manly men too of course

side note: what’s with this freakish weather?? 50 degrees in January is not what I imagined when I moved to New York. Back in the sweltering summer months, it seemed every New Yorker was warning me about the brutal city winter that lay ahead. ‘Winters here are so bad. They’ll make you want to hibernate indoors because every time you venture outside your eyeballs will freeze to death.’ I remember thinking ‘Oh dear… but I don’t want frozen eyeballs!’ … And yet yesterday I walked around in a silk blouse and a trench coat with not an eyeball popsicle in sight. Not to complain but where’s my snow?

Anyways, next on our list was the New Museum which currently has an exhibition called the ‘Carsten Höller: Experience.’ This is also hard to explain (or maybe I’m just really bad at explaining things). In general, it’s an adult amusement park with every art piece in the exhibition having an interactive sensory experience linked to it. The main attraction is the giant slide that goes through three floors of the museum. The wait for it was about 40 minutes long but I would say worth it… I mean, when else can you scream at the top of your lungs going down a giant steel slide?

Other installations include a mirrored carousel (beautiful to look at but not very fun to ride… too slow), a Psycho tank (sensory deprivation tank in which you float weightlessly in water, meant to mimick the Dead Sea), a fish tank in which you can stick your head underneath and watch all the fishies swim around you (my favorite!) and other works meant to stimulate/disorient your senses.

Another fun element in the exhibition were these upside-down goggles. A prism inside the goggles turns everything you see completely upside down. Quite disorienting to say the least (in fact, you have to sign a waiver before you enter the galleries) but SO MUCH FUN! We all got such a kick out of the simplest tasks, such as watching someone drop a quarter into their hands or trying to walk in a straight line, all done UPSIDE DOWN. Plus the goggles just made us look plain silly.

Hey, you look funny.... NO you look funny.

We ended up spending close to 4 hours in the museum… granted most of it was spent waiting in line for each of the activities. As you would expect, this has been a very popular exhibition and everything you do (slide, carousel, goggles, etc.) requires you to stand in a separate line. All in all though, if you know what to expect before you go there, it’s definitely a worthwhile experience. All four of us had a blast!

After the museum, we were dizzy with hunger, and just plain dizzy. So we headed uptown to one of my favorite restaurants in the city, Café Sabarsky. Attached to the Neue Galleries, Café Sabarsky is an Austrian-German café with a rich decor of dark wood-paneling and a beautiful marble fireplace. The food is fantastic but the Viennese coffee and desserts are to-die-for! I first was introduced to this place by my boss who adores the restaurant. Last night was my third time there in the past month (second time with Alyssa who requested it especially for her birthday) so you could say I kinda love this place as well.

Alyssa showin off her ring aka 'Big Sparkler'

I won’t go too much in detail over what I ate because, holy cow! this post is long… and pretty much anything you get here is guaranteed to be delicious. As long as I am there with you when you get it.

I honestly could not have wished for a better day.

Happy, Happy Birthday to Elvis!… oh yes, and to Alyssa as well. xo

Freemans
8 Rivington Street (down Freemans Alley), New York, NY 10002
(212) 420.0012

New Museum
Carsten Holler: Experience (closes January 22, 2012)
235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002
(212) 219.1222

Café Sabarsky
1048 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10028-0111
(212) 288.0665