Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Movie Menu Theme Night: Bella Martha

Bella Martha Movie Night
Before there was No Reservations (not the Anthony Bourdain series, but the CZJ/Aaron Eckhart movie), there was Bella Martha, a beautiful German film featuring the passionate and beautiful Martina Gedeck and Sergio Castellitto. One of the most intelligent and inspiring cooking movies I've seen, Bella Martha tells the story of chef Martha, who is so focused on her cooking and her restaurant that she has totally lost herself in food. The relationships that she develops with her niece and with a new Italian colleague, Mario (played by Sergio Castellitto), restore her passion for life and love beyond the kitchen.

In one romantic and sensuous scene Mario blindfolds Martha and feeds her unexpected and amazing gourmet treats. Queue my idea for how to convert this movie into a romantic dinner for a couple:

A soft bandana or scarf large enough to be used as a blindfold
Romantic music (you could even go so far as to play the soundtrack from the movie)
And finally, you should each shop secretly for some gourmet surprises to share with your loved one

Pick some extravagant delights to feed to your significant other, like dark chocolate, cheese, strawberries, slices of mango and other sensuous fruits, and perhaps some pate if he or she isn't generally opposed to that kind of treat. Be creative, but remember that your loved one won't appreciate your efforts as much if you use the blindfolding as an opportunity to force feed him or her things that they've never tried before and probably won't like (I know my fiancee would gag if I fed him pate).

Take turns blindfolding and feeding each other. The flavors and fragrances of the foods that you share will be even more intense when you don't have your other senses to rely on.

Style footnote: I love the way Martha pairs red and purple in one of her outfits toward the end of the movie. I can't remember if it's an eggplant top and a red skirt or a red top and an eggplant skirt, but either way, the colors are brilliant together and perfect for celebrating this fall's jewel-tone trend.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tina Nordström's Culinary Tour of Sweden

Tina NordstromI first fell in love with Tina Nordström's cooking 2 years ago when I found her show, New Scandinavian Cooking, on public television. In this series Tina travels all over Sweden, preparing regional foods while she travels, and often cooking outdoors against the stunning backdrop of the Swedish countryside.

Tina's recipes are simple and elegant, and feature ingredients that we don't often use in the US (but should!), like cloudberries, elderflower, herring, fennel and vodka.

New Scandinavian CookingAlthough the show no longer airs in my area, you can purchase the DVD of all of Tina's episodes on the show's website, as well as her cookbook, A Culinary Tour of Sweden. Most of the recipes from her shows are also listed on the website, including her recipes for Dill Schnapps, Cloudberry Zabaglione and Royal Swedish Meatballs.

If you ever happen to see New Scandinavian Cooking pop up while you're channel surfing, check it out... Tina will win you over with her amazing smile in mere moments!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Amazing Modern Kitchen Designs

Minimalist Kitchen Design
A few weeks ago I saw an HGTV special on the 10 Most Amazing Kitchens, and I have been thinking about one of them ever since. While all of the kitchens were stunning and I would die to cook in any of them, the one that really won me over was the minimalist kitchen. Its simple design is so chic; it is totally modern without being unfriendly and unwelcoming.

LED Lit CountertopComplete with custom La Cornue appliances, elegantly arched fixtures, limestone floors that are warmed with radiant heat, and gently illuminated white onyx counters (1,600 led lights make these glow with minimal energy expense), and a custom made ceiling centerpiece, this kitchen is designed to dazzle.

Designed by Amy Finley for her own home, this San Diego kitchen is truly an inspiration.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Peach for Your Thoughts?

PeachesOur neighbors were skeptical when my dad planted a peach tree in our front yard in Bangor, ME. They didn't think there was any way he would be successful in growing anything edible... the dirt wasn't that good, and let's face it, the climate up there is pretty different from the normal peach climate. Well, my dad is an amazing gardener. He makes dirt (he's an expert composter!) that plants crave and thrive on, and after a visit home this weekend my brother tells me that we now have a beautiful tree covered with juicy peaches... in central Maine!

Even if you don't have your own peach tree, there are loads of peaches at the local farmer's markets and grocery stores, and they're begging to be eaten. I'm usually a peach purist, and just love the velvety goodness of a juicy peach in my paw, but recently I've found some new ideas for peaches that I'm dying to try. Do fresh peach bellinis and peaches wrapped in bacon sound good to you? They do to me!

Emily's Fresh Peach Bellini

Peach Puree Ingredients:
6-8 large, juicy peaches (buy local peaches from your farmer's market for the best results)
1/2 lemon
1/4 c. sugar

Peel and slice the peaches and put them in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until you have a fine puree with no lumps. Squeeze half the lemon (remove all of the seeds first!) into the processor and add the sugar. Pulse again and then have a little taste. Depending on the sweetness or tartness of your peaches, you may need a little less sugar or lemon juice. You should end up with a very peachy, sweet and a little bit tart puree that is perfect for mixing into cocktails.

Combine 1 part peach puree with 3 parts champagne, and give the mixture one stir for good measure. I like adding a little St. Germain liqeur for a different twist, and garnishing with a lemon twist or a slice of peach. Delish!

Pancetta-Wrapped Peaches
Food & Wine Magazine, July 2008

This recipe from Stuart Brozia of San Francisco's Rubicon restaurant can be used as a unique addition to a summer salad, or as a delicious hors d'ouevre.


16 thin slices of pancetta
2 medium freestone peaches—halved, pitted and cut into 8 wedges each
Salt and freshly ground pepper
16 basil leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
Aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling


Place the pancetta slices on a work surface. Position a peach wedge at the edge of each piece of pancetta and place a leaf of basil on top of each one. Season with a little salt and pepper and then roll up the pancetta around the peaches. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the peach and pancetta bundles and cook until the pancetta is crispy on brown, flipping every minute or so to make sure they cook evenly. Don't overcrowd your pan and do small batches until all of your peaches are cooked. If you like, drizzle with some good balsamic vinegar before serving.

For more details on this recipe and some other great peach recipe ideas, check out the peach slideshow on the Food & Wine website, like arborio rice pudding with peaches and churros... I can't wait to try that one too!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Movie Menu Theme Night: Big Night

Big Night Movie Theme Dinner
Big Night is one of my favorite movies, if not for the amazing food, then maybe for the fact that it's the kind of ensemble cast movie where you find a young, gaunt Marc Anthony playing a dishwasher/busboy with hardly any lines. You quickly end up rooting for the two protagonists, brothers and restauranteurs Primo and Secondo (imagine naming your children First and Second...), as they struggle to keep their restaurant alive in an American town that just doesn't seem to appreciate their authentic Italian recipes.

Without a penny to spare, they decide to put everything they have left into one last big meal. They invite the local press, all of their friends and Louis Prima, and prepare an extravagant meal that their guests would remember for a lifetime. You'll have to watch the movie yourself to find out what happens on their Big Night, but I recommend doing it with some good Italian home-cooking, good friends, and a lot of robust red wine.

To create your own Big Night feast, invite a group of your most passionate friends -- 8-10 people would be perfect. Prepare a playlist for your evening with classics by Louis Prima, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. Have your guests bring a bottle of Chianti or Sangiovese and you'll have plenty of wine to keep the party going well into the evening. To add extra oomph to your theme night, you could impose a gentle dress code based on the still shot from the movie above --- floral dresses, coiffed hair and red lipstick for the ladies (Minnie Driver and Isabella Rosellini are so glamorous in this movie!) and jackets and slicked hair for the gents.

For your menu, pick some easy Italian dishes that you can prepare ahead of time. One of the brilliant things about the menu that Primo and Secondo served was that their main course was prepped well in advance, so both brothers could enjoy the evening with their guests. Bruschetta and antipasto are easy to prepare as your starter, and even doing something as simple as a lasagna (you can dress it up a little and make it even more special by making a white lasagna) will be a satisfying and easy accompaniment to this movie. If you are very brave, you could timpano. The recipe calls for layers of prosciutto, pasta, meatballs, cheese, bechamel, and the result looks exactly like it sounds: like a large drum of Italian deliciousness. Try it with this timpano recipe from Mario Batali.

Serving simple affogato is a great way to end the evening. Just put a scoop of your favorite gelato in a heat-proof glass (I would recommend chocolate or hazelnut gelato), drown it in coffee, and top with a generous dollop of whipped cream. It's a nice sweet treat to end the evening, very easy, and the caffeine will help keep the fun going for a few hours of dancing to your playlist of Italian crooners late into the night.

I'd love to hear how your Big Night theme party turns out!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cupcake Craze!

I've never needed much inspiration to bake or eat a whole batch of cupcakes... in fact, I must confess that I've always been a bit cupcake crazy. Now I'm not alone! Celebrities are going wild for sugary designer cupcakes and charming cupcake boutiques are popping up from coast to coast. To celebrate this 2008 cupcake craze, I wanted to recognize a few of the celebrity favorites that started the new cupcake buzz.

Magnolia Bakery, NYC

Magnolia Bakery CupcakesSince 1996 Magnolia Bakery has been serving up sweet, buttercream-topped confections to Manhattanites and tourists alike. The Magnolia cupcakes are so popular that customers are limited to only a dozen per person.

Magnolia was started by Allysa Torey and Jennifer Appel with a mission to make breads. After a week of struggling to make bread without enough time, hands and space, Allysa opted to start whipping up cakes instead. When they had extra batter from the small 6" cakes, they started making cupcakes instead of letting it go to waste. The pink-frosted vanilla cupcakes soon became one of Allysa's most popular creations, and as word of mouth broadcast the tastiness of Magnolia's treats, the cupcake craze began.

Magnolia Bakery CookbookTorey and Appel wrote a best-selling cookbook together called The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook: Old-Fashioned Recipe's from New York's Sweetest Bakery before parting ways in 2000, when Jennifer started her own Buttercup Bake Shop in Midtown Manhattan.

Further fueling Magnolia's popularity, it was featured in an episode of Sex and the City, as well as a widely circulated SNL short called Lazy Sunday with Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg.

Sprinkles, Beverly Hills
Sprinkles CupcakesI have been hearing about Sprinkles Cupcakes everywhere lately. It's in US Weekly, it's on E!, it is on Oprah, the Martha Stewart Show... it seems that every time I turn on the TV there's a gorgeous Sprinkles cupcake to haunt me!

It's no wonder... the designer cupcakes by Sprinkles are wildly popular with celebrities, and now the cupcake boutique has become more of a chain, with locations from Beverly Hills to Houston, and with more locations planned to open soon reaching all the way to the East coast, and even to Boston (yay!).

Sprinkles Cupcake MixIf you don't live near a Sprinkles, Sprinkles can come to you. Now you can order their cupcake mix from Williams-Sonoma and bake up your own batch of cupcakes in your very own kitchen. Williams-Sonoma offers Sprinkles' chocolate, vanilla, lemon and devil's food cake mixes so you can make a whole collection of these celeb favorites for your next birthday party. Hey, if they're good enough for Katie to give to Tom, and Bridget to get for Heff and Holly's anniversary, then they're good enough for anyone!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bento-Style Lunchboxes for Back to School

Mr. Bento Lunch BoxWhether you're heading back to school or just trying to save money or eat healthy by bringing lunch from home rather than buying the latest sandwich creation from Au Bon Pain, a bento-style lunchbox is a great option for packing an assortment of lunch items in one easy package.

Similar in concept to the traditional Japanese bento box, this clever lunch box (a.k.a. lunch jar) by Zojirushi features 4 stacking dishes that fit inside an insulated canister. The container includes the most efficient innovation in dining utensils to date -- the spork. The whole thing packs neatly into a black travel bag. Thanks to Zojirushi, it's never been easier for an apronista-on-the-go to pack a chic, 4 course bag lunch!