Pre-gaming Thanksgiving: Cranberry Chutney & Mashed Potatoes

Cranberry, plum, and ginger chutney: Tart and sweet with warm undertones and a touch of heat

Cranberry, plum, and ginger chutney: Tart and sweet with warm undertones and a touch of heat

I’ve been talking a lot lately, more than usual, which can be a lot on a good day. And it’s mostly about my lah-dee-dah, unhurried approach to my favorite food holiday. It’s less than 10 days away, and I really don’t know why I haven’t stepped it up. I’m hoping that all the blah-blah I keep spewing will strike a nerve and I’ll spring into action.

Just how far behind am I? Um, a bit. I still need to finish the menu, set the timeline, write the shopping lists, and get the final headcount. I can’t finish the menu until I’m done fiddling around with some recipes. And I can’t write the timeline and the shopping lists until… I finish the menu! Now, my mom thinks I’m not really in the weeds – yet. “You’ll get back on track. It’s not as bad as you think.” Ah, the power of positive thinking. Always believe your mom.

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Best Bite of the Week: Short Rib Pizza

Take a bite out of the Short Rib Pizza, which boasts fig pesto, three cheeses, rosemary, and micro greens

The Short Rib Pizza boasts short ribs, fig pesto, three cheeses, and micro greens

Isn’t it a happy day when you go to a restaurant and the food you thought was going to be good tastes so much better than you anticipated? It happened to me at The Tomato Bistro in Manayunk, a hip Philadelphia neighborhood where there’s no shortage of food options any time of day or night.

I met a friend for lunch last week at this cute, two-story spot just off Main Street. The menu is creative and casual, with soups, sliders, salads, pizzas, and a buffet during the week and adding omelettes and a brunch buffet on weekends. While we were trying to pick just the right thing to eat, our server brought us each a complementary starter – an herby, little-bit-chunky tomato soup in an espresso cup and house-made mini almond biscotti, to dunk in the soup of course. A tasty way to begin lunch, indeed.

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Easy Chopped Liver

One of the many ways to serve chopped liver

One of the many ways to serve chopped liver

Ahhh, chopped liver. Not for everyone’s palate, to be sure, but if you’re among those who like it, the good news is that it’s far simpler to make than you might think.

My chopped liver memories go back to my early teens. I’d smell the chicken livers sautéing in our Long Island kitchen and would beg mom to help. I’d seen her use what I thought was the coolest kitchen contraption I’d ever seen: a meat grinder. This was a go-to tool in many old-time Jewish kitchens, because it was the preferred way (remember, we weren’t spoiled with food processors yet) to grind everything from chicken livers to beef and lamb.

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Best Bite of the Week: Urban Kitchen in Corolla, NC

urban kitchen 6

This little gem of a restaurant opened almost 2 years ago and the word-of-mouth keeps the tables filled and patrons waiting at the bar and outside. Our first visit to Urban Kitchen, highly recommended by friends, lived up to the expectation.

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On Meeting Ruth Reichl

It’s going to take something really super-spectacular this week to top my Monday night.

How come? Because my friend Kara and I met the one and only Ruth Reichl. I know, I’m gushing just a bit. But in my defense, it’s Ruth Reichl, restaurant critic/editor/memoirist/James Beard Award winner and now fiction writer. And for the 90 minutes we were in the same place at the same time, she was as warm and down-to-earth in person as she sounds in interviews and looks on television.

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Best Sip of the Week: Blood Orange Margarita

Treat yourself to this: A frozen blood orange margarita, courtesy of El Vez in Philadelphia

Treat yourself to this: A frozen blood orange margarita, courtesy of El Vez in Philadelphia

I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to drinks. Typically, I stick with the original mojito, vodka tonic, or piña colada, and am happy. Just give me a respectable version of the classic; no need for peach this or pomegranate that.

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It’s Not Too Late: Gifts for Moms, Daughters, Sisters, Grandmas, Aunts, or Friends on Mother’s Day

Mother's Day gifts any mom would be happy to get

Mother’s Day gifts any mom would be happy to get

I love giving gifts, and I especially love picking out gifts for people who love to cook. So I’ve come up with a list of my would-love-to-get-my-hands-on gems. Take a look at my choices and then hurry out to the stores as soon as humanly possible. I’m telling you, if you’re buying for a cook, you can’t go wrong with any of these items.

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However You Prepare it, Brisket is Best on Passover

Brisket on the board, sliced and moist, ready for serving

Brisket on the board, sliced and moist, ready for serving

I’m a big believer in tradition, especially when it comes to holidays. I also believe there’s nothing wrong with updating a classic. Brisket was the time-honored Passover meal when I grew up, and I watched my mom make it every year. A beautiful brisket nestled in a hearty sauce of crushed tomatoes dotted with the classic carrots, onions, and celery, and some red wine added in the last half hour to beef up the flavor of the sauce. I love that recipe (and it was something I could make with three toddlers at my feet), and that was our dinner on the first night of Passover.

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Homemade Vegetable Stock

A flavorful stock blends a lot of your go-to veggies including carrots, onions, celery and parsnips, among others.

A tasty stock blends a lot of your go-to veggies including carrots, onions, celery and parsnips, among others.

Well, it took me a bit longer than expected to cross off the first item on my culinary to-do list, but the time has come, and vegetable stock is a great one to start with. Stocks are easier to make than you might think, and these staples will prove their value every time you reach for them in the freezer. I’ve gotten in the habit of making chicken stock once a month, and hope to do the same with vegetable stock.

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A Fearless Cook’s Culinary To-Do List

culinary to-do list

Note: Apologies for my sudden (and longer than expected) lack of posts during January. A very important person in our family became ill late last month and I’ve been spending most of my time helping out. My schedule is still not back to normal, but I hope to be posting more frequently. Many thanks for your patience and understanding.

Now that the New Years’ celebrating is over and everyone is settling into always-seems-to-be-snowing 2014 in earnest, I’ve been tossing around some things I’d like to accomplish this year, an informal to-do list of sorts. I’ve given up on setting resolutions, so this list is really more of a rainy-day/too-much-snow-on-the-ground/just-wanna-stay-in/play-hookie-from-life list that I can pick away at during the year. Mini goals, in no special order. Fun ways to spend time in the kitchen, to be sure.

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Leite's Culinaria

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