Traditions, Chickens and Fancy Pants

In honor of chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, matzo brei, fancy pants, Oma, Mom and the joy of it all, some seasonal musings I first posted few years ago. ūüôā

I’ve mentioned before that I don‚Äôt follow any specific religious dogma,¬†unless you¬†count no white before memorial day. ¬†Rather, my dogma tends to be an amalgam of all of them, paying particular attention to the ones with food-related traditions. So at this time of Passover, Easter and the Vernal Equinox (lest we forget the Druids), I‚Äôm quite happy. I get to sample all sorts of wonderful fare, from matzo brei and gefilte fish (the former being a perfect vehicle for butter, the latter for horseradish), to wonderful Easter breads, eggs in every form, and fresh ingredients sprouting from the newly thawed ground. It‚Äôs a veritable new life and renewed hope buffet.

Food aside (for the moment), I do appreciate all the traditions celebrated this time of year. As a little girl¬†up we did Easter, but the Sunday School litany held less interest for me¬†than¬†ceremonies involving jelly beans, chocolate bunnies, and playing hide and seek for eggs colored¬†with PAAS dye. And¬†my favorite¬†holiday tradition involved getting a new dress from my grandmother and matching accessories (bag, gloves, hat and especially fancy shoes) from mom. No frills were spared, and it was not unusual to have ruffles on my dress, gloves, socks, and, of course, fancy pants. ¬†What exactly are ‘fancy pants’?¬†Dressy bloomers for little girls. Think underwear with rhumba-sleeve-sized ruffles. Fancy pants were¬†worn under your dress but over your underwear, and, in my opinion, definitely meant to be admired by all. I loved my fancy pants, I mean really loved them,¬†and found countless ways to show them off. Cartwheels worked pretty well, a subtle but effective option, but it wasn‚Äôt beyond me to hike up my pretty dress and say in a loud voice ‚Äúlook at my fancy pants‚ÄĚ. Fashion is fashion after all.

My fancy pant obsession aside, of all the traditions of day the most beloved by my family was the knitted chicken. For us, it just wouldn’t be Easter without a flock of them. Let me explain. As part of our Easter baskets, my grandmother would give us plastic eggs filled with jelly beans, chocolate eggs and the like. However, decorum being what it was, these eggs could never be presented naked. They required dressing, and their vestments took the form of a knitted chicken sitting on top. Usually white or yellow with a red comb, googly eyes and a jaunty pink ribbon around wooly neck, knitted chickens lined up down the middle of the table, smugly guarding their plastic eggs filled with sugary bounty. As we grew older and into obnoxious adolescence, we’d make fun of these poultry egg-cozies, but they had better be on that Easter table.

The flock has scattered in the subsequent years, but I’m betting if you visited my brother or mother on Sunday, pieces of the knitted chicken nativity would be on display, regardless of whether the grown kids were around. After all, that chocolate bunny needs guarding. ūüėČ

Eggs play a part in all of the holidays this time of year, which seems logical since life, hope and rebirth are central themes. Since they are one of my favorite foods, eggs feature in my recipe too.  When I was a kid one of the best treats my mom made for dessert was my grandmother’s baked custard. Similar to flan or crème brulee but far less fussy, there are few desserts more comforting.  I’ve decided to take Oma’s basic recipe and liven it up a bit with a little orange in the form of zest and a splash of Cointreau. My Baked Orange Custard would make a great dessert (or breakfast) on any holiday table this season. Baked Orange Custard

Makes eight 1/2-cup servings

  • 3 cups milk (whole is best, 2% works too)
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¬ĺ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsps Cointreau or Grand Marnier
  • ¬Ĺ tsp orange zest

Preheat oven to 500¬įF. Put eight ¬Ĺ cup ramekins or glass custard cups into a roasting pan or large lasagna pan. Fill the pan up with warm water to about ¬Ĺ way up the cups, creating a water bath. Whisk together eggs, sugar, salt, liqueur and zest and set aside. Heat the milk in a saucepan to scalding (just before it boils and there are little bubbles around the sides of the pan.) Take the milk off heat. While whisking egg mixture, add in about 1/3 cup of the hot milk and whisk well. You are bringing the temperature of the eggs up or tempering the eggs (so that you have a smooth mixture and not sweet scrambled eggs.) Now add the rest of the milk and whisk thoroughly. Skim off about a tablespoon of the foam and put into each cup, then carefully fill the cups with ¬Ĺ cup of the custard mixture. Bake the custards in the oven for 10 minutes or until just set and the tops have browned a little. If they are browning too quickly, just loosely cover pan with foil. If they are not set by 10 minutes, turn oven off and leave the custard in a few minutes more until they set. Carefully remove the custards from the water and let cool a little. These are wonderful warm, but are also swell at room temperature. If you are not serving right away, let cool to room temp then cover with cling film and store in the fridge. Let them come to room temperature before serving. Calories: approximately 220 per ¬Ĺ cup serving.

If¬†you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I‚Äôd love you to join me on¬†Facebook¬†(please click the ‚Äėlike‚Äô button), or my¬†Instagram¬†page. Thanks!¬†ūüôā



I like to think of it as being efficient. I’m the gal with a bag slung over shoulder, laptop case dangling on wrist, gripping three grocery bags in one hand while the other hand is balancing a full cup of lava-hot coffee and simultaneously turning key in lock, shoving my knee into the ajar door, flinging it open (one-legged), and bolting inside before it slams shut. Efficient, right? Lazy would be another description. Too lazy to be bothered with making two trips from the car, thus avoiding the high probability of flipping cup¬†and contents¬†and the resulting 2nd degree scorching as I watch my airborne laptop hit the pavement.¬†Today however, my early morning episode of “Beat the Clock” was successful.

Efficiency, as defined in the dictionary in my brain doesn’t necessarily mean the best, most effective, or even fastest way to do something well. It’s more like how many layers I can cram into one action and still end up with the result I was aiming for. Well, close to aiming for, kinda… If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, this should not surprise you. Why do I bring this up? The other day I baked what I think is the culinary equivalent of efficiency. Or maybe it was just the most efficient delivery system of ‘HOLY CRAP THAT’S GOOD’¬†food, ever. A¬†teeny bit overstatement perhaps, but MAN this package of tasty¬†wrapped in pastry was good, quite effectively delivered a remarkable number of favorite¬†food groups in one slice, feeds an army and keeps belly full and happy for a very long time. Surely food efficiency defined.

I discovered¬†Torta Pasqualina¬†about 20¬†years ago when I was working as a temp for a family of HVAC contractors. The job was just a job, something to pay the bills while trying to find the next step in my somewhat winding career path. But the people, and more importantly, the people¬†watching was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in an office setting. Everyone was related, I mean¬†everyone.¬†If you weren’t in some degree born into the family you were married into it. Which¬†made for pretty interesting overheard conversation, especially if you were the only unrelated one in the office. The good news was despite my lack of genetic or marital affiliation, I was still treated like family. Even better, I was fed like family too.¬†This clan was old-school Italian with a fully equipped¬†kitchen in the back of the building, and¬†a fully equipped¬†mama cooking in it daily. Since I was (between the hours of 9-5) family, I had a¬†hot lunch every day. And if I remembered to bring some empty containers with me, I went¬†home with dinner too, a bona-fide member on¬†the family¬†meal plan! ¬†Which brings me back to the torta.

While I only worked there for a few¬†months, those months fell over Easter, one of the¬†BEST holidays to be Italian. As the holiday grew¬†closer¬†I started¬†to hear about this thing called ‘Torta Pasqualina’. I asked what that meant and was told it was Easter pie. Pie? I LOVE pie! I still¬†had no idea what was in it, but knew based upon all the hubbub surrounding its arrival,¬†I¬†wanted it badly. A few days later I got my chance. A “test torta” was brought in for lunch and I was invited to sample.¬†The “pie” was made in a springform so¬†taller than I had imagined, filled with layers of good stuff inside, and weighing what seemed about 10 pounds. I’m not kidding, I was asked to carry it in from the car. The crust was made up of layers of olive-oil based pastry dough and inside¬†was a base of saut√©ed chard and buttery onions, followed by¬†a layer of ricotta mixed with ample parmesan and a few beaten eggs. Then, imbedded in the layer of cheese,¬†¬†perfectly hard-cooked golden egg yolks, followed by a bit¬†more parmesan and topped by another few layers of pastry. A fully encased meal in one efficient package. My ample slice kept me full¬†for lunch and¬†dinner, and the leftovers¬†became breakfast the next day. In other words, Torta Pasqualina¬†was good hot, warm, or even cold!

2015-04-04 19.26.58I considered making one myself that year, but when I looked at the recipe mama gave me, it seemed WAY too complicated. So it became just another fond food memory. That is, until I saw a recipe a few weeks ago. Now a bit older (ok, more than a bit), and definitely culinarily wiser, I figured why not! If every family that ever made one had their own variation, I  could too, and still cram in every ounce of the goodness of the original. So here is it Рmy version of Torta Pasqualina. Based upon the reaction of the eager mouths I served, it was efficient, and delicious!

Torta Pasqualina (adapted from many Nonna and non-Nonna sources, including Food52 and Epicurious)

Makes One¬†10 or 12″ springform-sized torta, which can feed a small army¬†or large family (and a friend)

Recipe Notes: ¬†When I started to research this recipe, I discovered that some of the more traditional versions called for using 31 layers of pastry, one for each year of Jesus’ life. I also found many that stated this interesting fact, and then said, “but I only make 4 layers”. See…efficiency. ¬†I took it a step further. I decided since I was already making pie dough for my weekly bake for clients, I may as well make some more and use that. And it worked out very well. You could also use bought all-butter puff pastry, or phyllo. It’s¬†a great recipe to make any time of the year, and the perfect bring-along for picnics since it feeds a ton and can be eaten hot, room temperature, or even cold.


  • 2 recipes¬†pate brisee, or two all-butter pie crusts (**you could also use puff pastry or phyllo dough. If you use phyllo, use about 4 sheets on bottom and top, brushing each layer with olive oil before placing the next on top.)
  • 500 grams or a pound of baby spinach/kale/chard mix (3-4 bags – you can get these in the salad section of the market, or just use spinach or chard.)
  • A generous 1/2 cup caramelized onions (about a cup to cup and a half raw chopped onions, cooked in olive oil over medium low heat until they are golden.)
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 2-3 TBSP toasted pine nuts
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta
  • Salt & pepper
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp dried marjoram

Preheat oven to 350¬ļF.

Prepare the greens layer:

Steam the greens with a tablespoon or two of water, good pinch of salt, a few grinds black pepper and the marjoram in a covered pan until tender Рabout 5 minutes. Drain off the water, let cool slightly, then put the greens on several layers of paper towels, roll up and squeeze to remove as much water as possible (too much liquid will create a soggy base). Finely chop the greens, add to a bowl with the 1/2 cup caramelized onions. Mix well, taste and adjust salt and pepper. Add in the raisins, pine nuts, and a third of the parmesan and set aside to cool completely.

 Prepare the ricotta layer:

In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta, 2 beaten eggs, a third of the Parmesan, pinch nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper. Beat until combined. Set aside in the fridge until needed.

2015-04-04 17.45.27To assemble the torta:

Spray or brush the inside of the springform with olive oil. Roll out one sheet of dough so it is large enough to line the springform bottom and sides with a little more than an inch overhang.

Fill the pie base with the greens mixture, smoothing over the top with the back of a spoon. Next, layer over the ricotta 2015-04-04 17.47.03mixture and smooth into an even layer. Using the back of a spoon, make 6 round indents over the surface of the ricotta that are big enough to fit an egg yolk in each. Crack an egg over a bowl to separate the white, leaving yolk. Carefully place the yolk in one of the indents in the ricotta. Repeat until all of the divots are filled. Whisk the whites together with a fork and pour just enough of the whites to make an even layer that just covers the ricotta. Sprinkle over the rest of the Parmesan.

Roll out the top crust ¬†so it is about an inch larger than the top of the pan.¬†Gently lay it over the top of the pie. Trim any¬†overhanging bottom dough so it is about the size of the top, then roll the bottom and top dough together so you have a 1/2″ rolled crust around the inside of the pan. Using your left thumb (or right thumb if you are left-handed), tuck it between the edge of pan and rolled crust. Using your other hand, gently pinch the rolled crust around your thumb to make a scalloped edge and seal the crust around the pie. If you have leftover trimmings, roll out and make leaves, branches, whatever makes you happy. Think of it as edible playdough. Use a little of the leftover egg white to paste the decorations to the top of the crust.2015-04-04 18.04.24

Brush the top with olive oil and sprinkle with a tiny bit of salt (I like to use flake salt like Maldon for this), and place the pan on a parchment-lined backing sheet. This will make it easier to move in and out of oven and catch anything if torta bottom seeps a little (it might, mine did, but I just kept baking.)

Bake¬†for about an hour to 1 1/2 hours or until the top is a nice¬†golden brown. ¬†Remove the pie from the oven and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before removing the tin and cutting into it. If once you remove the sides of the pan the sides bow out a little don’t worry – they will firm up as it cools. I made this the evening before I served it, so it was room temperature when cut into and all the flavors had a chance to get to know each other a bit. Delizioso! ūüôā

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I‚Äôd love you to join me on¬†Facebook¬†(please click the ‚Äėlike‚Äô button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at¬† Thanks!¬†¬†

Time Travel

FullSizeRenderHello fellow time travelers! You do¬†realize that just like H.G. Well’s hero, we all became time travelers over the weekend, right? Sure, we didn’t get a cool vehicle with fancy seats and all those flashy lights and knobs, we slept right through it. But forward in time we went!¬†Aren’t you¬†thrilled?¬†Yeah, probably not. Unlike going back in time in¬†the fall, we lost an hour upon awaking Sunday morning. So instead of cuddling under comforters and enjoying the arms of Morpheus a little while longer, you were up, grumpily up, on a¬†SUNDAY! ¬†So was I, though¬†despite the hour and abhorrence of the thought of prying myself from my flannel cocoon, I happily discovered there is an upside to¬†springing ahead. I’ll explain in a moment.

I find it interesting how different members of our species observe the semiannual ritual of changing the clocks. Upon further study I’ve noticed a few distinct groupings. First are the¬†Fastidious. These are the breed that, if they haven’t already set an alarm to remind themselves of spring’s escaping hour, change their clocks the minute they hear it’s¬†this weekend. Obviously they think they might forget, though if one is a creature who sets an alarm to remember to change their alarm, I kinda¬†doubt it. These “clock watchers” also seem to have an internal inventory of all the time tellers in their path. Microwaves and stoves are obvious, but updating dress watches in jewelry boxes that may not see the light of day until the next wedding invite, really?

Then there are the Optimists. These are the folks who avoid changing clocks all together. Perhaps lazy is the word you would have chosen, but I see them as eternally hopeful that they will be around when time inevitably falls back, so why bother changing anything? Naturally, a Fastidious should probably not be coupled with an Optimist, but evolution often has other plans. So these two are usually together, bickering about being late, or way too early.

The final group is what I like to refer to as the Mathematicians. These are the souls who willingly have different time zones for different applications. The kitchen clock is 5 minutes fast. The car clock is about 8 minutes behind. And most importantly, the bedside clock radio is 17 minutes fast. It was supposed to be 15 minutes, maybe 20 ahead, but the physics and eyesight required to figure out how to set the damn thing wasn’t worth exploring (or finding reading glasses), so 17 it is. The point being, the Mathematician knows exactly how many minutes are required in calculations, so that when she wakes before alarm goes off, ¬†she can calculate exactly how many minutes left¬†before rousing. Government mandated time manipulation is not the favorite thing of the Mathematician. It’s a very delicate balance between the time zones.

You’re probably wondering which of the above creatures I ally with. I grew up in a household where the kitchen clock was always 15 minutes fast. We knew it, mom knew we knew it, but she set it that way anyway, forever hopeful that it would incite timeliness in my brother (who naturally fell into the Optimist category.) I was the Mathematician. Too lazy to focus and fix miss-set clocks, I’d wake, cracked an eye through inky bedroom darkness towards red glowing digits, and did math. I like to think I’ve evolved past this. Yet this morning when I started the car I noticed the clock on the dashboard was 50 minutes behind the time. And when the leaves turn amber again, it will be 10 minutes fast…

IMG_1073What does all this have to do with my newly discovered upside to springing ahead yesterday? Well, when time suddenly shifts from 11am to 12pm and you are in the midst of preparing what was then breakfast and is now brunch, you can add a cocktail! In honor of Daylight Savings time I give you Brunch Pizza, accompanied by the official cocktail of DST, the Blood Orange Old Fashioned!

Brunch PizzaIMG_1078

One pizza dough makes 4 mini pizzas

  • 1/2 recipe pizza dough (or one dough purchased from your favorite pizzeria or market), divided into 4 pieces.
  • 1/2 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 asparagus spears (try to find thicker ones for this), sliced into 1/2″ pieces on the diagonal.
  • 1/4 cup cooked¬†pancetta or bacon
  • 1/2 cup shredded fontina, mozzarella, or monterey jack cheese
  • About a cup baby spinach leaves
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 4 large eggs
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Cornmeal or semolina

Preheat the oven** to 450¬įF. Make sure the top rack is in the center of the oven. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment. ¬†Sprinkle cornmeal or semolina lightly on the parchment paper and set sheet aside.¬†On a well-floured surface, roll out each piece of dough to a rough circle, about 6 1/2 – 7″ in diameter. With floured fingers, press about 1/2 inch from edges to make a bit of a crust. Place each crust on the cookie sheet, leaving a little space between.

FullSizeRenderAdd the halved tomatoes, sliced asparagus and spinach leaves into a bowl, drizzle over the olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice, and a fat pinch of salt and few grinds of pepper. Toss together. Divide in 4 portions and top each pizza. Arrange the asparagus as a circle in the middle. You want to build a sort of damn, so when you add the egg later, it stays put in the middle of the pizza.

FullSizeRenderDivide up the pancetta/bacon and cheese into 4 portions, and top each pizza. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove hot pan from oven, crack an egg in the center of each and carefully return to oven. Turn oven on broil (if your broiler unit is on the top of the oven), and cook for another 5 minutes, watching carefully. When the white is set, remove from oven. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the egg to taste.

 ** I love making individual pizzas in my toaster/convection oven, and this recipe works very well with it if you are making just one or two. For more, use a conventional oven.

Blood Orange Old Fashioned

Makes one cocktail


  • 1 TBSP¬†Amoretti Blood Orange Syrup** (check out ¬†next week’s post to learn how I discovered this¬†wonderful¬†stuff!)
  • 1 TBSP blood orange juice
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 dash bitters
  • 2 oz. Bourbon
  • Ice
  • orange slices to garnish

Add the syrup, juices and bitters to a chilled cocktail shaker. Add in ice and bourbon. Shake and strain into a martini glass (or you could serve over ice in a rocks glass.) Garnish with a slice of orange. Enjoy!

Variation: Using Courvoisier instead of bourbon is great here too!

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I‚Äôd love you to join me on¬†Facebook¬†(please click the ‚Äėlike‚Äô button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at¬† Thanks!¬†¬†ūüôā

Spring has SPRUNG!

You didn’t think it was going to happen, did you? You figured that evil¬†polar vortex just sucked it up and that was that. But it did happen. It happened today, at around noon. That’s the good thing about seasons. They are, well,¬†seasonal.¬† So as I sit here staring at the big bucket of daffodils on my table, I thought I’d repost one of my favorite spring things from two years ago.

Hope the sun is shining by you, and the tulips have opened their purple smiles WIDE!

photo 1


And on my air conditioner. Over the past week or two I‚Äôve noticed something going on outside my window. I‚Äôm very lucky, NYC apartment-wise. In a city filled with sounds of every imagining (usually loud), the vast majority of the sounds outside my window are bird-related. That‚Äôs because all of my windows face an enclosed courtyard. It‚Äôs a glorious oasis of bird song, punctuated by the occasional laughter of little kids playing, babbling water from a fountain in the warmer months, the occasional gardener blowing or mowing through machinery, and random acts of late night merrymaking when a weekend party moves outdoors. So as I sit at my desk by the window and write, a bird often joins me, perched happily on my air conditioner. Usually solo, my winged companion sits for a bit watching the goings on below, then flies off to some other pressing business. Lately however, my feathered friends have started showing up in pairs. One lands, then the other, and in a moment or two the dance l’amour commences.

Seems my AC has become the avian equivalent of the hourly rate motel. Usually it‚Äôs pigeons, but a few mourning doves, sparrows, and even an occasional squirrel chasing some fluffy tail have checked in. It‚Äôs a veritable porn playground on my Fedders, and in¬†broad daylight!¬† You’d think they‚Äôd have the manners to do what they do¬†in private. Or at least under cover of darkness, maybe a few candles flickering, some Barry White gently playing in the background. But at 10AM,¬†with an audience? It’s like an episode of ‚ÄėMutual of Omaha‚Äôs Wild Kingdom‚Äô, and I’m Marlin Perkins! I can imagine the voiceover now: ‚ÄúJim will carefully turn the AC to low so we can study the effect of adding a vibration aspect to the mating zone, while we hover overhead in the copter and film the pre and post coupling behavior‚ÄĚ. I think the birds are talking about my AC too. You know how you never see just one pigeon, there‚Äôs always a crowd? I think they are spreading the word. ‚ÄúHey, you and your lady friend need a place to get busy? I know a¬†great¬†air conditioner with a view in West Chelsea.‚ÄĚ

What I find most puzzling is not the fact that the birds outside are getting a lot of action. It is spring after all. But what is it about¬†my¬†AC that inspires them to get their groove on,¬†right there?¬†Surely there more romantic trysting spots in the courtyard. I‚Äôm up on the 5th¬†floor for heaven’s sake. They could fall off! Yet they continue to pick my AC, as though it’s the feathered brain‚Äôs equivalent of an airline bathroom and schtupping on it is their version of the ‚Äėmile-high‚Äô club. Maybe there’s something in my karmic aura that promotes bird fertility. If so, perhaps I should invest in a couple of chickens. Fresh eggs right outside of my window would be awfully convenient. Economical too.

Ah well, whatever it is, let them have at it. Far be it from me to stifle their birdie lust. After all, the end result is more birdsong to enjoy at dawn and dusk. So here’s to the circle of life. Hakuna matata!

And since we are talking about all things Spring….

Spring Pea Soup

Makes about 6 cups

  • 1/3 cup chopped shallots (about 2 shallots)
  • 1 tsp each butter and olive oil
  • 6 -7 ounces potato, peeled and cubed (about ¬Ĺ a large russet)
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups frozen petite peas
  • ¬Ĺ TBSP lemon zest (from a small lemon)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 TBSP cream to garnish (optional)

Sauté the shallots in the butter and olive oil over medium low heat until softened, about 5 minutes (you don’t want color on them.) Add the cubed potato, stock and water and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer, cover and cook until the potatoes are soft, about 6-8 minutes. Uncover, turn the heat up and bring to a slow boil. Add in the frozen peas and lemon juice. Bring back to a boil and cook for another minute or two. Turn off heat and add in the lemon zest. Puree the soup in small batches* in the blender until smooth. Taste for seasoning, add in pepper and salt to taste.

[*Remember to remove the center of the blender lid and put a dishcloth or towel over top when blending hot liquids. Start off on low, then turn to high. Green soup is not fun to clean off the ceiling, or you.]

At this point you can serve the soup hot, or let it chill and serve cold. Either way, it’s nice to drizzle a teaspoon or two of cream over top as a garnish. Calories: Рapproximately 60 per cup.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I‚Äôd love you to join me on¬†Facebook¬†(please click the ‚Äėlike‚Äô button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at Thanks! ūüôā