Thursday, March 20, 2014


Pesto is one of those godsend products that can solve any meal with minimal effort. Just slap it on pasta or other grain/starch products (farro and quinoa especially), add it to a bland soup, serve it on potatoes, or mix it in a frittata, and you'll have a perfectly delicious dish that tastes fresh, luscious, and complex.

Of course, it all depends on the quality on the pesto. If you are a proud inhabitant of Liguria, where pesto is from, you can just make it fresh whenever you want, and it will taste better than any other pesto forever and ever. If you are not from Liguria but are still a better person than most, you can pound together basil, Parmigiano, pecorino, pine nuts, extra-virgin olive oil and garlic with a pestle and mortar right in time for lunch and still have time to look down your nose on the rest of the world. However, if you are anything like me, you're more than happy to buy some ready-made pesto to keep in the fridge to use when you feel lazy, but not lazy enough to eat cold leftovers from last month's brunch with friends.

"100% Imported Italian Basil D.O.P." and other ingredients. Wait...

So let me make my first product recommendation in this blog, starting with a pesto that is not painfully expensive and that tastes pretty damn Italian. I'm talking about Kirkland Basil Pesto sold at Costco in 22-oz jars for $9.40. The ingredient list is pretty good for commercial pesto, with Genovese basil, extra-virgin olive oil, Parmigiano, and pine nuts in the mix. Yes, there is sunflower oil and other strange stuff, but I have to confess that most commercial pesto in Italy uses plenty of shortcuts, replacing extra-virgin olive oil with safflower oil, pine nuts with walnuts or cashews, and adding extra weirdness such as powdered milk, margarine, palm oil, and dehydrated potatoes.

I've had a few guests from Italy in recent months, and they all loved the pesto and its price. One guest went back home with a jar, and another, daughter of a true Genovese, asked me to buy it again for the next time she'll come visit. The jar is pretty huge, so you might want to try to freeze it in cubes so you can make sure you use it all. As for my family, we go through 22 oz. quickly and without any problems. It's the overwhelmed-work-at-home mother's best friend.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


In this post, I'll put my pitch-perfect irony aside because I'll be reminiscing about my son as a 18-month-old, a wonderful time during which he was perfectly playful, agreeable, happy, and most importantly, so plump and round he could be easily drawn in 2D as a series of overlapping circles.

One of the first multisyllabic words my son pronounced was pandecocco. It is not a proper word, actually, but just some cute Italian-sounding gibberish that he loved to repeat over and over. Pandecocco sounds a lot like "pane di cocco," or coconut bread, but there's no way he meant that. I often asked him to point to a pandecocco around the house, and the closest explanation I got was him cheerfully pointing to the USB port on my laptop.

Months passed, and my son slowly stopped invoking pandecocco, but I remained intrigued... So intrigued I decided to bring this adorable nonsense into the real world in the form of a proper coconut bread. This would also serve as a trick to hear my son say "pandecocco" again and again into his preschool years and possibly until his voice changes. (Then I guess the magic will dissipate.)

Pandecocco became a coconut cake inspired by this Key Lime Coconut Cake by Gourmet. I made a few modifications to make it less sugary and super-quick to prepare (i.e. much less fancy, sorry). And then yesterday, I simply spooned  the dough into a muffin pan to have 12 little pandecocco to make my son's little head explode. Worked like a charm.

The resulting mini-cakes (I hesitate to call them cupcakes, although this is pretty much what they are... Also because that would confirm my fear that you cannot have a food blog without having cupcakes just show up at some point, which is a terrifying thought, really.)... Sorry, where was I? So, the resulting mini-cakes are very moist, fragrant, and not too sweet, and they will give you a whiff of summer in this very miserable end of winter 2014. Serve them for breakfast, for a snack, or even as a dessert. They were brought into this world by a toddler, so keep them playful.


1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 stick unsalted butter (softened)
1 cup sugar
1 tbps lemon extract
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups flour
2 tsps baking powder
3/4 milk
1/4 cup plain yogurt
Extra-virgin olive oil (spray)

Equipment: small baking pan, non-stick 12-well muffin pan, electric hand mixer, mixing bowl.
  • Preheat oven to 350°F and spray the wells of the muffin pan with the extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Toast coconut in the oven using a baking sheet for about 8–12 min, or until golden. Be careful because it gets from golden to burnt very quickly.
  • Using an electric hand mixer with the dough attachments, beat together butter, sugar, and lemon extract until fluffy. Beat in eggs.
  • Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour, baking powder, and 1/2 of the toasted coconut. Stir in milk and yogurt. Dough should be lumpy.
  • Spoon batter into the muffin pan and sprinkle with the remaining shredded coconut.
  • Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 15–20 minutes.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


I've had a couple of rough weeks. My preschooler is livelier than ever, the baby refuses to nap, and my PMS returned after a one and half year reprieve. My mood could best be pictured by a flock of rabid harpies flying straight out of Dante's Inferno. Luckily I remembered my motto, written in magnetic letters on my old dishwasher:

I do believe that cooking, and especially baking, has a therapeutic effect. But I'm not talking about the serene yoga-bliss advertised by slender crafters and macaroon-enthusiasts with lovely wavy locks on Pinterest (not that I'm judging). My baking therapy is an emergency intervention to save me and my family from an imminent, cataclysmic nervous breakdown. 

I'm not sure how this works, exactly, but I know that as I prep the dough, my anger dissipates. It might be that I get an outlet from the ultra speed and strength I apply to mixing the ingredients while rabidly biting on a kitchen towel. More effective than punching a wall or screaming in my nursing pillow: Baking gives my anger a worthy purpose and a crowd-pleasing result. Baking with Anger also brings an unexpected bonus. When you're angry, you tend to be less precise, often adding more of the ingredients you need. Your shaky, frenzied hands will sprinkle too much salt, chop too many olives, melt too much butter, and add way too much baking powder. (I made some furious pancakes that looked like country loaves once. They were amazing.)

A savory muffin filled with hate.

So yesterday, when I was on the brink of explosion, I decided to make muffins. Just announcing the intention of making muffins is a great start towards mental healing: Kids are immediately made happy and, more importantly, SILENT by the idea that they are soon going to have their favorite treat. 

I used this recipe for "savoury muffins" from Grab Your Spork, which calls for olives, spinach, dried tomatoes, and feta (the last thing you need in these dire times is to shove sugar-based muffins in your preschooler's mouth). I didn't have all the required ingredients, so I ended up with olive tapenade, chopped leftover kale, grated Parmigiano, and turmeric, because now I basically add it to everything. The muffins turned out great: super-flavorful, soft, and moist. My son ate 6 of them in 24 hours, which is not completely surprising since he has his parents' appetite, but still.

Notice the hand of a happy child.