These are a few of my favorite herbs

Uh-oh. Here comes the cool, then cold weather. Our garden on the patio is getting rag-tag and starting to slip into sleepiness. The leaves of our two trees– crepe myrtle & crab apple– are dropping, scattering, and painting an abstract landscape on the patio pebble floor.

All spring and summer I had the delight of stepping outside in the middle of cooking–leaving sizzling pans and boiling pots on the stove–while quickly snipping herbs from just outside the door. How I LOVE that. After years of apartment house living in NYC, the multi-herb wonder in the backyard  is my little paradise.

Here are my go-to most loved favorites…

Rosemary

Rosemary

Rosemary. Luckily this pine-needle-like bush carries on through the winter. Even if I’m not cooking with it I have to brush my hand across the leaves whenever I walk by and sniff the scent left on my fingers. Something about that smell is immediately transporting. To where? Some place in the deep soul of plant life that also lives in a happy place on my palate. Rosemary is  lovely with red meats especially lamb. But beef, too. And pork as well. It can be overpowering tho so I usually don’t use it on delicate dishes. Focaccia topping: perfect. Mince up the leaves finely if in a sauce.

Oregano

Oregano

Oregano. This is the one herb that is okay dried, too. It’s a different flavor than fresh, but dried oregano turns a tomato sauce into a pizza sauce. Fresh oregano jumpstarts a pesto (use just a little with your basil or parsley). It’s a surprising, welcome addition to a ravioli filling or roasted vegetable.

Parsley

Parsley

Parsley. I can never grow enough parsley for what I need. Parsley can go everywhere. Sometimes I like just a parsley pesto. Parsley swims abundantly in my artichoke cooking water. Minced in arrabbiata sauce. In the breadcrumb mixture for chicken cutlets. Minced in meatballs. It’s delicate taste can fit anywhere, yet it does add a LOT.

Basil

Basil

Basil. I remember the basil growing in my friend’s terraced garden up in the hills of Liguria. Basil shines in Liguria the most — the land of basil pesto. Where is originated. But it also shines in Napoli where pizza Margherita was born: pizza with tomato, mozzarella, and basil– the colors of the Italian flag.

Mint

Mint

Mint. Mint is the excitement herb. There are so many kinds, you can collect dozens. I grow two kinds of peppermint. The small, pointy leafed kind and a very delicate wide leave that my friend, Kazel, gave me. I also have chocolate mint which I adore. Add mint to your pesto. Break up leaves in a salad, or cooked vegetable dish. In the ravioli with your ricotta. Break up leaves in butter sauce. A mint frittata is stunningly deliciously!

Thyme

Thyme

Thyme. The thyme I grow is a kind I don’t see often. The leaves are feathery and rounded. It grows like crazy and I usually cut a large handful of leaves to top roasting chicken. When the chicken is done the leaves are all browned and stems are brittle. I remove the thyme, some leaves fall onto the meat, and the essence of thyme permeates the dish. Lovely.

Sage

Sage

Sage. Just like it’s name here’s a a wise herb. It almost has a smoky presence and brings an air of mysterious love to your dishes. You can also deep fry it for a crispy deep-flavored garnish to risotto, pasta, and vegetables.

Use herbs. I buy them in the store when winter sets in deep. It’s like insisting the garden be present on your table even in February. Herbs will brighten the dark cold days and positively charm your garden and kitchen in spring and summer. Dance with your herbs. They know all the steps.

Cookbook Collection from the 1950’s

Metropolitan Cookbook

Metropolitan Cookbook

I’m sure you all have a shelf, many shelves, entire rooms of cookbooks. Isn’t it funny how we can never really say: “Okay, I have enough cookbooks. I don’t need to look at another one again.”

Of course, we can’t say that. Our cooking-brains, food-fingers, food-appetites, food-curiosity kicks in and there is always another cookbook that jumps into our arms.

I also like the practice of raiding the library shelf to see if there are cookbooks I’d like to own. First borrow them. Then decide. Or steal that one recipe that grabs my attention, bring back the book, and then I’m done. With no money spent.

Still…I have to admit. Owning is better. Full colorful shelves are better. Having these friends to hang around with at home indefinitely (with no due dates to return) is better.

So today I’d like to share with you some of my most obscure favorites. To start, these books I never cook from. I just LOVE the books. They’re old and years ago I found them in dusty baskets in used book stores at the foot of giant shelves piled with cookbooks. But these are soft-covered, perfect-bound, and more like thick pamphlets. I discovered that some books were published as a series. Here’s one from a series…

French Cookbook

French Cookbook

The illustration alone is totally enchanting! When I found the first one in this series I was ever-after on the lookout for more of the same. I now have 6 of them: French, Italian, Scandinavian, Creole, New England, and Hungarian.  Inside are brief classic recipes I’ve yet to try. I get so caught up just LOOKING at the books. They were published between 1954 and 1956 by the Culinary Arts Institute in Chicago.

Another couple of favs were put out by the Ford Motor company in 1954 and 1956: The Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Favorite Eating Places (2 volumes).  Each book is a collection of favorite recipes from restaurants all over the USA. (They only measure 5.5 inches by 7.) With each restaurant they include a wonderful illustration. A different style for each entry. The books are divided by parts of the country: Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, etc. It’s fun to find out if these restaurants still exist. I imagine it was Ford Motor Company’s way to get people on the road!

Ford Treasury of Famous Recipes from Famous Eating Places

Ford Treasury of Famous Recipes from Famous Eating Places

Nelson House & The Bird and Bottle Inn

Nelson House & The Bird and Bottle Inn

Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Favorite Restaurants

Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Favorite Restaurants

Gruber's and The Keys

Gruber’s and The Keys

I usually don’t haunt old book stores the way I used to. It was an obsession at one point in time. But now that my shelves are stacked with these wonders. I can sit back and dive into  any of these jewels and be entertained for an entire afternoon. Recipes are long-lasting. And just reading them is pure pleasure. Maybe it’s time to pick out a few to try. When I do, I’ll let you know about the standouts. Stay tuned!

Hungarian Cookbook

Hungarian Cookbook

Scandinavian Cookbook

Scandinavian Cookbook

New England Cookbook

New England Cookbook

Creole Cookbook

Creole Cookbook

Italian Cookbook

Italian Cookbook

 

My Paintings of Italy

Venice View

Venice View

My new obsession. When I’m not in the kitchen, I’m at the dining room table with paint tubes sprawled, aluminum pans for palettes, a small blue plastic colander to hold up one end of my canvas on the table (maybe one of these days, an easel), and I paint.

Positano

Positano

I haven’t taken lessons. I just dive in. I choose a paint brush, play with blending colors, and start to work. A painting slowly emerges. Not perfect. But I like it anyway. It makes me smile. And I see the spirit of the place reflected back at me from the canvas.

Rome's Spanish Steps

Rome’s Spanish Steps

I’ve been around a lot of art in my life. My parents took me to museums when I was little. And I remember distinctly a series of large books at home, each with color plates of a master artist: Degas, Van Gogh, Lautrec, Renoir, Monet…I used to turn those pages for hours. Each painting imprinting in my mind.

My mom painted. I remember the small red hearts and designs on my white child-size furniture. And her canvas paintings of flowers I still have hanging on the wall. She painted a large freehand mural on our living room wall of arching willow trees. When we sold that house we were sure that’s what sold it.

Villa Cimbrone, Ravello

Villa Cimbrone, Ravello

When I lived in NYC I used to haunt the Metropolitan (it was down the street from where I lived), paying 50 cents to get in (they always had a “suggested” admission, but you can pay what you like, so I could go often). And just wander, looking at paintings, old and modern, sculpture, mostly ancient. I loved the Whitney Museum of American Art. And MoMA. And the Guggenheim.

Guggenheim Museum - my very first painting

Guggenheim Museum – my very first painting

When I lived in Rome I took art and architectural history classes. Professors had us meet them right at the site of, say, a Palladio building, or up into the rafters of a church to see the ceiling frescoes.

Then I started writing for museums. Audio tour scripts. And worked with curators from art museums all over the country. We discussed the content to be translated into short audio messages for each painting of an exhibition. How to look at it, what to see, composition, color palette, details of the artist’s life and historical context.

Umbrian Hill Town

Umbrian Hill Town

My once-husband, Peter Selgin, is a painter. I watched him paint. And I saw how he turned reality into art and didn’t worry about creating exact representations (although he could do that if he wanted). But poetic ones.

Grand Canal

Grand Canal

There has been a quiet tug inside me for a long while to paint. I have often wanted to give it a go. But told myself to wait…that it would be a good thing to do when I’m 90… when I might have some free time! But last year I let the tug inside sneak out and I gave it try. I had never held a brush in my hand but I’m so glad I picked one up. The hours I spend on painting are completely free, completely poetic hours. The kind of hours we must all find ways to live.

 

10 Kitchen Handy-Dandy Deeds

kitchen

kitchen

I’m sure we all do it. Everyday. A million little shortcuts, tricks, helpful handy deeds in the kitchen. I stopped for a minute to see if I can catch a few of them speeding by. You know…they just happen. You forget you even do them. Try to take note of your handy-dandy kitchen deeds. Let me know yours. We can trade.

(In no particular order):

1. Preserve your green delicates longer.

undo the scallions

undo the scallions

Did you ever have a bunch of scallions or a bunch of parsley start to get all mushy and wet? When you first get them home, before putting them away, take off the rubber bands and twist ties. When they live loose in their bag (while stored) they don’t mush up so fast. (And I collect the rubber bands, which come in handy for all kinds of things.)

2. Magically use less olive oil.

2 olive oil bottles

2 olive oil bottles

A lot of the time we want to drizzle olive oil. Not POUR it. The large pour spouts in most store-bought bottles are pretty wide. So you get a river when you really want a steady creek. Those pretty olive oil decanter bottles you see all the time solve this asap (Trader Joe has millions of them).

olive oil bottles at TJ Maxx

olive oil bottles at TJ Maxx

Pour spouts might vary from one to the next. Some thinner than a drizzle; others just drizzle. So I keep two bottles. One pours faster than the other. I grab the faster one to coat a sauté pan. And the slower-pour for drizzling on top of food.

3. Slice shrimp in half for MORE SHRIMP.

cut shrimp

cut shrimp

Oh so tricky. I love this. Slice them in half lengthwise. Then add them to your dish (sauce? sauté? shrimp cocktail?). Half of a shrimp is just as satisfying to pop in your mouth as a whole shrimp. So you get to multiply them, distributing more shrimp pieces throughout your dish. Ain’t it the truth.

4. Scissors. The hidden hero in the kitchen.

scissor parsley

scissor parsley

Quick and easy. Snip snip snip. Fast-minced parsley. Or almost anything. There’s an ease and child-like play to using scissors. Like you’re getting away with something. Like it’s not supposed to be so easy. I cut sausage, butter, cooked spaghetti, pizza. Any other ideas?

5. Soft butter takes time.

soft butter

soft butter

I leave it out overnight. It’s ready in the morning when I want to bake. And it doesn’t mind leaving its refrigerated home for a dark evening on the kitchen counter. In fact, that stick of butter is on an adventure. It knows what’s coming and can dream about it all night. Transformation into the butterfly of a cake (or some other luscious starring role).

6. Stop your cutting board from running away.

cutting board with damp paper towel

cutting board with damp paper towel

Chasing your board around the table while your hand is busily chopping with a knife is probably not a great way to come up with more ingredients for your new inventive dish. Place a damp paper towel under the board. Keeps it from moving. The photo shows a transparent (yet opaque) plastic cutting board with a square of wet paper towel under it. But same tip works for wood, heavy plastic, etc.

7. Another way to avoid burns.

pot holder alert

pot holder alert

I’m a frittata cooker. Almost all leftovers can be made into a frittata. The last step of the dish is putting the frittata under the broiler. In its frying pan. Of course, when it’s golden and lovely, you take it out from under the broiler. And, of course, you use pot holders to take it out. And then you place the pan on the stove while you go and get a serving platter. LEAVE THE POT HOLDERS ON THE HANDLE. So when you come back and attempt to move a frying pan that you always hold by the handle when sautéing (since you FORGET that this time it’s SUPER hot) the pot holders remind you. (This is very nice of them and I’ve often thanked them for this service.)

8.  Put some salt in the cellar.

salt cellar

salt cellar

We’re always shaking salt from a salt shaker. It’s a nice way to get a gentle sprinkle on food. (And I am certainly a salter while cooking.) But what about when you need a teaspoon of salt? Or a tablespoon? Or when you need a “healthy pinch?” Hence, the salt cellar. It’s at the ready with a small vat of salt for you to poke into. Years ago when I first became fascinated with salt cellars I searched for the perfect one (accumulating non-perfect ones, too). I’ve since lost many from that collection but, in addition to my everyday Le Creuset salt cellar bought at TJ Maxx for a bargain, I still have one that I bought at a Paris flea market.

"sel" cellar

“sel” cellar

It’s got a hinged wooden door on top so your salt is safe from falling sugar, or fruit flies, or dust, or excited spattering stovetop oil. Now I use that one to store tea bags.

9. In the pasta pot: oil and water don’t mix.

IMG_5274

pasta boiling

Don’t do it. You don’t need to. It just gets you some oil-coated American-style pasta. Nah. Spaghetti will not stick while boiling. You don’t need to add oil to the water. Here’s how:

pasta dropped in pot

pasta dropped in pot

I hold the whole bunch in my hand over the center of the boiling water and place the spaghetti upright into the center. The strands will splay more evenly to the sides that way. Then right away get a long wooden fork (or longest fork you have) and poke into the strands, spinning them like you would if you were eating them. Poke in different places and spin to loosen them from each other. This gets easier to do once the noodles soften into the water. Keep poking and spinning now and then until the water comes back to a boil. Now the spaghetti will stay separated as it boils (and you can poke and spin a few more times before done).

10. Not useful. Just pretty

doily dust

doily dust

I just love this trick. When your cake is done and cooled and you’re not going to ice it…just want to dust it with powdered sugar, first place a paper doily on top. I use a small sieve with powdered sugar in it and tap it to dust the whole thing with a good layer of sugar. Then hold the doily with your fingertips on each side and lift straight up. Voila!

I’ve done this in class and students LOVE it. One student came back the next time with a gift: a packet of plastic doilies with many shapes and designs — a Martha Stewart doily-pack. So you can re-use them.

chocolate w doily dust

chocolate w doily dust

Stay tuned for more Hand-Dandy Deeds!

 

My Tasting Spoons

my tasting spoons

my tasting spoons

I never intended to have a gaggle of tasting spoons. They just sprouted into a collection over the years.

I’m such a fan of “little.” Small bowls, small plates, small glasses. I like bites rather than gulps. Espresso in a demitasse cup rather than a mug of American. And that’s just where this started. I had 2 demitasse spoon collections. These spoons were my go-to tools for tasting or stirring small amounts. In stores and food markets and flea markets I always get drawn into sets of small spoons. And forks. Those seafood forks or appetizer forks. Everything seems to sparkle more when smaller. And sparkle cuter.

Now in my cooking classes, the little spoons and forks are engaged throughout class to taste our concoctions. Students have been inspired to start their own collections.

Of course over the years I’ve lost a few here and there so now my assortment is a ragtag mismatched bunch. Here are the last remnants from my first two demitasse spoon sets.

my oldest demitasse spoons

my oldest demitasse spoons

I think my mom had given them to me. The one with the red color in the handle was part of a set where each spoon had a different dot of color. I love these little guys but now only have one. (Do they fall down the drain of the sink?) The longer one is my favorite for making a quick vinaigrette (drizzle a few rounds of olive oil in a small bowl, add some salt & pepper, a few tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice – or both – and about 2 tablespoons of grated parmigiano- whisk vigorously with a little spoon until combined).

I think these colorful plastic spoons are meant for ice cream.

plastic ice cream spoons

plastic ice cream spoons

There was a set of six originally, but somehow three got spirited away — my favs are lost: the red, the yellow, the dark blue. They’re from that fun store that used to be in Grand Central Station (can’t remember the name) with whisks that had doll heads and staplers shaped like crocodiles. When I last lived in NY I lived in Spuyten Duyvil, Bronx and took the commuter rail at Grand Central to get home. While waiting for my train, I usually browsed this store, or ate a slice of pizza from Two Boots (thin with a crunch of corn meal).

These are plastic, too, and from Eataly in NYC.

spoons from Eatlaly

spoons from Eatlaly

There used to be six of them (where DO these spoons get lost to??). They’re so tiny but I find myself grabbing them first for tasting the tomato sauce or the crazy grits I make every Monday morning (crazy because they’re filled with an assortment of chopped leftovers) or stirring my caffe latte in the morning. My mom has a set of red ones. She still has all six.

When the spoons run out in class (because we taste, then throw the spoon in the sink) we move on to small forks. This is the only fork left from a set I bought at a flea market in Madrid, Spain.

fork from Madrid, Spain

fork from Madrid, Spain

I spent a week in Madrid after doing a stint with an archaeological team in Burgos, Spain. We were digging up the stage of an ancient Roman theatre. In the Madrid flea market I bought a pretty belt that was several looped chains together (perfect for the belly dance classes I used to take), a set of these tiny forks, and a set of tiny spoons. Only the fork remains. (I can’t seem to find the belt either.)

I love these scalloped-bowled spoons from an antique store on Cape Cod.

scalloped spoons

scalloped spoons

I don’t use these for tasting. They come to the table to accompany condiment dishes, like the extra grated cheese for pasta or the arugula-pine nut pesto to go with the pork tenderloin or cocktail sauce for shrimp. There was always just the two.

Not sure where these two came from but I love their soup-spoon-like shape.

soup spoon-shaped

soup spoon-shaped

There’s a restaurant store in town. Half the warehouse is filled with the contents of old restaurants. The other half, new appliances and tools. I got this set for just $2 there!

restaurant store set

restaurant store set

These forks were from TJ Maxx…

TJ Maxx forks

TJ Maxx forks

And these my mom gave me a million years ago…

seafood forks

seafood forks

I put them out when we’re having clams on the half shell, but no one uses them, they just slurp.

Speaking of TJ Maxx. I find all kinds of Italian imports in their housewares section. Beautifully painted ceramic dishes and bowls. And even pasta tools and colanders. I found these Italian tiny wooden spoons at TJ Maxx.

Italian wooden spoons

Italian wooden spoons

They had a tag in Italian telling of the type of wood and where they’re from (tag is gone and I don’t remember!), and a rustic string that held them all together by the holes in the handles.

My friend Peggy Cosgrave gave me the little cauldron where I keep the spoons.

Peggy's cauldron

Peggy’s cauldron

It doesn’t have a flat bottom so it tends to rock from side to side. But now that my spoon-fork collection barely fits in there, the copper cauldron stays pretty steady.

Oh, and I just found these at the dollar store yesterday. Packs of tiny spoons and tiny forks.

dollar store spoons and forks

dollar store spoons and forks

They’re really thin plastic made to look like silver flatware. I won’t add these to the collection but they’ll get used somehow. They just look so cute in the package!

How to Make Stovetop Espresso Coffee

The Joys of Espresso

The Joys of Espresso

My first encounter with stovetop espresso was in Rome in the late 1970’s. I shared an apartment with Grazia Enrica Brunelli in the neighborhood of Trastevere. Enrica, a quintessential Roman, made stovetop espresso every morning. That’s where I learned it. That’s where it became part of my morning routine. With its aroma and distinctive flavor, I bring Rome with me wherever I go. One sip and the Roman air swirls around me. I can hear the vespas speed by the window. I can elicit the unique aura that only umbrella pines and ancient ruins can muster into the atmosphere.

Rome: umbrella pines and ruins

Rome: umbrella pines and ruins

Bring Italy home for yourself. Here’s how to make the coffee. Then let your imagination channel the rest of Rome into your morning. Evening. Afternoon. This elixir summons any part of Italy into your immediate realm.

And it’s easy to do.

I have a small collection of espresso pots. (And 1 napolitana pot.)

espresso and napolitana pots

espresso and napolitana pots

They are easy to find online, in housewares stores, TJ Maxx, too. But do make sure you get one that is made in Italy. There are some impostors running around that are Made in China (with Italian names on the labels). I haven’t encountered one China-made espresso pot that is worth getting. The most popular Italian-made pot is Bialetti Moka-Express. Look for the little man pointing above his head.

Bialetti Moka-Express

Bialetti Moka-Express

You’ll find different sizes. When they say 6-cup or 4-cup remember they are talking espresso size, the size of 6 or 4 espresso “shots.” So choose accordingly. Families keep these pots for generations. There’s a rubber washer inside that can be replaced if the original deteriorates (that might take more than 20 years!). Even if the black handles break off, people keep them since the pot still works fine without it (use a bigger pot holder to handle).

How to make stovetop espresso: Unscrew the pot. Take out the metal filter nestled in the bottom.

unscrew the espresso pot

unscrew the espresso pot

Fill the bottom with cold water up to the metal steam hole. Place the metal filter in, and fill the filter with espresso coffee.

coffee in filter

coffee in filter

IMPORTANT: for the best flavor use Italian espresso coffee. It’s roasted darker than French roast and delivers that characteristic flavor. I like the brand Lavazza.

Lavazza coffee

Lavazza coffee

Screw the top onto the pot tightly. Too loose and water will steam out of the sides instead of up through the ground coffee. Place pot on your stovetop burner, gas or electric. I try to place it so that the handle is not over the heat.

espresso pot on stove

espresso pot on stove

I set the burner on high or medium high. Stay by and watch. The water in the bottom of the pot will heat up, boil, and push up thru the coffee (“espress”) and perk out thru the hole in the top of the pot, filling the top of the pot with finished coffee.

coffee spouting

coffee spouting

When the water starts hissing and pushing up, I usually lower the heat some. Turn off heat or remove pot when the top is almost full so that it doesn’t boil over.

Be careful handling the hot pot. Pour your espresso.

pour your espresso

pour your espresso

 

Add milk if you like (you can warm the milk first, that’s how Enrica did it. I have usually have less patience and just add a bit of cold milk.) (I also like sugar!)

pouring milk

pouring milk

Ecolo! Il caffe tuo e pronto, signora, signore, signorina, ragazze!

When cleaning your pot (wait until it’s cool enough to handle), just rinse it well, you don’t need to use soap. These pots get “seasoned” and the residual coffee oils add to its personality. I once lent a pot to a neighbor and it came back shiny clean. They thought they were doing me a favor!

Now you might be interested in the other stovetop Italian coffee method using the pot known as “napolitana”…which means Naples-style.

napolitana pot

napolitana pot

This style is similar to a drip pot but you’re still using espresso coffee. The coffee it creates is a little smoother than the other espresso–not so intense.

Take the pot apart.

napolitana pot

napolitana pot

Fill the bottom (the half without the spout) with water up to the little hole. Unscrew the filter and fill with coffee.

coffee in napolitana filter

coffee in napolitana filter

Screw top on filter and place filter, coffee end up, into the water of the bottom half.

filter in napolitana pot

filter in napolitana pot

Push the spout half on top, lining up the handles, and place on the burner (keep handles away from heat and they’ll stay cool for handling).

napolitana pot on stove

napolitana pot on stove

Listen for the subtle bubbling sound signaling the water inside is almost boiling. Shut the heat and carefully turn the pot upside down, so the spout half is on the bottom. The hot water will drip through the filter. This will take about 3 minutes, so wait for it to brew…then enjoy!

Here’s another pot I have. It’s a “2-cup” but just enough to fill my tiny mug. I love making my own little pot of espresso. This pot my aunt brought back from Sicily. Buon caffe!

1-serving pot

1-serving pot

What I Buy at Trader Joe’s – Part 2

Oh, this list can go on forever, but I’ll try to fill in the blanks little by little, each time with a new list of goodies. I have fun at Trader Joe’s. I have fun at supermarkets period. At farmer’s markets. At Costco. At foreign supermarkets, outdoor markets, little food stores. Seeing food on display, deciding what you want, imagining recipes, discovering new products, sampling, happy to see the season’s new crops…I love all of that. It’s my idea of a good time.

New List of My Trader Joe’s Favs:

Fresh Artichokes – 4 medium artichokes to a pack – cheap money

Fresh Artichokes at Trader Joe's

Fresh Artichokes at Trader Joe’s

I am an artichoke junkie. I love the Italian word for artichokes: carciofi. Finding fresh ones, consistently, that aren’t the size of tractor trailers, that are human-sized, that you can cook up in the many ways I love to cook them (here’s one recipe), is sometimes the equivalent of obtaining the Holy Grail (yes, I exaggerate). But these are gold-like to me. And TJ’s is the only place where the packages are stacked high and easy to buy. I grew up eating them “Italian-style” then shared an apartment on LI with a California friend (hello, Castroville, CA, American capital of artichoke growing) and learned her way of eating them and then we came up with a recipe we both adored: boil or steam them till the heart is tender. Make a dip of mayo, lemon juice and soy sauce. Umami-central.

Olives (Picholine)

Trader Joe's Picholine Olives

Trader Joe’s Picholine Olives

Trader Joe’s has 3 different olives that I love. Picholine is one of them. Perfect acidity, soft but al dente, goes with ANYTHING. My other favs are their pitted Kalamata and the green Jaques Lucques olives–oh, yum.

Red Argentinian Shrimp

Trader Joe's Argentine Shrimp

Trader Joe’s Argentinian Shrimp

These are in the freezer section. Raw, shelled. And are not always available. They SELL OUT. Something unusual about this shrimp. They are pink while raw, and they are soft when cooked. It’s an odd, pleasant, and luxurious sensation to bite into one, like you’ve been invited to the high gourmand table.

Trader Joe’s Italian Shelled Fava Beans

Trader Joe's Frozen Fava Beans

Trader Joe’s Frozen Fava Beans

This product is a boon to mankind. How often do you run across fresh fava beans? I do, sometimes. Sometimes in the regular supermarket. More often in the Asian market. But not always. THESE are out of their pods, but still in their individual shells. I just discovered them in TJ’s freezer section last month. LOVE. I give them a quick blanche, then peel each shell away to reveal that startling green lovely, so lovely, fava bean. My fav recipe: Sauté some sliced onion and diced pancetta in some olive oil. Add beans, add a bit of wine. Cook for just 5 minutes or so (TJ’s are young beans, so don’t need to cook too long). Add some salt. LOVE this.

Walnuts, Halves & Pieces

Trader Joe's Walnuts Halves & Pieces

Trader Joe’s Walnuts Halves & Pieces

So when I usually buy walnuts they are whole. Supposedly, that’s preferred. If you’re snacking on them I’m sure that whole is more satisfying. But if you’re cooking, I end up breaking them between my fingers (since on a board with a knife they tend to have a flight life all their own). Trader Joe’s sells them broken. TJ’s nut department– no, not the employees — nor the shoppers — but the nuts as in walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, cashews, peanuts, almonds is EXTENSIVE. It’s a pleasure just to peruse the shelves and marvel at the variety. Yes, you can get whole walnuts, but I like these broken ones…ready to go. Same with pecans, whole or broken, candied or salted, raw or roasted. And the list goes on…leaving an irresistible trail for you to follow …nibbling all the way.

Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

Trader Joe's Cocoa Powder

Trader Joe’s Cocoa Powder

I love this package. And I love this cocoa. What more could you want?

Blood Oranges (when they have them)

Trader Joe's Blood Oranges

Trader Joe’s Blood Oranges

I almost fainted when I saw this bag of blood oranges at Trader Joe’s this past January. They’re a rare commodity. They aren’t there now. But you never know. And that’s the thing about Trader Joe’s. They come up with seasonal stuff. (Like a 2-foot branch of Brussels sprouts. And their burnt-around-the edges-but yummy matzoh crackers only in around Passover.) And then it’s gone. Grab it when you can. These blood oranges are so delicious, not as sweet as “orange” oranges, but the tartness elevates the flavor. They’re so pretty and remind me of my student days in Rome. My other fav TJ’s orange is the Cara Cara.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for Part 3. Because there’s always something cool to get at TJ’s. Don’t be shy about trying stuff. You will likely not go wrong. (They ain’t paying me for this.) (Maybe they should!) 🙂

TJ's Blood Oranges

TJ’s Blood Oranges