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I’m feeling inspired.

Many, many of you have generously offered up your gorgeous recipes since I started writing a couple of years ago. I’d love more.

So here’s what I propose: A cooking tour—your recipes, me cooking and writing about them here on Eve’s Apple, and both of us talking about them afterward. I want to celebrate home cooks and what they make. And I think it would be fun to cook my way around the world if I can.

Here’s how you come in:

1) Send me your favorite recipe if you haven’t already.

A photo would be great, too, so I know what I’m shooting for. If I like it, I will add it to my list and cheerfully contact you to let you know. Please, no follow ups.

2) Stick to simple home cooking.

Most of you know this about me, but just to emphasize: I am far, far less impressed by the fancy, the fussy, the contrived and the eye-popping than in authentic, regional, humble dishes that focus on quality ingredients.

Soft-boiled eggs with dippy soldiers from Great Britain, melon jam from Greece, and fried zucchini blossoms from Rome are ideal examples of what I’m looking to cook (and I’ve received wonderful recipes of all three—thank you).

3) Send clear instructions of the recipe and the history behind it.

In other words, please tell me this sauce was your mother’s or grandmother’s favorite, or that your cousin has been making this potato salad for your family Labor Day picnic since 1956. I do love a story.

4) Allow me to do some light editing of the recipe if necessary.

5) Perimeters and no-go’s:

Please avoid…

-Recipes that call for cake mixes, MSG, processed foods and other artificial stuff. Chemicals can give me migraines.

-Anything too pricey, huge or difficult to find. If you’re a Laplander and want to offer your recipe for reindeer steaks, please know I’d dearly love to try it, but unfortunately, suburban New Jersey, USA doesn’t feature such things.

-Recipes that were found online, from a magazine, etc. I’d like ones from your own collection.

I’ll eat most foods. But some I won’t, because of flavor, politics or allergies, like: fennel/anise, veal, Chilean sea bass, swordfish, turnips, mint, eggplant and red radishes.

And p.s., I don’t own a grill or a microwave. I have an oven and 4 stove top jets. Old beach house.

6) Provide your name, city and country.

Message me one of two ways: via LinkedIn, or via email at mcproco@gmail.com. If your recipe is selected, I will credit you with your first name only, city and country.

*

Just an FYI: I will not be cooking a new recipe every single day of the year because I gave up masochism for Lent. My plan is to cook as many as I can in a year’s time. But I’ll balance writing about this project with writing about other topics so nobody gets burned out and everybody stays chomping at the bit.

Deadline for recipe submissions is midnight EST, June 27, 2013.

Sound good?

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Lombardi’s outdoor sconce, lighting our way at the start of the tourney—an All-Carb Olympic torch.

Porta in Asbury Park, NJ makes a pizza carbonara so good I want to roll in it like a dog. Before I say anything about pizza anywhere else, I need to impress this upon you, because this kind of quality is what I had in mind when my sister and brother-in-law treated me to a pizza tour of Manhattan last October. Porta’s chewy, deliriously addictive crust and buttery, runny, full fat housemade cheese—my mozzarella muse, which I say with precisely zero shame—that’s the taste I had in my mouth, and it’s what NY was up against.

Five pizza places, some new, some very, very old; five thin-crust Margherita pies (tomato, mozzarella, basil) to keep the playing field level; five pies judged for quality of crust, sauce, cheese and overall experience.

Below, a photo essay of our day, and I’ll be sure to unpack my adjectives.

Lombardi’s (below), A.

Often enough, the big-name grandpas of the restaurant world strut their leisure suits and flash grins full of metal bridgework, hoping to convince you that they haven’t lost their mojo. But their best years are usually way behind them. Others, happily, have still got it, and the oldest pizza place in the city is one of them.

Crust: Straightforward with a bit of a crunch, somewhat light hand with the salt.

Sauce: Bright flavor, sweet.

Cheese: Chewy, perfect amount.

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Luzzo’s, A.

Crust: Delicate, thin as a Saltine cracker.

Sauce: Salty, but it worked.

Cheese: Creamy little dairy pillows.

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Luzzo’s beautiful old interior–brick, beam and detail.

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Well worn swivel chairs, bar paneling and vintage tile floor.

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Tools of the trade plus a bit of incongruous Indian corn just for fun.

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Patina in the old tin ceiling.

Motorino, A+. Good and soppy pizza extravaganza.

Crust: Chewy, rustic and doughy.

Sauce: Fresh and sweet.

Cheese: Happily runny cheese pillows.

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Worth a second shot.

Gruppo, B+.

Crust: Paper thin and crispy, somewhat forgettable.

Sauce: Spiciest so far.

Cheese: Plentiful, chewy.

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Okay, next was Grom, because with four pizzas down and one to go, we’d already thrown our hats over the fence, so what did adding authentic Italian gelato matter? Below is vanilla bean and chocolate. I was quite undone by it, and not because I was full from pizza. Out-of-the-ballpark good.

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Co. Pizza, A++ As close to Porta as I could find. We were stuffed and yet still ate two of these pies. Better than Motorino by a hair* (please forgive the indelicate expression; I know we’re eating).

Crust: Drug like. The doughy, pliable kind that stretches a little when you try to pull it away from the other slices. Tip: Everybody pull at once.

Sauce: Fresh, evenly flavored.

Cheese: Oozy, goopy and plentiful.

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More than a little dismaying to think that Co., which offers such outstanding pizza, felt they needed to add a disclaimer such as this to their menu. To the customers that inspired it: Kindly get a grip.

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Reigning champion.

Where’s your favorite ‘za? What makes a pie the best? Don’t hold back—it’s a cold night. Consider it a public service.

*I just grossed out my mom. Sorry 😀

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Now come on. Just hear me out.

I used to loathe this dish when I was a kid, it’s true. Anchovies, garlic and nuts of any kind were way up there on my yuck list. So on Christmas Eve, when everyone else was having this for dinner*, I had pasta with something else. Admittedly, something tamer. Tame dishes have their place, such as when the eater is recovering from something catastrophic, such as stomach flu or trying to land a buyer on eBay. But I’ll also make a strong argument for trying something new, even if it may seem bizarre at first. There are times when random ingredients come together to make something celestial. This is one of those times. I’ve said it before and here it is again: Try and it hate it—you’re welcome to hate it!—but try it.

This is an honest, very hearty, very flavorful recipe from Liguria, a dish made with a handful of pantry ingredients, and it has a wonderful bracing effect on a nasty winter night. Makes you feel powerful, as if Everest is for wussy pants, as if you have the stamina to brave that cold night with zero worries.

All of the ingredients are to taste. If you really dig walnuts, or hot pepper flakes, or herbs, use more.

Simple stuff…here we go.

1 lb. pasta

8 filets whole anchovies, blitzed in a small grinder

2 fresh garlic cloves, minced**

3/4 cup of olive oil

2 tsp dried basil

2 tsp dried parsley

1 tsp hot pepper flakes

2 c shelled and roughly chopped walnuts

Salt and black pepper

1) Set a pot two-thirds filled with salted water over high heat and cover. Then set a colander in your sink.***

2) While you’re waiting for the water to boil, put a wide, heavy skillet over medium low heat and add the walnuts to toast them. You’ll need to shake the pan every 10 seconds or so to make sure they brown evenly. They smell really good when they’re done. Put them in a little bowl to wait nicely.

3) Put the olive oil in that same skillet over medium low heat again, and add your minced garlic, pepper flakes and herbs. Give everything a little stir. Then add your anchovies and stir again so they don’t stick to the pan. Add salt and pepper. Go easy on the salt, though, because anchovies are salty. After about a minute, take the skillet off the heat.

4) Once your water comes to a low boil, the lid will tell you it wants to come off. Take it off, then wait until the water is at a good rolling boil. Then add your pasta, stir frequently, and cook for as long as you like it cooked. For dried pasta, eight minutes is about my limit.**** Put oven mitts on and pour the pasta and water into the colander. Shake the colander and then pour the pasta into your skillet with the sauce. Add in your walnuts. Use tongs or a long handled wooden spoon and fork to distribute the sauce through the pasta. Have a bite and doctor the seasonings until it tastes right to you.

5) Eat up a big, narcissistic bowl of this.

6) Gloat.

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*We’re Italian, but for some reason we never did the Christmas Eve Seven Fishes thing.

**Not the stuff that’s already peeled and minced up in a jar, and not cloves that are whole and already peeled. When you take the protective natural coating off any fruit or vegetable, you’ve instantly started aging it. The way I see it, you’re bothering to cook…you want a good return on investment…so use fresh ingredients. Buy a firm head of garlic, pull off as many cloves as you want, and either peel off the papery skin with your fingers or use the Food Network method: Put a clove on the counter, lie the blade of a chef’s knife flat on top of it, and press down on the blade with the heel of your hand. This will split the skin, and then you’ll be able to get the clove out pretty easily.

***Don’t be like me and leave anything in the sink. Once I was a lazybones and did that, then poured the boiling hot pasta water into the colander. The sudden heat cracked a bowl into several hundred pieces. Not my brightest moment.

****Where did the idea of throwing pasta against a wall to see if it’s done come from? I’m a heathen, you know I am, but even I don’t go for this idiocy. Grab your tongs, coax a noodle up out of the water, toss it in your colander to cool it for a second, and then have a taste. Trust your mouth, not your drywall.

*****Per one of my New Year’s resolutions to start drawing again, I give you drawing #1!

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Well, hiya!

Finally, after three weeks of Hurricane Sandy-imposed Luddism, my internet connection has been reinstated. (Being disconnected was a drag, but there was certainly one bright spot in it: I missed the graphic photos, videos and commentary about the destruction, especially here at the Jersey shore. I saw plenty just walking around my own neighborhood.) And after having no power for 11 days, staying in the dark and cold for six of them, and panicking about weather, losses among my friends and neighbors, endless gas lines and more, let’s put it this way: I’d rather direct my attention to comfort. Hence this post.

Below are shots I took on a recent, pre-Sandy visit to Ben’s Best in Queens, that despite its size (tiny) is an institution when it comes to authentic Jewish delicatessen. My brother and sister-in-law took me there for a belated birthday present. Clearly they know me well.

The shots below are about bounty rather than loss, bringing together rather than ripping apart, and warmth rather than cold. The trip and the food were both fantastic, but memories of them have taken on an extra layer of significance in light of the mess of the last few weeks.

I’m neither Jewish nor a grandmother; nevertheless, I offer these shots in the spirit of those great comforting women. Warm up with me.

Fried kreplach with caramelized onions.

Stuffed cabbage with tangy sweet and sour sauce.

Kreplach as dumplings in chicken soup. The mug it’s served in has emblazoned on the side: ‘Jewish Penicillin.’

My brother’s brisket sandwich.

My sister-in-law’s ‘Chicken in a Pot’. Huge. Massive. As big as a foot bath. She took half home.

Saved the best for last. This is my pastrami sandwich, fall-apart tender, salty salty, sliced thinly, and served on soft rye. Might be the prettiest thing ever.

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That’s Dana above, stirring onions for our spaghetti sauce.  She came over yesterday with my other friend Casey, just because we felt like cooking together.

Cooking with these two is new. But working with them isn’t. We’ve done lots of local theatre shows together—not as actors, mind you, but as crew. We’re stage technicians.

Many people aren’t sure what that means, so here you go: During a show, have you ever seen the lights onstage dim or go out entirely…and then you see faint shadows of people moving set pieces on and off stage…people rolling, pushing, lifting, spinning a bunch of things into place for a scene, usually within seconds? That’s us.

Working in close quarters backstage, having to whisper, feeling the pressure of having to get something right night after night in the dark, in a scant amount of time, trying to avoid injury to ourselves and to the actors who are trusting us, you can imagine it feels like a war zone at times.

But there are plusses inherent in this work, too: We become very, very good at reading each other from across the darkened wings, at knowing each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and we build trust whether we plan to or not. (Not surprisingly, it’s my theatre friends who gave exceptional, much-needed practical support and know-how when I’ve changed addresses, or when, say, when I’ve gotten into an accident.)

When the rapport’s not there, it will be a nightmare backstage, guaranteed. But when you click, and everything moves like a Rolex dipped in extra virgin olive oil, there’s no high like it. It’s GOLDEN.

In planning this lunch, I asked Casey to bring pasta and a colander and Dana to bring soda. I did not worry about them bringing the wrong thing or about forgetting entirely. And they did not.

So here we are in a kitchen. A real one for once, not a two-dimensional set.

Casey’s in his thirties and is comfortable in the kitchen; Dana’s a teenager and is not. Yesterday I taught her how to slice an onion, and she did it beautifully. Then we all went across the street to a patch of herbs I planted years ago and snipped off some thyme and oregano.

I made the sauce a few hours earlier from pureed fresh tomatoes that I bought at my favorite farm. Seemed incongruous to buy canned tomatoes in high summer. (Well, it is. Especially in New Jersey.) The tomatoes took a while to cook down, though, full of water as they were. I added a bit of tomato paste for its intense concentrated flavor.

Then we all tasted the sauce to see what it lacked, and Casey thought we should add a bit of sugar. I come from a family that would throw your clothes out onto the street at such a suggestion, but like I emphasized above, I trust this guy. So we put in a couple of pinches of brown sugar.

This is Dana and me above, pulling off bits of fresh herbs and dropping them into the simmering sauce.

While we waited for the pasta to come to a boil, I painted musical designs on Dana’s arms. (She’s a techie AND a singer.) As I painted, Case manned the pasta.

And this is the two of them tucking in.

Later we went to the beach, ate some junk food, played vintage video games and pinball, and then dropped Dana off to the show she was crewing in Red Bank. It was a good day.

P.S. The sauce was pretty good with the sugar.

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I know Thanksgiving’s over. I also know you probably already have a favorite stuffing recipe—maybe a treasured heirloom, passed down through generations, or lovingly learned at your grandma’s knee, or clipped from Good Housekeeping, circa 1978.

Abandon it. This is all there is.

I could break down the elements of this stuffing to determine the science behind why it’s so yummy, how its unapologetically rich and salty ingredients come together to make it so addictive. But I think I’ll let it speak for itself.

My family used to make shovelsful of this stuff every year because we knew we were going to be eating it all morning and afternoon while we prepped the rest of the food. It sat in two enormous, low earthenware bowls on the oven’s warming plate, and we stuck our fingers into it every time we passed to watch the parade. To this day, I associate Mighty Mouse with the smell of toasted pignoles.

The greatest thing about this recipe, aside from the taste, is how quickly it comes together. It takes maybe half an hour, usually less. And it’s what Sara Moulton from Gourmet magazine would call ‘a dump recipe’, meaning it all ends up together and then you stir it and say ta-dahh.

My father invented this at least 40 years ago, and we have never, ever had any other stuffing. When I was a little kid I hated it because it was too spicy. Now I eat it like a stoned Rottweiler,  figuring it’s okay since I lost out on all of those years.

My sister wrote down the recipe for me maybe ten years ago. She was the one who made it in latter years. I’d come through my parents’ kitchen door and she wouldn’t say hello; instead, she’d walk up to me with a forkful of the stuff and say, ‘Tell me what this needs. I can’t taste it anymore.’ Once everything’s in the pan, you taste and tweak until it sings just right for you.

Go:

Semolina bread with sesame seeds, stale and broken into pieces, about 1.5 long loaves (I think it tastes better when pulled apart with your fingers rather than chopped, but we’ve established that I’m a heathen)

1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage with fennel seeds, uncooked

4-5 tablespoons Italian seasoning (it’s a bunch of dried herbs like rosemary and basil and others, all in one container. Get the kind without salt and pepper added.)

Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1/2 pound, grated

Pignoles (pine nuts), 1/4 pound

6 eggs

2-3 good splashes of olive oil

Black pepper

In a big skillet, on medium heat, break up the sausage and partially cook it. In a big bowl, mix the bread, seasonings, 1/4 lb cheese, and eggs, and mix to blend.

Throw the stuff into the skillet with the sausage and mix to let it start soaking up the sausage drippings. Let it sit a couple of minutes, then use a spatula to turn it. The underside of the mixture should be nicely browned, thanks to the eggs. Break it up and let it sit another couple of minutes, turning it as needed, until it’s all browned.

Taste and add whatever it needs more of. I find it usually needs more cheese, and sometimes more pepper. (It doesn’t usually need salt because the cheese is salty.) If it gets too dry, add more olive oil or a bit of healthful turkey stock (even though you’re about to blow it with the diet today). Turn off the heat.

Put your pignoles in a shallow, heavy little pan over medium-low heat. Watch them and shake the pan every 15 seconds or so until browned. Toss them into the skillet with the rest of the stuffing and stir.

This is pretty much an all-purpose recipe—good hot, good cold, good room temp. Delicious stuffed in a turkey, in which case it gets soft and tender, delicious even if it never sees the inside of the bird. Really really good the next day, per my family’s tradition, on one of those sandwich-sized toasted English muffins with cold sliced turkey, lavish amounts of mayonnaise, hot bacon cooked extra crispy, and cranberry sauce.

One New Year’s Day my parents asked me over for dinner. I was a little under the weather and declined. They called back a few times, and each time I said no. Then my sister got on the phone.

‘Mom made stuffing.’

There was a pause.

‘THE stuffing?’

‘Yep.’

What can I say? I grabbed my box of Kleenex and got in the car.

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