Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cook’s Book One Year Blogiversary!

One year ago from Tuesday I clicked “publish” for the first time; and just like that, Cook’s Book was born.

I finally decided on a name, created a bookish header, set up the layout and found the perfect background for my blog. It was everything I had pictured; but before I could go live there was just one finishing touch that needed to be completed.

Ponytail to the side, head buried in recipes, the stick figure I sketched out in my note pad to become my blog’s “logo” looked up at me from her book. My boyfriend worked his Photoshop magic and brought her to life, turning my cute little chef girl into the official face of Cook’s Book. Suddenly, my page looked official and I couldn’t wait to show it off.

Now, my girl is on business cards, tee shirts (they came with the business cards, Ok?), and even the bridesmaid amulet my cousin had personalized for each of us to stick in our flowers on her wedding day. Today, to commemorate this one year “blogiversary” milestone, here she is meticulously crafted out of fondant as the star of my very first fondant cake:

Writing this blog has prompted me to do a bunch of fun, instructive and sometimes crazy things. Example: spending hours making and decorating a cake for myself, just because. It’s kind of like spending hours writing a full blown essay on cabbage, reviewing sentences and checking facts, when you’re not even sure who—if anyone—is even going to read it (except for my mom—thanks mom!).

You can read the story behind Cook’s Book in the About, which was also my first post. It explains my motivation behind starting a food blog; a year later, I can say that it has done all that I had anticipated and more. It provides me with an excuse to cook and write when I don’t have one, and a reason to always keep learning about the things I love. I do this for myself and am just so grateful for the friends and fans I’ve picked up along the way.

Is this starting to sound too much like the last episode of Oprah?

Thanks to Cook’s Book, I’ve had a fiesta, a tea party, carved crazy pumpkins, made croquembouche for Christmas and king cake for Mardi Gras, was in the newspaper, had my recipes featured on Kelly Ripa’s blog, was interviewed for a live podcast, became a member of the Five Star Makeover cooking group, heard from people who have tried my recipes, was invited to write guest posts, and met tons of great people.

I made mistakes, created new recipes, tried new restaurants and dishes, learned (and am still learning) how to take a better picture, and have written about everything from Princess Leia cupcakes and gourmet food trucks to my favorite Spumoni Gardens pizza.

Thank you to everyone who reads, for all of the supportive bloggers, and for all the lovely comments that always make my day. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings. I can only hope that it will be half as good as the first!

Friday, June 17, 2011


Ok, let’s talk about these delicious pierogi that I made.

I’m sorry, I mean, perogi.

Wait, no. Pyrogy?

Um, pirogi?


Hmm…There’s got to be a way to settle this. I know! Eenie, meenie, minie, mo, I pick, “pierogi” by the toe!

Ugh, I’ve never seen a word with so many freaking different spellings. If you put the “I” before the “E” or a “Y” in the place of the “I,” it doesn’t make a difference; there is no definitive “right” way to spell it and it’s always pronounced the same: pi-roh-gee.

How or why there have come to be so many different ways to spell one word? You got me. But no matter which way you write it out…wait for it…pierogi always spells delicious.

Pierogi are dumplings. Similar to ravioli, they are thin sheets of dough that envelope a filling of some kind; usually in the shape of a semi-circle, pierogi come filled with sauerkraut, meat, cheese, vegetables, and even fruit. A popular pierogi stuffing and my personal favorite, is a cheesy potato combo.

I’ve always known pierogi as being a Polish specialty, but their origins are not restricted to Poland alone. In general, they are said to descend from central and eastern Europe (Hungary, Ukraine, Romania, etc…). Of course, there are a lot of nerdy arguments on the internet about where pierogis “truly” come from, but guess what? I’m not going there.

These pockets of deliciousness are made with what is basically regular pasta dough that I added a little bit of sour cream to. Naturally, I filled my periogis with cheddar mashed potatoes. Once they are all folded and crimped, they are boiled and then pan-fried in butter.

Common accompaniments are melted butter, sour cream and caramelized onion. I serve mine with all of the above but brown my butter or make a “beurre noisette” for extra flavor.

Manufactured by the tons, there is a huge pierogi market in the United States. Here are a few examples of just how much we love them:

• In Whiting, Indiana, they have Pierogi Fest every July. The yearly celebration of Polish heritage features Mr. Pierogi himself:

• Based in Pennsylvania, Mrs. T., the largest pierogi manufacturer in America, has dubbed the area including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Chicago, Detroit, and parts of the northern Midwest and southern New England as the “Pieorgy Pocket” since it accounts for the largest percent of annual U.S. pierogi consumption.

• October 8th is National Pierogi Day.

• Between innings of Pittsburg Pirates games they have The Great Pittsburg Pierogi Race in which four contestants dressed in pierogi costumes duel it out for the win. This is amazing:

Pierogi with Potato Cheddar Filling:
Yield: About 25 pierogi
- ½ pound AP Flour
- Pinch of salt
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- ½ ounce water
- Egg wash for sealing pierogi
- 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into uniform chunks
- ½ cup shredded cheddar
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/8 cup milk or heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley (or chives)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoons butter, plus 1 stick to be browned/melted until golden brown in color—“beurre noisette”
- Sour cream
- 2-3 large onions thinly sliced and slowly caramelized over low heat with just a little bit of oil; stir often until nicely browned.
• Dough: mix salt and flour together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add eggs, sour cream and water. Turn the mixer on low and stir until dough is formed. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface and continue to knead by hand until the texture becomes smooth and elastic. Shape dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and let relax at room temperature for at least an hour.
• While the dough is resting, prepare the cheddar mashed potato filling. Boil the potato until tender. Mash the potatoes and while they are still hot, mix in cheddar, butter, heavy cream, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Try to make the mixture as smooth as possible.
• Using a pasta machine, roll dough out into thin sheets. Cut out medium/large circles from the sheets using a cookie cutter. Brush egg wash onto one side of the circle and place a spoonful of the potato mixture in the center. Fold non-egg washed side over the potato and onto the other; securely seal by pressing down on the seam with the tip of a fork.
• Bring a medium/large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and add perogies; they are done when they float to the top. Once removed, drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the pierogi to keep them from getting sticky.
• Heat about 2 tablespoons of butter in a large pan. Cook perogies until they are nicely browned on both sides. At this stage, brown the 1 stick of butter for serving. Pour browned butter on top of pierogi and serve with sour cream and caramelized onion.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Melon Prosciutto Salad

The combination of prosciutto and melon is proof that sometimes there is a happy medium.

The marriage between thinly sliced dry cured pork and ripe juicy melon is an epic pairing of perfectly balanced proportions. Sweet and salty, fruity and fatty; they meld together on the palate to form a deliciously contrasted and irresistible cocktail.

You’ll typically see melon wrapped in prosciutto; this recipe is different in that it dices the pair and mixes them together in a salad. Dressed in nothing more than a squeeze of lemon, thick shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a sprinkle of fresh mint are added for a refreshing antipasto dish that is perfect for summer time.

Make sure to use quality prosciutto. You want it sliced thin to the point where it literally melts on your tongueanything less with alter your entire experience with this salad.

And that’s it. Could anything so delicious get much simpler? Chop, chop, mix, mix, then go outside with a your melon prosciutto salad and a glass of wine, cue the Andrea Bocelli soundtrack in your head, and pretend like you’re in Tuscany somewhere overlooking the countryside. Instant summer vacation!

I got this recipe from a 2007 issue of Cooking Light. I have provided the original as it was written here:

Melon Prosciutto Salad with Parmigiano Reggiano:
Recipe by Jaime Harder, Cooking Light, July, 2007
Yield: 8 servings
- 3 cups (1/2-inch) cubed honeydew melon (about 1/2 medium melon)
- 3 cups (1/2-inch) cubed cantaloupe (about 1 medium melon)
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into thin strips
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shaved fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Cracked black pepper (optional)
- Mint sprigs (optional)
• Combine first 5 ingredients, tossing gently. Arrange melon mixture on a serving platter. Arrange prosciutto evenly over melon mixture; sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Garnish with cracked black pepper and fresh mint sprigs, if desired.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Gotta Have Some Hot Stuff

Barbeque season is finally here.

Or should I say cookout? Barbeque, cookout, grill fest—whatever you call it, the season is here to eat outside. Out in the sun, our backyards become dining rooms; where between laughter and conversation, hamburgers sizzle on the grill, mustard squirts onto hot dogs, beer bottles pop, and bare chicken bones clank down onto plates. Welcome to summer.

When Memorial Day rolls around, there is always one special dish that you can bet will be on our family barbeque table. It is red, it is saucy, and it is simply referred to as “Hot Stuff.”

Hot Stuff is a spicy cabbage slaw made of thinly sliced cabbage mixed with a little ketchup, a little vinegar, and enough hot sauce to help it live up to its name. It is for spicy lovers only; it packs the kind of punch that makes your mouth begin water with only a quick whiff; and the longer it sits, the hotter it gets.

It is a great topping for hamburgers, sandwiches, or anything you feel can use a good crunchy kick, but it is without a doubt the best on a hot dog.

As the story of Hot Stuff goes, it all began with a local bar that would make the slaw and serve it on their hot dogs. Everyone loved it so much that they began experimenting at home to try and recreate it. My Uncle Nunzi eventually began making and selling Hot Stuff at his deli and it became a huge hit.

Since I made the Hot Stuff for the first time this year, my dad kept joking that we couldn't serve it until Uncle Nunzi approved. We gave him the first taste and  after a few anxious moments of watching him chew, I got the thumbs up. Whew!

Everyone makes Hot Stuff in the same basic way with a few of their own secret ingredients thrown in. This is my recipe:

Hot Stuff (Spicy Cabbage Slaw):
Yield: About 2 cups
- ½ head cabbage, thinly sliced
- 1 cup hot sauce (like Frank’s Red Hot)
- 1/3 cup ketchup
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
• In a bowl, mix together hot sauce, ketchup, sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper. Taste; if you would prefer to make it a little more mild, add more ketchup. Toss sauce with thinly sliced cabbage.
• Keep in an airtight container, where it can continue to marinate and become even hotter!
• Serve on hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, or anything you feel can use a nice crunchy kick.