Zabajone Gelato from Gelateria Luca

Imagine: pale yellow egg yolks whipped as smooth as silk, and then blended with sugar and sweet marsala wine to create an irresistible custard. Next, add milk and make it a frozen treat in the form of gelato. It’s the zabajone gelato at Gelateria Luca, and it’s unlike any flavor you’ve had before. Few desserts make you mmm aloud and ask how it got so delicious long after the first time you enjoy it. There are even fewer flavors you can call truly unique. Smooth, creamy, and slow-churned, this gelato has an unexpectedly intense flavor and a gorgeous color to match. It also boasts less fat and calories than American ice cream because it is made with milk instead of cream.

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Buckeye Bark

Few people can resist a soft peanut butter center with a chocolate shell. It evokes Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, an 85-year-old favorite inspiring a plethora of homemade confections, including buckeyes, which are as time consuming to make as they are addictive. Time is hard to come by, particularly at this time of year so you might as well skip the peanut butter ball rolling and individual chocolate swirling and dunking if you can help it. Enjoy the delicious chocolate and peanut butter pairing with less work on the front-end thanks to buckeye bark. It’s as easy as melting, mixing, spreading, and setting—on repeat.

Besides being simpler to make in this form, the candy makes for a fun and unusual presentation when gift giving. Packaging ideas include: tuck in a cellophane bag and tie with a colorful ribbon; wrap in patterned tissue paper and secure with a sticker seal; or toss in small white candy boxes and call the whole thing done. If you’re really pressed for time, present the bark right in the tray and let your loved ones go to town, breaking it off, chip by chip. They won’t mind. Read the rest of this entry »

Orange Blossom Butter Cookies

What defines a great cookbook? To me, it’s a complicated question. I love a cookbook that offers practical tips hand in hand with quality recipes. I also appreciate a cookbook with gorgeous photography, human anecdotes and clearly written instructions with candid recommendations (the how and the why behind the steps).

I received the cookbook “an edible mosaic,” by Faith Gorsky, as part of a basket of ethnic food and goodies I got from the silent auction at Buffalo Without Borders, an international food event to benefit the International Institute of Buffalo. I’ve really enjoyed the book’s style and it’s fun knowing that Gorsky is from Buffalo originally. Her cookbook has a wonderful variety of recipes, with a focus on Middle Eastern recipes, primarily dishes from the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and more). While I’ve loved getting ideas and making recipes from the front 85% of the book, which includes small plates, sides and main courses, I recently ventured into the back chapters to explore the dessert and beverage recipes.

I’ve now made more than a few of them, but this recipe for butter cookies is the only one I’ve made more than once so far. My husband adores these cookies, and they’re a hit everywhere I bring them. I recently shared some with my friend, Smita Chutke, and I thought it would be the perfect time to share this easy recipe with all of you. The cookies are not too sweet and perfectly buttery — very reminiscent of a shortbread cookie. They possess a wonderfully bright aroma and slightly floral taste from the orange blossom water. Click here to see the recipe as I made it:

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What Makes a Great Dish? Grilled Octopus and Branzino

What makes a great dish? It’s an excellent question and one that may challenge you to pause and enjoy your favorite dishes in new ways. Close your eyes and inhale. Chew just a little slower. Taste each bite completely…

If you have not yet had the opportunity to sample these two Buffalo area favorites, make a point to visit Ristorante Lombardo and Tempo soon.

Grilled octopus

Ristorante Lombardo, $13.50

Served with smoky white beans, fresh arugula, and pickled fennel, this grilled octopus is surprisingly tender and rich. Dare to close your eyes and you will have no idea what meat you’re eating. The octopus is not simply grilled, but rather, it’s tenderized and then poached in a broth of water, white wine, red wine vinegar, pickling spice, and some aromatic vegetables, for about two hours. The difference is clear in the taste and texture. The octopus possesses a serious barbecue flavor, and just the right amount of char plays off of the pairings, working especially well with the smoked paprika of the beans and the sweet and sour flavors of the fennel. Use your knife to scrape that last bit off the plate because every bite of this dish is treasured.

1198 Hertel Ave., 873-4291,

Eat local, seasonal, and fresh

Have you heard of the locavore movement? A locavore is someone who eats foods grown locally whenever possible. An increasing number of people in the Western New York area and beyond are determined to rethink how the eat, beginning with where their food comes from. Is this a trend or a lifestyle with staying power? If you trust that generations before us were on to something in eating what was available around them—in their own backyard or from their neighbor’s farm—then you’ll agree this is not a fad. It is an overdue opportunity to change our culture’s steps away from wholesome food toward convenience. Eating local, seasonal, and fresh food allows us to enjoy our area’s produce bounty when at its peak, optimizing flavor and function. It also supports our local economy by keeping dollars in our community and helping area farmers earn a living for their tireless work.

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The Best Things I Ate in 2013

2013 brought many memorable meals, bites and travels, and in its honor, I count down my favorites. What was the best thing you ate this year?

10. Every person I know who has been to Turks and Caicos says “You have to go to Da Conch Shack!” (Blue Hills Road, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Island, British West Indies) for delicious fish tacos, rum punch, the conch platter and plantain fries. Get a cab and let them bring you to the best casual food on the island. With the ocean breeze and beautiful, rustic beach surroundings, the fresh fish tastes even better than usual.

9. Is it possible that the views in Capri make all the food taste better? If so, that’s fine by me. We indulged in incredible desserts every night we were there, with mostly gelato to explore, but the most infamous gelato place on the island had a lovely bakery too. There, we discovered pistachini, a cookie reminiscent of my family’s almond paste cookies, but made with pistachios instead of almonds. Love me a pistachio macaron (or gelato or anything), but these took the title. Sweet mother of everything good in this world, they were divine. And we ate them with the above view from our balcony.  Read the rest of this entry »

Halo of health creates hazy landscape for parents and kids


Originally published in Buffalo Spree magazine, September 2013

As far as food goes, with convenience comes confusion. As food has become more accessible and ready-made, it has grown increasingly complicated for consumers to identify wholesome options. We witness food marketing campaigns in a constant battle for airtime, as well as real estate in our minds and on our pantry shelves. Our government must pass legislation to ensure schools serve nutritious options to children. From boxed item after bagged product in what was once the snack food aisle to the infiltration of nearly every store’s “health food” section, we now see a halo of health—an illusion of wholesome nutrition—surrounding countless items. Be it conventional or organic, there is a considerable amount of uncertainty to contend with when it comes to what’s in our food. How is it that food marketed as healthy is not in fact healthy? Why are so many people victim to this deception?

According to a recent report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, parents are aware that food marketing presents challenges when trying to instill healthy eating habits in their children. The survey asked nearly 2,500 parents with children ages 2-17 living at home to rank the food and beverage categories marketed most often to their children. Parents accurately cited fast food restaurants, cereal, and soda/pop at the top of their lists, while milk and fruits and vegetables were at the bottom. However, they overestimated the number of ads their children saw for the healthiest categories. Many parents surveyed (69%) rated the media as a negative influence on their children’s eating habits, followed by the food industry, and the government.

Michele Reeves-Adams, a registered nurse, clinical nutritionist, and certified holistic health practitioner in Western New York, agrees: “We need to take it back to old school. Eat real food, eat organic whenever possible, and buy local—fresh…eat what’s in season.” She recommends parents educate themselves on proper nutrition and fight for better lunches in schools. She notes that a parent will evaluate numerous childcare centers or preschools, investigate the best car seat to buy, and the best activities in which to participate, but many do not similarly put their child’s nutrition at the top of these lists too. Reeves-Adams knows it isn’t easy, though: “Ads and commercials use families at the dinner table, friend gatherings…it’s enticing…eat these and look how happy you’ll be.” Read the rest of this entry »