AJS Team in Quarantine:: Valerie Failla

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Today’s post is from our PR guru, Valerie Failla:

I am a publicist.

I have worked in areas of public relations, in almost every specialty—big brands, small brands, in-house, off-site—you name it. For the last two decades, I have primarily focused on the culinary and hospitality industries. Unfortunately, these two are a few the hardest hit industries during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lately, friends and industry cohorts tell me, “Reinvent yourself.”

My response is always “No.”

I want to continue to be who I have always been simply because it is who I truly am. My “job” has never felt like a job in the traditional sense of the word. What I do for clients fuels my creativity, my drive, and my passion. There isn’t anything else that I could–or would–ever aspire to be.

9/11. I lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. For weeks, grey smoke hung outside the front windows of my dilapidated, fourth floor, walk-up apartment, although I lived over six miles from the World Trade Center site. I walked seventy-seven blocks and too many avenues to count to work for over two weeks for fear there would be another surprise attack, and I would be crushed underground on the subway. One would think that after surviving the fright of a terrorist attack in your own hometown backyard you could make it through anything. How could life possibly get any worse?

The most difficult difference between that darkest period in America and our current climate is the isolation. My kids can’t go to school. I can’t go to the diner for a cup of coffee and cheese fries. My husband and I cannot now do the work we have so thoroughly enjoyed since my agency, Via Failla PR & Events, launched in 2016. I have read that isolation can play incredibly interesting tricks on the mind, therefore, I will be infinitely grateful for my family who keep me busy, smiling, laughing, and again–very busy.

So what to do? Seek the silver lining.

Planting
As a family we have always planted an assortment of vegetables and herbs on our back deck. While we have been sheltered in place, we have taken the opportunity to create a much larger garden than we have in past years. Part of our newfound excitement is watching the newly potted strawberries and jalapeños bloom for the first time! Gardening is incredibly rewarding!

Play on!
Classic board games including Life, Monopoly, and Operation have been keeping all our minds occupied (as well as laughing!) After playing several nights of each, I have often thought to myself, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, would my kids even know about these iconic games that kept my sister and me so entertained throughout the 80’s?

Cooking
Hands down, our number one favorite activity. Cooking food is therapy. It is an incredibly positive, creative, and simple way to spend time with those we are quarantined with each day and then reap the delicious benefit! My sweet Gen Z children have created time-lapse videos of us cooking and my husband has taken so many photos of our dishes to post socially, that it’s beyond flattering!

Out of extreme circumstances comes learning. We will become tougher, smarter, save more money, and organically be more humble when we finally drive this infectious demon out of society.

Until then, stay home, stay safe, and keep on creating!

Here is one of my husband’s most favorite breakfast foods, egg toast cups. Adults and kids can easily make them and you can add in anything at all from your pantry.

Egg Toast Cups

You will need:
– One, regular size muffin tin
– Olive Oil spray or olive oil
– Bread Slices (Any kind work. However many muffins your tray makes, that’s how many bread slices you need)
– Room temp butter
– Eggs (number is same as how many muffins your tray makes)
– Italian Parsley (minced)
– Minced garlic (or garlic powder if out of fresh garlic)
– Salt and pepper
– Any Italian cured/dried salami “cold cut” that you can easily tear up
– Vegetables or other additions anchovies, roasted peppers, just about anything works!

To prepare:
Either spray the muffin cups or wipe evoo all over each muffin cup to prevent the bread from sticking

Butter both sides of each slice of bread

Push each slice of bread into each muffin cup and form it to stick to the muffin cup to make a bowl

Whisk all eggs and add in S&P, minced garlic (or garlic powder)

Pour egg mixture into each muffin cup and be sure to leave a bit of room at the top b/c egg will rise when cooked

Rip up salami and put a few pieces in each muffin cup (bologna is good too!)

Bake at 400 degrees until the egg is cooked but top is a bit soft (or cooked to your own liking)

Top w/parsley and serve (they easily come out of the muffin cup and they look really pretty!)

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AJS Team in Quarantine:: Philip Meeker

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Hello! I’m Philip Meeker, the chef at La Fortezza. Some of you might know me from the cooking classes Annette and I do on her Instagram or from pictures of all the cool things we explore in Italy.

I hope you all are doing well as possible during this time of social distancing. For me, it’s been a mixed experience. Nothing really bad has happened, and I’m thankful for that, but the world has changed in a way that’s left me feeling more uncertain about how to move through it. Being forced to pause also forced me to pay attention to many things I was ignoring. It added to the discomfort of distancing, but it’s given me more self-awareness and has strengthened some of my relationships.

As part of that awareness, I’ve made sure to try to do a few things each week to keep things playful and my spirits up.

Wake up & Dance.
This may sound goofy, but I love to dance. It also gets me to pay more attention to my body and to be comfortable being aware of my feelings there. I’ve been tuning into DJ DNice’s quarantine mixes and have also had Beyonce’s Homecoming on repeat. She’s the Queen B.

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Date nights.
Sarita, who is my partner, and I love to have a night out. Since that’s off the table, I’ve been surprising her with coursed meals, from pasta to octopus salad to pistachio cakes. Sometimes, I feel like I’m unconsciously or deliberately trying to recreate our experience at La Fortezza. If you have a yard, and it’s still cool where you are, I highly recommend an evening picnic next to the fire pit. As the sun goes down, we will lounge about on our blanket in the grass, looking up into the stars, sharing our hopes and dreams. May sound a little saccharine but it’s relaxing. (I made sure to get her permission to share this.)

Nature.
I’ve mentioned this a little in my date night rec, but the outdoors have been bringing me much needed serenity. Whether it’s a jog through the nature-preserve trails near our house or a walk with Louis Harris, our Bichon, I find I start to breathe a lot deeper when I get some exercise while listening to the birds and feeling the sun on my face.

Yoga.
It’s been my centering practice for the last 8 years, but for some reason, I haven’t been able to get myself on my mat much during this quarantine. But as my yoga teacher advises, I’m not going to focus on what I’m not doing with my practice, and I’m going to accept where I am.

Cooking Classes with Annette.
Planning, prepping, and co-teaching these classes has been a welcomed project these months. Cooking with Annette, though virtually, brings back a lot of memories of cooking, dining, and exploring Italy with her. I’m planning to be back there this September with her.

Thanks, Philip! Find Chef Philip’s bolognese recipe here!

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Easter Meal::Stuffed Leg of Lamb

Unicorn Salt

Full disclosure, I am a big lover of salt. As most chefs will tell you, a dish that is not seasoned perfectly (that’s salt and pepper) is kind of not worth serving.

One of our family favorites from Picture Perfect Parties is stuffed leg of lamb, generously stuffed with Meyer lemons, green olives, rosemary and garlic. I liberally used my favorite salt, Magic Unicorn (it is indeed magically delicious) on the outside of the lamb. It was spectacular.

Since Easter and Passover are likely small gatherings this year with just immediate family (if not even smaller than that), use this recipe as a treat to yourself during these difficult times.

Here’s the recipe below, I used about 1 tablespoon (plus a little more:-) and massaged the salt into the lamb before stuffing and tying it up.

Unicorn Salt

Roast Stuffed Leg of Lamb with Lemon and Herbs
Serves 6-8

For the lamb, you will need:
– 1- 4 Pound boneless leg of lamb +kitchen string. Note: Some stores sell this already rolled and secured in a netting. You need to remove this if so.

To prepare the lamb before stuffing:
Liberally sprinkle then rub the outside of the lamb with Magic Unicorn salt, about 1 tablespoon, plus a little extra. Set aside and prepare the stuffing.

Lemon and Herb Stuffing

You will need:
– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 3 tablespoons butter
– 4 cloves chopped garlic
– 1 cup panko bread crumbs
– ½ cup green olives chopped
– ½ cup raisins *optional
– 2 small lemons cut into small wedges, toss the lemon wedges in ½ teaspoon sea salt *note Meyer lemons , should be used if available
– 3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
– 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
– ½ cup chicken stock
– 1 teaspoon pepper to finish stuffed lamb

To prepare stuffing:

Heat oil and butter add garlic sauté until lightly browned medium heat 3 to 4 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and sauté for 5 minutes until combined. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F

Place the leg of lamb on a cutting board lined with butcher or parchment paper lie the lamb flat top side down.

Place the stuffing into the middle of the roast mounding it into the middle.

Wrap the sides of the lamb around the stuffing tuck in the ends and tie the lamb with kitchen string, sealing the stuffing.

Place the stuffed lamb on a rack in a roasting pan fattest side up.  Roast at 425 for 15 min. Reduce heat to 325 and roast 30 to 45 minutes or until desired degree of doneness., for medium rare it should read 130 degrees to 135 degree F. Once it’s reached this temperature, remove it from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes.

Carve into slices and serve.

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Winter Staple: Chicken Noodle Soup

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While spring is just around the corner, we are still receiving our fair share of cold, blustery and rainy days in Atlanta. I mean, I have seriously never seen so much rain! This chicken noodle soup recipe is the perfect exclamation point for a chilly winter day. It’s bound to warm you up from the inside out.

This recipe is an oldie but a goodie. In fact, it’s from my first book, Picture Perfect Parties. Can you believe that I’m actually in Italy as we speak working on my third cookbook and my fourth book overall? Life is a dream.

Chicken Noodle Soup
Serves  8
 You will need:

– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 clove garlic minced
– 1 small yellow onion chopped
– 1 cup celery chopped
– 2 cups peeled carrots cut into coins
– 1 cup chopped parsley
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 teaspoon pepper
– 6 cups chicken stock
– 2 cups of water
– 1 3-4 lb roasted chicken (speed up this recipe and use a rotisserie chicken!)
– 2 cups egg noodles

To prepare:

In a large stockpot, place olive oil, garlic, onion, celery, carrots, parsley and salt and pepper. Sauté on medium heat until translucent. Add stock, water, and entire chicken.

Simmer over low heat for 3 hours. Once the broth is golden, remove the pot from heat, and with a slotted spoon pull the chicken out of the soup. Pull all the meat off with a fork and tongs (careful not to burn yourself on the hot meat) place all the meat into the soup, add more stock if needed. Simmer for another 10 minutes with noodles.

Serve warm

*This can be made a couple of days ahead and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Photograph from Picture Perfect Parties Rizzoli NY

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Savory Baking: Olive Bread

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Have you ever felt intimidated by baking bread? I feel like it’s one of those foods that worry people. However, fear not! There are some awesome bread recipes out there that make baking a breeze, and this is one of them!

Let me know if you tackle your bread fears by baking this olive bread. It makes the most delicious late afternoon snack.

Olive Bread
makes 4 small loaves or 1 large one

You will need:
– 3 cups all-purpose flour
– 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
– 1 teaspoon baking soda
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 2 tablespoons sugar
– 2 garlic cloves, minced
– 1 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
– 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 1/2 cup drained and chopped sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil  (available at specialty foods shops and some supermarkets), reserving 2 tablespoons of the oil
– 2 large eggs
– 1 1/2 cups milk
– 1/2 cup chopped pitted Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives
– 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves (preferably flat-leaved)
– 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
To prepare:

Into a bowl sift together the flour, the baking powder, the baking soda, the salt, and the sugar.

In a small skillet cook the garlic with the rosemary and the pepper in the reserved oil from the sun-dried tomatoes over moderately low heat, stirring, until it is softened and fragrant but not brown.

In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, the milk, butter, and the garlic mixture, add the flour mixture, and stir the batter until it is just combined. Stir in the sun-dried tomatoes, the olives, the parsley, and the Parmesan. Divide the batter among 4 buttered and floured loaf pans, each 5 3/4 by 3 1/4 by 2 inches, and bake the breads in the middle of a preheated 350°F. oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Remove the breads from the pans and let them cool, right sides up, on a rack. The breads keep, wrapped well in plastic wrap and foil, chilled for 1 week or frozen for 1 month.

(Recipe adapted from Gourmet Magazine)

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