Tag Archives: tips and tricks

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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Focaccia La Fortezza Instagram Live Cooking Lesson

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Ciao Everyone!  We had a big demand to do a La Fortezza Virtual cooking lesson on focaccia, so we are answering your wishes! Join Chef Philip and me on my IG Live Wednesday at 5 pm EST. Below is the recipe we will be preparing.

We will be making the authentic Liguria-style focaccia. We will tell you all about the focaccia that you will find all up and down the Italian Riviera, and we’ll show you how to make it yourself. I hope to see you on the ‘gram!

Focaccia
Serves 4

You will need:
– 4 cups double zero flour (super fine flour) flour for kneading if needed.
– 1 package dry yeast
– 1/3 cup warm water
– 1 cup water
– ½ cup extra virgin olive oil + 1 teaspoon for the cookie sheet + 3 tablespoons for finishing before baking, 1 tablespoon to finish after baking
– 1 tablespoon coarse salt + 1 teaspoon for finishing

To prepare:

Place the yeast in a small bowl with 1/3 cups water and let proof in a large bowl allow to bloom for 5 minutes. Place flour and oil and salt and water, combine until it forms a sticky dough, it should be very sticky. Flour your surface and turn the dough onto floured surface. knead gently for a minute until dough forms a soft dough.

On an oiled cookie sheet with a lip, spread the dough out to fit the cookie sheet. With your index fingers poke dimples into the top of the dough you may need to oil your fingers a bit to do this.

Let rest for 1 hour, then repeat by poking dimples into the risen dough, and let rest for 30 minutes.

Before placing in the oven, drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon coarse salt.

Bake at 400 for 30 minutes. Remove sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil immediately and cool and eat warm or at room temperature. The key is to let the oil soak in as the focaccia cools.

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Fresh Pasta Recipe:: Pasta Puttanesca

La_Fortezza_Kate_Blohm_2019-363 Over the past few weeks, our workshop chef, Philip Meeker and I have been hosting cooking demonstrations on Instagram LIVE. In fact, we had another one last week!

Each lesson utilizes our quick and easy handmade pasta recipe found here. It serves as a great base for any pasta recipe, including pasta puttanesca.

Famously named for Italy’s “ladies of the night” who quickly made it between clients, this fast, easy and delicious pasta puttanesca recipe is an ideal weeknight meal and is perfect for the warmer spring weather that is upon us. It’s from the archives, and trust me, you’ll love it. It calls for lots of jars, including jarred marinara. What’s not to love about that?!

You will need:
– 1 pound fresh spaghetti or linguini
– 2 teaspoons anchovy paste (don’t skip this!)
– 1/2 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
– 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
– 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 jar Marinara sauce
– 1 cup jarred olive tempande
– 2 tablespoons drained capers
– 2 tablespoons dried basil
– Optional 2 tablespoons lemon oil

To prepare:

Cook spaghetti in a pasta pot of boiling water until barely al dente.

While pasta boils, cook garlic, anchovy paste, red-pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and pale golden, about 2 minutes.

Add jar of marinara to garlic oil along with olive tempande and capers and simmer, stirring occasionally, until pasta is ready.

Drain pasta and add to sauce. Simmer, turning pasta with tongs, until pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and lemon oil.

*Note: for a touch of protein you can stir in canned tuna to the pasta.

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LIVE Cooking Class:: Let’s Make Tortellini

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Ciao everyone! While we are all at home, our La Fortezza chef, Philip Meeker and I are doing LIVE La Fortezza Cooking Classes on Instagram. In fact, so many of you joined us for our last cooking class, Philip and I decided to host another!

We’ll be sharing two recipes using tortellini which are both fantastic for a weeknight meal. The first is topped with walnut pesto. The second is Chef Philip’s bolognese. It’s delightful on any pasta, but we especially love it on woodfired pizza.  I’m posting both of them today, so you have some time to shop for anything you might need. I hope you will join us on Thursday on Instagram at 2 PM EST!

Stay well. x

Greens and Ricotta Stuffed Tortellini with Walnut Pesto
Serves 4

Pasta: For Tortelli Pasta, use the Basic Pasta recipe. Find it here.

For the filling, you will need:

– 3 cups baby kale
– 2 cups  baby arugula
– 1 cup baby spinach
– 1 1/2 cups ricotta
– 8 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
– 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
– 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
– 1 eggs

To prepare the filling:

Fill a 4-quart pot 3/4 full with water. Add 1 tablespoon salt. Bring water to a boil. Fill a bowl 3/4 full with ice water. Add the kale, arugula, and spinach to the boiling water blanch them quickly about  30 seconds to 1 minute. Pull the greens from the pot and plunge into the ice water.

Drain the greens in a sieve and then squeeze the liquid out of them by pressing into the sieve over the sink to remove excess liquid. In a food processor place chilled greens, ricotta, parmesan, pepper, one teaspoon salt, and nutmeg. Blend until a smooth, about 30 seconds. Add 1 egg, and blend. Place the mixture into the fridge until ready to fill the Tortellini.

 

For the walnut pesto, you will need:
– 1 cup shelled walnuts, reserve 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts for garnish
– 1 clove of garlic
– 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan, + ¼ cup for topping
– 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
– 1/4 teaspoon of salt

To prepare the walnut sauce:

Preheat the oven to 350° degrees F. Put the whole walnuts on a sheet tray, and put on the middle rack in the oven to lightly roast them to golden brown, about 3-5 minutes watch them so they don’t burn. When the walnuts cool, chop the walnuts *set aside 2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts. Combine walnuts and garlic in a food processor, and pulse about 30 seconds. Add  parmesan, olive oil, and salt, and blend for 30 seconds to a minute, until combined, it should be a loose consistency.

To prepare tortellini: 

Use the directions of the pasta recipe, you should have 4 sheets. Using a  2  “ round cutter to cut the pasta cut our rounds.

Place the filling into a pastry bag. Using the pastry bag place a 1 inch dollop of filling into each circle of dough. When all the rounds are filled. With a finger dip into a bowl of water and then brush water around the filling fold in half press gently to seal, then take the 2 points and pull them to connect press together to form the shape of a tortellini.

Cooking tortellini:

Fill a 7 to 8-quart pot 3/4 full with water and add 3 tablespoons salt. Bring to a low boil over high heat, and then reduce to medium-low retaining the gentle boil. Drop tortellini in the water to cook for 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the tortellini using a slotted. Place them in a 4 quart mixing bowl, toss with the Walnut Sauce. Serve immediately.

To serve:

Spoon the Tortelli onto four bowls, top with grated parmesan.

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Chef Philip’s Bolognese 
Serves 4-6

You will need:
– ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
– 1 lb ground beef (at least 15 % fat)
– 1 carrot, chopped
– 4 ribs of celery chopped
– 1 yellow onion, chopped
– 1 teaspoon kosher salt
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 14 oz can Mutti polpo tomatoes

To prepare:
Place the olive oil in a Dutch over. Add the ground beef to one side of the pan, it should be in
one piece. Chef’s Tip: This allows the ground beef brown evenly and it is less likely to dry out.
Add the carrot, celery, onion, and sprinkle the salt over the top. On medium heat sauté the meat
until it is deep brown and then flip it, making sure to keep it whole, let it brown on the other side.
Meanwhile, stir your veggies to ensure that they don’t burn they will be cooking on the other half
of the pot, sauté them until caramelized. They will be a nice brown color.
When the veggies are cooked, stir in the garlic, and then begin to break up the ground beef with
a heat proof spatula mixing it into the veggies. Once the ground beef is completely broken up,
add the tomatoes with their juice. Break up the tomatoes with your spoon and let them gently
cook down until they’re reduced by half. At this point, you’re Bolognese should be finished
cooking and it’s ready to use on pasta or pizza.

Chef’s Tip: Grass fed ground beef is much better than choice or prime when it comes to flavor.

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