Tell Mayor de Blasio to Support Small Businesses

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has made it super easy to tell Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito to support Intro. 0402-2014, the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA).  Just click this link for easy and quick automated letters showing your support.

Small businesses are threatened with extinction if rents keep doubling and tripling.  Already, the city is losing some of its beloved businesses because they simply cannot pay the exorbitant rents.  Avignone Pharmacy is set to close at the end of the month because its rent tripled.  Some of these businesses have been in NYC for a century–or more.  Avignone is 183 years old.  Avignone (then called Stock Pharmacy) survived the Civil War, including the Draft Riots, and the poverty of late-18th century NYC.  What is happening that these businesses could survive through two World Wars, the Great Depression and the ’70s recession, but they cannot survive today?

Avignone’s new landlord is Force Capital Management, a hedge fund that manages $1.2 billion.  This is the bottom line–NYC, along with the rest of America, is losing its character, its charm and its history so a minute percentage of people in this country can become the super wealthy.

The 8th Annual New Taste of the Upper West Side This May

This May, get ready for the 8th annual New Taste of the Upper West Side, a three-night celebration of the restaurants and chefs of the Upper West Side, and one of my favorite food events in the city.  (I’ve written about New Taste of the Upper West Side before.)  This year, food celebrities NBC’s Adam Richman, host of Food Fighters, Food Network’s Anne Burrell, host of Worst Cooks of America, and Marc Murphy, owner and executive chef of Benchmarc Restaurants (Landmarc and Ditch Plains), executive chef of Kingside and judge of Food Network’s Chopped, will be hosting.  Over 80 area restaurants will be participating, some new and some returning, including Momofuku Milk BarBar Boulud, Boulud Sud, Sarabeth’s, The Meatball Shop, ParmRedFarm, Luke’s Lobster, Shake ShackRosa MexicanoTavern on the Green, and The Ribbon.  Participating chefs include Sarabeth Levine, Christina Tosi, Jacques Torres, Cesare Casella, Rich Torrisi and Bruce & Eric Bromberg.

Events include

1.  Soirée in the Park is an outdoor cocktail party with live chamber music, champagne and hors d’oeuvres from a number of restaurants like Sarabeth’s and Luke’s Lobster.  The event is a fundraiser for Theodore Roosevelt Park, surrounding the American Museum of Natural History, and all net proceeds are donated for park enhancements.

Where: Theodore Roosevelt Park

When: Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 at 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM  (Rain Date: Thursday, May 28th, 2015 at 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM)

Cost: $150 per person

2.  Comfort Classics presented by Sysco.  Forty UWS restaurants compete for “Best Comfort Food Dish.”  NBC’s Adam Richman, host of Food Fighters and author of  Straight Up Tasty (released May 2015) is host. Food Network’s  Katie Lee will be autographing a limited number of copies of her new book, Endless Summer CookbookChristina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar will be there along with Shake Shack, Sarabeth’s, The Meatball Shop and an impressive list of area restaurants. There will be international wine selections, cocktails and live music by the Silver Arrow Band. 

Where: Columbus Avenue between West 76th and 77th Streets

When: Friday, May 29th, 2015 at 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM

Cost: $105 per person or 2 for $185

3.  Best of the West is an event celebrating the Upper West Side’s most famous and celebrated restaurants and chefs.  There will be wonderful cuisine, world-class wines and cocktails, and music by Joe Battaglia & The New York Big Band.  Hosts are Anne Burrell, host of Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America, and Marc Murphy, judge of Food Network’s Chopped.  Over 40 area restaurants will be participating.

Where: Columbus Avenue between West 76th and 77th Streets

When: Saturday, May 30th, 2015 at 7:30 PM – 10 PM

Cost: $135 per person or 2 for $250

Best of the West also offers a VIP experience, Best of the West VIP, with exclusive access to a private lounge to enjoy unlimited champagne. VIP guests receive a gift bag of goodies from Upper West Side shops and sponsors, and participate in private book signings with complimentary cookbooks from Anne Burrell and Marc Murphy.  VIP admission starts an hour earlier than the event, so you can mingle with star chefs.

Best of the West VIP

Where: Columbus Avenue between West 76th and 77th Streets

When: Saturday, May 30th, 2015 at 6:30 PM – 10 PM

Cost: $225 per person

This year’s event sponsors include Ford, New York Post, Palm Bay International, Sysco Foods, Manhattan Beer, Argo Real Estate, Brusco Group, Celebrity Cruises, Diamond Kosher Salt, Rosa Mexicano, The Westsider, The Spirit, Alan Garten & Friends, Barritt’s Ginger Beer, Beacon, Belvedere Capital, doNYC, Five Star Catering, Flowers on the Park, Jana Water, Polar Beverages, Richard Bloch Architect, Tito’s Vodka, West Side Rag and White Plains Linen.

The Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District (“BID”), a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit, created the annual event and donates all net proceeds to the area for improvement and beautification projects, such as the Columbus Avenue BID’s Sustainable Streetscape project, the Wellness in the Schools program, Greenhouse Classroom, Citymeals-on-Wheels and Theodore Roosevelt Park.

Pasta with Mascarpone and Peas

Peas are a great spring vegetable.  While looking for a pea recipe, I found this pasta dish from British Italian chef Antonio Carluccio in his cookbook, 1oo Pasta Recipes.  I improvised with what I had on hand and also doubled the recipe.  He used marille pasta, and I used strozzapreti.  He used fresh basil; I used dried.  He used parmesan; I used pecorino.


Pasta with Mascarpone and Peas

1/4 cup butter

2 lbs. chopped tomatoes (I used Pomi.)

14 oz. frozen peas

basil to taste

2 8 oz. containers mascarpone cheese

1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

red pepper flakes to taste

salt and pepper to taste

2 lbs. strozzapreti pasta

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.  Add tomatoes, peas, basil, mascarpone, pecorino, red pepper, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 30 minutes.  Cook pasta in salted water for 10-12 minutes until al dente.  Drain.  Serve with sauce.

Easter Lamb Cake

Easter Lamb Cake

Easter lamb cake, lamb cake

I always thought the Easter lamb cake, or cake shaped liked a lamb, was just a Polish and Eastern European Easter tradition.  Until I saw them in Sicilian bakeries in Brooklyn.  Then I thought they were also a Sicilian tradition.  In my twenties, I spent one Easter weekend with my friend Stephanie and her family in Brooklyn.  We colored eggs and her mom made delicious stuffed artichokes.  Her aunt made a lamb cake.  An Easter lamb cake was not a tradition on either side of my family.  However, recently, an older relative of mine told me that lamb cakes are a tradition in the Benevento area of Italy and that people in my family did make them.  So I tackled one this year.  I used this Renalde lamb cake from Midcentury Menu for the cake part, although I used regular flour and more baking powder.  For an Italian twist, you can add almond extract, or lemon or orange zest.  This recipe made enough for one lamb cake and a dozen cupcakes.  For the frosting, I used a marshmallow fluff frosting, but you can use any kind.  This is a really delicious cake and frosting!

Easter Lamb Cake

For the cake:

a cake pan shaped like a lamb (mine is Nordic Ware spring lamb 3-D cake mold)

kitchen string


1 cup butter, softened

2 cups sugar

4 eggs, separated

1 cup milk

3 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

almond extract (optional), lemon zest (optional) or orange zest (optional)


For the frosting:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

2 cups butter

14 oz. marshmallow fluff

2 teaspoons vanilla

For decorating:

currants or raisins

pink jellybean


green food coloring


Cream butter and sugar.  Add egg yolks one at a time, beating each time.  Add vanilla and almond extract or one of the zests.  Sift dry ingredients.  Add dry ingredients and milk, alternately.  With a mixer, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold egg whites into batter.

Grease both halves of the cake pan generously with shortening.  You want it to be greased well so the cake slips out easily.  Flour the pans.


Fill the face side of the pan.  Put toothpicks in a T shape across the ears and down the middle of the neck for stability.  Push them down so they are in the batter.


Put the other cake pan on top (the vent should be on top).  Place on a cookie sheet.  Using kitchen string, tie the mold in place.


Bake in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Lower heat to 350 degrees and bake for a half hour more.  Let it cool on a rack before trying to open it.

When it’s cool, take the top pan off.


Use a butter knife and just lightly go around the edges to loosen it.  It should pop right out.  Use some of the frosting to create a base on your serving plate.


Sit the lamb on top of it.  If there’s a little extra cake at the bottom seam, just slice it off so the bottom is even.


To make the frosting, just mix everything in a mixer.  Frost the cake.  I used a piping bag.  When it comes to the neck, head and ears, I would frost gingerly here.  The weight of the frosting may make the neck/head tip over a bit.  Use currants or raisins for eyes and cut a pink jellybean in half for the nose.

In a bowl, mix coconut and green food coloring until it looks like grass.  Spread it around the lamb.  Tie a ribbon around the neck.  (This helps to stabilize it too.)

You can cook the cupcakes separately about 20-22 minutes in a 350 degree oven and frost.

Pizza Chiena or Pizza Rustica

Pizza Chiena or Pizza Rustica, or Savory Italian Easter Pie

pizza chiena, pizza rustica

Pizza chiena or pizza rustica is a savory Neapolitan pie served at Easter time.  My family is from the area surrounding Naples and they called it pizza chiena, pronounced like pizzagaina, or pizzagain, as they pronounce the hard ch sound as a hard g in Neapolitan dialect and the last vowel is often left off.

pizza chiena, pizza rustica

Pizza Chiena

For the crust:

Some people use pizza dough for the crust.  You can get it from a pizzeria or make it yourself.  There are many different ways to make the crust.  You can experiment and see what you like.  Some people use lard, butter or oil instead of the shortening.  Some people don’t use eggs.  Some people use yeast.  Some people add pepper or salt.  The dish itself is pretty salty with the meats and cheeses, so I would opt for no extra salt.

5 cups flour, not sifted

3/4 cup shortening

4 eggs

warm water

olive oil

Put your flour on your work surface.  Dot with shortening and incorporate until it becomes crumbly.


Make a well and add eggs, incorporating them.  Add enough warm water until you have a workable dough.  Knead for about 5 minutes.  Put a little olive oil in a bowl.  Add the dough ball.


Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rest for about a half hour.

For the filling:

People use different ingredients in the filling.  It usually always has ricotta, eggs, grated cheese and salami.  From there, it varies.  You can also use soppressata, capocollo, mortadella, Italian sausage or provolone.  We only used soppressata, capocollo and salami.  One of my grandmas used provolone.  Also, some provolone can be sharp and you don’t want it to be too dominant a flavor.  Some people lump all the ingredients in there, some people chunk it, some people dice it very small, some people layer it.  It’s all your preference.  My two grandmas did it differently.  This is kind of a combination of both of theirs.

1 lb. ricotta (Use a good brand with no added gums or thickeners.)

1 lb. basket cheese (If you can’t get this where you are, you can just use another pound of ricotta.  Or you can let one pound of ricotta sit in a colander or in cheesecloth the night before to drain out water.)


1 cup salami, diced


1 cup prosciutto, diced


8 eggs

1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

1 cup fresh mozzarella, diced

black pepper to taste

egg yolk for egg wash

In a bowl, mix all ingredients.  Just stir it all together.  No mixer needed.  I like it a little chunky.

Grease and flour a 10-inch springform pan or a 13×9 rectangular pan or a large cake pan or pie dish (depends on how much filling you have).

Cut off 2/3 of dough.  Roll it out into a circle and line springform pan.


Fill with filling.


Roll out remaining dough into a circle.  Top pie with it.  Brush with egg wash.

Bake at 375 degrees for 1/2 hour.  Lower heat to 350 for 1 more hour.  Let cool for a few hours.  Refrigerate.  We eat this at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator.

Pastiera, Pizza Grano or Easter Wheat Pie

Pastiera, Pizza Grano or Easter Wheat Pie

pastiera, pizza grano, Easter wheat pie, wheat pie

The pastiera, or pizza grano is also known in English as a wheat pie.  It’s a traditional Neapolitan dessert pie made at Easter time.  In the past, some people made these at home and other people bought them at Italian bakeries.  Unless you live near an Italian bakery, you will probably not be able to find one.  These pies have wheat but depending on where they are made, they can also have rice.  Part of my family is from the Benevento area of Italy, and they make the pie with rice.  I made an Italian Easter rice pie last year.

pastiera, pizza grano, wheat pie

Pastiera, Pizza Grano or Easter Wheat Pie

For the crust:

2 cups sifted flour

1 cup granulated sugar

pinch salt

1 stick butter, room temperature

2 eggs

Combine flour, sugar and salt.  On your work surface, make a well in the flour.  Add the eggs.


Dot the butter around and mix all together.  Work the dough until you have a dough that doesn’t stick (you may need to add more flour).


Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 can/jar cooked wheat (You will find this at an Italian market.  Or you can buy wheat berries and cook them yourself.)

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon sugar

5 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 lb. ricotta (Try to buy a good brand that doesn’t have added gums or thickeners.)

1 tablespoon orange blossom water (This is not orange extract.  You will find this at Italian markets.  If you can’t find it, you can use vanilla instead.)

8 oz. chopped citron (This is hard to find.  Some grocery stores carry it.  Italian markets have it too.  It depends on where you live.  The higher percentage of Italians, the more likely you are to find it.)

In a pot, add the milk, wheat, butter and 1 T sugar.  Bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until it’s a thick custard.  Transfer it to a bowl and allow it to cool.


By hand or with a mixer, mix the eggs, sugar, ricotta and orange blossom water until well combined.  Mix in the cooled wheat custard.  Stir in the citron.

Grease and flour a 9- or 10-inch springform pan.  (You can also use a pie plate or cake pan.)

Take out your dough.  Cut off 1/3 of it to save to make strips for the top.  Roll the dough out into a circle and put into springform pan.

Pour the filling into the crust.  Roll out the other piece of dough and cut strips to make a crisscross design on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for about an 1 hour (not less but maybe a little more).

Coconut Buttermilk Cake

I got this recipe for Coconut Buttermilk Cake from Gonna Want Seconds in my inbox.  I have some leftover buttermilk from St. Patrick’s Day, so I thought I’d use it to make this cake.  I didn’t put coconut on top, and I didn’t have coconut extract.  But this cake turned out delicious anyway.  It’s so moist and fluffy.  And yes, we did want seconds!