Coda Alla Vaccinara with spincah gnocchi

Tasting Rome’s Coda alla Vaccinara ( Braised Oxtail)

Coda Alla Vaccinara with spincah gnocchi

I’m going to be brutally honest. A lot of cookbooks are not impressing me these days. They are tritely styled , photographed  and promoted. I like a cookbook with real chops, with substance. I want to be inspired and learn a new twist or turn. I want a cookbook that tells a story and really has a soul. Tasting Rome came along and warmed up some inspiration inside. OK, so I’m Facebook friends with Kristina Gil, and wanted to support her work, but it’s something more. When CS and I went to Rome a few years back, this was the food I was looking for. I was told  by my  friend, that in Italy, Florence and Tuscany beat out Rome culinary wise , but I knew there was layer of old Rome that had amazing food. I had brief glimpses of it here and there, like  that famous food from the old Jewish ghetto quarter that I enjoyed in a New York City restaurant around Broadway.

Tasting RomeAs I flipped through the book I fell upon two recipes I knew I had to try. Both were a longer process, which I love, and involved oxtail. I drove to my favorite Korean store here in Chicago because they really have the best quality and price of oxtails from what I’ve seen. Ones with lots of meat. Oxtail has to be my favorite offal  and the dish I’m sharing with you is what you call  a Quinto Quarto dish, the “fifth quarter” of the animal, the offal. The first quarter of the animal was sold to the Nobility, the second to Clergy, the third to the Bourgeoisie, and the fourth to the military’s soldiers. The fifth quarter was all that remained for those less fortunate, the others.

It was suggested one eat these oxtails with your hands, like the modern day Italian American style gravy made with neck bones or short ribs. I knew CS would want some hearty pasta with it, so I made some spinach gnocchi with leftover roasted potatoes .

Spincach gnocchi prep

I loved the addition of a curious mix of pine nuts and raisins added at the end. I wondered if that was the Jewish influence on some Roman cuisine? The Coda alla Vaccinara  was outstanding and tastes even better the next day.

Braised oxtail in pot

A few things. The  recipe calls for salting the meat with kosher salt a day before. I confess I overlooked that and skipped it. It still turned out great. I also toasted my pine nuts in a dry skillet , as I would advise to always do, because it brings out the flavors and oils on product that may have been sitting on shelves. I freeze my pine nuts to preserve the quality and prevent them from going off.  I also did not use celery as CS hates the vegetable.  It’s something I have to sneak in when he’s not looking . I did ramp up the garlic factor more than what the recipe called for , because that’s my style. That’s the beauty of the dish. You can really add your own spin to this.

The  use of cocoa powder in the end transforms the tomato beefy sauce to the extraordinary. I’ve used cocoa before in savory cooking and it’s always a great little surprise ingredient.

I hope you enjoy this. This recipe just keeps giving and giving. I used some of the sauce , which turns into a rich gelatinous tomato beef stock to make a risotto type dish with barley and lentils . Nothing will go to waste to here. The braised oxtail also freezes very well.

This recipe is reprinted from Tasting Rome  Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City, by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Clarkson  Potter Publishers New York

Tasting Rome's Coda alla Vaccinara ( Braised Oxtail)
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Roman
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
This recipe is reprinted from Tasting Rome Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Clarkson Potter Publishers New York
  • 2½ oz lardo (cured fatback) or 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3½ lbs oxtail, cut into 3 inch segments
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 5-6 whole cloves
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 6 cups beef broth
  • 2 celery stalks cut into 3 inch pieces
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon Cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder
  1. Render the lardo in a large pot over medium -high heat , or heat olive oil until its shimmering.
  2. Add the oxtail segments and cook until browned all over, then remove from the pot and set aside.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onion, garlic, and cloves.
  4. Cook until the onion is translucent and the garlic has just turned golden, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add the tomato paste and cook until it turned a deep brick red, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add the wine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and cook until the alcohol aroma dissipates, about a minute, then add the tomatoes.
  7. Return the meat to the pot and cover three-quarters of the way with the beef broth.
  8. Cover and cook until the meat is just falling off the bone, 5-6 hours, adding more broth if the sauce reduced too much.
  9. Toward the end of cooking, add the celery, raisins, pine nuts, and cacao, mixing well. Simmer for 20-30 minutes more.
  10. Turn off the heat and allow the oxtail to rest for at least 30 minutes., ideally overnight, in the refrigerator. Serve on its own. Use any leftover sauce to dress Gnocchi di Patate.







Chicken galettes with brocoli mustard cream

Chicken Galettes With Broccoli Mustard Cream

Chicken galettes with brocoli mustard cream

Here is a quick and easy idea for a twist on the usual standard dinner fare. I’m not a big fan of skinless boneless chicken breasts, but utilize them occasionally in cooking. I always have some puff pastry in the freezer left over from catering. This particular evening I had some frozen béchamel sauce I had leftover from making lasagna. As a chef I save as much I can in the freezer to repurpose later in another dish. “Waste not , want not” especially with food costs soaring. Some frozen broccoli, béchamel, chicken breasts, Dijon mustard, and Gouda make for an easy elegant stunning meal. I called these galettes which we normally associate with a free from sweet pastry. Why not savory? The chicken breast stays tender as it cooks up in the creamy sauce and puff pastry.  Be sure to use a thermometer to check chickens doneness without compromising the presentation before serving. Poultry should reach an internal temperature of 165-175 F . Here is quick link for Béchamel , a mother sauce that should be in your repertoire.

Chicken Galettes With Broccoli Mustard Cream
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Chicken Breasts in puff pastry.
  • Chicken breasts
  • Thawed frozen Puff pastry sheets to equal amount of chicken pieces
  • 2 cups Béchamel sauce ( see link in post)
  • 1 cup grated Gouda
  • 2 tbsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1 cup frozen broccoli
  • ¼ cup chicken broth
  • 1 egg beaten for pastry wash
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Prepare you béchamel. Add grated gouda and broccoli. Let sit for 20 min until a little thickened and cooler before assembly.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 F
  3. Line a sheet pan with a silpat or parchment paper .
  4. Place a chicken breast atop a piece of puff pastry on the sheet pan.
  5. Add a few tablespoons of thickened cooled sauce and quickly wrap to seal. Brush with egg yolk.
  6. Reheat Béchamel with chicken stock.
  7. One galetttes are browned and chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165-175 F , remove from oven.
  8. Serve hot with more sauce ladled over the pastry.

Chicken Galettes

In other news this has been an amazing week as I go through some career transformations and validations. An illustration I did a while ago and forgot about for my former employers contest, was picked up and reposted on the Cosmetic Brands IG page! For me this is a  huge validation of my  creative talents and skills .


Smith and cult as seen in

Summer Time Is For Blue Crabs…You Can’t Take the Maryland Out of A Girl

As many of  you know I moved a few months ago. The moving process is hard and can take a while to clean up, and sort decades of personal mementos and possessions.  Going through many boxes  and files,  all indications were there I was a food  and fashion lover from an early age. Magazine clippings were various assorted recipes and fashion spreads. I recall reading Jeffrey Steingarten at a young age and trying to replicate his recipes for my father  on visitations.I always saved such things as I knew one day, they would be useful. While cleaning out some drawers I came across some wooden crab mallets   from my childhood in the Washington D.C area. While Chicago has been my home for over a decade, and my mothers hometown, essentially I’m a East Coast Girl . They say you can never go home again, and it’s true. But sometimes your taste buds yearn for long forgotten  tastes  of  your past that aren’t always available.

I loved crabs and lobster as a kid. I remember my Mommy and Daddy would take me down to the Wharf in D.C, before it became all gentrified and commercialized, and get bushels of live crabs to cook up for a party. I would ride in fear in the car on the way home to the suburbs  worried those blue crabs would climb out of the bushel and pinch me. I loved going to local crab houses around Maryland laid out with brown paper. With my bib and wooden mallet ready, we all dug into to crustaceans loaded down with salty, spicy Old Bay Seasoning. I was an expert and could easily  crack open and polish off a dozen. If there were leftovers, the one or two would be an after school treat cold from the fridge. The sweet meat more firmed up. Hot or cold they were delicious and my mother loved to indulge her budding epicurean . Time went on, my parents divorced, and we moved. My mother and I lived for a brief spell in Baltimore with my step father, which I hated, but I loved the crabs. Going down to Fells Point for crabs relieved my building tensions and resentment of being in a place I didn’t want to be. Living in Chicago its rare to find Blue Crabs. But it is possible. Here in the Midwest , Alaskan King Crab Legs rule as opposed to the smaller blue crabs. All have to be flown in. I have found  live crabs flown in various places on the South Side, and more specifically Asian Markets. H Mart carries them regularly and I picked up some tongs and grabbed some of the pinchy fighters to go into my brown paper bag. On the way home I remembered my fear as kid while driving, but knew I was in for a treat.  I indulge in crabs and such when Certain Someone is away. He feels such food is too much work. It is. But its a ritual I relish and enjoy, preferably in messy solitude, like when I was a kid. A treat to myself.

In Maryland the crab is always steamed. Elsewhere it boiled. I don’t have a steamer so I boil. My mother used to make me  a quick sauce to dip my meat in consisting  of Mayonnaise and Ketchup, kind of like a remouldae. I modernized her sauce with more modern and available ingredients of today. The Blue Crabs I purchased were on the smaller side, as there isn’t as much choice in size  and there was back home on the East Coast. I got a variety of male and female. The males  have a T shaped apron and blue tipped claws, while the females have a triangular or more mature bell shaped apron with red tipped claws. The females are sweeter and have roe inside, which you can discard or consider it a delicacy and make a sauce with .

I wont give a recipe , but explain my favorite way to cook and eat crabs

  •  1 part of water depending on quantity of crabs to 1 part beer or vinegar. Not to cover but between a steam and boil.
  • Liberal lashing of Old Bay Seasoning or a Crab Boil Mix
  • Boil live crabs for 10 minutes or until the blue shell turns red.
  • Drain and serve.
  • Mix a sauce with mayonnaise, a bit of ketchup for color , some Sriracha, a squeeze of lime juice, and dash of fish sauce.
  • Cover the table with newspaper
  • Get Ready to get messy
  • Be patient, it’s not a race
  • Enjoy and savor the delicacy of the sea

Chicken Lollipop with Plum Sauce and Toasted Sesame Seeds

Since I started catering  on my own as Coco Cooks,I’m obsessed with presentation. The challenge is to provide high flavor and appeal, low-cost, but not sacrifice taste. Summer is coming and I have some events lined up. An inexpensive option for passed  appetizers is  always a tasty chicken wing. 100 wings can be cut down into 200 pieces easily. But how  can I make it more highbrow , than low brow? Lollipop them! In catering or restaurants starters are either cleverly skewered or lollipop-ed.  It’s easy to pick up, and not messy. One or two bites and your guest is  done, with your server tastefully moving away the small remains left behind. Not to mention the variations in sauces and cooking applications.Spicy, sweet, sour, dry, wet, fried,smoked, baked, etc. The list is endless. You just need a good small sharp knife or poultry shears .

The boning of the chicken wing is most intimidation part. But with a few receptive actions, you will get the hang of it and the work will go swifter. I  would be at a loss without my Wusthof Kitchen Shears. They make quick work and cut through bone in seconds. Much easier than sawing or chopping with a knife.

Chicken Lollipop with Plum Sauce and Toasted Sesame Seeds
Recipe type: appetizer
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 12-15
Elegant version of chicken wings.
  • 12 whole wings , prepped into 24 lollipop pieces.
  • Kosher Salt
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • 1 jar of plum sauce found in Asian specialty sections
  • 2 tablespoons Fish Sauce
  • ⅓ cup toasted sesame seeds.
  • Sesame Oil
  1. To Prepare the wing you need to:
  2. Cut off the wing tip of the chicken wing with your shears or knife.( Tip... Don't discard the wing tips, but save and freeze for chicken stock.)
  3. Now cut at the joint between the drumette and the center part, the forearm with wither shears or very sharp knife. You now have two pieces.
  4. Take the drumette and using a small sharp paring knife,slash and loosen the skin at the joint , from the bone. Gently scrape the flesh down and off the bone to push towards the top of the drumette. Leaving the skin on or off is optional. You should have the bone exposed and relatively clean of flesh or tendons. The meat slides back easily once loosened at the joint. Trim off any excess fat or skin you don't want.Set aside and store on ice until ready to cook.
  5. For the forearm loosen and slash the flesh at the base of the joint as before. Pinpoint the smaller of the two bones. Gently push back and loosen the meat away from the smaller bone. The meat will also start to slide of the larger bone. With your shears or knife cut the smaller bone at the top of the forearm. Carefully push back your meat. Again, to use or not the use the skin is optional. Trim off any excess skin or fat.
  6. Keep all meat chilled or on ice until ready to cook.
  7. Pre heat oven to 425 F
  8. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  9. Season wings with Kosher salt, Pepper, and Garlic Powder.
  10. Place the prepped lollipop wings on the paper. Try to sit upright and leave skin, if any exposed, to crisp and brown.
  11. Bake for approx 30 minutes or until starting to brown.
  12. In a dry skillet , add the sesame seeds and lightly toast until just golden. Don't burn. Remove from heat quickly.
  13. In a small dish mix the plum sauce and fish sauce.
  14. Remove chicken when browned from the oven .
  15. Carefully dip the lollipops into the plum sauce . Try not to get onto the exposed bone ,as it will become sticky for guests.
  16. Place the dipped chicken back on the baking sheet and finish baking for another 10 minutes.
  17. Remove from oven and sprinkle with tasted sesame seeds.
  18. Drizzle with Sesame oil.
  19. Serve hot.


Homemade Curry Ketchup

Ketchup gets a bad rap. People abuse it to mask sub par food, or load it onto junk food. I mean can you imagine a burger without it? And lets not even mention the sugar content or high fructose corn syrup in most commercial brands. I have always liked ketchup, but wasn’t the type to quickly reach for it to drown everything on plate.However , when Certain Someone first took me to his house in Germany, I fell in love with Curry Ketchup. It’s a German thing and when you go, you must have a Currywurst. Your taste buds will thank you. Needless to say every time we go, or Certain Someone goes, I bring back huge bottles of the stuff.

The other day I catered an event and still had a few leftover very ripe  tomatoes that needed to be used quick. In addition, my organic delivery service gave me a large bag of tomatillos, those small green tomatillos that are covered in a protective leaf covering, and used in Mexican food. I wanted to use them all together and immediately ketchup came to mind. Now if you cant get tomatoes, don’t worry, just use the tomatoes you have on hand, or add some regular green tomatoes for a kick.  Enjoy the freshest, natural taste you can imagine making your own ketchup. Your body will be grateful and your loved ones will appreciate the taste and effort.

Homemade Curry Ketchup
Recipe type: condiment
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
A ketchup with a spicy curry kick.
  • 2-2½ pounds ripe tomatoes ( can mix red, green, tomatillos) cut into quarters. Do not peel.
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 inch fresh ginger peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 2 Black Cardamon pods
  • 3 Star Anise
  • 3-4 cloves
  • 2 dried Thai Chilies
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • Salt to taste
  1. In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, add quartered tomatoes, and all the spices, vinegar.
  2. Turn heat to medium high to get a simmer.
  3. Reduce heat to lowest setting and slowly cook for approx 1 hour . The ingredients should break down and start to liquefy. Be sure to stir often to prevent sticking and burning.
  4. Take a fine wire mesh strainer or a food mill and strain the mixture into a bowl. Be sure to press and extract all the liquid and pulp, while leaving the skins, and spices the strainer.
  5. You should have a thick like sauce. If not thick enough add the strained sauce to a sauce pan and continue to reduce until thickened to the right consistency. Be sure to stir often.
  6. Pour into a clean glass jar and allow to cool.
  7. Refrigerate and use within 2 weeks.
  8. Make approx 2 cups.
Keeps 2 weeks refrigerated. You can adjust the spices to make more or less heat and spice according to your tastes.