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.








Green and Black’s Spiced Chili Pot Roast…Chocolate as Savory

A  few weeks back, I was invited to a fun local event hosted by Green and Black’s to launch their latest bar, Spiced Chili. What I took away from the evening was lots of creative ideas and inspiration to incorporate chocolate into intriguing savory dishes. Not only were delicious desserts on hand, and information on pairing chocolates with alcohol, but Chef Jill Houk challenged and inspired us to think out of the box when cooking.

Believe it or not with the holidays approaching, I’m not really feeling tons of desserts now. I’m coming down off a very hectic two months of catering and work commitments, and all I seek is savory comfort in my kitchen.  So what did I decide to do? I took my inspiration from Mexico and used a grated  bar of Green and Black’s Spiced Chili  , which is seasoned with star anise,pink peppercorn, cloves,juniper and ginger , to make a mole like braise for an inexpensive cut of beef. All you need is a good grater or micro plane, a cast iron pan or dutch oven, and time to make this fantastic meal, which will leave you saying Holy Mole ( pardon the pun).

Green and Blacks Spiced Chili Pot Roast...Chocolate as Savory
Recipe type: Entree
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4-6
A braised pot roast using Green and Blacks Spiced Chocolate as a savory ingredient.
  • 3.5-4 lb pot roast
  • ½ bar Green and Blacks Spiced Chili Bar ( approx 50 grams)
  • 5-6 garlic cloves
  • 1 jalapeno pepper seeded and minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt or Pink Himalayan Salt.
  • 1 lime juiced
  • ½ cup Tequila Reposado
  • 1½ large onion sliced
  • 2 carrots peeled and chopped into slices.
  • 2 cups water.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Using a grater grate the chocolate and garlic into a small bowl.
  3. Add the dry spices and minced jalapeno.
  4. Mix well and rub onto the pot roast. Place in a cast iron pan or dutch oven.
  5. Add lime juice, tequila, and water to pan.
  6. Add carrots and onion slices.
  7. Cover with foil or lid, and roast for 3 hours until tender.
  8. Remove the foil or lid and roast for another ½ hour until tender and liquid reduces some more.



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.


Soy, Star Anise, Chili Braised Turkey Legs…A Centering Dish

I returned home last Saturday after a fun, enlightening , and a bit hectic week in one of my favorite cities in the world, Vienna Austria. Some of my readers may know of my decade long connection to this city. The purpose of this trip was twofold, to produce content for American Airlines Black Atlas and for familial reasons. My late uncle, Bob Curtis, friends were having an exhibition for his works. I have to so much to share, so stay tuned for videos and articles from the trip. Besides food , my other passion is travel and I hope to record more of what I see as I explore the world.

So after  along flight with connections a delays, there really is nothing like a home cooked meal. Chicago was cold , raining and bleak. My freezer was bare and Certain Someone was prepping to fly out later that evening.With turkey  legs in the freezer , I decided to make us something satisfying and comforting  as I decompressed and shaked off the jet lag  and CS launched into his work week. My inspiration for this came from  a New York Times article. I changed up my techniques and ingredients. In Vienna this past week I noticed a huge Asian influence  from the diverse population. I have had some dubious Asian style style cuisines in my European travels, but everything I ate in Vienna was top rate. Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese, etc. Fresh chilies added liberally to my dishes gave a great sinus clearing and metabolism inducing  kick. The Viennese embrace the exotic.


Soy, Star Anise, Chili Braised Turkey Legs...A Centering Dish
Recipe type: Entree
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2-4
Soy and Star Anise Braised Turkey Legs ( influenced by Roasted Drumsticks with Star Anise and Soy Sauce New York Times May 6, 2011) Slow braised Asian style Turkey legs. Sweet and Spicy.
  • 2- 4  Turkey legs
  • 8 Star Anise
  • 1 tablespoon Ginger minced ( I actually didn't have ginger and substituted candied ginger minced)
  • ⅓ cup Soy Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes or ⅛ cup fresh chopped onion
  • ⅓ cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup of water
  • 3-4 dried chilies
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 F
  2. In a deep roasting pan add your turkey legs.
  3. Combine all your ingredients.
  4. Slow cook for 2½ hours until tender turning/ basting at half hour intervals.

Pork Belly Buns or Bao…Dim Sum Treats

One of the favorite dining experiences of Certain Someone and I, is going to China Town on a Sunday and indulging in Dim Sum. The tasty assortment and nibbles are endless and satisfying. Another added bonus is that is doesn’t cost us a fortune.  I love any sort of steamed bun or bao and normally have purchased them frozen. I finally decided to make my own after finding some pork belly in my freezer. Brainstorming on what to do with my hunk of rich meat , I thought back to last December and a long weekend in New York City. Certain Someone had purchased tickets for his favorite band Rammstein, an industrial metal German band known for intense pyrotechnics. This was their first concert in the United States in 10 years  to test the waters. It was so good that they are now on tour in the US. Anyway, as I’m normally in charge of the food recommendations. I was dying to go to the famous Momofuku Noddle Bar. The hype over the years was huge and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. They don’t take reservations there except for the fried chicken. So we taxied over and waited  in line for approx 30 minutes on a Friday night. If it was any longer Certain Someone would have walked. But he was a good sport and we waited for the surprisingly short duration. Finally two spaces opened up for us at the bar. Tight ,noisy , and nor very intimate. But I was there for the food. Our server /bartender was very hospitable to us and Certain Someone ordered a nice selection of items. Was it good? Yes. Was it an epiphany , not so much. Was it expensive for what you got, yes again, with all the drinks thrown in as well. Compared to the venues we have gone to in various Chinatowns,we were paying for the scene , more than the food. In the end , we are the types who prefer a more low key , non pretentious place that gives more value for the price. But I can say been there , done that. If the place wasn’t so loud, small and had better seating, then maybe I would view the whole experience differently. Its hard to enjoy a meal cramped up , elbow to elbow on a high chair at the bar, with your backs against the cold new York winter air.I do need to visit David Chang’s other venues .

So I decided to make my own buns for way less money. Be prepared to dedicate a better part of your day to these. Some aspects can be pre made , thereby making it an excellent appetizer for parties or summer cookouts coming up. The most intimidating piece of this for me was the bun/bao, as Chinese pastry has always mystified me. You can dress the buns up in a myriad of ways. I love various Asian influence like pickled vegetables and maybe some spice to offset the rich fattiness of the pork belly. If you don’t like pork, try roasted chicken or duck with the crispy skin left on. Shrimp or beef works too. I made quick pickle of julienned Daikon radish and carrots, sliced some cucumbers, green onion, and cilantro.  Add a slather of Hoisin and you are in for a treat.

I followed this recipe from Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie , but made some changes in the dough as I didn’t have dried milk in my pantry. I substituted 2 tablespoons  heated whole milk to the 3/4 ( less 2 tablespoons ) of water. The dough turned out beautifully. If you need more flour or liquid, add it slowly until the dough forms a nice ball while kneading.

Next time I’m going to make my own brine with some aromatics like star anise and garlic, and peppercorns. Or I may just add them to my braising liquid for a more luxurious flavor.

For the quick pickle, I didn’t soak my vegetables in salt water overnight, as normal picking recipes call for. I just heated 1 part sugar to 1 part white vinegar, a start anise and dried Thai chili to a boil and plunged my vegetable in . Remove from heat immediately and let cool submerged in  the liquid. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Warning…These bao are quite filling and somewhat addictive. But I suspect the whole family will love them. Try various proteins as filling choices, and have yourself a little Bao party with all the fixings.