Tag Archives: cooking

I8tonite: Food from “Kitchen Sense” by Mitchell Davis

I stopped writing on “i8tonite”. It wasn’t going anywhere and truthfully, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to take it. It started because I love cooking. We know that. Truthfully, the sheer act of it (and craft) saved my life. I’m forever indebted to the stove, the fridge, farmer’s markets, and washing dishes. It will have been almost four years since I took on the name of “i8tonite” and the whole thing was a lark. Really. I just needed something to occupy my mind while I gave up a business, a partnership, a dog and the home that I had for more than decade.

Writing out what I was cooking on social media gave me something to look forward to while I was crying about the state of my life as it became unhinged. Then came the requests for photos. Taking the images, a little food styling, along with the hazy images became an extension. My life, as a whole, began to come together again. Then, I started this blog which has had fits-and-starts. Partially, because I only wanted to cook and I wanted to show to prospective clients that I knew about the culinary world, from a sophisticated and well-traveled home cook.

Candidly, I’m not really that interested in creating my own recipes. There are so many great chefs and home cooks out there that I just don’t feel that creative need. However, I do love reading cookbooks. I like understanding the ingredients and how they going to be appealing. I can taste the ingredients before beginning the process. It’s also important to note whether each recipe is laborious or fun. Puff pastry is laborious, making a cake or pie is fun.

I’m also not interested in reviewing restaurants. If I did, I would want to pay for my own meals and try the experience several times over. That would be a costly endeavor and I don’t think many restaurants are worthy of going to 3 or 4 times in a year, much less in a single month. (I’ve been called by friends “extremely picky” in my restaurant choices.) No, I leave that to the food bloggers and newspapers.

Therefore, I’m beginning this endeavor with a new verve with a fresher eye about food and cookbooks. My plan is over a calendar month to attempt at least 4 recipes from one single book. The idea is really to try cooking them. It’s not to review them so much as to just cook from them and then maybe add something with my own thoughts. I do own quite a few cookbooks and I’ve never used one recipe from about three dozen. I’ve read them…but never cooked from them. This will give me the impetus to execute something. Selfishly, I also want to expand my food repertoire and hopefully to whoever reads this blog…if anyone does.

For the first book, I’ve chosen Mitchell Davis’ “Kitchen Sense: More Than 600 Recipes to Make You a Great Home Cook.” Davis is also the executive vice-president and director of communications for The James Beard Foundation along with being an adjunct professor of Food Studies at the venerable New York University. His pedigree about food is astounding. It’s not a new book as it was originally published in 2006 by Random House.

It’s a vast collection around such culinary pantheons as Chinese, American, Italian and Greek and so on. Mr. Davis provides also great tips such as how to make a compound butter or “flavored butter” in a small area on various pages called “kitchen sense” or “basics”, small guidelines for executing simple home cooked gastronomic pleasures like roasted garlic or a compound butter. If you are a professional or have worked in a kitchen, you know some of these recommendations but if you haven’t, some of them are very handy to have.

There also aren’t any photos so I have to think with my tastebuds in order to pick the recipes. I want all my senses to be used as each recipe is made. Can I smell that it might need more seasoning? How does it look? Should I have used the richer Dutch processed chocolate or no? These are the things that I hope to learn as well as a little bit about myself.


Devil’s Food Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from “Kitchen Sense” by Mitchell Davis, 2006, Clarkson Potter).

Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting (NOTE: I had to double the recipe to cover the two layer cake. Although delicious and rich, the caramel flavor was very subtle. Next time, I make it I will double the caramel portion. Regardless, is was still delicious and I’m now running four miles every other day to remove it from my body.)

½ cup cold water

1 ½ cups sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 cups (24 ounces) cream cheese (room temperature)

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)

Place water and sugar into a medium sauce pan. Using a medium high heat, melt sugar by stirring constantly. As the syrup develops, it will thicken into a sauce and begin to darken. This will take roughly 8 – 10 minutes. (You will notice of the water to begin to darken as the sugar stiffens.) Watch carefully as the sugar can become burnt quickly. Swirl until the color of caramel. Remove from heat.

Slowly add the heavy cream and stir constantly. Replace saucepan on very low flame until all the cream has been incorporated. Add the salt.  Keep stirring with a spoon or wooden spatula (do not use a whisk) until a beautiful, rich caramel sauce has developed. (You can always use this for ice cream or pour over cakes.)

In another bowl, mix the butter and cream cheese until frothy. Making sure you scrape the sides of the bowl, slowly add the caramel sauce until completely merged and, viola, you have made your frosting.

You can chill but bring to room temperature before frosting the cake. It will make spreading so much easier. It’s still delicious even though it’s a subtle caramel flavor. I think I wanted it to be overpowering like a caramel latte from Starbucks but it’s more like a European subtle instead of an American-beat-me-until-I’m-black-and-blue.


Devil’s Food Cake

Honestly, this maybe the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made.  It was densely, moist with a very light crumb and an intense lovely chocolate flavor. (Will make two 9-inch layer cakes).

Unsalted butter for greasing the pan

Parchment paper

1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Use the good stuff. I like Dutch-processed as it creates a darker, fudgier cake)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup sugar

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup strong coffee

½ cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. (We do this first so the oven pre-heats while we gather our wits.) Butter the pans and then line with parchment. Butter the parchment. (We do this so we keep our gathered wits about us instead of the cakes sticking to the pans. Trust me on this step….it’s a life-saver.) Once we remove the cakes from the pans, they aren’t that pretty… yet. We will do a little trimming of rough edges using a LOT of frosting to cover up the wrinkles left by the parchment indentations.

In a large mixing bowl, we will sift all the dry ingredients together (flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, both sugars and salt).

In another bowl, mix all the wet ingredients together (coffee, buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla). Mix with a whisk.

Using a wooden spoon or an electric mixer on low, merge the wet with the dry.

Pour into your buttered cake pans. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Remove from oven once a toothpick comes out cleanly.

Take cakes out and cool on a wire rack. Frost. J

Penny’s Broiled Swordfish and Cilantro Pesto

I was a very naïve eater before I moved to New York. (Actually, I was just naïve but that’s a different matter…and I still can be.) As I’ve said before, my mother with whom I spent most of my upbringing, just wasn’t a cook. From her, it was “here’s the Kraft Macaroni” or being handed the can-opener to expose aluminum-clad franks and beans.

When I moved to New York City, I had the great opportunity of waiting tables and a whole new world opened up to me. It wasn’t just about food, it was about living. I wasn’t more than 21 years old, finished school and was working at a Cajun/Creole restaurant in Tribeca called How’s Bayou, (meaning “how are you”from New Orleans creole). It was an open air restaurant with sliding French doors on its two sides which allowed cool Hudson River air in the summer.

This is the corner of Harrison & Greenwich even before Hows Bayou.

Then, I remember thinking the blackened catfish and Cajun fried chicken, served with collard greens flecked with bacon, mashed potatoes with skins left on, a flaky buttermilk biscuit and honeyed sweet potato were the best things. And to drink, which we drank while working, we served up strong, frozen margaritas or Hurricanes topped with 151 proof rum. It was one helluva a place to work and I loved it.

I met some a few of the most important people in my life during this time such as Penny. Penny is a loveable art historian on paper, a self-taught gourmand and to me, a national treasure. We worked together during the day shifts and sometimes, nights. She was a career waitress (when the term didn’t imply anything) and hated the food at Hows Bayou.  Hated it. She often complained that what we served was almost inedible by boasting about her annual European as proof she knew what was good. Not only did I envy her for her worldliness, but besides the cooks where I worked and my father’s family cuisine (Filipino), she was and is my greatest cooking inspiration.

I always told Penny that she resembled the silent screen movie-star Louise Brooks with her jet black, bobbed hair and bangs. She loves to talk about food as much as she loves to cook it. When Penny finds a food delicious or she crinkles her nose and face up, exclaiming, “This is so yummy!”

Louise Brooks

Funny thing, even though was in her early forties, she never been to a gay bar so she proposed that she cook dinner one evening and we could go to a happy hour. Her and Tim, her husband, lived in the West Village, close to The Monster, one of New York City’s landmark watering holes, on the corner of Sheridan Square and Christopher Street. It not only had a piano …and a player…but a disco in the basement. (Talk about an identity crisis: In one corner, queens were croaking out Broadway show tunes; in another, some were slinging back gin and tonics at 2-4-1s and downstairs, vogue contests were performed.) We shouted at each other above the antics and got drunk. The two for ones really should be called 12 for 6 because that’s what we wound up drinking…each. We started at 4 o’clock and left at around 8. With four hours of drinking, Penny still had to make dinner.

With our liquor soaked steps, we walked the two blocks to her apartment at Bleecker and Grove. Once inside her pillbox-sized studio, lined with history books instead of wallpaper, I opened the first bottle of wine. She put the swordfish steaks in the oven rubbed with olive oil, salt and pepper. We chatted.  Tim at the time wasn’t home from teaching at Queen’s College and he was to join us so we chatted and drank so more while waiting.  She made the cilantro pesto. We continued chatting and drank some more. I opened the second bottle of wine. We starting slurrying our chat.  Tim came home. Introductions were made and by this point, it was just slurring. Huge lovers of opera, we listened to a recording of La Traviata, featuring soprano Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta so that we could listen over the third bottle of vino.

“Oh my God!” Penny exclaimed in an anguished fury. “The swordfish!!!” The wine-soaked chatting had gotten the better of us. Our dinner was ruined.

But as luck and Penny’s cooking prowess will attest, it was not. On floral plates with lacy golden edges, beautiful browned slabs of Broiled Swordfish, smeared with Cilantro Pesto was served and a friendship was born.

Broiled Swordfish with Cilantro Pesto:


  • 1 – 2 pounds Swordfish Steaks cut into servings of 2 to 4
  • 2 bunches cilantro
  • Jalapeno: chopped and seeded
  • Olive Oil
  • Juice of 1 limes.
  • Cotija cheese or manchego
  • Almonds

Let’s make this puppy:

  1. Line broiler pan with foil.
  2. Arrange boiler pan about 6 inches from flame. Turn on high.
  3. Salt and pepper swordfish steaks on each side
  4. Broil one side for 5 minutes. Flip. Repeat.
  5. Remove from heat and smear cilantro pesto on fish. Serve with wedges of lime.

To Make Pesto:

  1. Place cilantro leaves, jalapeno and lime juice into food processor. Pulse into a paste.
  2. Add cheese in small bits for flavor and coloring, such as 3 ounces (or more depending on taste.)
  3. Drizzle, through the feed tube, olive oil until emulsified or slightly creamy.
  4. Add a handful of almonds or walnuts until chopped.
  5. Smear onto any fish.

Brews, Bread and Bumps in Life

Last night, I published a blog item. In it, I was profusely apologizing about my lack of posting for the past two weeks (to my two fans). Life became life and with dinners out, work (which sometimes is about going out), seeing friends, looking for new apartments with Holly (the pitbull), JJ (the Frenchie) and Nick (the Man from Wisconsin) so I wasn’t able to write until this weekend. Once I hit publish, it vanished. Right then and there. Poof. Twilight Zone-like.  I talked to WordPress, “chatting” with “Pam” about where it could have possibly gone. (We both agreed that it went the way a pair of socks in the washer…). So, I have to recreate it which might be a good thing; right? Let’s take the lemons and make lemonade? Still, I hate re-dos.


And through all of this up-and-down, in-and-out,  I find that I get a little anxious when I can’t eat or cook the way I want. Fresh, sustainable, local. For me, eating and being out is overwhelming at times.  Admittedly, it’s a personal control issue. Hands down. Who doesn’t want to go out? Isn’t that what commercials ask of us? Let’s eat at Applebee’s, Chili’s, MickeyD’s? But I do it frequently and have eaten out often, eating with clients and enjoying their meals…all in the name of work. However, I really like being in my home and cooking. There is such safety and calmness in it. Some people turn to the bottle of wine, videogame or television, I look at recipes and try to cook. It’s inspirational and very meditative. I sometimes think that if I could, I would grow my vegetables, butcher my livestock and sow my own wheatfields just so I can get as close as I can to eating well.  After all, eating well is the only thing I can control. Once, I step out my door, I feel that my life becomes an issue of circumstance.

With all that said, I have eaten some glorious sandwiches at my client Carvery Kitchen. Handmade and house-baked bread, succulent meats piled in innovative ways with dipping sauces. My favorite: Eating the freshly roasted pastrami in a French dip. Clean and lustily juicy.

Banh Mi Porchetta



Over this past weekend, I attended The Shelton Bros “The Festival” which was hosted at clients Brouwerij West. I’m not a beer geek  but I’m learning a lot about the process of making beer. Sometimes, it a lot about engineering. There is a process to it. Winemakers let the liquid sit and ferment, creating delicious drinks. With beer, it’s a process of taking the grain and extracting the “wort” (sugar water) and turning it into lusty libation.

Many amazing things were said about the event from LA Weekly and The Los Angeles Times famed beer writer, John Verive.  It was from these articles that I truly realized the importance of the craft beer movement. It’s not unlike the Slow Food Movement or artisan winemakers. Truly, craft beer making is an art form.

Besides Brouwerij West, there was a really interesting beer from Treehouse Brewing in Ohio. It’s called “Double Shot”; like the name implies, it’s made with coffee from Oregon’s Stumpton. It’s aroma was powerful with coffee and malt. Not a combination I would ever have thought I would smell together. Coffee and beer. It used to be “Black Coffee“.

Treehouse Brew