Something from nothing – pasta salad



We were away for a week with my aunt Annie and some of my cousins.

It was one of those blissfully perfect beach days, that stretches long into the evening.

So long in fact that we all were sitting with grumbling tummies, still sandy and basking in the  sun at 7:30!


What does everyone want?

No one wanted to go out. No one wanted to go to the store.

But there was almost nothing in the house.

Almost nothing.

Annie said Don’t worry. I’ll whip something up from nothing. Just come over.

Normally, I’d be afraid when someone said this. But not when my aunt said this.

We showered quickly and walked into the house and it was filled with the smells of onions sauteeing, bacon frying, and fresh juicy tomatoes being sliced open.

I’ve got two kinds of pasta, she said.

From the kitchen with nothing came a rich and filling pasta topped with sauteed onions and bacon, salty and fatty and delicious, and a second pasta topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and sauteed summer squash.

We all sat on the floor with plates of pasta and plastic cups of wine.

My cousin’s Ipod was on shuffle, and the breeze blew from the front porch.

It wasn’t fancy, but it was good.

And that’s really what Italian cooking is. Simple. Rustic. Homey. And from basically nothing.

Inspired by that meal, and with bare cupboards after a week away, we whipped up our own something from nothing. A can of black olives, some tomatoes we brought back with us from the farmer’s market and some mozzarella cheese (I’m Italian. There is always some kind of cheese, even if there is nothing in the house), tossed with olive oil and bow tie pasta.

We were listening to the sirens on 2nd avenue instead of my cousin’s Ipod, and the wine was in our new glasses (Thanks Mrs. Follis!) but we were sitting on the floor eating something from nothing.


I’m Tellin Helen You ate the Cinnamon Rolls!


The Irish Coffee was a good way to kick off the snow day.

But this winter storm calls for something even better.

Grandma Helen’s Cinnamon Rolls.

I may have told you about my grandma Helen before, so if I have, I apologize. But she was such a great woman that she deserves a repeat story.

My dad is one of 6 kids – 2 girls and 4 boys. And there is a wide age range between with the first 3 being born about a year apart from one another and then the fourth following after about 8 years. Which means that when my parents were dating at 17, my dad’s youngest brother was 7.

My grandmother had no dishwasher. And no driver’s license.

But she cooked and baked. A lot.

When she passed away and we held her wake, the funeral home was filled to the max with kids from the neighborhood who used to come over for dinner or snacks or family parties. She basically fed the whole neighborhood at some point. Pies, stews, spitzad, pepperoni and string beans, and a whole list of things. Thursday night spaghetti night would find my aunt’ college friends piled into the kitchen.

But Monday night. Monday night football to be exact, was about cinnamon rolls.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been intimidated by this recipe for some time. Yeast. Letting dough rise. Making a caramel sauce?


But it actually isn’t that bad. And it is totally worth the wait.

Before I get started, a note on the name. My dad and his siblings used to say to each other “I’m tellin’ Helen!” whenever one or the other did something bad. Eating these cinnamon rolls is not in any way a bad thing. But eating them all and not saving any for a family member is definitely a bad thing!

So be sure to share.

Or I’m telling Helen you hate the cinnamon rolls.

For this recipe you will need:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup margarine, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup scalded milk
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 3 and 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • extra margarine for greasing the dough
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing the dough
  • cinnamon
  • brown sugar
For the glaze:
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons margarine
  • 4 tablespoons hot water
Okay. To get started combine sugar, salt, margarine and scalded milk in a large bowl.
Scalded milk is milk heated to just before boiling.
It will look something like this – bubbles at the edges and a slight skin on the top.





Dissolve the yeast in a half cup of warm water


When the yeast mix is lukewarm, add it, half the flour and the egg to the sugar, margarine and milk mixture.


Continue to stir and incorporate the flour until all of it has been added.

Turn the dough ball out onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes.


Grease the dough ball with margarine, then place back in the bowl, covered with a towel in a warm place.


Let the dough rest and rise for 1 and a half hours.

It will double in size.


Then, punch the dough down, cover and let sit for another 15 minutes. It will rise a bit again.


Now we are ready to get rolling! Preheat the oven to 350.

Flour your work surface. The Itty Bitty kitchen does not have enough counter space to roll out dough, so we use our table.


Roll out the dough into a rough rectangle. We’re going to roll it up like a jelly roll so you want it to be fairly thin.


Brush the dough with melted butter and sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Be generous.


Starting at one ed, carefully roll it up.


Leave the dough to sit for a minute while we make the glaze.

In a sauce pan, heat one cup of brown sugar and four tablespoons of hot water, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.


Add 6 tablespoons of margarine and stir until melted.


Pour this sauce into the bottom of a greased 9×13 baking tray.


Stay with me on this one.

Slice the cinnamon roll log up – I got 16 rolls out of this dough – and place the slice rolls in the tray on top of the sauce.


Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. The rolls will absorb the glaze and will puff up.


Let them sit for about 5 minutes so the glaze sets up on the rolls.


Marvel at the ooey-gooey cinnamon deliciousness.




I know this is a few days late. But I hope you will cut me some slack. I wrapped, I cooked, I cleaned, and then Iumped around.

That’s right. I cooked!

Christmas dinner came out of the Itty Bitty City Kitchen this year!

And there was no skimping on the food just because it’s a small space, oh no! It’s Christmas! There needs to be an overabundance of food. I mean, I’m Italian. And my fiance is Greek and Armenian. It’s all about the food on both sides.

So I have to admit, I was a little nervous to cook the big holiday dinner. I mean, you get one Christmas dinner a year. Talk about pressure!

And I knew this year would be a little harder without meme here with us. So instead of worrying and stressing, I took a deep breath and decided to do Christmas my way. I talked to meme about it first. She told me not to worry and to do it my way.


I tend to talk to her when I’m in the kitchen. Cooking was a passion we both shared. That and our love for family, especially for Christopher. My god, I’ve never seen a grandmother love her grandsons so fiercely.

But anyway. The food. We decided to do a combination of Greek and Armenian mezze and Italian antipasto, a fusion of our families.

It started with meme’s hummus. That is the only hummus recipe you will ever need.


Then we added pita, olives, salami, prosciutto, and basturma (a seasoned and cured meat)

The we brought out the brie (the Armenian side of the family went to France after the genocide so there’s a mix of French and Armenian there), mozzarella, provolone, kasseri (a Greek sheep’s milk cheese) and Armenian String Cheese (no, I did not make that up)


We left this array of munchies out and everyone picked at it while we relaxed, drank some wine and, of course, opened presents!


After gifts were exchanged and thank yous were said, I got started on dinner.

I actually started dinner a few days prior by making a big pot of meatballs and gravy. I just doubled my usual recipe. I also fried up some sweet Italian sausage and added that to the pot of gravy as well.

I stored it in the fridge for three days, so the flavors could, okay dad’s word all together now, fester. Then on Christmas morning I pulled out the pot and pot it over a low flame, stirring occasionally, and filling the whole apartment with that awesome smell of meatballs and gravy.

To accompany the meatballs, I went with stuffed shells. They don’t require boiling. You throw some gravy on them and throw them in the oven, so you’re not standing at the stove and then draining pasta and dirtying another pot like you would if you were making raviolis say.

Instead, preheat the oven to 350 (or follow the directions on your package), pull out an aluminum baking tray, and layer gravy, shells and then more gravy in the pan. Top with mozzarella (because we didn’t eat enough cheese) and bake for about 45 minutes.



The cheese will get bubbly and melty.


And despite the amount of mezze/antipasto consumed, everyone will find room for a meatball or 2 or 3 and a few shells.


And as if that wasn’t enough, for dessert we had fruit salad, chocolate chips and Dad’s Favorite – the Cheesecake Thing

So, don’t be intimidated. Cook what you love. Cook what makes you happy.

And you can have an Itty Bitty City Kitchen Christmas too!


Buon Natale

Kalá Christoúgenna

Shnorhavor Surb Tsnund

Joyeux Noël


The Gingerbread Man

We’re heading off to Atlantic City in a few hours for a weekend of gambling, food, drinks, family oh and a show with the cast of Impractical Jokers!

So I’m not cooking tonight. I like my breaks from cooking because I come back to my kitchen totally ready to try a million a new things.

So I don’t have a food post, but I do have a story.

Back in the late 70s/early 80s, my great aunt, my Auntie Anna worked at Orange Savings Bank. I should take a minute to note that my grandma and her sisters are Romano women. Stubborn, independent, and hard-headed. And I’m just like them : )

So in a time when a lot of women stayed home with the kids, they all worked. Hard.

So anyway, my Auntie Anna worked at the bank. And while she worked there, they ran this promotion. When you opened an account, you got this little guy.


Ta da! Give us your money and we’ll give you this 70s-fab ceramic gingerbread man.

Now, every single woman in my family has one. Mom’s is on the counter next to the stove to rest spoons on while she cooks. Ditto grandma’s. My mom’s sister’s has traveled from house to house with her, got broken, and was even glued back together.

When I moved into my own kitchen, I was pissed.

I didn’t have a gingerbread man.

I know. Major sad face.

I felt out of the loop.

I felt like I didn’t have that little family ties that all the other women had.


My dad cleaned out my grandma’s attic and found one!

That little guy up there? Yup. He’s mine.

He’s on my counter next to my stove.

Where he sits in the kitchens of all of the other women in my family.

Last minute visitors – Emergency Whoopie Pies

Remember that amazing, bright, springy, wonderful pesto I made this morning?

Remember how much I was looking forward to dumping it over a bowl of angel hair pasta and curling up with it on the couch after a weekend of running around celebrating graduation?

Well that went out the window.

My phone rang.

My cell phone never rings during the day.

My boyfriend is always too insanely busy at work to call me during the day, so when I saw his name pop up on my phone I knew something was either wrong or that something had come up.

I was praying for the latter.

But I’ll admit I was a bit flummoxed when he said that a bunch of his family wanted to come over tonight.


We were just with your family all weekend.

We were with them all weekend, and because we were with them ll weekend, we weren’t at our place this weekend.

Meaning, our apartment was a mess.

My mind went immediately to the still unpacked bags and the piles of laundry and the dust bunnies that needed vacuuming.

Then, my mind flew to the fridge.

Besides the pesto, there was nothing in there.

I hadn’t food shopped yet.

What would I feed these people?

I calmed down when he said everyone was cool with just ordering pizza.

But still, I couldn’t not make anything.

I’m a firm believer in offering anyone who comes to your house something homemade.

Which is why I try to keep a few key things in the apartment at all times:

  • box of cake mix
  • eggs
  • butter
  • powdered sugar
  • vanilla

With these on hand, you can at least make a semi-homemade dessert to go with your takeout dinner.

So here are my Emergency Whoopie Pies

You will need:

  • 1 box cake mix (any flavor)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a cookie sheet.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mixing until blended. Some lumps are okay.

Drop rounded teaspoons of batter onto the cookie sheet.

They will spread a bit, so leave space. I can get 4 rows of 3, so a dozen on a sheet.


I usually don’t care about things being the same size, but in this case, size does matter. You’re going to sandwich two of these together, so you want circles that are roughly the same size.

Bake for 8-12 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

One batch of mine was done in 8, one was done in 11. Depends on how thick you made your cakes.

Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

I only have one cookie sheet, so I remove the cooked cake cookies and then dollop the next batch of batter on for round two.

While the second batch bakes and the first batch cools, it’s time to make the filling.

Super simple buttercream recipe.

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

You can double this or triple this or half this to suit your needs.

This amount fills a dozen whoopies pies.

Mix together butter, sugar and vanilla until smooth. You can add more sugar if you want it a bit sweeter, or, if the frosting is too thick for your taste, you can stir in a little bit of heavy cream.

This is one of those feel recipes. You make it and you get a feel for the consistency.

You also, I’m sorry to say, might just have to taste it.

I know.

Horrible fate it is of the baker.

Tasting frosting.

Feel free to add more sugar or more vanilla as you like.

You can also add food colorings, or if you want to be more adventurous, different flavorings like mint or coconut.

I’m pressed for time, so vanilla it is.


When the cookie cakes are completely cooled – you really have to let them cool all the way-

Patience is not a virtue I possess.

My mom gave me the middle name Grace, after my grandmother, so that’s the virtue I have.

I really think you only get one. So I am, unfortunately a very impatient person. Which is probably why I prefer cooking to baking, but I digress.

Let them cool completely. Otherwise you will have a runny, melty, sticky mess on your hands.

Flip a cookie cake over and frost the side that was face down on the cookie sheet. Find another one of roughly equal size, and, placing the cookie sheet side down, sandwich the frosting.


It should ooze out the sides a little bit.

Continue making sandwiches until you run out of frosting and cookie cakes.

If you did it right, there will be a small spoonful of frosting in the bowl begging to be eaten.

If you did it really right, you will savor the frosting for a moment, admire your plate of whoopie pies and then buzz the family up to the apartment.

Throw the cookie sheet and the bowls into the sink.

Cover your sink (and the mess) with your over the sink cutting board.

None the wiser.