Monday, August 27, 2007

Restaurants: Skappo Wine Bar, New Haven, CT

Skappo, located at 59 Crowne Street in New Haven, CT, is a treasure trove of Italian delicacies, wine, culture, and camaraderie. It is truly a family affair, owned and run entirely by the Sincavage family. However, don't mistake Skappo for a run-of-the-mill family-owned Italian restaurant. It is truly a find.
Upon entry, you are led into the cozy, dark wood panelled room, which is reminiscent of an authentic Italian trattoria (designed by father, Thomas Sincavage). The restaurant is small, but holds two long tables which have community seating (meaning your group may be seated next to another party---all the more fun), and has a few other smaller tables for two, if you are looking for a romantic evening out. Daughter Yvette, who serves as hostess, waitress, and most importantly, baker and pastry chef, explains the menu and makes wine suggestions. Per her suggestion, our group started with a delicious red wine from the Umbria region of Italy. Yvette's older brother, Michael, also manages the front of the house, as well as being responsible for choosing wines for the all-Italian list.
Mother Anna, and youngest son, Marc, run the kitchen, which turns out a wide variety of "small plates", similar to tapas, which are meant to be shared. There are many selections within each of the following categories: salumni e formaggi (cured meats and cheeses), crostini, vegetali (vegetarian dishes), to carne e pesce (meat and fish dishes), and of course, dolcetti (sweets). We began round one with five dishes including a fresh mozzarella, black truffle and mushroom crostini on walnut bread (unusually delicious!), and moist spinach meatballs in a sweet raisin sauce (again, unusually delicious!). After the first bottle of wine was finished and the plates were all but wiped clean with Yvette's homemade bread, we were ready for round two.

We unanimously agreed that second servings of the crostini and meatballs were in order. We also tried a dish featuring wild boar (an Italian specialty, similar to pork but slightly more gamey), and over-sized, pillowy ricotta & sun dried tomato gnocchi topped with arugula pesto. Everything on the menu was as exciting to eat, yet somehow simple and authentic, like all real Italian food.

Mid-meal, Anna emerged from the kitchen and lit up the dining room with her cheerful presence. She doled out two-cheeked "Italian" kisses to everyone in the restaurant, whether she knew them or it was their first visit (as it was mine). We talked about the food, Italy, and how she decided to name her children. She and her family make everyone feel at home at Skappo. The food is amazingly delicious, but wonderfully un-fussy. It is true, down-to-earth Italian food, but unlike anything you've ever tasted.

By the end of the meal, everyone in our group was pleasantly full, but we all agreed to make room for dessert. The chocolate "salami"---a concoction of bittersweet chocolate, raisins and nuts, rolled into a log resembling a salami --- was rich and sweet, and a perfect ending to a satisfying meal. Together with our cappuccini (a common American mistake we didn't mind making---true Italians would never drink cappuccino after dinner!), our meal was wonderfully complete. Skappo is definitely worth a visit----or several! I know I'll be heading back very soon!
For more info about hours, special events, and/or Skappo's menu, go to

Monday, August 20, 2007

Pizza on the Grill

In summertime, I cook just about everything on the grill. I love to grill burgers, ribs, chicken, fish, and veggies, but perhaps my favorite grilled food is pizza. There are no special gadgets required to turn out delicious, crisp pizza. All you need is a hot grill, all the ingredients for your favorite pizza, and a watchful eye.

Before you get started, preheat your gas grill to high for about 10 minutes (or 450 degrees). While you're waiting for the grill to heat up, prepare your pizza ingredients. The members of my family are purists when it comes to pizza, so Pizza Margherita is our pie of choice (red sauce and mozzarella cheese). To make things simple, I use store-bought pizza dough, and my favorite prepared tomato sauce (which for me, is Victoria brand). However, I do not cut corners on the cheese, opting to grate my own mozzarella rather than buying the pre-shredded variety. Most shredded cheeses have additives to prevent clumping, and I prefer to eat my cheeses without de-clumpers, thank you very much! It is also a good idea to use regular mozzarella cheese rather than fresh mozzarella, which tends to have a high water content. The regular mozzarella melts much better, and will not release a lot of liquid on top of your pizza.
To stretch the pizza dough, I coat my hands in olive oil rather than flour. I find the oil helps the dough stretch more easily, in addition to adding flavor. Be liberal with the oil, as it will keep your pizza from sticking to the cooking grates as well. Once stretched, place the dough on your hot grill grates and immediately turn the heat down to medium. Close the grill cover, and allow it to cook for about 5 minutes.
While I don't recommend opening the grill cover frequently, you will need to check to be sure the bottom of the pizza is not burning. This can happen very quickly, so definitely do not walk away for too long. Although my husband actually likes the burned crust, my kids and I prefer it a little on the lighter side. Once the pizza's bottom is golden brown, flip it over, and add your toppings to the cooked side (which is now facing up). Cook an additional 5-7 minutes until the bottom is browned, and the toppings are bubbly. Carefully remove the pizza to a platter, cut and serve.

Grilling pizza gives it incredible flavor, a fantastic crispy crust, and avoids a mess in the kitchen! So, the next time you're tempted to order out for pizza, consider "grilling out "instead!
Grilled Pizza
Serves 4
1 lb prepared pizza dough (available in the refrigerator section of most grocery stores)
1 cup prepared tomato sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
3 T grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves (optional)
Follow directions above.

For more information about The Secret Ingredient, go to

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Iced Coffee---A New Cold Brew

Blue Bottle, Kyoto Style Ice Coffee
As I sat waiting for my two young daughters to finish their PB&J bagel sandwiches in Brugger's Bagels, my eyes wandered the art work and promotional posters covering the walls. One in particular struck me; "Cold-Brewed Coffee!" What did they mean? Was that the opposite of brewed iced tea? Wasn't there a beer that claimed it was "cold-brewed"? While my girls polished off their lunches, I pondered the concept of "cold-brewed" coffee. Until recently, I never drank iced coffee. It seemed watery and lacking in flavor. Iced lattes were another story---they were robust and refreshing. But was "cold-brewed" coffee more satisfying than regular iced coffee?

The very next day, the lead article in the New York Times Dining In/Out section featured cold-brewed iced coffee ("Iced Coffee? No sweat!" by Cindy Price, June 27, 2007). According to the author, cold-brewed coffee was fuller and sweeter than its hot-brewed sister. She claimed that by not introducing hot water, the coffee does not become bitter and retains a more pleasant flavor. Cold-brewed coffee could be easily made at home, she continued, with a simple mason jar, coarse ground coffee, cold water, and a coffee-filter lined sieve. By mixing the coffee grounds with cold water in the mason jar and allowing it to sit on the counter overnight, by morning one simply needs to strain the mixture through the lined sieve, and voila! Mix with ice, add milk and/sugar, and a cold-brewed delight awaits you!

I tried her technique and it produced an excellent result. The coffee was so sweet, it barely needed sweetener. However, rather than fussing with the sieve and coffee filter, why not just use a French coffee press (pictured left)? Simply add the coffee and cold water to the press (1 heaping tablespoon per 4 ounces water), and let it sit overnight, to allow the coffee to infuse into the water (when hot, it takes only a few minutes to do so). The next morning, press, pour, and enjoy a perfect cup of iced coffee! You'll get the same great cold-brewed coffee with a minimum of effort.

For more information on The Secret Ingredient Cooking Classes, go to