Across the Mediterranean

25 Apr


Cooking with me, Rita Marie     –     Middle Eastern Episode (starring Yasmin Shoriz)

My mother, her mother, and all predecessors have diced and marinated their fair share of eggplants, but never once did they think to puree it with tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice.  On “Cooking with Me, Rita Marie,” I leave my Calabrese roots and travel the Mediterranean Sea to the land where it all started, where food encompasses just as much taste as the history behind it, the fertile crescent. Babba ganoush and baklava, along with the vibrant colors of fattoush and biryani, dating as far back as 500 bc,  find their way into my kitchen thanks to special guest star, Yasmin Shoriz. 

A year has passed since I tied my apron, prepped Jared’s kitchen, and made those last minute stops to Whole Foods on the way to film, but what will always live on are the colors, smells, and tastes explored in this episode.  I’ve tip-toed my way around middle-eastern cuisine for years, but I plunged into the deep end only to unveil that the simplicity of these dishes lies in preparing  hummus, biryani, and my favorite baklava not in pronouncing them.

Hummus: Prep time 10 min– 1 can of chickpeas – 4 tablespoons of lemon juice (to taste) – 1.5 tbspns of tahini – 2 cloves of crushed garlic – .5 tsp salt – 2 tbsp olive oil

Baba Ganoush: Prep time 15 min – Cook time 30 min – 1 large eggplant – 1 clove garlic – 1 qtr cup lemon juice – 3 tbsp tahini – 1 tspn salt – 3 tspn olive oil

Fattoush: Feel free to substitute any of the veggies for your favs – 5 cups toasted pita chips cut into 1 inch pieces – 2 tomatoes diced – 1 cucumber diced – 1 quarter cup chopped parsley – 1 quarter cup green onions chopped – 1/4 cup of red, yellow, green, and orange peppers diced – 1 half head of romain lettuce torn into pieces – sliced black olives – baby corn 1 inch pieces – red cabbage – .5 cup lemon juice – 1/4 cup olive oil – tablespoon of fresh mint to taste – salt & pep to taste

Biryani (yellow rice) – 2 cups of basmati or white rice – 1/2 tsp saffron –  lightly cook the garnish with yellow raisins, slivered almonds and potatoes. Add meat or fish for a complete meal!

Baklava: 1 box of filo dough – 1 stick of butter – 2 eggs – 1 cup of milk.

Cook along side me while watching the show for success!

Love since first bite-always leaving room for seconds, come cook with me, Rita Marie.

Back for seconds

3 Apr

Last Thanksgiving I was in the warm sunshine that defines San Diego.  I went for a long run in the morning on the Pacific Beach and along Mission Bay, I locked myself out of my house (oops), and spent the day with my second family the O’Connell’s in Poway and with my roommate Mary Beth and her family in Rancho Bernardo.  Growing up, the holidays weren’t always something I looked forward to.  They were filled with a lot of tension and anxiety.  However, being away from my family and friends wasn’t the easiest thing either.  I missed my mom’s delicious cooking, my Aunt Roxanne’s sinfully decadent double chocolate cheesecake, my wittle baby fluffy, and my girl friends.

This Thanksgiving was very different than last year’s in a variety of ways.  I live in Stamford now which doesn’t require a 600 dollar plane ticket home, I don’t have a million homework assignments to do or papers to write over break, and it snowed (just a little, but counting it).  I got ready  to go out for Thanksgiving Eve in my first real grown-up apartment, took my time, and had a fun night with my best friends.  I’ve learned a lot about my limits and my feelings ever since becoming a “grown-up”. It was almost like the flip of a switch, reality cornering me in a dark ally, staring me straight in the face.  But now what I thought was just a flip of a switch is actually the culmination of a very long journey, a culmination that turned into the beginning of a beautiful new chapter. I’m much more in control, I don’t hang on to the little things, and I actively look to surround my self with the people and things that make me laugh until my belly hurts.  Sounds simple, yet for the longest time I could not seem to get that recipe to work.  Sometimes when I’m making a soup or sauce I get carried away with all the savory ingredients, the ones that work best when applied sparingly.  The concept is, a little bit goes a long way.  A pinch of Marjoram is delicious, yet a teaspoon of it is grotesque.  Unbeknownst to me, I had a tendency of suffocating some of my recipes with teaspoons and heaps when all it needed was a dash. Too tasty is just as unappealing as tasteless.

Every day over the past year and a half since making the commitment to create my own happiness, I have been trying to find that balance, trying to find my preferred taste, trying to develop my very own palette.  I have a slightly competitive personality; when I set a goal or something in my mind it’s very hard for me to not try to achieve it. Too much ambition can leave you in the same place as none at all.  When you have a lot going on you have a lot to lose.  I like to think that us human beings have this innate desire to develop our very own signature dish. In the process of finding me, rather defining me, there have been times where certain flavors, or behaviors created an imbalance in my dish. Some days were too sweet, others too bitter or sour.  Figuring out how much is too much and what’s missing in any recipe is exactly like figuring out what makes us tick.  And, even when we think we’ve finally figured out what that recipe is, time and circumstance forces us to always reevaluate it and if necessary, make the appropriate alterations. It’s a continuous process that we face.  I used to love the taste of garlic in every pasta dish, but as I’ve matured I think the subtle hint of garlic in a dish is just as satisfying.  What made us happy a year ago, still can make us happy now, but in a different way.

There’s a mix of esthetics and mathematics behind a well created dish.  We want it to look appealing, taste like what it should, yet always leave a slightly intriguing, lingering flavor–something that you can’t quite define, oftentimes that’s the part of the dish that keeps yourself and others guessing.  I’ve ate my fair share of eggplant parmigianas and chocolate lava molten cakes to know that there’s something uniquely alluring about each one.  There’s something you like a little more than the other, that “can’t put my finger on it” quality, now that drives me wild.  That’s why we go back for seconds, isn’t it? To figure out what exactly it is… like that next forkful is going to make a difference.  The only difference that’s ever made is to the size of my jeans.

I am the dish.  And I’m trying to figure out what my recipe is.

There’s something peaceful and therapeutic about cooking.  It allows you to be creative, follow your intuition, and add a piece of yourself to every dish. No matter how many times I’ve made something I’m not sure I ever thought it tasted exactly like it did the first time.  That quality can be applied to many aspects of our lives.  No matter how many times we order the same dish, go back for that second or third forkful, we still are never satisfied–never figuring out that taste that keeps us hooked.  There’s always a part we can’t define and that’s exactly why we keep going back.  It doesn’t have to make sense, or feel right or wrong.  It’s not something we have to figure out or analyze down the road, but we must be aware that there is a reason why we go back. There are days you find that balance and there are days when you know you’ve added a little bit too much, or came up just short.  That’s how we learn. I have found a routine, a balance, that I can really call my own.  Every day I experiment with my recipe.  I set new thresholds and limit others. My balance is a mix between physical activity, reading, writing, quiet Rita time, laughing, being with friends, something artsy or fashion oriented, and some type of accomplishing task. One of my biggest faults is pushing friends away to feel that I’m in control and independent. Thankfully, I have wonderful friends that always encourage me to take a break and relax, sometimes you just need someone else to help you clear your plate when you’ve placed too much on it. Sometimes you need two spoons in a dessert dish and two straws in a strong drink.

There’s this show on the Food Network called Chopped.  The gist of it is that four chefs are voted down to one as they compete to create the best dish.  The catch is they have to somehow incorporate the mystery ingredients that wouldn’t normally mesh well. Sometimes we’re forced into situations we’re not yet ready for; starting a new job, going to college, breaking up with someone, losing a friend, but we somehow have to take the ugly and the good and make it work.  Usually, the most appealing looking dishes can often be the least tasty–dried out, undercooked, bland.  The people who usually get cut are the ones who have tried to make these extravagant complex creations.  The winners stuck to the basics, worked within the capacity of their abilities,and  leveraged off of their strengths. Sometimes, we get so caught up in distinguishing ourselves and trying to be the best, that we lose sight of the fact that we’re only as good as we are.  As Leonarda Da Vinci once said, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.  I have a lot of amazing things going on in my life, things I’m very blessed and thankful to have.  It’s just me right now and I have to remember to not spoil this part of my life by wishing for things that I don’t have, because what I have now, at one time, was exactly what I wanted. Pazienza, patience, patience, patience…when I’ve gotten my fill in this course of my life, I’ll eventually be ready start the next course.


1 Apr

A yellow Victorian-styled house tucked away in residential Rye, New York is not how I associate fine French dining, but then again, you can’t judge a book by its cover.  My roommate and dined at La Panettiere in Rye, New York this past weekend, and although it wasn’t our first, second, or third choice (note to self, make reservations in advance during restaurant week) it was a delicously deserved Friday night pick me up.

Our choices were limited to the restaurant week menu, but that didn’t compromise our meal.  We chose the lobster roll to start that was both moist and hearty, yet gentle enough to be enjoyed with only a fork. I stayed true to meatless Fridays during Lent and ordered the seafood risotto, although the braised beef caught my eye.  The service was not only attentive but the courses were served fast, so I used it as a good excuse to order another glass of the Cabernet Sauvignon. A little to dry and corky for my liking, but it’s Friday and I’m no judge. 

The waitor surprised us with a tasting of all three of the desserts which included a chocolate mousse cake, creme brulee, and rasberry sorbet.  At first I was upset I didn’t get to pine over the dessert menu and fight with myself on which to choose, usually my favorite part about going out to eat, but I obliged to the sweet gesture.  I have to admit there was something a bit sweet about this win-win situation.

Despite the attentive staff and quaint atmosphere you won’t find me back there anytime soon. It’s hard to have an Italian girl play nice with the French.

Zampa Zampa

28 Feb

On Wednesday I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and couldn’t shake the bad vibe.  In an attempt to cure my hump-day funk I treated myself to the gym, candles, and some necessary R&R on Friday night.  I put my feel-good attitude to use in the only place that you can hear the sounds of taxis rushing by, the tip-tap of stilettos striding down 5th Avenue, and your own thoughts simultaneously; New York City. The dim romantic lighting, and overflowing glasses of red wine at Zampa was as necessary as icing on cake to pick me up from the work day blues. 

There was something quaint yet trendy, welcoming yet mysterious– an all around easy-going vibe at Zampa that I’d definitely go back for.  The menu’s emphasis is on their appetizer plates, which vary from antipasti to paninis and tuna tartar.  I’d definitely recommend going with their specials for the evening, both the food and the wine.  That’s right.  What’s not to love about a restaurant with wine specials that you can sample before making your decision on a glass? I enjoyed a few glasses of the 2008 Alto Nero D’avola from Sicilia.  At first sip it sent my taste buds on a wild chase–jumping from the sultry oak to the refreshingly fruity hints of this full-bodied red. The glass encompassed everything I love about a robust red: the deep flavor that lures you in, the sweet accent of cherry that carries the beginning of your sip into the lip-puckering pop as you set your glass back down (which never rests very long).

  My friend and I decided to split everything and quickly swapped our absolutely-nots, mine being mortadella hers, eggplant.  The eggplant lover that I am was crushed until the waitor finished rattling off a lengthy list of specials that were made from fresh, local ingredients.  He made the eggplant dish sound so delicious that my friend suggested we try it (phewf, no begging on my part necessary).  The dish resembled a breed between an eggplant rollatini and parmigiana as thin slices of lightly grilled eggplant alternated layers with fontina cheese, all abed a fresh marina sauce.  The sprinkling of bread crumbs on top, proved not to be an afterthought as it balanced out the warm, comforting, and delicious marriage of the melted cheese and tomato sauce. The lack of fried, and completely breaded eggplant made this dish a light warm-up to the rest of our meal which included: meatballs made from pork and beef, a traditional caprese salad (never a let down), and shrimp and canellini beans swimming in a white wine sauce.

We happily finished the night with a third round of vino and, of course, dessert.  We chose the chocolate bread pudding, in part because we weren’t sure what it was doing on an Italian menu and also because we can’t resist chocolate.  Don’t be fooled, the taste and consistency of this pick was more similar to tiramisu than any traditional bread pudding I’ve ever come across (and trust me, I’ve had my fair share). At first site this dish had irresistible written all over it and its warm, soft and moist consistency proved to be just that.  The bread, hardly classifed as such, was soaked in melted chocolate and hot butter–sending me on what felt a kin to a weekend get-a-way by the second bite.   

Four hours (and one manageable check split in half) later, my friend and I could hardly remember the long work-week that drove us to Zampa in the first place.  Perhaps it was the wine, or perhaps it was the luscious chocolate that made the past week fuzzy as we grabbed our jackets and braved the cold for a New York City night. Regardless, I wasn’t worried about not remembering–that’s what Monday is for.

Ambiguity…it’s what’s brewing these days.

6 May

Thank you all for being patient during our editing process.  We have recorded 8 episodes and we’re shooting the last two on May 7th.  The success of the show could not be possible without your support, love, and encouragement.  Check back next week for the Middle Eastern Cuisine Episode as well as the link to USDtv’s new youtube site where you’ll be able to view all of “Cooking with Me, Rita Marie.” Until then, here’s what’s been brewing in my mind these days…

Delicious ambiguity. Mmmm-mmmm-mmmm. Change has never scared me. Well, almost never.  I find myself in a period of reflection at the two week mark until graduation.  I look back on my four years of college and am in awe of how fast it has gone and how far I’ve come as a person.  For those of you who don’t know my story, I’ll explain what lead me to San Diego and how I found exactly what I was looking for, before getting to the good stuff.  For those of you who do know- feel free to skip this trip into the past.

I had my eyes set on the palm trees and clock tower that symbolizes the University of San Diego since the sixth grade. My Dad and I did not agree on much growing up, and he tended to repeat himself and his stories more times than I can remember.  But it was his stories from San Diego that were the ones that always sounded brand knew each time.  He talked about the weather, the people, the atmosphere, and the overall impact that USD had on his life.  My dad is a critic to say the very least and can find something wrong in almost anything, but who can blame him? Any good entrepreneur possesses this trait.  Looking back, I’m not sure if I was more interested in San Diego or the place my dad talked about with such admiration and no fault.  I always felt different when I was younger when my friends would ask me where I would want to go to college.  Sometimes I would feel embarrassed saying San Diego and other times I said it with the utmost confidence.  Regardless, it was my most intimate dream.  I remember laying in bed thinking about finally getting to move out of my house and becoming everything that I knew growing up in a small town held me back from.  I rarely let myself get attached to much until the end of high school when I realized just how blessed I was to have so many wonderful people in my life.

I can still remember every emotion when my family and I stopped at the mailbox on a Sunday afternoon, after a day filled of church, brunch, and house hunting.  My dad, I am sure, made fun of my mom for not getting the mail Saturday, but as he got back into the car he said, “Rita Marie, look what’s here.” And there it was indeed. That beautiful large white envelope marked with the USD clock tower and cross up on the left hand corner.  I burst into tears as I knew that small little dream deep inside had come true.  I applied the past fall knowing that I “just had to.” I had thought about it all these years and even though I had little intentions senior year to make the transition out west something kept pulling me out there.  I was a little upset that my dad opened the letter for me, ( I don’t think I had ever seen the man happier since our first family trip out to USD two years prior), but I was too struck with emotion to open the letter my self.  My Dad joyfully and proudly read the letter out loud as I cried. Cried with happiness, disbelief, and fear.

See for me, it has always been easier to imagine the dream.  I loved working with incredible diligence and persistence to earn whatever it is I was after.  The chase has aallllwwaayyys been better than the catch.  It is the thrill of being close but not close enough.  When the dream suddenly became a reality, I froze.  I lost the drive, the heart, the passion. I forgot what I wanted and started asking everybody else what they thought I should want.  Because had I not worried or thought  or what if-ed every second and just followed my heart, I would have picked my dream over settling for something easier.

But that’s just it, I always thought that the chase for the dream was the hardest part, that when you get the dream it’s supposed to be easy.  To the contrary I discovered that getting the dream is only the end of the beginning of the fight.  I let my dream slip away and because I let it slip away I realized that it really was my dream, it really was what I wanted.  So you ask, “If it’s what you wanted Rita, than how could you have turned it down?” Four years later I ask myself this same question.  How did I ever say no?  I don’t remember the reason as to why or have an answer.  I do however, know now that the biggest challenge when the dream becomes reality is actually accepting it–forcing the immortal dream to finally become mortal.

This is why, I think that the dream is just the destination, it’s just the next step.  I thought that getting in to USD would be the answer, but it wasn’t.  My freshman year was a period of self-reflection among other things that don’t need to be rehashed, and I can say without a doubt had I come to USD freshman year I would not be the person I am today.  It was the year long journey not at USD that allowed me to appreciate and start a new life here with clear eyes and an open heart.  The footsteps that I created on this journey in San Diego three short years ago are the largest and deepest footprints on my heart. I said no to USD at first, because I was too scared that I would fail once I got here. I was afraid that I would fail at my dream.  My dream was perfect, glorious, and fabulous.  If the dream became my real life it would soon  be tarnished and rusted with mistakes. Once the dream became reality I realized that it had a chance to be flawed.  Imagine the disillusion and heartbreak of having your dream-come-true  turn into a train wreck.

After some pivotal moments freshman year I realized that you can’t be scared of your dream and to start anew.  You can’t be scared that you’re dream could actually be the worst thing for you, or the very best thing.  There’s a reason you dreamt it.  There’s a reason your head has been stuck up in the clouds thinking about it.  Unfortunately, you don’t see it that way at first because if you did you wouldn’t have faith.  Faith is something you cannot see, or touch.  It is something you feel.  Your intuition, one of the most intangible things we as humans possess, oftentimes leads us to the most rewarding experiences.  As an accounting major I have learned to analyze, apply rules, follow procedures, and determine something that’s feasible or unfeasible.  However one of the greatest problems to solve are the ones that don’t have an equation, that you can only excel at through trial and error and that is your life and chasing your dreams.



I have spent everyday of the last three years of my life living my dream. I don’t know many people that can say this or who were fortunate enough to do so like me.  I am so lucky, yet only now do I realize that for the past 7 months, I have been setting myself up to repeat the same mistake.  I have known that I was moving back to Connecticut and leaving my dream since September.  I knew that after graduation I would have a job and security and a “good” life. I stopped dreaming because my dream taught me that you can’t just dream you have to do.  And that’s the mistake that I cannot repeat–will not repeat.  I had my dream but I didn’t act on it at first.  So now, I sit here two weeks away from completing one of the biggest  accomplishments of my life, graduating from USD.  What was a childhood dream is now coming true.

People ask me what my plans are for after graduation, what I want to really do, what I’m passionate about.  It gives me ojida (you know that feeling in your stomach that makes you feel sick) and anxiety to think that I can’t answer these questions like I could when I was in the sixth grade and somebody asked me where I wanted to go to college or what I wanted to be when I grew up. It’s funny to think I was a more certain and confident 12 year old than I am 22 year old.  But, I think the difference is that the confidence is in the not-knowing this time.  The confidence is knowing that I possess the power to be a do-er.  To create my future and run after it, full force into the dark.  I can make any dream a reality– this is the only thing I can say with confidence and certainty.  I have a job that I can’t wait to start and a career that I can’t wait to be apart of, but I know there’s something bigger out there for me, too big to even dream. So for now, I will walk across that stage, receive my diploma, and just enjoy the dream for a while.

A dallop of change, a pinch of hope and a dash of passion creates ambiguity.  Ahhhhh now those are the perfect ingredients to start simmering a new dream.  I’ve thrown my various talents, work ethic, accomplishments, awards, relationships, and experiences into my pot; now is the time I let it do the work on its own, the way it is supposed to.  Let everything just brew and simmer and come together.  Like a perfect sauce takes hours on the stove the perfect life and dream will take years to brew just right. Now that’s what I call delicious ambiguity.

Valentine’s Day Episode

13 Feb

Description: The first half of the episode gives do’s and don’ts on Valentines’ Day.  In the second half of the show Erin informs me that she got us dates for Valentine’s Day and we have to make dinner for our mystery men!

Every lady on Valentine’s Day should pamper herself, do something good for herself, and do something good for others. To save money and still feel like queen, pamper yourself by doing an at home facemask! You’ll love how much it will make you glow.  Start the day off right by doing some simple yoga moves to get you up, out of bed, and feeling good! After you have showed yourself some loving bake this delicious brownie recipe and enjoy it with your friends!

Brownies: Brownie mix, 1/3 cup water, 1/3 cup oil, 1 egg, 1 bag of chocolate chips, and 10 slices strawberries.

Melt the bag of chocolate chips on the stove. Put wax paper in a baking pan and pour ½ of the melted chocolate and about five thinly sliced strawberries at the bottom, then put it in the freezer.

  1. In another pan make the brownie mix and bake them in the oven.
  2. Once the brownies are done and chocolate is frozen (this will happen at the same time) take the frozen chocolate with strawberries off of the wax paper and place at the bottom of the baking pan.
  3. Once the brownies have cooled take them out of the pan and put them on top of the frozen chocolate/strawberry pan.
  4. Take the rest of the melted chocolate you made earlier and spoon it into the brownies creating the “chocolate pockets”.
  5. Put it back in the oven for 5 minutes.
  6. Put in the freezer and until it hardens.
  7. Let it defrost and serve it!

I like the brownies frozen or warmed up in the microwave with a scoop of ice cream on top!


Appetizer: New Zealand Cheddar Cheese, Green Olives, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Meal: Pasta with Vodka Sauce

Pasta: Pumpkin and Sage Raviolis (Nuovo Brand from Whole Foods), Sweet Potato Gnochi (Nuovo Brand from Whole Foods)  Cook Time: 8 minutes

Sauce: 1 (large) can of marina sauce, ¼ cup of vodka, ¼ cup of heavy whipping cream, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and Italian Herbs to taste.  Cook Time: 20 minutes (the longer you let it simmer, the better)

This episode featured special guests: Christina Olivarez, Spencer McCluskey, and Adam Vanni.

Episodes are directed and produced by myself and Jared Ruga and editing was done by Jared Ruga and Yasamin Shoriz.

Brand New Season. Brand New Reasons To Watch!

13 Feb

First and foremost welcome to the Cooking with Me, Rita Marie blog where you will find all of our episodes as well as a description of each episode as they are released.  Check out the “Cooking With Whom” link to learn more about the show.

The Cooking with Me, Rita Marie, team is excited to bring you fun episodes, seriously delicious and seriously easy recipes, as well as a hot list of special guest stars.

What to look for this season:

  1. Rita Marie and Erin Prickett find romance on the Valentine’s Episode.  This episode features USD’s finest, Adam Vanni and Spencer McCluskey.
  2. Professional Personal Stylist, Amy Winn joins us for an episode to give us tips on fashions do’s and don’ts.
  3. Ellen Wiesemann spent four months in Spain and brings her favorites to life on the Tapa’s Episode.
  4. Yasmin Shoriz dives into the ancient world of Middle Eastern cuisine.
  5. Meagan Mcguire shows us that cooking for one is anything but boring.
  6. Pilates instructor Genevieve Ruvald teaches us her favorite go-to moves and emphasizes the importance of a healthy diet.
  7. Co-producer, editor, and videographer, Jared Ruga teaches us how to flip leftovers into a new and exciting meal.  He also guest hosts on the last, surprise episode that will have you on the edge of your seat.

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