Do You Know The Muffin Man?

A client of mine recently asked if muffins were ok to eat and particularly on a weekend because her son loves them.

My answer, absolutely. Yes and yes. All food is all good; however, the challenge may come to eating it with balance in mind. That was always my own challenge and still is. I’m not a big fan of packaged or processed foods,  but I frown upon nothing for I have my first and long lasting loves like Reeses in all of their gorgeous holiday shapes and sizes and Russell Stover Chocolate at Valentines Day. I’ve remade Reese’s and Coconut Russell Stover Clusters but, quite frankly, the drugstore variety is way more delicious. I love placing my dollar on that counter for that single Reese’s and eating it on my walk home when I have a hankering. So, I advised my client to make the muffins from scratch if she had the time so she can bond with her son and bake them together, but if a box mix is used so be it. Whatever gets us closer to feeling around food.

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Butternut Squash Sauce

My grandmother used to make a sauce from Birds Eye frozen winter squash. Bright orange, garlicky, cheesy in flavor, silken in texture - I can still picture the way the thick sauce coated broken pieces of pasta in the bottomless bowls she served on a weeknight. The summer I went to live on the farm in Connecticut, I spent half the time recreating her lentils and the other half perfecting this sauce. When I wouldn’t get it right I’d eat it alone as a mash and sit in silence. I enjoyed it even when it wasn’t perfect and particularly by the heaping spoonful. Heaping spoonfuls of frozen squash made gourmet. What I adored most about my grandmother’s cooking were her kitchen concoctions - I also  know it’s where I get my recipe free beliefs from and my throw it together and see if it works mentality.

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Banana Almond Cacao Cookies

These banana almond cacao cookies came about from a few brown bananas, a quiet morning sipping tea and a need to go slow and recover from the week. They’re totally passable for breakfast, you know, being as they’re made with flax meal, bananas and almonds. A simple breakfast cookie that can be frozen and grabbed on the go - these pair well with a plain yogurt and some fruit, a quick scramble (if you need a sweet chaser during that PMS week) or enjoy them for dessert or as a snack with tea.

I cannot tell a lie, I had two for breakfast and I couldn’t be happier - even as I sit here typing … sorta sick and sorta tired. My belief has always been that no one can take care of us better than us, so even through being sick and working a few jobs - I’ll always be able to depend on myself.

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Tomato Soup Happiness

Today I had my favorite kind of day; a day spent cooking with a kind hearted, hard working and beautifully spirited client I can call my friend. My clients aren’t people I work for, they’re people I consider friends and those I teach and learn from through shared experiences. Julie and I spent 4 hours in the kitchen making soup, sauce, roasting vegetables, creating mini-frittatas, toasting breadcrumbs and making list of meal permutations for the next week of eating. I came home happy in heart despite laryngitis and what’s been a pretty upsetting past few weeks in my world.

Cooking with Julie, sharing time together and getting her feedback on our day together lifted my spirits in a way that only connection and work of the heart can do. I was so inspired

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Farro Salad

There are few things I find as warming as a bowl of soup and as comforting as pasta. I love foods that make me feel satisfied, a lot of texture, hearty and that stick to my insides. I need to stay padded for winter, you see. Grains are up on my list of foods I try to fit in a few days a week into at least one meal. From buckwheat to quinoa, cous cous to millet - these grains can be quickly prepared and made in the base of a bowl topped with veggies, meat, fish - you name it. Tonight my grain of choice was farro. Farro is a whole grain variety of wheat, it is not gluten free (for those of you that may be wondering) and it can be eaten on its own, in salads and in soups. Sometimes I throw the leftovers into my spaghetti squash bakes, I’ve been known to eat with eggs as often as I enjoy it as a side for my fish.

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Saturday Night Squash Soup

I’ve just now realized it’s Halloween weekend and I’m home on a Saturday night in a solo soup slurping contest with myself. I like to keep it really real.

3 reasons to stay in, stay safe and Saturday night soup when you’re 38:

  1. It’s miserable out, my best friend is pregnant and my other best friend is likely napping.

  2. I’m still awake, and I didn’t fall asleep as I type from my blanket fort while wearing a hooded sweatshirt nightgown and sip on mint tea. I’m meeting some serious personal goals right now.

  3. Practical Magic or Hocus Pocus have gotta be streaming somewhere …

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A Hearty Bean & Kale Soup

Today it was 65 degrees and gloomy all day in NYC. A slight chill was in the air, a slight chill only soup could solve.  I’ve been on somewhat of a grind to find work, so I’m a little slow in body and mind these days, but still feel happy and pretty hopeful overall. It’s when I step into my kitchen to cook that the most hope fills me up. I’ve made my kitchen my space, the heart of my little home where I hope to remain for a little while longer. When I scan the room with my eyes I see a big burgundy butcher block I built in my last apartment, a peg board inspired by Julia Child - painted a sunny bright yellow and hanging on my white wall - it holds some of my grandma’s and mom’s cooking tools. Then there’s the metal rack I put together last September on what would  have been my grandmother’s 100 birthday. I believe she’d be proud that this is the spot where I honor her; where I make soup on a gloomy day when I’m tired.

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Happy National Taco-ish Day

Because, sometimes, a spicy beef bowl is so necessary and so simple to put together on a Thursday night after long day of work. I’m still working, who are we kidding because having 3 jobs ain’t easy. Being single means you can work all night if you don’t give yourself a time to stop and working from home means you do this in comfortable leggings, but then you may look down and realize you haven’t changed pants in two days or you catch a fearful glimpse in the mirror - one that reveals smudged mascara and sorta jacked up hair.

I digress.

Today is National Taco day and, sure, this isn’t a taco - but this spicy beef bowl can be stuffed between a soft flour tortilla or between a hard corn shell. It was made with a combo of my freezer, fridge and pantry staples - which are always a late dinner time saver. Way faster than take out wait times and healthier too.

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Three Ways with Tina: Eggplant Option #3 Whole Roasted Eggplant

Little Frankie’s in NYC makes a fantastic whole roasted eggplant, served with a giant douse of oil and warm bread - the charred skinned and soft flesh of the eggplant separate; allowing the oily eggplant goodness to be spread all over a thick slice…

For our third eggplant preparation for the  week, I pay homage to the whole roasted eggplant. No slicing, no salting, no preparation needed - a whole eggplant can be popped in the oven and ready in about  30 minutes on a weeknight or roasted ahead, on a weekend, and warmed up later in the week. But, I’m not going to lie - it is best hot out the oven, oiled, salted and served.

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Three Ways with Tina: Eggplant Option #2 One Tray Chicken and Vegetables

On Monday I gave you a recipe for one of my three ways with eggplant, and I’m doing this so the cook that I know lives inside of you can start to look at their food a little differently. The concept of Three Ways with Tina was born out of my long term singleness, weight loss maintenance and joy of cooking; creating and shedding new light on mealtime so as to not get bored of eating the same thing all week long while I’m also on a budget. Cooking for one often doesn’t seem worth it, and my hope is maybe - just maybe - this can change that for some. So whether you’re exploring your kitchen on a solo adventure, cooking as a couple or family - learning how to make one protein, starch, veggie, bean, spice or herb three ways will only help you out in the kitchen and build more curiosity to explore your inner domestic diva or God.

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Three Ways with Tina: Eggplant Option #1 Vegetable Tart

With summer officially gone, so with it goes seasonal eggplants and many of my other farm fresh favorite vegetables. The eggplant will likely be prepared in my kitchen in the coming months,  clearly not locally sourced (don’t produce shame me), so I scooped up three purple beauties at a farmers market last week. So, what’s a woman to do with three eggplants? As a single, self-diagnosed compulsive produce picker with three eggplants, I need to constantly find new ways to feed myself; reexamine my food and keep meals interesting.

Yesterday I used an eggplant 3 different ways and I’ll give them different looks throughout my week of lunches and dinners because a classic meal prep of grilled chicken, broccoli and grains and/or eating the same dish all week long doesn’t work for me.

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Bagels. Yes, I Eat Bagels.

Bagels. Yes, I Eat Bagels.

Here’s the thing, I’m an Italian woman who grew up in a predominantly Jewish and Italian neighborhood, so, suffice to say, I don’t just like my carbs - I love my carbs. Paint my world in pasta, pizza, bialys, bagels and babaka and color me happy. Now, here’s the other thing, if I ate these things in unlimited quantities as I did when I was Teenage Tina, I’d certainly be struggling to keep off the weight I lost.

A few things about carbs:

  1. They will not kill you, although we’ve been fed information that they will, the key to enjoying anything and everything in life is moderation and there’s certainly an art to it.

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Soft Breakfast Taco

Breakfast is one of my favorite meals of the day. I go to sleep thinking about eating breakfast because I look forward to quiet mornings and setting up my day. Breakfast time allows me to put myself first before my time becomes someone else’s - be it school or a client. And if you’re not into cooking or trying to take some steps toward healthier habits, breakfast is a good place to start.

Part of the standard staples in my home from week to week ; or some items you’ll never find me without:

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A Lighter Pasta With Shrimp

I love a spiralized vegetable noodle. And get it out of your head, it’s not because I don’t eat pasta, it’s because it’s another fun way to work a vegetable into my day.  Spiralized zucchini noodles take well to light sauces, think pestos and reds made with fresh tomatoes, not heavy reds using canned tomatoes, cream or meat bases. Bright side, veggie noodles can also be combined with more vegetable toppings to really pack in that colorful love your mind and energy stores will thank you for (Note: if you want to make a heavier sauce or a classic red, you’ll want to pair it with a butternut squash, sweet potato or turnip noodle and that'll come up on Tina to Table for sure, I have a fall butternut squash baked ziti that's sorta to die for - well, to write home about ... I think you get it). 

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Everyday I’m Grillin’ But If You Can’t, I’ve Got You

Grilling a tray of vegetables and a few chicken cutlets on the weekend is a great way to get through lunches and weeknights, but it can also be done on the fly - taking about 10 minutes on a barbecue or on a grill pan, in your kitchen. Summer is grilling season, we all know, but when you’re not blessed with a backyard, you need to find solutions to putting your protein and vegetables down and reversing them. That was a nod to Missy Elliott - for those of you that didn’t get it.

I was fortunate to capitalize on my parents barbecue and slab of concrete that is their backyard, but here’s what you’ll need to blister a tomato in a NYC apartment kitchen so you can get some grill lines on your zucchini and chicken too.

A grill pan or grill/griddle that goes over two burners

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A Kirby Cucumber Crostini

Last Tuesday I met a woman named Mary Heyward, and two days a week - on Tuesdays and Thursdays - she sells her vegetables at the Surfside Farmers Market in South Carolina. I let her know I had to come back to her stand because her kirby cucumbers were, by far, the sweetest and crunchiest I’ve ever had. She sold me her final 26 kirby’s for $2 and, so, I went home and let a few of them sit in a bath of balsamic, olive oil, a drizzle of local honey and put them over crostini with fresh mozzarella - this was to be a starter for our family dinner.  Just so y’all know, with this concoction, I’ve unearthed flavor and crunch heaven.

Notice I snuck in that ya’ll! Two weeks in the south, with two more to come, and I’ll be ya’llin all day for sure. Well, it’s likely the visit to SC and Connie Britton’s great ya’llin on Friday Night Lights - my latest Netflix indulgence - that has me making these slips. Small town life has been appealing to me of late, the local love, conversations, removal of status from daily life equations. I never thought I could imagine a life outside  of New York, but this career change and my kirby cucumber moments are opening up new possibilities.

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Frozen Peppers Whipped Into Pesto

Why the truffle shuffle? It adds an element of high class, rich, earthy tastiness and flavor to some low budget frozen peppers. Are you wasting truffle oil on low budget peppers? Depends how you look at it. I say no, a chef would say yes. I think it’s worth it to elevate my quick meals with powerful ingredients; and sometimes it’s the pairing of high and low that makes any meal  - or moment in life - truly outstanding.

My freezer is stocked with frozen vegetables for many reasons, but the two main ones would be convenience and budget.  Frozen vegetables are an economical way to stay stocked on healthy goods and they only take moments to prepare with some garlic, olive oil and - of course - love.  Lately, between school, being tight on time and an income that is in constant flux, I find myself relying on the power of the freezer.  Frozen vegetables can be repurposed creatively, for a family and especially for a single woman - as I have no one to please at my table but myself - and I'm finding myself relying on these goods anywhere from 2-3 meals or nights per week. 

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Farmers Kitchen Sink Summer Salad

Tomorrow I head back to New York after two weeks of being in the south.  I love being with and around my family, close to the beach, the smell of salt water, rainy concrete, morning bike rides with swan sightings and cranes in the distance - I think you get it.  My mom still isn’t feeling herself, which worries me because life is fragile and she’s my world. Having this time to be with her, although it scared me to go to school this summer, continue to live off of my savings and answer my heart with cooking and writing - I feel beyond grateful I’m able to be here.

She didn’t eat dinner tonight, so there’s sadness to this salad.  I hope, should you choose to make it, you have a happier memory attached to it.  It’s one of those kitchen sink salads cause I was cleaning out the refrigerator so when my aunt arrives on Wednesday she didn’t have bruised peaches, tomatoes, 3 ears of corn and a few old clementines on her hands.  

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A Bodacious Breakfast Crostini

The recommendation from my friend Susana was to go out for breakfast this morning, and I was totally into it. A morning off from family cooking sounded glorious until I thought about all of the avocados sitting on the counter, the giant onions staring back at me and the dozen and a half eggs sitting in the refrigerator.  I couldn’t justify spending money on breakfast when we had such an abundance of food at home, besides a part of me feels incomplete if I’m not cooking or exercising that muscle in me that likes to create and give to others. Cooking at home is nice and all, but when it’s just me it’s honestly not as fun - food tastes better when I’m sharing it with others.

I toasted up fresh bread and drizzled it with olive oil, made an onion jam, mashed an avocado, warmed some Canadian bacon, poached eggs and put together berry filled fruit cups for our side. When I cook and eat with my family, it seems I’m more at peace with myself and my food.

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Mambo Italiano Turkey Meatloaf-O: Loaded With Veggies + Herbs

My love for turkey meat has grown over the years. I’ve found ways to jazz it up, from adding vegetables and herbs to the mix, to topping it with onion jam or caramelized cabbage.  Turkey meat on its own still reminds me of diet food and that time my parents bought me these pills called “Fit America” where one eats an Atkins style diet and takes these weird neon yellow pills with every meal. It was the 90’s, pills were in. All I ate were turkey burgers. Turkey burgers for breakfast - yup, hit it with the high protein,  lunch and, yes, turkey burgers for dinner. I’d eat turkey burgers and leave buttered bun scraps, french fries on the side. I was the queen of turkey burger deluxe carnage. It was a sin. I was a walking sin. Never. Again.

I’m proud to say I’ve taken back the burger. After puking neon yellow in the back of my 10th grade Spanish class, post turkey burger breakfast - I can still manage to get this meat down! I hope you can too! I know this is a food blog, but I’m sorta gross and I’m sorry and, also, quite not sorry, that these pretty pictures come with disturbing memories I’ve remade. You’re welcome.

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