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). 

Last week’s farmers market jaunt presented me with a new tomato. As I scoped heirlooms a plenty, thought about use and their $3.99 per pound price tag, I asked the man who ran the stand (I’ll get his name next week when I return to the south, I promise) which were his favorite tomato on his table. The tomato varieties included heirlooms, plums, cherry and another I wasn’t familiar with.  His recommendation, if I planned to cook with it, which I’d mentioned I was itching to make a light, fresh sauce - was the celebrity tomato.

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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 Miss 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 an apartment kitchen and get some grill lines your zucchini and chicken too.

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

Now, the above pans are cast iron which means you have to care for them and treat them well by oiling, washing and drying properly. You’re a home cook, and if you wanna be in the game, sometimes you need tools and it takes some work - nothing worth having or doing is easy. Here I show you how to make meals from frozen vegetables and encourage the use of certain tools because cooking is something we learn to do - little by little …

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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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Basic Breakfasts

What I’m enjoying most about the summer is being around my family, close to the sun, with access to the beach. I love our shared meals, the fruit we always have in the house, my long post or pre-breakfast bike rides. Making breakfast for the family feels like less of a chore and more of a gift, dinner is more of a chore - if I’m being really real. I’m used to cooking for one, cooking for four every night is some parenting stuff I’m not trained in - so I’d like to believe I’m doing my best. I’m also in a spiral of thinking about why it is I don’t want children and never wanted any, but that’s beyond a basic breakfast post and best reserved for therapy - the therapy I cannot afford right now.

Moving on …   

My parents always made it a point to keep fruit in the house because we were fruit eating machines for breakfast, snacks and post dinner. When I was heavier I ate an abundance of fruit and fruit pies, delicious. Mom also worked in a bakery so there was bread, there was always bread. Olive oil? Hi, we’re Italian, olive oil courses through our veins with wine and the two undoubtedly commingle in our arteries to keep us plump and alive.  And, so, when I think of summer breakfasts, I can close my eyes and picture my Uncle Tony making olive oil toast -

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I Didn't Make This Pizza (GASP)!

The day finally came, I warmed up a frozen cauliflower crust pizza (already topped) for my family Friday night dinner. And it was pretty delicious. It felt all kinds of wrong being as we are 1) Italian and 2) my father had a pizzeria but 3) I don’t care. I’m human and making homemade cauliflower crust pizza for dinner wasn’t in the timeline for the day, I needed a beach and some time out of the kitchen. 

I’ve been in the south for about two weeks now as my mother recovers from back surgery. Trying my best to keep dinners simple and fresh, I’ve been cooking nightly because mom needs good nutrition to get back to her best self and her movement is limited. My father likely won’t appreciate me writing this, but he can’t do it on his own because 1) he’s aging and 2) his back is shot. Watching my father tie my 44 year old brother’s shoe laces this morning was enough to send me into the spare room crying. These are the realities of aging parents and having a physically disabled older brother. So, I sorta feel like a frozen cauliflower crust pizza saved my life tonight. I got some time out of the house, time to think, cry alone on a beach and not be so consumed with what I was getting on the table. 

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A Picnic Bounty: Fresh Summer Bites + Meals Beyond the Basket

One of my all time favorite spring/summer and early fall events is the picnic.  There's an art to a picnic, you see. One does not want to pack food that is messy or cumbersome, as proper picnic food should be portable, light and easy to eat.  The best picnic baskets, if you ask me, are filled with fresh fruit, nuts, spreads, bread, olives, a simple veggie salad and some meat and cheese.  Here I opted for a quick steamed string bean and tomato salad doused with balsamic and olive oil. Done and done. 

Now, listen, the following items take some time to prepare - however - they're not only useful for a picnic, but for other meals throughout the week.  I fancy them to be fully functional delightful bites that you want to take the time to prepare beyond a picnic. 

A few of my favorite spreads for a picnic that can be added to bread or veggies, but also incorporated throughout a week of mealtime are:

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Balance, Choices, Cravings + Kefir For Breakfast

I try to balance my evening margaritas and wine with gut healthy smoothies so I'm actively making choices to feel good. That was a mouthful for an opener, huh? And, I didn't even drink last night - so I'm writing this sans hangover.  

I enjoy booze, occasionally, and it's something I don't plan on living without but something I also don't need frequently. Some champions of health believe in restriction, giving everything up and doing without - but I don't think that's a life or a lifestyle that can be maintained. Balance is individual and it's taken me many years to discover what makes me feel good. I'm still working on it and sometimes it's a real pain in the ass. But, what I try to focus on is the ever important question of "what makes me feel good?" 

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Two Speedy Stovetop Veggie Sides For Summer

This week I spent $13.49 on vegetables to get me through the week until I fly south to see the family. That said, it's been hot and sticky here in NY which means that roasting and turning on the oven is a huge no no.  Luckily, my life is pretty saucy (that's a pesto joke) and I've figured out a thing or two when it comes to cooking veggies on the stovetop because, let's face it, eating raw vegetables and salads throughout the summer is also not an option.

My fridge was housing a bag of crinkle cut carrots I was hoping to use as a vehicle to scoop dip, but PMS got me like ... I NEED A SWEET VEGETABLE, NOT A RAW ONE.

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Banana-Rama Ice Cream Jamma

After a hot day at the beach, a woman must have her priorities. 

1. Get sand off of all belongings 
2. Get sand out of crotch and under boobs
3. Shower 
4. Moisturize
5. Have dessert for dinner 

I'm never without frozen bananas, they're on the top of my staple list because they can be used for breakfast smoothies and oats, baked into breads and made into ice cream.


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Long Green Thing, You Make My Heart Sing

The cucuzza - known in my home as googootz - may be my very favorite squash. I anxiously await summer because I await its seasonal goodness. OK, the absolute truth, Italian woman’s honor, is that I anxiously await summer because I can finally say goodbye to pale Tina and hello to Turbo Tanning Tina AND THEN I can say hello to this sweet, long, green squash that reminds me of childhood.

Cucuzza is no ordinary squash, you see, it’s quite special being as it can grow up to 3 feet in length and, when cooked, maintains its shape (in our house we would say it doesn’t get mooshada) and has a slightly sweet taste. You can’t stew zucchini, it’ll get mooshada, but the cucuzza is meant to be stewed down with tomatoes, onions, olive oil and fresh basil if you have it on hand.

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A Few New Ways To Use Avocados + Arugula

If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written recently or in the past, you know I’m single and over buy produce - it’s my thing. I’m a well intentioned shopper and eater who is sometimes tempted by wine, crepes, a night out or sushi on my couch. Every week I buy what looks good at the market, what looks fresh, no real list - my only goal is to refresh my refrigerator with fresh food. And when I know my schedule won’t allow for much cooking or creating, I pick up my 5-10 ride or die items - you know, the foods I need to survive a busy week if I want to be able to function, poop and feel like a human without doing any cooking. Think sweet potatoes, greens and eggs. 

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Another Day, Another Salad With Fish

Canned fish has gotten me through the last 15 months of health coaching, substitute teaching, random production work, single lady, solo meal, low budget living. That was a mouthful. My love for canned fish runs deep, as deep as it does for good olives, 85% Lindt chocolate bars and $9.99 bottles of Malbec that I so happily entertain myself with on my fire escape (see photos below). We get one life, it should include canned fish, fine olives, chocolate and wine - right? I mean, if I'm not making out on a daily basis then I need to live a life where I eat and treat myself well. Although I cannot speak as to whether or not I will die from some sort of mercury or canned fish poisoning, I am staying on budget. All this wild canned fish must be great for my brain, with their omega 3's and my heart health. Now, if I could only figure out how to stop after glass #2 of wine and square #2 of chocolate, I'd be golden. I have, however, managed to not fall off of my fire escape yet. 

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Brunch + Thoughts From Bed

I dislike hollandaise sauce, but I love the idea of eggs benedict particularly for Sunday brunch. I am, however, English muffinless with no smoked salmon to be found in my fridge and lord knows I’m not going out in this NYC rain to shop. In my freezer I found one last wild salmon filet to defrost in cold water. You can also use canned wild salmon or smoked salmon, which I’ll be jelly if you do have it on reserve in your home ‘cause a hint of smoke in this would be the flavor boom. With a bunch of spinach to use before I leave for South Carolina next Saturday, this solo Sunday brunch was Brough together.  

This meal was made with a few things in mind and here they are in no particular order, I think, although they may have some order because it’s all been on the brain. These thoughts happened at around 9am while I had coffee in bed.

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Burger Salad Dinner Dreams

Cooking on weeknights can be frustrating, tiring, blah, blah, blah.  I know, I get it. I work too. 

But a burger salad could be the solution to all of your weeknight cooking woes. Yes, it's true. 8 minutes to season and saute meat, and while that's happening you can chop your romaine, cucumbers, onions, cube feta and grab some olives.

Voila ...

Dinner is done.

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Fake-Out Cold Sesame Noodles

On Saturday night my father sent me a photo of my grandmother. This photo captured the essence of who she was as she stood in her element. Photographed standing over a table in the basement of our Brooklyn home, hair uncombed, glasses on, iron, scissors, clothes, and her sewing machine surrounding her - all I had to do was look at the photo and I could smell 1989. I've been thinking about childhood a lot. Teaching and being in a school daily brings back a flood of memories from my uncles, to mealtime, bouncing from house to house and visions of me sneaking food in the middle of the night.

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Slow Cooker Chipotle Chicken

Last Thursday I was walking home from work and took a terrible typical Tina tumble. It's been a while since I rolled an ankle and busted up my body, but I did a good job this time. It was common thing when I was heavier, I fell all of the time. I toppled, I tumbled, I twisted - this sounds like dancing but it was more like crashing ... down and off of Brooklyn sidewalk curbs. 

There was no damage to my right knee, only crazy bruising. My right foot, also no damage, but the pain I've been having in my toes hasn't been my imagination - it's the onset of osteoarthritis. As an avid walker, this pains me, a my feet are my vehicle for movement - and knowing this is even more motivation to take care of this tank.

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