Tag Archives: black pepper

Celebrating With Special Girlfriends

Celebrating With Special Girlfriends

This past Friday night was very special. I got together with five of my very dear girlfriends for a delightful evening of connection, laughter, food, wine and general merriment! It was a pot-luck dinner and ALL of my friends love and appreciate great food and wine, so the offerings were superb. The occasion was supposed to be a celebration of three of our birthdays (Susan, Monica and me), but because I’m out of the country during the winter months, it has grown into just a great reason to get together and our group expanded to include Kajsa, Cathy and Tina.

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I was responsible for the appetizer and had planned to prepare stuffed mushrooms and a grilled eggplant salad served in Belgian endive. When I walked into Lina’s Market on Centre Street and saw the magnificent fresh figs they had displayed, the plan instantly changed. Instead I made carmelized figs with burrata cheese, with rolled prosciutto and fennel salami – the cheese drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon zest, finely chopped arugula and freshly ground black pepper. To caramelize the figs, I removed the stem end, cut the figs in half lengthwise, and pressed the cut sides firmly into light coloured brown sugar. I heated a large, heavy sauté pan until hot, then cooked the figs sugar side down until carmelized (only takes a couple of minutes).

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Kajsa was up next with the salad course, which was absolutely brilliant. Kajsa is a caterer and is an amazing chef (as well as a cherished friend and first “adopted” daughter). She came up with this recipe after I told her about a fabulous crab salad I’d had in the JFK Airport recently. She made the salad with a combination of rock crab (from Prince Edward Island where she and her husband, Patrick, have a cottage) and shrimp, all beautifully wrapped in a ribbon of cucumber, served on a bed of mesclun greens, with threads of carrot and a thin slice of lemon to garnish. Gorgeous! None of us wanted to eat these little masterpieces, but we finally did and they tasted as incredible as they looked!

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Susan prepared delicious chicken skewers for our protein and Monica, another brilliant chef and our hostess for the evening, provided a fabulous rice pilaf and some marinated, grilled vegetables to complete our dinner. Kajsa had saved and brought some very special wine for all of us to share and we ate and drank very well all evening!

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Cathy supplied a delectable dessert of frozen green seedless grapes with ice-cold dessert wine from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.

Dinner was phenomenal, but it was the laughter and connection shared among our group of six that made it incredibly memorable and thoroughly enjoyable!

Until next year, precious friends! xox

From Mediocre to Sublime

From Mediocre to Sublime

We were invited over to our friend Monte’s for dinner last week. Monte, Ron and I all love mussels, so I offered to prepare them as our contribution to the meal. One of my missions on this last trip to New York was to enjoy as much seafood as possible, so buying mussels at Cor-J Seafood (a great place for the BEST fresh fish and seafood in the Hamptons) and bringing them to Monte’s fit in well with my plan.

Steamed Mussels

Steamed Mussels

I’ve prepared mussels a few times and was looking for a new and different way to do them. In a large stockpot on Monte’s grill, I browned a quarter pound of porchetta (which Ron and I had purchased at Scotto’s, the local pork store in Hampton Bays), cut in small cubes, in 1 tbsp. olive oil, then added a generous pinch of hot red pepper flakes, a medium onion, diced, and one large clove of garlic, finely minced. When the onion was cooked to translucent, I added a bottle of beer and the fresh mussels (approximately 3 dozen) that had been thoroughly rinsed in cold water in a colander (be sure to tap any mussels that are opened and, if they do not close, throw them out as they are bad and should NOT be eaten). Once the contents of the pot were boiling, I lowered the heat to medium, covered the pot, and simmered for approximately 7 minutes or until the mussels began to open. I turned the heat off and added 2 tbsp. butter (for flavor) and 2 tbsp. of fresh parsley, chopped fine, for color and garnish.

Manhattan Clam Chowder

Manhattan Clam Chowder

The mussels prepared this way were fine, but I’ve had better recipes. We had a lot of leftover porchetta/onion/beer/mussel broth left over and I decided to make a Manhattan Clam Chowder the next day to use it up. I found a great recipe for Manhattan Clam Chowder by Sam Sifton in the NYT Cooking App and modified it to make the BEST, and I mean the BEST, clam chowder I’ve ever tasted, or certainly made, in the past. Using the broth from the steamed mussels from the night before created the most delicious broth – seriously, like the best bouilabaisse you’ve experienced. Here’s what I did and what I’ll definitely do again:

1). Over medium-low heat, melt 2 tbsp. butter and added 1 large onion, diced, and 2 large cloves of garlic, minced;

2). Once the onion was cooked to translucent, add 4 ribs of celery and 4 large carrots, all diced into small cubes;

3). Stir in 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed, and 1 litre of low sodium chicken broth and bring to a simmer;

4). Add the leftover porchetta/onion/beer/mussel broth from the night before, 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp. of dried thyme, 1/4 tsp. of black pepper and a generous pinch of hot red pepper flakes;

5). When the potatoes are tender, add 1 – 28 oz. can of Italian whole tomatoes and, using your hands, squeeze the whole tomatoes into large chunks and add to the chowder with all of the juice;

6). Add 2 small (284 g) cans of chopped clams with their juices and allow to simmer for 5 minutes;

7). Remove stock pot from heat, and remove and discard bay leaves;

8). Let the chowder sit to allow the flavors to blend and reheat to serve. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley and garlic toast or, if you’re on the East coast, oyster crackers (traditionally served with chowders and bisques).

Even though the initial mussel recipe wasn’t my favorite, I would make it again in a heartbeat to repeat this Manhattan Clam Chowder. Like any good stew, this chowder got better and better every time we reheated it and was truly delicious!

Quinoa Salad

Quinoa Salad

Quinoa is an ancient grain that is a good gluten-free source of protein, iron, and fiber. My good friend, Denise, introduced me to the versatility and nutrition that quinoa offers, and I particularly like using it in cold summer salads.

Impromptu Quinoa Salad

Impromptu Quinoa Salad

I wanted to use up some items out of the fridge and put this salad together really quickly. I first cooked 1 cup of quinoa (I actually used a blend of white quinoa, millet, red quinoa and buckwheat) as per the package directions and set it aside to cool.  In a large mixing bowl with the cooled quinoa, I added the following:

  • 14 oz can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 large radishes, cut in quarters, then thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 cup spinach, cut very fine
  • 1/2 cup cucumber, diced
  • 1/4 cup roasted almonds, chopped fine
  • 1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, cut in quarters
  • handful of dried cranberries
  • handful of dried Montmorency cherries
  • 1/2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning (replace with fresh herbs, finely chopped, if available)
  • 1/4 cup of Mediterranean Vinaigrette (I used a brilliant product from Hummingbird Fine Foods which is a classic red wine vinaigrette spiced with Greek oregano and rich, toasted cumin)
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • sea salt, to taste

Simple and simply delicious! Enjoy!

Super Energy Kale Soup

I was reading a health newsletter this morning that I get from Dr. Mercola and he had included a recipe for his “Super Energy Kale Soup”: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/02/01/superenergykalesoup.aspxe_cid=20150201Z1_SNL_RTL_NB_art_2&utm_source=snl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art2&utm_campaign=20150201Z1_RTL_NB&et_cid=DM68189&et_rid=826594599.  I happened to have all the organic ingredients, except that I used fresh sage and thyme from the garden instead of the dried that the recipe called for and I added some pre-cooked garbanzo beans for protein. This is a delicious and VERY nutritious recipe and it went beautifully with a smoked cabrilla (sea bass) fish sandwich (chopped leftover grilled fish with chopped celery, minced serrano, black pepper to season and mayonnaise) on toasted sourdough bread with butter lettuce.  Muy sabroso y muy rico!  A great and very healthy lunch!

Fettucine with Sausage and Fried Sage Leaves

Although I haven’t finished telling our story about the trip to Cabo, I wanted to write about a fabulous recipe that I tried today (after walking to the top of the Pedregal) from the New York Times.

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Here in Cabo, Ron and I have access to the freshest and most amazing ingredients – it really is a cook’s delight. We have an organic market just half a block up the street from us that offers a gorgeous selection of fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish, chicken, goat milk dairy products, breads and take-out foods every Wednesday and Saturday. I noticed that one of the vendors, Juan Carlos, had some beautiful fresh sage the other day. I managed to track down some Italian sausage (it can be a bit of a challenge to find some ingredients down here, believe me!) and prepared this dish that we recently found in the New York Times archives:

http://www.nytimes.com/recipes/430/fettuccine-with-sausage-and-fried-sage-leaves.html

It was absolutely delicious! I served it with tender mixed lettuce and frisée, diced avocado, toasted pine nuts and a very simple vinaigrette of white wine vinegar with tarragon, olive oil, sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.

The wine I chose to serve with it was a 2009 McKinley Springs Cabernet Sauvignon from the Horse Heaven Hills of Prosser, Washington. The description on the bottle says:

Working with old vines and newer vines, this cab shows the earthy sage of the old vines and the smoky fruit of the new. Complemented by ripe raspberry, dark chocolate and a hint of spice.

Last year a lovely young couple, Davy and Diana, came into Pancho’s and Ron and I enjoyed some wonderful conversation with them. They contacted us after their visit and said that they wanted us to try some of the wines that they are producing in their small town, Prosser, in Washington state. We were delighted, of course, to try some of the wines that they recommended, and they sent them to friends in Palm Springs so we could bring them back when we were up for the Indian Wells Tennis Tournament in March.

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We never did have a chance to try a bottle before we left Cabo last season, so today was the day that we opened one of the four precious bottles that Davy and Diana sent to us. The wine was delicious and paired well with this dish. I selected the wine and worried that a cabernet might be too big for this cream based dish, but the Italian sausage and sage were delightful with this choice.

This is a dish that I would definitely serve to guests and look forward to enjoying again soon (thankfully there are leftovers from this lunch!). Buen provecho!