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Date Night Dinner at Home

By abbey on October 7, 2013

This weekend I cooked for a client I met a couple of years ago.  The first time we worked together, she recently had a baby and wanted to do something special at home for her anniversary.  Her husband’s favorite meal is the Lobster Caprese Salad from the restaurant Neptune in Boston and she wanted to know if I could recreate it.  Never one to shy away from a challenge, I called the restaurant, explained my situation and asked if the chef wouldn’t mind sharing the recipe with me.  Don’t you know, he called me back! He was more than happy to share the recipe with me: fresh, steamed lobster pieces, heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella dressed in lemon juice, olive oil, chopped shallot, basil and chives, served over crisp slices of baguette.  I added some avocado per my clients request, because everything really is better with avocado.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when my client reached out to let me know her hubby was turning 40 (it’s a trend this year!) and that she’d like me to make his favorite dish, along with some new favorites added to round out the meal: Clams Casino to start and a Strawberry Mascarpone Tart to finish.  Knowing the value of making a fortieth special (hint, hint), I was eager to help out. Cheers and happy birthday, Joe!

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Travel Memories: Hummus in Israel

By abbey on September 17, 2013

When I was 13, my aunt and uncle took me to Israel.  I have so many wonderful memories of that trip, but  26 years later (!!) some of the most vivid are of the food we enjoyed.  I remember sitting by the pool and enjoying a lunch of grilled chicken strips and hearts tucked into a pita with tahini.   I remember eating lush, juicy wedges of watermelon on the beach. I remember sitting down to a meal and tasting hummus for the first time. Thick with sesame paste and flavored with lemons and garlic, it had a moat of tangy olive oil to swipe your pita through.  I was instantly enamored.  I spent the next 20 some years experimenting (it’s not possible I’m that old), dried chickpeas vs canned, fresh garlic vs roasted, olive oil to water ratios, trying to recreate what I tasted so many years before.  Here’s the thing about food.  When you get it right, it can transport you right back to that moment in time, back to that foreign land, back to those people you met over lunch, back to the laughter and good times shared over a collective meal.  It’s magic.

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Hummus*

2 cans organic chickpeas, drained, rinsed and drained again
1/3 cup sesame tahini
Zest and juice of 1 lemon, plus juice of another half lemon
3 garlic cloves, microplaned*
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
10 shakes of hot sauce (I like Frank’s)
a few grinds of fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water*
Good olive oil to finish

Place chickpeas through pepper in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 10-20 times to start.  Scrape down the sides and turn the processor back on. Leave  the processor on and slowly add the olive oil. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary. Slowly add the water until you have the consistency you desire, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. You may not use all the water. Spread thin on a plate and draw a moat in the hummus with the back of a spoon. Drizzle good olive oil in the moat and serve with fresh pita, cut vegetables or your favorite chips.  Enjoy!

Helpful hints:

~Fresh hummus blows any and all packaged hummus out of the water.  It takes maybe 10 minutes tops to make, and that’s including assembling your ingredients.  Give it a whirl and let me know what you think.
~I like my hummus garlicky, feel free to use more or less pending your personal taste.
~ Slowly add the water until the hummus whirls smoothly, but remains thick. You don’t want to have runny hummus.

Mojo Chicken

By abbey on September 16, 2013

Every time I go to the market, I pick up another head or two of garlic, whether I’m out of it or not.  As a result, I end up with multiple, half used heads lingering in my kitchen, withering away until I chuck them. When I was cleaning up my kitchen last week, I came across not 2, not 3, but 5 half used heads of garlic (that’s in addition to the 2 fresh ones I just bought). Rather than just let them go to waste, I thought about what I could do with lots of bitty middle garlic cloves.  Come on, you prefer the large, meaty cloves to work with, too!  I remembered a garlicky marinade from Saveur magazine for a Mojo Pork Shoulder I once made and thought I could use the same flavors to marinate the chicken I had in the fridge.  I tossed all the cloves fit to use into my blender along with fresh lime juice, some onion, cumin, oregano and olive oil and let it blitz away.  Twenty-four hours later and a spin in the broiler,  I had moist, succulent chicken, sweet from the onion, smoky from the cumin and finger-licking delicious. I made them again last night for my friend James, along side a raw kale salad. When I asked him what he thought of the chicken, he didn’t respond. He wouldn’t stop eating. Always a good sign!

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Mojo Chicken

1 head of garlic (or the equivalent in bitty middle cloves)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice*
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
1/2 small onion
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried oregano*
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
3 pounds chicken pieces*

Put the garlic through salt into a blender and blitz until pureed and creamy. In a glass bowl or a zip top bag, coat chicken pieces with all of marinade and refrigerate at least 8 hours, best overnight. Pre-heat your broiler*, place the chicken pieces on a ridged broiler pan and season with another sprinkle of salt. Cook the chicken, flipping once until a thermometer reads 165 degrees*. Enjoy!

Helpful Hints:
~I had very juicy limes and 2 provided enough juice. You may need more if yours are drier.
~Rub the oregano in your palms first before adding to the blender to release their oils.
~I had a pound and a half of chicken tenders and a pound and a half of bone-in skinless thighs. I buy the thighs skin on and remove it, because the bones make the chicken more flavorful, but the skin adds calories.
~Broiling is grilling upside down! I don’t have a grill, so I broil. If you do, these would be delicious grilled.
~The cooking time for the chicken varies based on the thickness of the pieces you use and if they are boneless or not. Mine took between 10-20 minutes. I finished the thighs in the oven for a few minutes so they would cook through without scorching. Always use a meat thermometer to make sure your chicken is cooked through.

Pistachio Pesto Painted Fluke

By abbey on September 13, 2013

I had a vision of a thick cross-section of white, meaty fish, seared crisp with a pistachio crust on top. I had some shelled pistachios left over from an event I catered and pictured them crushed on top of the fish like little green jewels, flecked with parsley and scented with garlic.  This dish had been sitting with me for quite some time and last Saturday I was determined to make it come to life.  What I didn’t know was that the universe had another vision in mind for me…

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I headed to the farmer’s market to my favorite fish guy, but got there too late in the day for any thick pieces of cod or hake, so I compromised and picked up two beautiful fluke filets fresh from the Long Island sound.  They were thinner than what I had in mind, but would have to do.  Once home, I put the pistachios, a big handful of parsley, 2 large cloves of garlic and some olive oil, salt and pepper in my magic bullet for a quick pulse, hoping for a chunky mix to pack on top of the fish.  Magic it is, as just a couple of pulses turned my pistachios into a paste, not a crumble.  I tried to salvage the texture by adding some pine nuts at the end, but even so, it clearly was a pesto, not a crust. Not to be discouraged, I placed the fish on a baking sheet, painted the pesto on the fish with a spatula and sent it off to the oven for 12 minutes. While it was not what I originally had in mind, it was a delicious experiment.  Garlicky and fresh parsley top notes with an earthy sweet backdrop from the nuts.  The fish was light and flaky, providing a neutral backdrop for the flavor forward pesto.  Lessons learned: sometimes, the best dishes start out as mistakes. Have a great weekend friends! Play around in your kitchen and make some happy mistakes of your own!IMG_2918

 

Grilled Peaches

By abbey on September 10, 2013

A few weeks back I talked about a locally sourced dinner I made for my friends. What I haven’t shared is that the dinner started and ended with local peaches. A great meal starts with a smart cocktail and this was no exception with fresh peach margaritas. And as with any great meal, it had a sweet ending. Well, some great meals have a cheese-y ending, but this meal had a sweet one. Grilled peaches, fresh from the farm market, topped with rich vanilla ice cream, toasted almonds, shredded basil, a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt.  It’s just that simple and just that delicious.  Act fast.  Peach season is almost over and this is one combination you won’t want to miss.   Cheers!

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Sweet Potato Hash

By abbey on September 9, 2013

This summer was super fun, full of barbecues, beach time and delicious cocktails (it was a pleasure to meet you, RoundHouse Gin). Perhaps a little too fun, if that’s what my scale is telling me.  September has always been a month of fresh starts, whether its a new school year or just enjoying the seasonal change, so I’ve decided to slow it down this month and hit the reset button.  I’m already gluten free, but this month I’ve added sugar, dairy and, wait for it, alcohol to the list.  So with this in mind, I needed a new breakfast, because no dairy (hello, yogurt) and no oatmeal (hello, maple syrup). I love eggs, but was looking for a new way to enjoy them outside of a fritatta (one of my favorites), when my friend Julie, who is following a Paleo diet, told me about the sweet potato hash she makes. She described it as a kitchen sink of vegetables sautéed with diced sweet potato and topped with an egg who’s runny yolk drips through the hash. Bingo! I knew I found my fix.

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If your morning is a blurry rush, I recommend making double/triple batches at a time on the weekend or in the evening, so all you need to do in the morning is fry an egg while the hash is reheating.  Voila! Three minutes to a savory, hearty breakfast that keeps you full and full of energy. And hopefully will power, which clearly I’ll need if I’m to get through sober September!

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Sweet Potato Hash
2 servings

This hash is really flexible. I’m sharing the vegetables I used, but you can use any vegetables you have in your fridge: onions, peppers, squash, leafy greens, mushrooms. Be creative and experiment!

2 teaspoons coconut oil, divided
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 poblano pepper, diced
1 medium sweet potato, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 bunch Lacinato kale, cleaned, stems removed, and shredded
1 scallion, white and green parts sliced
Salt and pepper
1 large egg*

Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons coconut oil in a 10 inch saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and both peppers to the pan and sauté for 5 minutes until softened and translucent. Add the sweet potato and a sprinkle of salt to the pan and stir. Let sit for 3 minutes, until potato begins to brown. Stir again, check the seasoning to see if you need more salt, and cover with a lid for 5-7 minutes until the potato is soft, stirring once in between.  Remove the lid, stir in the kale and scallions and don’t touch for another 3 minutes so the bottom continues to brown and the greens wilt. While hash is on it’s last 3 minutes, heat a small sauté pan over medium heat and add 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil. Crack the egg and carefully add it to the pan, being sure not to break the yolk. Season with salt and pepper. Fry the egg for 2-3 minutes until the whites are set, but the yolk is still runny. Plate half of the hash and top with the fried egg. Enjoy!

Helpful hints:
-If you break the yolk while frying the egg, don’t stress. Scramble the egg in the pan for your dog and start over with a fresh egg for yourself.

Super Ingredient: Sauerkraut

By abbey on September 5, 2013

Hey Everyone!  My pal Lauren is back, toting the benefits of eating sauerkraut.  Head on over to her site to hear about my experience making my own.  (Hint: it made dating… interesting)

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Super Ingredient: Sauerkraut

Studies have shown that the health of your gut impacts our metabolism, nutrient absorption, immune strength, even potentially gene expression. We have all been taught to fear bacteria, as seen with the rampant use/overuse of antibiotics and antibacterial everything. Antibiotics kill off not just bad bacteria, but also the good bacteria, which make us susceptible to other pathogens like yeast and fungal infections. The maintenance of healthy gut flora is key to optimal health.

Diet and lifestyle can also negatively impact gut health; stress and the consumption highly processed, high sugar foods can also damage gut flora. So what do you think the odds are that your average American has an unhappy gut?

Probiotics are key to helping our body to maintain that delicate balance of gut flora. Although you can take probiotic supplements, it is far more effective (not to mention cheaper) to add foods that contain probiotics to your diet as a way to nurture your gut and ensure it stays in fighting shape!! Would you rather walk down a dark alley with a poodle in your arms or a pack of Rottweilers with you? Personally I want the Rottweiler of good bacteria in my gut making sure those other nasty critters stay in check!  Adding fermented foods to your diet will naturally provide your body with a healthy dose of probiotics.

Now we have all seen the yogurt commercials discussing their probiotic benefits, however there are plenty of other foods that also contain probiotics, such as kombucha tea, kefir, kimchi, miso and tempeh…many of which are not all that familiar to a lot of people. However, Sauerkraut (yes the stuff we slather all over our hot dogs at ball games) is also a fermented food!! Now I am not advocating the eating of more hotdogs..the processed nature of these dogs sort of negates some of the healthy benefits gleaned from the sauerkraut, however here is a delicious new way for you to add this fantastic food to your diet. Your gut will definitely thank you!!

**Note: Sauerkraut is best if homemade, however there are some good store bought brands that are naturally fermented without any vinegar or artificial preservatives. My favorite is Bubbies!

Grilled Tuna Steaks

By abbey on August 15, 2013

I get easily distracted at the market. I go in with the best intentions: Don’t spend more than x, stick to only what you need, focus on the… Oh hey! Coho salmon is on sale!  So you can imagine the issues (read: fun) I have at my local farmer’s market.  I know I want to hit the pickle stand. I know I want some heirloom tomatoes. I know I… Oh hey, there’s a fish guy now?? The Hoboken Mews has a fish guy and I couldn’t be happier.  All locally and sustainably sourced from the Long Island sound, the fish could only be fresher if I caught it myself that day, which we all know is not happening, hence why I am so happy there’s the fish guy. While I was browsing last weekend, I spotted some jewel-toned tuna steaks and knew they’d be spectacular on the grill for my locally sourced dinner.  And they were.

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Grilled Tuna Steaks over Sesame Black Rice Soba Noodles
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds tuna steaks (I bought 2 large steaks)
Olive oil
Sesame seeds*
Salt and pepper to taste

1 package of black rice soba noodles (or other variety of soba noodles)
2 carrots
1/2 a medium cucumber
2 tablespoons sesame oil
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons gluten-free soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
3 scallions, white and green parts sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the grill to high heat. Coat all sides of the tuna steaks with olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides. Spill enough sesame seeds onto a large plate to cover the base. Roll the skinny sides of the tuna in the seeds and place on a plate. Sear the tuna 2 minutes on each side and remove to rest.

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While the grill is heating, bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the soba noodles according to the package directions and then rinse in cold water. While noodles are boiling, julienne the carrots and cucumber using a mandolin or a sharp knife. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. Toss the vegetables, scallions and dressing with the soba noodles.  Add salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Plate the noodle salad on a large platter. Slice the tuna against the grain and place on top of the noodles. Enjoy!

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Helpful hints
-I use untoasted seeds on the tuna, because they toast up on the grill. I also only coat the sides, not the top and bottom so the seeds don’t burn.

Eating Locally

By abbey on August 12, 2013

Sometimes you have a plan in mind and then it all goes out the window when you see a beautiful piece fish at the farm market.  I had been planning to skewer some shrimp I had in my freezer with some lemons and grill them at my pal’s house Saturday night.  That is until I went to my local farmer’s market and saw the most beautiful tuna steaks, fresh off a day boat out of Long Island, calling out my name. Combined with the rest of the bounty I picked up there, zucchini and cucumbers from my dad’s garden and the basil I’ve been growing outside my front door, most of our meal came to us from less than 75 miles away. We sparked up the grill and set about making a healthy, three course meal bursting with the flavors of summer.

First up today: the starters:

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Grilled corn and onion salad with basil

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Grilled zucchini carpaccio

Grilled Corn and Onion Salad with Basil
Serves 4
Grilling the corn enhances its sweetness by caramelizing the natural sugars while the basil compliments the corn, adding a slight anise flavor to the salad.

6 ears of corn, shucked and cleaned of silk*
1 medium onion, sliced horizontal with the skin on (this allows you to grill them in one piece, without toothpicks)
1 large handful fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat your grill to medium high and grill the corn for 3-4 minutes on each side, turning 4 times total, until the kernels start to soften and begin to char. Grill the onion rings at the same time as the corn, 5 minutes on each side, until the onion is translucent and charred. Allow the corn to cool enough to handle and cut the corn off the cob (see tutorial below). Remove the skins off the grilled onions and dice. In a bowl, combine corn, onions, basil, salt and pepper and enjoy!

*How to cut corn off the cob without getting it all over your kitchen:

I wish I could take credit for this genius idea, but I saw it on the Food Network. All you need is a really big bowl and a smaller bowl. Invert the smaller bowl and place it in the center of the big bowl. Place the corn cob on the base of the small bowl and cut down the sides of the corn. The kernels will fall into the bigger bowl, not all over your counter and floor.

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Grilled Zucchini Carpaccio
Serves 4

1 large or 2 medium zucchini
Fruity olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Use a mandoline on it’s skinniest setting to slice the zucchini. Alternately, hand cut the zucchini into 1/8 of an inch slices. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and grill 1-2 minutes on each side, until the zucchini begins to wilt and char. Arrange in a single layer on a large platter, drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Summer’s Bounty

By abbey on July 29, 2013

Between my dad’s garden and the three farmer’s markets in town, my kitchen has been filled with fresh, locally grown produce all summer long.  On my last trip to my parents house, I stocked up on zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers and the most special of them all, squash blossoms (zucchini flowers), to bring down the shore.  My friend’s and I have started a tradition Sunday nights called Family Dinner, where after a long day on the beach, we come together in the kitchen, sharing the cooking detail, and provide a bounty of food to all who are staying the night.  We uncork some wine, gather around the table and ease our way into Sunday night, wringing every last drop out of our weekend relaxation before starting up a new work week.

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For family dinner this weekend, I took those very special squash blossoms and stuffed them with our favorite Hoboken mozzarella before giving them a quick, shallow fry in olive oil.  Consider them an advanced mozzarella stick, with a light, crisp coating outside, soft, gooey cheese on the inside and an earthy hint from the flower.  Zucchini season is almost over, and the blossoms go even faster, so if you see them at your local farm market (or are even luckier to have them in your backyard), jump on them and give these a try. While I was frying, I also sliced up some eggplant and zucchini to round out the frito misto.  And of course, everything fried needs to be dipped, so a little basil pesto made its way onto the plate as well.

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Fried Zucchini Blossoms

Olive oil
2 cups gluten-free flour (I used a rice blend), plus more for dusting flowers*
1 1/2 cups club soda
Salt and pepper to taste*
12 squash blossoms, cleaned*
1/4 pound mozzarella, cut into 1 inch x 1/2 inch sticks

Using a large, shallow pan, pour enough olive oil in to come up 1/4 inch of the pan and set over medium heat. In a large bowl, combine the flour with club soda, salt and pepper to create a batter. Stuff each flower with a mozzarella stick and dust with flour so the batter will stick to it. Test to see if the oil is ready by dropping a touch of batter in the oil. If it starts to bubble up and float it’s ready. If it sinks, it needs to be hotter, if it starts to rapidly brown, it’s too hot. Dredge with flowers through the batter and gently lay them into the oil. Fry for 1-2 minutes on each side, until they start to brown and the cheese begins to melt. Once evenly golden, remove them to a brown paper bag or pile of paper towels to drain. Salt immediately and let them cool a bit before enjoying.

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Helpful Hints:
-I used Trader Joe’s gluten free flour blend. You can substitute other gluten free blends or use wheat flour, but your liquid ratio may be a bit different. Go slow on adding the club soda until the consistency is loose, but has body to it.
-This makes enough batter to fry a whole lotta stuff. I also sliced up a small white eggplant, a japanese eggplant and a large zucchini to dip and fry. If you are not making as much, reduce the ratios.
-You need more salt then you think. I’m not a salty person, but the oil eats a lot of it, so be generous, both in the batter and once out of the oil.
-To clean a blossom, take the bottom off, where the petals meet the base. Shake any stamen, pollen or bugs (yes, bugs) out of the flower and gently rinse under cool running water. Air dry and continue.