happy holidays!

cookies

As always, it’s been a while! But, I just wanted to wish everyone happy holidays! 2013 has been a busy, but great year and I hope that 2014 brings everyone luck, love, & joy!

Here are some holiday season highlights…

treePresents under the tree on Christmas Eve

sushiFirst attempt at homemade sushi for Mike’s family Christmas party- made by myself & Mike’s mom!

mike family christmas eveMike & I being cheesy on Christmas Eve ❤

IMG_2533Alex making brie baked in puff pastry with raspberry jam, basil, & bacon – an awesome Christmas Day appetizer!

dessertsChristmas Day dessert table – brownies, seven layer bars, Oreo truffles, peanut butter cookies, chocolate covered pretzels and German apple crumb cake.  Later joined by a homemade birthday cake. My family isn’t really into dessert… uhhh NOT.

alex birthdayOut to dinner on the 26th for Alex’s 21st birthday!

There were plenty of delicious & wonderful memories not included in this post and I just want to thank all my family & friends for such a wonderful holiday season!

It wouldn’t be a real post if I didn’t share recipes, so here are the links to some of the recipes that I followed this holiday season:

Seven layer bars (made without walnuts)

Peanut butter cookies with Reese’s cups (definitely my favorite new cookie recipe!)

Oreo truffles

Homemade California rolls

Brie baked in puff pastry

Happy New Year! 

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red wine chicken & mushroom risotto

In my last post I went on about how much I love dinner.  The food, the company, etc.  Well, get ready for more of the mushy stuff. Two weeks ago, my aunt and uncle from Florida came up to visit.  I am always looking forward to their stay because we can count on an adventure into the city, some fun and relaxing nights at home, and this year we spent a day on Fire Island as well.  Considering we only see them once, sometimes twice, a year, it always feels really special to catch up and spend some time together in person. The night they arrived I offered to cook dinner for them, my parents, brother, and grandparents.  I dug this old chicken recipe up as I was putting together my recipe book — a topic for a whole other post! Red wine chicken was probably one of the first things I ever cooked for my family (years ago!).  Before my Food & Wine and Bon Appetit reading days, Allrecipes.com was my source for new dishes and that is where I found this simple and tasteful recipe.

To re-debut the chicken, I paired it with mushroom risotto.  Risotto is one of my favorite sides — you can switch up the flavors to complement almost any meat, fish, or simply veggies! We also had green beans (made special by my dad with his favorite seasoning), and a salad courtesy of my Oma (who always puts together the freshest, most delicious salads!).

        

Red Wine Chicken & Mushroom Risotto

Ingredients (serves 8)

For the risotto:

  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2  lbs. mushrooms, sliced (I used white since they were on sale, but cremini or shitake would add nice flavor)
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 6-8 cups chicken stock OR vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the chicken:

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I prefer thin-sliced)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup red wine (I always use wines that you would drink)

Method

For the risotto:

In medium saucepan, bring stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  In a large saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tbsp. olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter.  Once hot, add mushrooms and a bit of salt and pepper, and allow mushrooms to soften and brown (about 10 minutes).  Remove mushrooms and juices and set aside.  Add the rest of the olive oil and butter to the same pan.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until tender (~3-5 minutes).  Add arborio rice and stir with a wooden spoon, making sure that the rice is coated with olive oil/butter.  This assures that your risotto won’t be clumpy/sticky.  Add the red wine and stir until absorbed.  Add 1 cup of stock and stir until nearly absorbed.  Continue adding 1/2 cup of stock at a time and stirring each time until nearly absorbed. The risotto is done when the rice is al dente and coated in a creamy sauce.  Add the thyme, parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.

For the chicken: 

Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Over medium-high heat, coat a large skillet with olive oil.  Add garlic and saute until tender (1-2 minutes).  Brown the chicken, in batches if necessary (about 5 minutes on each side).  It is okay if the chicken is not cooked through yet — you do not want it to dry out later!  Drain the oil from the skillet and add all the chicken to the pan.  Sprinkle with the paprika and brown sugar and pour red wine around the chicken.  Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, occasionally basting the chicken with the sauce, until chicken is cooked through.

Chicken recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com

Mushroom risotto recipe adapted from Whole Foods Classic Risotto Recipe

How I eat it: always with a some chicken and risotto in the same bite!

       

cavatelli with spicy lamb ragu

Today may have been my ideal day.  I woke up, ate some Frosted Mini Wheats, worked out, showered, blew some money on a Michael Kohrs bag, went to the grocer and the butcher, and spent the rest of my day baking and cooking dinner for my family and Mike.

One of my favorite things to do is spend my time cooking dinner. Why dinner?  Because dinner is the time of day when my family is all together and, unless there is some important sporting event on TV, we spend time talking to each other. It could be simple conversations about our days or incredibly goofy, and somewhat inappropriate, dinner talk.  These conversations are a major part of why I love cooking. Food brings people together.  Especially dinner.  At least this is how it always was, and is, in my family. And this is how I intend it to stay.  So any day where I get to really spend time cooking a nice evening meal for those I love, is a wonderful day. (The Michael Kohrs bag may have added a little bit of wonder to today as well..)

I decided to try a new recipe with some flavors that I am not so used to cooking with.  Fennel and cumin and lamb are not common ingredients in my house.

As opposed to my lovely boyfriend, I was also attracted to this recipe because of the lamb.  Rack of lamb and mint jelly may be one of my all time favorite meals.  Mike, however, was not thrilled when I told him after he was already eating the meal that he was consuming lamb (he’s more of a beef guy).  Nevertheless, he said it was delicious.

Cavatelli with Spicy Lamb Ragu

Ingredients (Serves 6)

  • 1/2 tbsp. fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tbsp. cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 6 large cloves garlic
  • 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large fennel bulb, halved, cored, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 14-oz. can whole tomatoes, chopped, liquid reserved
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1-1/2 lbs. cavatelli pasta
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 c. chopped mint leaves
  • Grated parmesan/pecorino for serving
*Special equipment: cheesecloth

Method

In large cast iron dutch oven, add fennel seeds, cumin seeds, red pepper, and black peppercorns. Heat over medium heat, until fragrant (about 2 minutes).  Remove spices from dutch oven, cool, bundle in a cheese cloth, and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in the dutch oven.  Add lamb and cook over high heat until browned, breaking up with spoon (about 5 minutes). Remove lamb with slotted spoon and set aside.  Add the garlic, onion, and fennel to the casserole and lower to medium heat. Saute until tender (about 8 minutes).  Add the smoked paprika, tomatoes and reserved liquid, chicken stock, and return the lamb.  Bring to a simmer.  Turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 35 minutes.  Uncover, and cook an additional 50 minutes, until thickened.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook cavatelli according to package directions (usually about 7-9 minutes for frozen). After ragu has thickened, remove spice bundle and season with salt and pepper. Add the cavatelli to the sauce along with some of the pasta water (about 1/4 cup).  Stir in the cherry tomatoes and half of the chopped mint.

Serve hot, with parmesan/pecorino cheese, and mint for garnish.

Recipe adapted from Food & Wine

How I eat it: with a lot of fresh mint and a large glass of pinot noir (as Food & Wine recommends)

[Above photo credit to Mike]

One more thing I should mention: the mint completes this dish.  Don’t even think about making it without it! Thanks to my parents herb garden, we had plenty =)

a break from reality (+ a restaurant review)

I know, I know – it’s been a over week since I’ve posted, but I escaped my hectic life and went on a relaxing family vacation to Cape Cod.  We stayed at Red Jacket Beach Resort and I highly recommend it. Our rooms were a little dated, but the location right between the river and the ocean was perfect! Plus, they had a whole bunch of activities such as yoga on the beach (which was awesome), jetskiing & kayaking (which we never got around to), and a “dive in” movie for kids (which, if I knew about the movie beforehand, I probably would’ve been jumping around in the pool with all the 7 year olds watching Despicable Me).

It was a week full of bathing suits during the day and yummy meals and touristy shopping at night – sooo much thanks to my generous parents! I had so much fun enjoying my family and some good food, but rather than blab about every detail of my trip I have put together a slideshow of photographs from the vacation on a whole and I will give a review of my favorite restaurant of the trip: Ocean House. (We also dined at The Roadhouse Cafe, The Paddock, & Alberto’s – they were all delicious, but Ocean House surpassed them by far.)

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The review…

After a fun day in Provincetown, we decided to go back to Yarmouth where we were staying and eat locally.  Unfortunately, it was a Friday night and we didn’t think fast enough about making reservations.  We called Ocean House and they told us that their dining room was full for the night, but we could do the first come-first serve deal in the lounge area.  Looking at the delicious menu that we had obtained from our resort, we decided to chance it.

When we got there we were told that it was a 2 hour wait but there was a bar right outside on the beach where we could pass the time.  We weren’t starving just yet so we decided to have some cocktails and relax.  About 25 minutes later, my dad went in to check on the wait and we were told that they were preparing our table! The hostess was so friendly and our waiter was no different.  What I liked about the service was their honesty concerning the restaurant.  When we asked our waiter for an opinion he seemed to give his true thoughts and not always lean us towards the most expensive thing on the menu.

The atmosphere was nice – modern yet beachy.  We were seated in the middle of the lounge so we felt as though we were in a chic Manhattan restaurant, but the dining area had some great views overlooking the Nantucket Sound.

FOOD. By the time we were seated our stomachs were starting to grumble so we ordered a Bento Box to start – every single thing was absolutely delicious, but my favorite had to be the lobster tacos.  For my entrée I ordered lobster ravioli in a champagne cream sauce and I finished the entire thing.  I also tasted my mom’s filet mignon with truffle fries – the meat was tasty and the fries were so rich and amazinggggg.  To finish off our meal we ordered a chocolate bag sundae.  OH. MY. GOD.  It was heavenly. The menu says that it’s for 2, but the 4 of us could not finish it! The prices were high, but having dined in New York City many times they seemed completely reasonable for the quality of food we were served.  We kept joking about how each dish would’ve been jacked up at least 10 dollars if the restaurant were located in the city.

Bento Box

Filet Mignon with Truffle Fries

Chocolate Bag Sundae for Two Four

Ocean House served some of the most creative and delicious food I have ever experienced.  Everything we ate seemed like it was made with such care. It is a good thing that Ocean House is so far from where I live or else my bank account and my waistline would most definitely be at risk!

Love my family ♥ Thank you for a wonderful vacation!

brooklyn heights: my new obsession; plus the first restaurant review!

Just my future apartment building along the Brooklyn Promenade.

So, I had a recipe all ready to post but my fantastic and tasty day has brought about a change of plans. Don’t worry, the recipe will still make it to the blog. It’s one of my favorites, so look forward to it!

Anyway, as I stated in my last post, it was my grandfather’s 90th birthday party last Sunday so we’ve had some relatives in from out of town. Today my parents, my aunt and uncle from Florida, and myself, ventured into Brooklyn to visit my other aunt and spend the day gallivanting around Manhattan. It was really a wonderful day. After some shopping in the city, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and then walked down the Promenade. We then ate dinner on Montague Street at Caffé Buon Gusto. So instead of a recipe today, I’ll be reviewing my experience at Caffé Buon Gusto: a wonderful Italian restaurant in the heart of the area that I fell completely in love with.

A slightly blurry picture of Caffe Buon Gusto.

Let’s start with the atmosphere. We lucked out with the weather and ate outside where they had tables set up on the sidewalk. It was gated in so you didn’t feel like you were in the middle of passersby, but you can still enjoy your fair share of people watching. I also visited the inside, which was very sleek with low lighting, but I definitely preferred the outside.

The service was great. As soon as we approached the gate and glanced at the restaurant a man with an Italian accent greeted us. We got an excellent waitress as well – personable, but not too chatty that it intrudes on your party’s own conversation.

Okay, down to the good stuff. The food. Everything I tasted today was superb. I always love when restaurants give you some focaccia and spiced up olive oil to munch on before your meal. I also ordered a glass of Muscato, my absolute favorite white wine. It was a generous glassful. I debated doing the $25 dollar prix-fixe (did I mention the prices are totally reasonable!?), but we were planning on going back to my aunt’s for dessert so I decided on just an entrée.

Orecchiette, Broccoli Rabe, & Sausage

I ordered: homemade orecchiette with broccoli rabe, roasted garlic, sausage, and crushed tomatoes in a white wine sauce. The image of my dish is not the best; it was taken with an iPhone after I already had started eating it – what can I say, the food is set down in front of me and I just can’t resist! The dish was delicious a perfect balance of the slightly bitter broccoli rabe and the sweet Italian sausage and roasted garlic.

I also tasted black linguine with lobster in fra diavolo, whole wheat linguine with peas and mushrooms, linguine carbonara with chicken, and chicken francese. Basically, I helped myself to everyone else’s meal and I will say that I would’ve been happy if I had ordered any of them!

At the end of our meal, we asked the waitress just for the check and to our surprise, and my total and utter delight, she brought out two pieces of tiramisu (my absolute favorite dessert) on the house! Another point for the service and the food, and a perfect ending to a very nice family-filled day ♥