In the Kitchen

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When hosting a dinner party, I try to keep my appetizers fairly simple. A beautiful crudite board with green goddess dressing or a cheese board bursting with bread, grapes and of course cheese {my rule of thumb is three: a hard, a soft and a really smelly one}. In addition, though, I always like to add a wow bite. And for me, those more often than not are Ina Garten’s Gruyère Cheese Puffs. The first time K tried these, she asked “are these homemade?” To which I responded, “Sweetie, I only make homemade.” As you can imagine, this is now a running joke in our home.

Don’t let the above photo scare you. These cheese puffs are super easy to make, I promise.

Ina’s Gruyère Cheese Puffs

  • 1 cup milk {I use whole milk for the flavor but any milk will do}
  • 1/4 lb unsalted butter {I always use unsalted butter when baking}
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • pinch of black pepper
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 extra-large eggs {make sure your eggs are at room temperature}
  • 1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat over to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a saucepan, heat the milk, butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg over medium heat, until scalded. Add the flour all at once and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. The flour will begin to coat the bottom of the pan.
  3. Pour this mixture into your kitchen aid mixer bowl and immediately add the eggs, Gruyère and parmesan and mix until eggs are incorporated and the dough is smooth and thick.
  4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag {I use a large zip lock bag and cut off one corner}. Pipe onto the lined baking sheet in a round {similar in size to a golf ball}. With a wet finger, lightly press down the swirl at the top of each puff. Brush the top of each puff lightly with egg wash {made with 1 egg and 1 tsp. of water whisked} and top with a pinch of Gruyère cheese.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Voila! You are done. Give them a try and let me know if you house guests love them as much as mine!

In the Kitchen

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#TacoTuesday has become a tradition at Melrose Place {our city abode}. At least twice a month, on Tuesday of course, I try a new taco recipe. I have about a 95% success rate, with one tragic night taking place a few weeks back with a Jamaican jerk chicken recipe. K’s favorite thus far was a honey-lime sweet potato, corn and black bean recipe.

Sometimes, though, I just crave a basic taco like the ones my mom use to make using the Ortega taco dinner kit. Since my mom doesn’t eat meat, she would use ground turkey. I have realized, though,  that those little seasoning packages just aren’t  a good idea. With a little research, and keeping my spice cabinet full of delicious blends from Ambrosia {an island must}, I developed my own taco seasoning. Mix 2 tablespoons of this with ground turkey, a can of garbanzo beans and some kale, and you have yourself a healthy and delicious taco.

May’s Taco Seasoning

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. black pepper

2 Tbs. chili powder

1 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 tsp. sea salt

1 Tbs. ground cumin

In my opinion, the key to a great taco are all the fixings. Soft corn tortillas, avocados, chopped tomato, shredded cabbage, cilanto and cotija cheese are terrific additions. Give this a try. I promise, you’ll be having a #tacotuesday tradition soon enough!

In the Kitchen

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Happy Friday, friends! First off, I just want to thank you for your beautiful words regarding yesterday’s post. I am truly humbled and feeling quite blessed for having all of you in my life. Now onto my other love, entertaining.

Today I wanted to share my menu from a recent sips + snacks party we held on the deck. In my 12 years of city living, I’ve never had a deck. And now, K and I have a deck the size of our bedroom, which makes outdoor entertaining a must {especially after the winter we had}!

For cocktail parties, I like to keep the menu simple* with items that can be served at room temperature and are easily replenishable. I have been on a mezze kick as of late and thus decided to do a spread of four different mezze/dips with crudité. Each and every time I am putting together a party menu, my first go-to is my collection of Ina cookbooks. I decided on her Tzatziki and baba ganoush but knew I needed to add one or two more. While perusing Pinterest for inspiration, I found a beet root hummus and Moroccan spiced roasted carrot dip, which both turned out to be my favorite. K said the carrot dip was a pleasant surprise.

Dips always need a “vessel” (a term of endearment from my catering days) and thus I had plenty of pita on hand and a selection of crudité. I blanched the asparagus for 3 minutes in boiling water and then placed them immediately in an ice bath to stop the cooking. The result is a perfectly crisp and bright green asparagus spear. For the carrots, I did a simple peel and chop and then placed them in a plastic container with water. This helps to keep the carrots crisp. I quartered the radishes and did an ever so slight sprinkle of salt on top. And for the green beans and squash, a simple chop was all they needed. Next time around, I might omit the green beans and instead do some cucumber spears.

Another catering trick {which is oh so helpful for your guests}, label your food. I had these Moglea watercolor tags on hand and the colors matched our mezze spread perfectly. A little bakers twine around the jelly jars and voila!

I included my *asterisk above because although this spread of mezze was technically easy, it was a bit time consuming. In the end, though, well worth it. Looking to entertain this summer, I highly recommend this delicious and beautiful mezze spread.

In the Kitchen

In the Kitchen
Yesterday after a long day at the catering kitchen, I decided to do a little something for me. I made my way over to Bartlett’s Farm, purchased a little blue quart container and walked through the strawberry fields. Item #1 on Summer Bucket List… done!

I had originally planned to make strawberry jam but when I read all the fine print about canning sterilization, I thought to myself, not tonight. So instead, I braved the grocery store at 5:30 pm (to my surprise, the parking lot wasn’t complete chaos) and got myself a baguette, some goat cheese and organic baby spinach. My thought was this: a simple spinach salad with fresh strawberries, cottage cheese and a little balsamic vinaigrette for dinner followed by a sweet crostini with goat cheese and balsamic macerated strawberries. So easy, so delicious.

Crostini

Strawberry Crostini
Here is what you will need:
– 4 1/4 inch slices of a baguette
– 2 Tbs. goat cheese (or more if you like)
– 1/2 cup thinly sliced strawberries (about 6 strawberries)
– 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar (I recommend Ariston Balsamic. This stuff is amazing)

*Note: I made a very small batch. These measurements can certainly be doubled/tripled should you want to use the entire baguette.

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet pan with tin foil.
2. Cut 1/4 inch slices of your baguette on an angel, which allows for more surface space.
3. Place bread slices on sheet pan and lightly brush with extra virgin olive oil.
4. Cook in the over for about 10 minutes, until lightly brown and crunchy.
5. While the bread is cooking, thinly slice strawberries and place in bowl with 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar and stir occasionally.
6. Remove the bread from the over, spread on a little goat cheese and arrange strawberries on top.
7. Enjoy!

And the good news, checked #2 off the Summer Bucket List as well. I’m on a roll!

Places

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One thing about island life is that I no longer have my finger on the pulse of the dining scene in Boston. And so I took full advantage when my dear friend Abby was in town for Wine Festival. I told her I was escaping the madness of Figawi weekend and heading to my old/new city for the long weekend. When I said, where should I eat, without hesitation, she said “Row 34“.

So of course I raced home and took to my trusty computer for a little research. I was thrilled to see that Row 34, which opened last November in Fort Point (one of the coolest neighborhoods in the city, in my humble opinion), is the latest collaboration from the Island Creek Oyster Bar team: Skip Bennett and Shore Gregory, restaurateur Garrett Harker, and chef Jeremy Sewall. For my frequent readers, you know Island Creek is one of my all-stars. Their vision was to make Row 34 a working man’s oyster bar. And the name, a kind of oyster raised at the Island Creek Farm. I like it already.

I wasn’t the only one looking for a reservation for Saturday night… the only openings were 9:00 pm and 10:15 pm. Boston is the new New York! When we arrived at 9 pm, the restaurant was abuzz. The bar packed and the open kitchen and oyster bar instantly caught my eye. While Row 34 is known for their beer program, I opted for a glass of rose… the Gobelsburger Cistercien to be exact. Delicious.

Now onto the important stuff… what did we eat. We started with a sampling of oysters (the Chatham’s were my favorite) and then moved onto bluefish pate with toast, white wine mussels in scallion butter, striped bass ceviche and the highlight of the meal… the lettuce cups with a crispy oyster and pickled vegetables. Our waitress was a doll and was attentive but not overly so. And she made our meal by sending over the butterscotch pudding, which I must admit I was a bit hesitant to try as I’m not a butterscotch fan but it was simply divine.

Row 34 has certainly joined my all-star list. Thanks, Abby for the wonderful recommendation!

Places

Alden & Harlow
As we know, I love food and nothing brings me more pleasure that reading a recent issue of Food & Wine and planning my next getaway around where I’m dining. I’m one for the details and thus love to find a place that has it all – great food, great décor, great vibe. I love sitting down at a table and instantly noticing how much attention went into every detail of the place setting… the weight of the water-glass, the curve of the knife, the napkin itself. And let’s not even get started on menu design. My all-star list of places that just nail it include: Island Creek Oyster Bar, ABC Kitchen, Gjelina and Founding Farmers. I can now add Alden & Harlow in Cambridge to this list, and you should too. I went on a Saturday night a few weeks back and had a 9:30 reservations. Coming from island life, dining after 8 pm made me feel very hip! The space is subterranean (in the former Casablanca space on Brattle Street) with beautiful exposed brick, great lighting, an open kitchen, a killer wrap-around bar, vintage signs adorning the walls and shelves filled with things you would have in your home kitchen.

This is the first solo project for chef Michael Scelfo, who wanted Alden & Harlow to be representative of the food he would serve at home. And what food it is. Since opening earlier this year, this Harvard Square gem has become what many refer to as a “food-industry darling.” My friend and I started with the ubiquitous kale salad, featuring thin slices of fennel and an ever-so-delicious creamy pistachio dressing. The menu is meant to be shared so we decided on four plates: the golden corn pancakes drizzled with maple syrup and pop corn (interesting indeed); the rye pasta with confit chicken thigh and fig-liver butter and topped with crispy skin; the crispy Berkshire pork belly with grits, roasted kumquat and bergamot cure; and the highlight of the evening… the beef neck that was slow roasted and served with a parsnip puree, radishes and vinegar. For a selectarian (I try to stick to a mostly vegetarian diet), I must say it was to die for and worth every bite. Did we keep it to the basics, most certainly not but wow, what a meal.

The cocktail list was impressive and a bit overwhelming so we both decided on a great craft beer. Unfortunately dessert was not an option (my friend gave up sweets for Lent… who does this?) but I can tell you, the next time I’m in Boston, I’m heading back to Alden & Harlow for cocktails and dessert. Let me know if you want to join.

A Day in LA

Los Angeles
L.A. Oh how I miss you! You have quickly become one of my all-time favorites (next to Chicago, New York and my beloved Boston). What do I love so much about you? I love all your little neighborhoods that feel like some of my favorites (South End, Kendall, Lincoln Park, West Village) all by the water. Life doesn’t get much better than that!

For all of you who haven’t been or are planning a trip out there soon (I highly recommend that you do), I thought I would put together my favorite day in L.A.

My Morning Juice
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I always try to start the day with a fresh juice and it is quite easy to do so in this city. My god. There seems to be a juice bar on every corner. My favorite by far is Kreation. With six locations and a juice kar (correct spelling, I promise) and bike around the city, they are easy to find. I frequent the one in Beverly Hills because it is right next to my all-time favorite cupcake place, Sprinkles. I figure if I’m juicing in the am, I can pick up a treat to splurge on in the afternoon.

Hike it Out
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One thing I never realized is how many amazing hiking trails there around L.A. Griffith Park, Runyon Canyon, Tree People Inc. The list goes on and on. Since my parents are in the valley in Sherman Oaks, Tree People is just a short drive, although you have to go down Mulholland Drive, which is just about the scariest road I’ve ever been on. But the hike is well worth it. Just beautiful.

Lunch by the Beach
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I stayed in Santa Monica on my very first trip to L.A. back in 2006 so it has always held a special place in my heart. And then when I discovered Huckleberry Cafe, it sealed the deal for being one of my favorite neighborhoods. Huckleberry Café is what I dream of one day opening. A beautiful café with delicious sandwiches, salads, savory goods, sweet treats and a beautiful spot to sit and enjoy. This visit, I tried their arugula salad with grapefruit, pine nuts and fresh parmigiano reggiano and my mom had the butternut squash terrine. Perfection!

Bike Ride
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Being an island girl, I have always loved to ride my bike. And a bike ride from Santa Monica down to Venice Beach, nothing compares in my humble opinion.

Afternoon Pick-Me-Up
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I really developed a love for Venice Beach last winter when I headed west to visit my parents after they made their big move. Abbot Kinney Street has it all. Urbanic Paper Boutique, Steven Allen, Gjelina and Intelligentsia, the best coffee shop I have been to by far. This place knows how to do coffee right. The idea is for the barista to create an individualized experience for every customer, regardless of how many are being served. Awesome!

Cocktail Hour
Viceroy
I think I’ve shared this little fact with you before, but I have a thing for boutique hotels. One of my favorite hotel groups The Viceroy Hotel Group and their spot in Santa Monica is sheer perfection. Cocktails by the pool are a must.

Dinner Time
tavern
If I had to choose one neighborhood to live in, I think it would have to be Brentwood. Not only am I obsessed with Brentwood Country Mart but Brentwood is also home to Tavern Bar & Larder. You may have heard of this space if you are addicted to Million Dollar Decorators like I am. Jeffrey Alan Marks designed the space and it’s breathtaking and the talented Suzanne Coin is the head chef and owner. Never have I been some place where the décor and food are so on par. A definite treat!

Stargazing
Observatory
Griffith Observatory. You literally feel like you are top of the world. The views of L.A. are breathtaking and you know me, I have a thing for stars. I suggest going at sunset, packing a light picnic and spending a least a few hours up here. Well worth the time. And the really cool thing… amateurs bring out their telescopes too so you can meet, mingle and check out a bunch of different views.

Oh and the adorable L.A. poster above is from the one and only, Rifle Paper. Click on the image and you will be directed right to their site.

In the Kitchen

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Have you all tried baby kale? It is simply delicious. I had it for the first time last year at one of my island favorites, The Boarding House, and have since realized that they not only stock it at my local farm but at Stop & Shop no less. I pulled together a really simple salad the other night for dinner that I thought I would share. Doesn’t take much time at all (except the roasting of the butternut squash). Give it a try and let me know what you think.

May’s Winter Salad
2 cups baby kale
1/2 cup roasted butternut squash (I cut mine up into 1 inch cubes, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper and roast for 25 minutes or so at 350 degrees)
1 to 2 Tbs. Dijon vinaigrette (recipe below)

Toss and enjoy. I had plans to add pomegranate seeds but the store was fresh out of them this week. Next time.

Dijon Vinagrette
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. champagne vinegar
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil (Once blended, I always do a taste test and sometimes I add just a little more oil to round out the flavors.)
1 tsp. honey
squeeze of lemon
salt and pepper

Whisk together and pour over your favorite greens.

Take Me There

When planning a trip, I always have a food itinerary. Yes, I do plan trips around food and I’m not ashamed to admit it. And thus I was quite pleased when I came across this little Food and Wine piece highlighting the best new shops for food lovers. Don’t they just sound fabulous? And the best part, my sweet friend Abby’s shop made the list!

What can I say, Abby and I are kindred spirits. Not only did we both leave our first law firm on the same day but food really is our shared passion. We first met back in 2006 at a co-worker’s cocktail party. I was getting ready to embark on a cross-country adventure and she said “I have the book for you… Eat Your Way Across the USA.” Thanks to Abby and this little gem, I certainly did eat my way across the states. The best part, this initial bond over food and travel sparked a lifelong friendship. And now to see Abby’s dream of a vintage kitchen store and cooking class space come to life and featured in Food and Wine, I couldn’t be more proud. I’m off to Boston tomorrow and Farm & Fable is certainly at the top of my list of places to visit. I promise to bring you a full report next week highlighting all my finds.

Until then, dear friends… any great food shops this foodie should know about? With this cold, I am dreaming of lots of little weekend getaways.

An Island Holiday

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I know I am biased but there is no better place to celebrate Thanksgiving than Nantucket and you know what, the Vice President thinks so too! I have only missed two in my entire life. This year, with my parents being out in California, my sister and I decided to host our very first Thanksgiving dinner at our family home and what a day it was. The prep started Wednesday with Michelle mastering the art of baking a pie. After getting home from the shop, I took to the kitchen to make my Aunt’s delicious cranberry mousse and apple butter for my sister Marie’s Thanksgiving brunch (and checked another two items off the fall bucket list). Check out the recipes below.

While waiting for the apple butter to bake, I turned to our tablescape. I knew I wanted to incorporate the collection of beautiful gourds in yellows and greens I purchased at Bartlett’s Farm so decided on a purple, yellow and celdaon green color palette. I placed my favorite John Robshaw table-cloth on the table with our Simon Pearce belmont dinning plates and my “only for special occasion” Kim Seybert napkins. I have these fantastic yellow bud vases for Bodega that I turned into candle holders for our green tapers. Feeling a bit DIY, I made place cards and the menu from old Rifle Paper pieces I had on hand. We made little wreaths from rosemary and Michelle added a personal touch by writing each of our guests a little note letting them know we were thankful for them. I just loved the way it all came together.

I was a bit hesitant to handle the actual bird… 16 pounds and all. I guess I know why I call myself a selectarian (raw meat totally squimishes me out). Luckily I had some help and got the bird cleaned, filled the cavity with oranges, lemons, garlic, thyme and onions and put her in the oven. I used Ina’s recipe as a guide cause really, the Barefoot Contessa has never failed me.

My absolute favorite sides with my Thanksgiving meal have always been stuffing and butternut squash so I knew I wanted to try something different. I had seen a picture on Pinterest for a butternut squash bread pudding with leeks and prosciutto and I knew that was the winner. Absolutely sinful (2 1/2 cups of half and half) but well worth it. For the stuffing, the verdict was in that sausage is a must so once again I turned to Smitten Kitchen to be my guide. Add in some roasted carrots and brussels sprouts, mashed new potatoes and a kale salad with roasted acorn squash, pomegranate seeds and a Dijon cider vinaigrette and we had ourselves a feast.

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Hope you all enjoyed a lovely day with your friends and family. And now for those recipes!

Auntie Deb’s Cranberry Mousse
– 1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple
– 2 3 oz. packages of raspberry gelatin
– 1 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries (Nantucket has one of the largest bogs on the east coast)
– 1 large navel orange
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1 cup sour cream

Directions
1. Open pineapple and drain liquid. Reserve 1 cup of juice.
2. Bring pineapple juice to a boil and stir in gelatin until dissolved.
3. In food processor, chop cranberries, sliced unpeeled orange and sugar to make a relish.
4. Combine relish and pineapple with gelatin in large bowl. Chill 1/2 hour, or until slightly thick.
5. Fold in sour cream and pour into a 2 quart mold. Chill until firm.
6. Unmold onto a serving plate.

* I should note I couldn’t find a mold so just poured into a large serving dish. Not as pretty as my aunt does but let me tell you, this cranberry mousse brings a leftover turkey sandwich to a whole new level.

Apple Butter
– 4 pounds assorted apples, peeled and chopped
– 2 cups apple cider
– 1 cup packed light brown sugar
– pinch of salt
– 1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
– 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
– 1 tsp. vanilla extract
– pinch of ground clove

Directions
1. Preheat over to 250 degrees.
2. Combines the apples, apple cider, brown sugar and salt in a dutch oven (I’m obsessed with my Le Creuset) over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook until apples are soft, about 20 minutes.
3. Remove apples from the heat and stir in lemon juice, cinnamon, vanilla extract and cloves.
4. Puree the mixture in a blender in batches until smooth.
5. Return the mixture to dutch over and bake uncovered, stirring every 30 minutes. The total cook time is about 3 hours. The mixture will become thick and a deep amber color.
6. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Transfer to n airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

* My sister Michelle used the remaining apple butter on Saturday night when she hosted friends for turkey soup. She spread it over brie, wrapped it in her pie crust and baked. Absolutely delicious!