Thursday, December 13, 2012

Baked Shrimp

A quick and simple seafood dinner is this baked shrimp with Mediterranean flavors. Here's how I did it:

1 lb. shrimp, deveined
Olive oil
Dry vermouth
3 tbsp(+) minced garlic
Four plum tomatoes
Bunch fresh basil
1/4 lb. Greek feta block
Salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste
1/2 lemon

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel 1 lb. shrimp (fresh or fresh-frozen is fine.)
2) Saute a few tbsp. minced garlic in olive oil in a skillet - be careful not to burn the garlic. Add red pepper flakes. Deglaze the pan with a splash of dry vermouth.
3) Add the shrimp to the garlic-red pepper-infused oil and season with salt and black pepper. Cook for just a minute, until the shrimp begins to turn pink, and remove from heat.
4) Dice four plum tomatoes and rip a handful of fresh basil into small pieces over the tomatoes. Cut a quarter pound of good firm Greek feta into small cubes.
5) Pour shrimp with oil-garlic-vermouth sauce into a glass baking dish and spread out to ensure the bottom of the dish is oiled. Add the tomatoes, basil and feta to the shrimp, and grind more fresh pepper (though not more salt as the feta is already salty) over top.
6) Bake for 10-15 min, depending on the oven. (I only baked it for 10 min. since I hate overcooked, rubbery seafood - keep an eye on it!)
7) Squeeze fresh lemon juice over top and a drizzle of olive oil to finish. Serve with good crusty bread to sop up the juices in the pan - the flavors combine to create a light sauce, so irresistable you have to get it all. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Obama Spinach Pie

My best friend Marc clipped a recipe of First Lady Michelle Obama's favorite recipe for spinach pie and brought it home for me, and after making it I have to say I love this spinach pie almost as much as I love Michelle Obama. Almost.

Here's the original recipe from Michelle Obama's book American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America:

Pinned Image
Of course I made some variations to the recipe (I can't help myself ...)
In my version of the Obama spinach pie, I used lowfat milk instead of half-and-half, and a mix of extra sharp cheddar and part skim mozzarella instead of Swiss cheese. I also seasoned my sauteed spinach with a pinch of red pepper flakes for heat and a bit of nutmeg. The pie turned out to be awesome:
Packed with a pound of fresh spinach, this savory pie is good hot and bubbly out of the oven, served at room temperature or even as cold breakfast leftovers, in my opinion. This I will have to make again and again ...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Trumpet Herb Pasta with Peas

I got this pasta from Pappardelle's stand at the holiday farmer's market in Rehoboth, DE and had to share how excellent their pasta is. The wide selection at the market included everything from spinach lemon herb fettucine and garlic chive pappardelle to spicy Thai linguine and dark chocolate pasta! (Dessert pasta - crazy awesome.) They also have gluten-free pasta options such as porcini mushroom large trumpet and basil garlic penne, which is great considering the relatively limited variety in most gluten free pasta available. They retail online and sell at farmers markets and festivals all over the country and British Columbia, apparently.
I chose the trumpet herb blend with a mix of carrot tarragon, chive, and dill & parsley peppercorn pasta, and I recommend this pasta blend if you're looking for a shorter-cut pasta with lots of flavor. Pappardelle's provides sample recipes to go along with their pastas to give you ideas (I took photos of the recipes on display at the market like a nutcase but they're on the website) and they recommended trumpet herb blend for pasta salad with tuna and cauliflower, which sounds great for a summer picnic. For a late autumn dinner, this is how I prepared the pasta:
1) Bring pot of water to a boil and salt; add pasta.
2) A few minutes before the pasta's done (8-10 minutes to cook al dente, but I use my "Italian timer" ;) to determine when pasta's ready) add about 1/2 cup frozen peas to the water to warm through.
3) Drain the pasta and peas, reserving some of the starchy cooking water for the sauce.
4) Pour the pasta and peas in a bowl and add 2 tbsp. low fat cream cheese, freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of oregano and red pepper flakes to taste. *I chose a simple cream sauce for this so that the pasta's intense herb flavor is the star of the dish.
5) Add a spoonful of the starchy cooking liquid to create a sauce and stir so the cheese melts over the pasta; add more water as necessary to thin out the sauce consistency.
6) Finish with a drizzle of good olive oil and serve warm. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thanksgiving by the sea

Thanksgiving tablescape by my sister Caroline

Chocolate bourbon pecan pie by my mom
(which actually looked better than the photograph for the recipe)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fit for Fall

Fall is the time when a plethora of squash is in season (okay, I do just love the word "plethora", but it's true) and there are so many different ways to use these healthy, fiber-filled vegetable marrows. Here are my latest ideas:

Spaghetti Squash Topped with Marinated Roasted Soy Glazed Tofu and Spinach

How I did it:
1) Roast the spaghetti squash in the oven on low heat until tender (325 degrees for about an hour for a medium sized squash.)
2) While the squash roasts, marinate extra-firm tofu, diced and patted dry with a paper towel, in a soy basil marinade. I used low sodium soy sauce seasoned with red pepper flakes and a tsp. of pesto whisked in with a drizzle of olive oil, and some torn fresh basil.
3) Saute the marinated tofu in a medium-high heat pan until lightly golden brown on the edges, pouring the remaining marinade (saving a tsp.) in the pan to reduce. Remove the tofu to a plate.
4) Add baby spinach to the pan and wilt down, seasoning with freshly ground black pepper. Turn off heat and squeeze lemon juice for a fresh finish.
5) Remove the squash from the oven and cut it open to scoop out the soft, stringy filling and place it all in a large saute pan with a little olive oil and minced garlic. Fluff up the "spaghetti" strings with a fork to achieve a sort of creamy pasta-like texture.
6) Add a few tablespoons of tomato sauce to the "spaghetti" with the last tsp. of soy basil marinade. The soy will work as an umami booster to enhance the savory flavors of the veggies, but the squash will not actually taste like soy. Add some fresh parsley and basil to finish, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
7) Top the spaghetti squash with the sauteed spinach with lemon vinaigrette and shaved parmesan. Add the tofu to heat through, and serve. This hearty vegetarian dish will feel like eating a bowl of pasta, but in fact it's all vegetables!

Another autumn vegetarian dinner I made:

Butternut Squash and Kale with Whole Wheat Gnocchi
I made this dish for a nutrient-packed dinner with healthy carbs the night before the annual breast cancer awareness 5K (and followed it with a protein-packed breakfast the next morning and had an excellent race!)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Appetizer Ideas

At my latest dinner party I put together a few quick appetizers for people to much on with drinks before dinner. The trick is to assemble a few things you don't have to cook, so they're simple and can be served at room temperature. First I put together a fall-themed cheese plate with blue stilton, English cheddar with caramelized onions, pecans, homemade roasted pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, tart dried cherries, apricots, some pepperoni and roasted red peppers, and honey with cracked black pepper.

Then I topped fresh focaccia bread with caramelized onions with mixed greens, thin slices of prosciutto, shaved parmesan, and a squirt of lemon juice for a second appetizer option.

Followed by grilled veggies and kebabs for dinner and homemade ice cream for dessert. Fall feast!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pumpkin Kale Black Bean Stew

Now that autumn's here, it's time for fall produce! At the farmer's market this week I got pumpkins, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, greens, some purple tomatoes that looked like chestnuts ...

For these chillier nights, I decided to make PumpkinKale, Black Bean Stew - here's how I made it:


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small to medium sugar pumpkin, peeled, seeded, cut into large dice
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tbsp. paprika (or to taste)
  • 1 (16 ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 tbsp. pumpkin butter (I use Trader Joe's)
  • 1 bunch lacinato/dino kale, stems removed, chopped 
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. white pepper
  • 1 fresh roma tomato (I just had one around and decided to use it)
  • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • Dash hot sauce (optional)


  1. Roast pumpkin in the oven at 325 for 45 min. or until tender when prodded with a fork. (I don't season the pumpkin or anything, just simply put the whole thing in the oven and let it roast away.) Remove pumpkin and let it cool enough to touch and then slice and scoop out the seeds and dice flesh into large chunks. *I save the seeds to bake later for snacking.
  2. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Cook onion until it begins to soften. Add garlic and diced sweet potato. Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and turmeric, stirring around to distribute golden color throughout the onion pieces. Add a splash of water to the pot if the spices start to stick to the bottom, to bring up all the little bits.
  3. Add the pumpkin and cook for another few minutes. Stir in the pumpkin butter, allowing the sweet pumpkin to coast the savory roasted pumpkin, and cook out. Season with salt and pepper. Then stir in the beef broth, tomatoes, and paprika. Bring heat up, then turn down to low and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
  4. Add the rinsed/drained/chopped kale and wilt into the broth. Season the kale with nutmeg and more pepper. Add the diced fresh tomato if you have it - adds a nice contrast to the smoky fire-roasted tomatoes and peppery broth.
  5. After soup has simmered for 15 minutes, add black beans and bay leaf; simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir in the sherry vinegar and hot sauce; turn down the heat. Let the stew sit so the flavors combine.
  6. Serve up the stew with some crusty bread to mop up the spicy broth - enjoy!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Egyptian Find

At our local farmer's market there's a regular who sells homemade Middle Eastern delights, from Lebanese stuffed grape leaves to every hummus flavor you can imagine, and recently I discovered this authentic Egyptian dish: spiced fava beans! Having tasted them in Cairo I had to get some - what a find. In Egypt they eat a lot of fava beans, even with breakfast actually. This was the real deal.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Anniversary Dinner

For our three-year anniversary I decided to make a nice dinner at home, combining rustic and elegant for the perfect celebratory meal. With fall upon us in New England, I went for fresh and local: seared sea scallops with roasted butternut squash, leeks and crispy pancetta.  Here's how I did it:

First, I picked up some Tuscan bread from our neighborhood Clear Flour Bakery. I served it with a couple of options to dip/top the crusty bread with - white bean spread (I pureed cannelini beans with good olive oil, salt, pepper, and mixed in rosemary and red pepper flakes), and tomato "jam" (I roasted cherry tomatoes in the oven with olive oil and salt until wrinkly sweet, mashing them a bit in a bowl to release their juices and topping with a sprinkle of parmesan), and of course good oil.

Next I made dinner:
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice and rinse a leek, spreading about half the pieces on a baking pan. Lay peeled and cubed butternut squash on the pan, tossing with olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper, and drizzling with good maple syrup and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Bake the squash and leeks until caramelized (with golden brown edges.)
2) Crisp minced pancetta in a pan with about 1 tbsp. olive oil until frothy. Remove the pancetta from the pan and lay on a paper towel to drain the fat.
3) Put the remaining leek pieces into the pan - yes, cooking them in pancetta grease, but only on a special occasion would I do this - and sautee until soft and the white parts translucent. (Add a tbsp. of butter if you're feeling really decadent.) Remove the leaks.
4) Increase the heat and saute the sea scallops in the pan, grating a hint of sea salt so that it forms a golden crust. Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine (I used the Pinot Grigio we were drinking with dinner) to loosen up those little bits of pancetta flavor, and cook a few minutes on each side so the scallop edges are just about crusty.
5) Lower the heat and add the pieces of squash to the pan, putting the leeks and pancetta back in, so all the flavors come together. Serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dok Bua Thai

After years of passing Dok Bua Thai Kitchen on the way to Coolidge Corner and never once going in, despite the effusive recommendations of our good friends who frequented the place every weekend, we finally made a date to try this renowned Thai.

The restaurant was packed on a Saturday night, and yet when they told us it would be a 15-minute wait for a table for two, it was ready shortly after, crammed in the large, noisy dining room that seemed to be filled with families. The food came fairly quickly (though they forgot to bring the Thai iced tea with the meal), and it was just hands down good Thai food.

For appetizers we ordered crab rolls:

Though honestly they tasted nothing like crab to me, rather  pork rolls of some kind, so as a Maryland blue crab purist it was hard to wrap my brain around these things actually being seafood. They were good, just not pure crab flavor.

and crispy tofu:

I am a huge fan of tofu when it's cooked properly, and while admittedly these golden treats were bland without the dipping sauce, they absorbed flavor like the blank canvas they are while retaining their texture. I added some of the leftover tofu triangles to soak up the sauce in my stir-fry entree, and it worked really nicely.

For our entrees, he got the classic Pad Thai:

The shrimp were massive!

I ordered the cashew stir-fry with chicken and vegetables:

Really tasty, with crisp peppers and mushrooms in the savory sauce, and the perfect nut crunch in every cashew bite. Thai food is almost comforting for me, since it reminds me of eating with my dad, and Dok Bua hit the spot.

Rainbow Salad

Vibrant heirloom tomatoes from the farmer's market - this salad was a rainbow "feast for the eyes."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tuscan Chard

I made this Tuscan chard dish using ingredients from a ribollita, a traditional Tuscan soup, but lighter for the season. How I did it:

1) Saute a few strips of bacon in a large pan and remove to drain on paper towel. Add olive oil to the bacon grease and saute a diced onion and a few cloves of minced garlic. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. While they cook, roast cherry tomatoes on a sheet pan in the oven.
2) Wilt a large bunch of chard into the pan, adding chicken broth as needed. Take the rind of good quality parmesan and place in the broth so that the flavor melts in (I save these in the freezer after we've finished a block.) As liquid evaporates, mix in a can of (drained, rinsed) white beans.
3) Season the greens with a pinch of nutmeg, sage, and basil (preferably fresh.) When the broth has simmered off, add in chopped pieces of sundried tomatoes and put crumbled bacon back in. Add roasted cherry tomatoes and some cooked spinach tortellini (we had some leftover), and top with shaved parmesan and freshly ground pepper to taste.
4) Tear a few pieces of crusty bread and place around the edges to sop up the juices. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 9, 2012


We recently got a new gas grill and naturally have been grilling up a storm on these summery nights. Grilling is simple and straightforward cooking, but you can still get more creative than the standard burgers, hot dogs, and fish - here, for example, are the grilled veggie towers I made for Labor Day:

How I did it:
1) Slice and salt eggplant (I got a gorgeous eggplant from the farmer's market with marbled skin of white and lavender purple) to draw out the moisture before grilling.
2) Fire up the grill. Lay slices of eggplant over medium heat (we have a gas grill, and since each grill is different of course, the temperature will vary) and cook until you have nice grill marks on the eggplant flesh, then flip to the other side. The eggplant will cook longer than the asparagus, so get it on the grill first.
3) Trim the asparagus and toss on the grill with a drizzle of olive oil if desired.
4) While the veggies cook, make the fresh herbed ricotta - stir into part skim ricotta cheese freshly chopped herbs - I used basil, thyme, parsley and a bit of chives, just picked from the garden) and season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes.
5) Remove the veggies from the grill and make the towers: spoon a dollop of herbed ricotta on top of a piece of eggplant, top with some asparagus spears, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Simpler Things

With fresh produce from the farm (or farmer's market), I think that simpler is better - let the ingredients shine. Here is a fresh heirloom cherry tomato salad dressed simply with good olive oil (from Tuscan family friends' farm), sea salt, and basil picked from the garden. The ideal summer salad - no fuss, and all the flavor.

Creative Cake Idea

The "sea cake" my sister made for the annual family Crab Festival: crumbled graham cracker to look like sand, buttercream frosting tinted like water, and a seashell as the centerpiece!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Zucchini Boat

My attempt at recreating the delicious zucchini dish I had at The Local in Charlottesville: baked zucchini filled with quinoa in a fresh tomato garlic sauce topped with walnuts, goat cheese, and tart dried cherries.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake

For my friend's birthday I made a decadent flourless chocolate cake that's so rich it epitomizes the "sinful" dessert. Here's the recipe I devised:

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (For half I used a low-fat non-butter substitute)
4 eggs
6-7 ounces high quality (60% cocoa or higher) dark chocolate - I used Godiva dark chocolate with sea salt (I say 6-7 oz. because I started with 7 but undoubtedly ate some ...)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
3/4 cups granulated brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon Chambord or other raspberry liquor
Powdered sugar for dusting
Fresh raspberries
Will Need:
Medium saucepan
9 inch round baking pan
Wax or parchment paper

1. Melt  butter and dark chocolate in saucepan over low heat, stirring with wooden spoon.
2. While butter and chocolate are melting, mix dry ingredients together - unsweetened cocoa powder, espresso, and both kinds granulated sugar.
3. Add eggs to dry ingredients and whisk together.
4. When the butter/chocolate mix has cooled enough to ensure that its heat won't scramble the eggs in you dry ingredients/egg mix, temper the butter/chocolate mix into the dry ingredients/egg mix and whisk the two together until they are completely blended. Add Chambord.
5. Cut a piece of wax or parchment paper to fit the size of the pan, and lightly butter it.
6. Place it into the baking pan, buttered side up, and pour the cake mix into the pan.
7. Place into a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes. Don’t over bake it!
8. Remove from oven, allow to cool and remove from the baking pan. Place on a serving plate.
9. Grate fleur de sel over top to bring out the notes of sea salt in the cake. Then sprinkle with a little sifted powdered sugar and garnish with fresh raspberries on top.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds

It's farmer's market season, and what does that mean? Fresh squash, kale, and a rainbow of chard! (Yes, that was a lame vegetable joke. I couldn't help myself.) Here's a tasty swiss chard recipe:

1/2 onion, chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil (good quality!)
1 tablespoon smoked paprika (I had Hungarian but Spanish would be ideal)
1 bunch Swiss chard, center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins (I may have used more, but I really love these jewels)
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup almonds, mix of both slivered and coarsely chopped with skins

Cook onion with pinch salt in olive oil in a large skillet or pot over medium heat, stirring, until softened. Sprinkle with paprika and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add chard in batches, stirring frequently, until wilted, then add raisins and water. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until chard is tender, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add almonds and cook in until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir almonds over chard. Serve immediately - this hearty veg dish is a meal itself!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Quinoa Two More Ways

A while ago I posted two recipes for quinoa: pesto quinoa with spinach and grape tomatoes and Indian-spiced quinoa with tofu and dried cherries -

Needless to say, I really love quinoa. Here are two more ways to serve this great protein:

Orange-scented Quinoa Topped with Seared Sea Scallops

1) Cook 1 cup quinoa and sear sea scallops in a pan with olive oil and butter (or preferred vegan substitute.) Season scallops with granted pink fleur de sel to develop a nice golden-brown crust on them.
2) Mix cooked quinoa with a dressing of the fresh orange juice and zest of two oranges, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir in a handful of garbanzo beans and chopped fresh parsley. Let the warm quinoa absorb the dressing.
3) Top the warm quinoa with the sea scallops and serve!

Ginger-Lime Quinoa with Grilled Shrimp

1) While 1 cup quinoa cooks, grill at least a dozen shrimp seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper, and minced fresh ginger. (Add red pepper flakes for heat if desired.)
2) Mix into cooked quinoa the juice and zest of two limes with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and a pinch of yellow curry, stirring to coat the quinoa evenly.
3) Pour grilled shrimp, along with the juices and ginger, into the quinoa, tossing to disperse. Scrape any pan drippings into the quinoa - that's all the best flavor. Chop about half a cucumber or so into small dice and mix cucumbers into the quinoa and shrimp dish. Serve warm.
*Note: the quinoa is also good at room temperature or even cold, so it makes for great leftovers.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Salmon with "Peasto"

For a welcome home dinner I made roasted salmon with "peasto" - a pesto-pea sauce, skillet potatoes and balsamic spinach.

To make "peasto":
Simmer peas seasoned with salt and pepper, just barely covered with water, with the rind of good Italian parmesan in the pot to add a nutty, salty flavor to the broth as it melts (I keep the rinds in the freezer after using up the cheese, to use in soups); add parsley if fresh.

While the peas simmer, make fresh pesto: blend basil leaves with good olive oil, parmesan, salt and pepper, and walnuts (I chose this nut because I had a lot on hand, but pine nuts work as well), and fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavor. Let the peas cool down before adding them to the blender, mixing with the pesto until a creamy sauce texture. I reserved about a fourth of the peas and stirred them in for varying textures in the sauce, chilling the peasto to let the flavors meld. This is a great make-ahead sauce and freezes well, so you can reserve some for future meals. In addition to pairing it with salmon, as I did, it would of course work with pasta or on crostini as a spread, or even as a dipping sauce for fresh vegetables. Peasto is a healthy veggie creation that's packed with flavor!

To prepare the dinner, I let the peasto come to room temperature before topping the salmon with it to marinate before roasting in the oven. While the salmon baked, I sauteed new potatoes with caramelized diced onion and yellow peppers, seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper and fresh grassy parsley. I served up baby spinach with a light tossing of balsamic and olive oil on the side, to compliment the savory peasto salmon. I realize it might sound odd and resembles baby food, but as my best friend likes to say, "some of the weirdest-looking foods are the most delicious." Try it!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Girl's Night Dinner

For a recent "girl's night" I made a lovely vegetarian pasta dinner:

Fresh sundried tomato and goat cheese ravioli in a light cream sauce with mushrooms and spinach.

1) Slice half a dozen or so mushrooms (I like crimini for this) and saute in olive oil with minced garlic clove; season with salt and pepper to taste.
2) Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine and wilt in fresh baby spinach, at least half a cup. Add light cream and simmer, allowing sauce to reduce. Add a pinch of nutmeg and turn down the heat.
3) Cook ravioli to al dente; drain.
4) Stir in cheese - crumbled grana padano gives a nice saltiness - until melted into the sauce, and add the ravioli to the pan, tossing with veggies and sauce to coat. Turn off heat and garnish with fresh parsley, shredded parmesan and freshly ground pepper. Serve to the girls with lots of white wine of course!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Orange Blossom Cake

For the latest birthday celebration I made my "orange blossom" cake - it's super light, moist, and healthy. Just use a basic cake recipe or yellow box mix and replace the oil with applesauce, the water or milk with fresh orange juice, and a tablespoon of Greek yogurt for silky protein. I added an orange's worth of fresh zest, a dash of vanilla and a pinch each of salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom (the secret "what's that?" ingredient to this cake) and slightly underbake the batter, allowing it to sit in the turned-off oven for one more minute before removing. The frosting is made from low fat cream cheese, about a 1/4 cup of confectioner's sugar, the zest of another orange and a dash of orange juice for natural sweetness - no butter or extra sugar here! - beat on low until creamy. Top with candied oranges for decoration. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Spinach and Mushrooms

Spinach and mushrooms sauteed in a light cream and gorgonzola sauce

Monday, May 28, 2012

Wining and Dining by the Blue Ridge

Last weekend I visited Charlottesville, Virginia and took a wonderful epicurean tour of Virginia wine country, truly a gorgeous place. Here are my picks for the region:

Where to Wine
Blenheim Vineyard, owned by Dave Matthews, has a gorgeous lodge perched on a hilltop overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains, with surprisingly good wine. The lodge interior has arched ceilings with wooden beams and skylights for an inviting and "rustic" feel, and the back deck overlooks a mountain scene so serene that you're instantly calmed. The vineyard puts out a number of whites and reds each year, from the chardonnays and viognier with scents of honeysuckle and apricot, to the "painted red" with scents of blueberry, cinnamon and violet and lush blackberry jam flavor. My favorite, to be honest, is their "white table wine" - a light, fruity and crisp blend of grapes. It's delicious.
Barboursville Vineyards, run by Piemonte winemaker Luca Paschina, offers 19 different wines for tastings. They range from pinot grigios to chardonnays to cabernet sauvignons to the nebbiolo reserve - there's a wine for everyone there, really. The tasting begins of course with the lighter whites and moves into the more full-bodied varieties, reds, and finishes with the sweet dessert wines; it is truly an experience. Highlights include the Malvaxia Passito 2006, the perfect finish to a decadent meal.

Where to Dine
Basil is a Mediterranean Bistro on the Corner, the chic area adjacent to UVA in Charlottesville. Basil serves mezze and tapas and and array of dishes from Italy to Israel, featuring the flavors from the Mediterranean region. Highlights include date and walnut crostino, Tunisian salad, and Lebanese laffa.
Palladio is the elegant Italian restaurant at the Barboursville winery run by James Beard Award-winning chef Melissa Close Hart. Highlights include the carpaccio di pesce spada, five peppercorn crusted swordfish carpaccio that's paper-thin and light yet packed with robust peppery flavor, ravioli alla spugnole with buttery soft morels, and involtini di melanzane, ricotta stuffed eggplant with micro mustard greens - delectable. Palladio serves authentic Italian cuisine that transports the diner to Tuscany, surrounding vineyards and all.
The Local restaurant was createto provide a venue to showcase the abundant supply of small farmers, artisan cheese makers, breweries, distilleries and award wining vineyards located in the Charlottesville area. Dine in the cozy main room with exposed brick walls and stylish bar or upstairs on the rooftop terrace with flowers hanging above - it's the perfect place for a special summertime meal. Highlights include the crab cakes - large chunks of fresh crab meat, no heavy mayo here - and the zucchini filled with toasted quinoa, dried cherries and goat cheese - even non-vegetarians will not miss meat with this satisfying dish. All the ingredients are fresh and of course local, and the drinks are great, too.
This region is a wonderful place to get away and taste some great wine and meals that showcase the best of Virginia, with mountain views for ambience and near-Southern charm - definitely visit.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Kale Two Ways

Kale #1: Braised kale with almonds

1) Toast sliced almonds in dry pan on low heat until fragrant and remove.
2) Saute diced onion in half each olive oil and Earth Balance butter until onion softens and is translucent; add tablespoon of minced garlic if desired.
3) Season with salt and pepper to taste and pinch of paprika for a smoky flavor.
4) Add half a cup of chicken stock and a large bunch of torn kale, stalks removed, and toss the kale with the onions and seasoning to coat it evenly.
5) Cover the pan to wilt kale in the braising liquid; check after five minutes for preferred texture.
6) Once the liquid has reduced until nearly evaporated, add almonds back into pan and adjust seasoning. Finish with a squirt of lemon juice and serve.

Kale #2: Crispy Kale Chips

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rip kale into small pieces and place over baking sheet.
2) Drizzle with olive oil and spread around to coat evenly, seasoning with minced garlic, salt and pepper. Add red pepper flakes for a spicy version if desired.
3) Bake for 20 minutes or until the kale is crispy, with a chip-like consistency; this time will vary depending on how fresh the kale is and how much time it takes to release its water.
4) Serve warm, with hummus or white bean dip or as a side dish to grilled protein. These chips are a great healthy substitute to french fries or chips. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sesame Glazed Tofu

Sesame-ginger glazed tofu with mushrooms over greens: so simple and satisfying.

How I do it:
1) Cut extra firm tofu into triangles and dry with paper towel to remove extra moisture.
2) Melt Earth Balance vegan spread (or similar butter substitute) in skillet on medium heat. Place tofu in pan and season with salt.
3) Pour glaze over tofu to coat (I use a mixture of tamari/soy, ginger, sesame oil and citrus for my glaze - eyeball it) and let glaze drip down sides of tofu as it browns.
4) Add sliced mushrooms to pan - shiitakes or criminis are best, and brown them. Season with salt and pepper.
5) Flip tofu to brown other side, creating a sauce with the glaze and allowing it to thicken.
6) When the tofu has a nice golden brown color and your desired consistency - some prefer tofu crispier than others, it's a matter of taste - remove the tofu from the pan and place the pieces over a plate of greens. Scatter the mushrooms over the tofu and drizzle all the remaining sesame glaze over the greens as a dressing. The greens will wilt slightly under the warm tofu, making an elegant-looking and tasty weeknight vegetarian meal!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Nantucket's Dune

Dune Restaurant in Nantucket is a gem, a chic little place inside a restored colonial house not far from the harbor, with a posh bar, great service, and exquisite food. Packed to the brim on a Friday night, it's one of the island's "hotspots" for a reason: it has a great atmosphere.

When we arrived the hostess told us apologetically there would be a wait for our table, though we'd made reservations, and offered us drinks on the house while we waited at the bar! We tried a strawberry lemonade cocktail, tart and fresh, and a citrus concoction with a spicy kick of chili. The dining room is small and intimate, with low lighting and simple modern decor.

For the first course I chose the beet salad with whipped goat cheese and pistachios, which was artfully arranged to display the bursts of color: the ruby red and golden beets like jewels on the plate with the light and creamy goat cheese and crunch of bright green pistachios - I wanted to literally lick my plate clean.

For entrees we chose the yellowfin tuna tartare, juicy in a flavorful broth,

and the sea scallops, cooked perfectly. 

Finally we had a decadent chocolate sampler for dessert, with rich dark chocolate and orange pot de creme, spiced Mayan chocolate cake, and a light chocolate mousse with white chocolate wafers that melt on your tongue. It was an unforgettable meal.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Brotherhood of Thieves

Tucked away in the basement of an old wooden house nestled in between shops is Brotherhood of Thieves, a historic pirate's pub on Nantucket island. With a dingy dungeon-like bar, "pub grub," and local brews on tap, Brotherhood lives up to its reputation as the go-to spot for locals and visitors alike.

Seated around wooden tables by exposed brick walls with flickering lanterns, diners feel relaxed in the inviting atmosphere. The friendly staff were happy to give tasting samples of local brews when we inquired about their selection, so we tried a few from Nantucket's Cisco Brewers: Bailey's Blonde Ale - crisp and grassy, Whale's Tale Pale Ale - rich honey with fruity hop aroma, and Grey Lady Wheat Beer - with a dry, spicy finish.

To pair with the beer we got fried calamari with a spicy chili sauce, fresh (but a little too saucy - I would have served the sauces as dippers on the side, so they didn't drown the calamari.)

One of the soups of the day was a Maryland crab soup, which had a tomato-based broth that we didn't really expect; the other soup of the day was a Wisconsin beer-cheddar soup.

The lobster bisque was divine, with a light puffed pastry on top, golden brown and studded with dill (but not an overpowering dill flavor, which I appreciated.)

The best part is breaking through the flaky crust with your spoon to discover the creamy soup beneath, filled with chunks of succulent lobster meat. This was the quintessential rich, guilty-pleasure dish.

Though overall the food at Brotherhood of Thieves is rather mediocre, the casual atmosphere, friendly staff, and classic New England pub experience made for a great lunch.