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Savory Tomato Crisp

Posted on: Tuesday, September 16, 2014

After some fun trips to our respective locations around the world, we are refreshed and ready for some cozy, autumn cooking and entertaining. Marni and I recently hiked up Wachusett Mountain to clear our minds, and of course brainstorm some recipe ideas. We loved seeing the trees turn while hiking the steep, rocky trail and faced a breezy, brisk welcome at the top. With a faster pace back down, our minds moved from nature to lunchtime. We stopped at our favorite produce spot, Wilson Farm in Lexington to buy some seasonal ingredients. While grazing the aisles and sampling the last crop of heirlooms and peaches, we tried a tomato casserole and were instantly obsessed. 

Back in Connecticut, I decided to adapt the recipe using my favorite cheeses and some local tomatoes. With a wave of crisp weather outside,and ripe end-of-summer tomatoes on hand, I had the makings for the ultimate savory crisp. It is a bubbly, warming dish with a tangy burst of tomato and crunchy cheese and herb topping.

Savory Tomato Crisp

Soft, unsalted butter for greasing casserole dish
5-6 chopped vine ripe tomatoes
2/3 c cubed Mozzarella
1/2 c grated Manchego
1/2 c grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 t garlic powder
1 t dried oregano
1/4 c EVOO (plus more to drizzle)
1 1/2 c breadcrumbs (I used Panko)
1 t fresh thyme
1 t fresh chopped chives

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease all sides of a medium sized casserole dish with softened butter. Mix the chopped tomatoes with 1/3 cup Mozzarella, 1/4 cup Manchego, 1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, garlic powder, and oregano, and pour into the casserole dish. In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, EVOO, remaining cheeses, thyme and chives. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the tomato layer and drizzle with extra EVOO. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes until the top is golden brown. Serves 4.

Serve this as an entree for your next September gathering - it’s an excellent vegetarian option as well!

Montreal, Merci

Posted on: Tuesday, September 9, 2014

While Kara was whisked away to her Grecian getaway, I drove up scenic Route 89 to the diverse and epicurean city of Montreal, Canada. I spent the weekend strolling from neighborhood to neighborhood sampling a mix of traditional Quebecois cuisine and some unique spins.
Upon arriving, my friend and I walked through the city’s Little Burgundy neighborhood, lined with intimate dimly lit eateries with charming outdoor terraces. We had made dinner reservations at the highly anticipated, Joe Beef (made famous as Anthony Bordain’s favorite spot). Upon walking into the cozy, candlelit restaurant with Beck’s Morning Phase and the Black Keys playing, I instantly felt relaxed and ready to delve in. The ever changing menu transcribed on a blackboard featured fun and out-there dishes like a Foi Gras Doubledown, horse tartare, and Spaghetti Homard-Lobster.
Our charming, tattooed waitress further explained the menu and suggested dishes based upon our mood that evening. I ordered a Joe Beef Special Pils to start with a plate of fried cured meat and cheese nuggets with mustard and Thousand Island, followed by a rich, roasted Cornish Game Hen in a pool of creamy lobster mushroom broth. Our lovely waitress encouraged us to order a slice of Marjolaine for dessert which was not only a work of art but a mastery of layered chocolate and hazelnut.
Still on a high from dinner the evening before, we woke up the next morning and walked up to Mount Royal Park. The lush, expansive park on the highest point of the city was landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted (the designer of New York’s Central Park). We mosied our way up amid tourists and locals. On our way back down to the city, we popped into a patisserie for a freshly baked croissant and cup of cafe au lait. 
While traveling, I always seek out the local markets and tap into the art scene. We found a sprawling farmer’s market, the Jean-Talon Market, overflowing with fresh fruits, vegetables, Montreal-famed cured meats, an abundance of all that is maple, and an assortment of locally prepared foods.

We continued towards the Esplanade Clark, where we stumbled upon the The Fountain House, a public installation by raumlaborberlin, conceptualized and created as a spot to gather and appreciate art in nature. The natural grassy exterior was juxtaposed with the industrial setting behind it. I, of course wasted no time running to the top.

After soaking in some culture, we walked through Old Town and enjoyed a late lunch at a local brasserie with ham and cheese crepes topped with a rich Bechamel sauce, and a green salad topped with smoked salmon roulades. 
A highlight of the trip took place that evening as we ventured across the Saint Lawrence River to Arcade Fire’s final show of their Reflektor tour in Parc Jean-Drapeau. Amid the masquerade masked concert-goers, we enjoyed rum cocktails served in cute plastic cups with straws, and sampled another traditional dish, poutine (gooey gravy-covered potato fries).
The next morning, we drove to Fairmount Bagel located in a quiet, residential neighborhood. The tiny bagel shop is open 24/7, has no tables or chairs, and sells all kinds of hand rolled bagels that are boiled in honey water and cooked in a wood fired oven. I instantly bought a sesame seed one slathered with cream cheese (that did not make it to the car), as well as a dozen to bring back to the states. It was the perfect way to ending to a European weekend getaway - within driving distance!

Santorini, take me back

Posted on: Wednesday, September 3, 2014

After an absolutely perfect wedding celebration with my closest family and friends, I jetted to an equally magical honeymoon setting: the island of Santorini, Greece. As a child, I remember my mom talking about her travels through the Peloponnese peninsula, meeting distant relatives, and speaking Greek. Marni had a similar opportunity in college to explore Greece, more specifically the isles, as well as Athens and across the way to Cyprus on work trips. It was now my turn to tap into my heritage and finally travel to the highly anticipated vacation spot!
My now husband (so fun to say!) and I stayed in a quaint orange clay-colored cave house on the Aegean Sea in Santorini’s small village of Oia. The beauty of Oia is unsurpassed and is famed for its majestic sunsets. Upon arrival, we explored the town overlooking the caldera, meandered through the marble pathways, and with feta on the mind, eagerly sought out the local cuisine.
I stumbled upon a small, white-stoned taverna off the beaten path and was greeted by an incredibly friendly and warm Greek woman. She immediately filled our glasses with house red wine as we looked over the menu that featured an array of traditional Santorinian meze options. I ordered a Greek Salad, the pie of the day (stoked it was zucchini), and one of Santorini’s famed dishes- tomatokeftedes.
Traditional Greek Salad- blocks of feta, chopped tomatoes, red onion, peppers, kalamata olives, cucumbers, capers. .  . .and no greens! 
Tomatoes thrive on the island due to its dry conditions and insane amounts of sunlight, so it was no surprise that tomatokeftedes (tomato fritters) are common meze or vegetarian sides. While most people might opt to make a fritter using a different vegetable-Marn and I usually opt for zucchini (recipe here!)- I loved the texture and flavor of the crispy, subtly sweet and juicy tomato fritter.
Upon arriving back to the Connecticut countryside, I found myself surrounded by local tomatoes, so decided to try my hand at making the vibrant fritters for a recent Labor Day gathering. I served the crispy rounds alongside a cool and creamy Tzatziki sauce while reliving my Grecian getaway with friends.
Tomato Fritters (Tomatokeftedes)

4-5 medium sized finely chopped vine-ripe tomatoes
1/2 c chopped red onion
1 - 1 1/2 c flour
2 T fresh mint, chopped
1 T fresh dil, chopped
salt and pepper throughout

1/2  c canola oil 

16 oz plain yogurt
1/2 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and grated
1 t salt
1 clove minced garlic
2 T lemon juice
1 t dried mint
1 t dried oregano

Combine all the Tzatiziki ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate.

To make the fritters, rinse the tomatoes well and dry with paper towel. Transfer to a large bowl and squeeze the tomatoes so the smooth pulp falls into the bowl.

Add the onions, mint, basil, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper pepper and mix well. Add the flour gradually until you reach a thick pancake-like consistency. Let the mixture rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Pour the oil in a large frying pan. When the oil is hot, carefully drop in flattened tablespoons of the mixture and fry, in batches, for 3-4 minutes on each side. Cook until the fritters are crispy and golden brown. Transfer to a lined plate, sprinkle with an additional dusting of salt and serve immediately on a platter with the Tzatziki for dipping. Makes 11-12 fritters.

Sunny Toasts

Posted on: Friday, August 29, 2014

Putting common misconceptions aside, summer is not over just yet. The end of August into September is one of my favorite times with crisp beach days, less humidity, an abundance of leftover tomatoes, and the start to oyster season.

Over Labor Day weekend, I’m looking forward to gathering with friends for a sunny, outdoor breakfast. Inspired by a dish that Kara and I threw together while down on the Hamptons, I’m planning to fan sliced avocado below soft scrambled eggs with a sprinkling of pickled shallots and touch of hot sauce. Fresh tarragon and creamy goat cheese add depth to the scramble and I never thought I would eat pickled shallots for breakfast but after a close friend, Taryn introduced the idea, I have been adding the tangy punch ever since. The simple layering of flavors and textures is a burst of colors on your palette, I mean plate. Served alongside grapefruit Mimosas and sliced peaches drizzled with honey and hazelnuts, the ambitious toasts are a fun and vibrant start to a day of leisure.
Avocado Toasts Topped with Soft Scrambled Eggs and Quick Pickled Shallots

1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 c red wine vinegar
1 T honey
salt and pepper throughout
1 avocado, pitted and sliced
4 slices whole wheat artisan toast
8 large eggs
2 T milk
1/4 c crumbled goat cheese
2 T chopped fresh tarragon
4 T unsalted butter
Sriracha (or any hot sauce) to taste

Combine the shallots, red wine vinegar, honey, salt and pepper in a bowl and let sit for at least 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, crack the eggs. Add the milk and whisk until the yolks are broken and almost completely combined. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Melt 2 T butter until it foams, then pour in the eggs. Reduce heat to medium low and slowly stir the eggs with a wooden spoon. Once the eggs begin to set, add the cheese, salt and pepper. After 10 minutes or so when large curds have formed, stir in the fresh tarragon, and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, toast the sliced bread and spread with remaining butter. To assemble the open-faced toasts, layer a few slices of avocado atop the toasts, distribute the scrambled eggs evenly on top of the four slices, distribute a tiny spoonful of the pickled shallots on top, a dash of hot sauce, salt and black pepper. Serves 4.

Happy Labor Day weekend!

Wheat Berry Salad

Posted on: Thursday, August 7, 2014

Last weekend, I drove up through New Hampshire’s winding mountain roadways to a friend’s retreat in Dublin. Since I was arriving around dinner time, I decided to whip up a satisfying salad using my new favorite grain of summer- the wheat berry. While in East Hampton, Marni and I sampled a sweet and savory wheat berry salad at the Amagansett Farmer’s Market, and I was eager for an occasion to recreate the dish. 

Visually, a wheat berry resembles a popcorn kernel, and when cooked, has a chewy texture and nutty, earthy taste. The wheat kernel’s mild flavor can easily be transformed by various add-ins and dressings. Always a fan of Mediterranean flavors, I decided to dress the kernels with a lemon vinaigrette, salty feta, a zip of red onion, and sweet and tart dried cherries. The dish was a wonderful accompaniment for applewood smoked chicken and a simple salad that evening.
The next day, I spooned our leftovers into mason jars, packed them into my trusty, portable cooler, and was ready for a hike in the Wapack Mountain Range. I think the salad tasted better the second day when the flavors further melded together (or maybe I was just famished by the time I cracked open the jar at the summit!).
Wheat Berry Salad with Dried Cherries and Feta

1 1/2 c dried wheat berries
1/2 c dried cherries
4 oz feta cheese crumbled
1/3 c chopped red onion
3 T chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
salt and pepper throughout

Lemon Vinaigrette
2 T lemon juice
2 T red wine vinegar
1/3 cup EVOO
salt and pepper throughout

Soak the wheat berries for at least 1 hour before preparation.

Fill a medium-sized pot with 3 cups salted water and bring to a boil. Add the wheat berries and turn down the heat to simmer. Cook until the wheat berries are chewy, about 50 minutes. Let cool slightly. 

Meanwhile, whisk together the Vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
Transfer the wheat berries to a serving dish. Add the dried cherries, feta, red onion, chopped parsley, Vinaigrette and stir to combine. For better flavor, prepare the salad a few hours ahead of time or ideally, the day before to allow flavors to meld. Serves 6

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