Baci Sundae

Posted on: Monday, February 13, 2017

While studying abroad in Florence, I fell in love with Baci Perugina candies. I first opened one of the sparkly blue foiled wrappers at a mercato near my host home and was overcome by the dark chocolate coated mix of creamy and whole hazelnuts. The Baci (“kisses” in Italian) chocolates have been around since the 1930s, and have been symbols of affection for many Italians (each chocolate is wrapped with a tiny love note inside).
For Valentine’s Day, I was inspired to build a Baci-themed sundae. I recently discovered the craze of DIY chocolate shells by simply combining a chocolate bar and coconut oil. The way the melted chocolate turns into a crackly shell when drizzled over ice cream is sort of magical. I added a bit of flare to my chocolate shell with some hazelnut liqueur and generously drizzled it over rich vanilla ice cream with a sprinkling of toasty hazelnuts and a subtly sweet crunch of shredded coconut on top. Crack through the shell and enjoy!
Baci Sundaes with a Chocolate Hazelnut Shell

1 c (8 oz) chopped dark chocolate (I love Ghiradelli)
2 T coconut oil
1 T Frangelico hazelnut liqueur (optional)
Vanilla Ice Cream (I love Haagen Daz)
20 toasted hazelnuts, halved
1/3 c shredded coconut

Place the chopped dark chocolate and coconut oil in a bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir in the Frangelico and then microwave again in 10 second intervals until the chocolate is smooth and glossy.

Scoop your desired amount of Vanilla Ice Cream into 2 bowls. Top with a generous drizzle of the melted chocolate sauce on top of each. Sprinkle the toasted hazelnuts and shredded coconut on top of the chocolatge. By then the chocolate should be almost firm. Crack in with your spoon and enjoy. Makes 2.

If you have leftover chocolate sauce, just pour it into a mason jar, cover tightly and refrigerate. When ready to use again, just reheat in the microwave and spoon. Or! Slice up some fresh bananas, dip them in the chocolate and place them in the freezer for a poppable dessert!

Greek Nachos

Posted on: Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Nachos are a must for Superbowl Sunday. The layered chips oozing with cheese and overflowing with toppings are the perfect nibbles while enthralled in the game.
To add a Greek flare to the traditional snack, I looked to my kitchen staples . Instead of tortilla chips, I grabbed Stacy’s Pita Chips to begin my layering. I sidelined ground meat for Loukaniko sausage, dolloped Tzatziki instead of sour cream, and subbed in some quick pickled green peppers instead of spicy salsa. The feta and Kasseri cheeses connected seamlessly like Brady passing to Hogan in the end zone. To finish, I sprinkled a medley of diced tomatoes, Kalamata olives and fresh mint atop the bubbling scape. The colorful Mediterranean myriad of red and white toppings atop a blue platter was an ode to our mighty Patriots.
Greek Nachos

1 green pepper, halved and thinly sliced
2 T red wine vinegar
1/2 t granulated sugar
8 oz plain Greek yogurt
1/4 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and grated
1 clove minced garlic
1 T lemon juice
1/2 t dried mint
1/2 t dried oregano
1 (18 oz) bag pita chips (homemade or I love Stacy’s)
1 c mild grating cheese (I used Kasseri, could use Monterrey Jack)
1 c crumbled feta cheese, (plus more for garnish)
3 links Loukaniko sausage, casing removed and diced
1 c diced tomatoes
2/3 c sliced Kalamata olives
1/4 c fresh mint leaves
2 shallots, diced
Salt and pepper throughout

Pickled Green Peppers: Mix the green peppers, red wine vinegar, big pinch of salt and sugar in a shallow bold and let marinate in the fridge- at least 30 minutes (and up to a day).

Tzatziki: In another small bowl, mix the Greek yogurt, grated cucumber, garlic, EVOO, lemon juice, dried mint, dried oregano, salt and pepper and let meld in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. As the oven preheats, in a small skillet lightly fry the Loukaniko cubes. Once golden, pour onto a plate with paper towel to drain.

Assembly: On a large baking sheet, arrange a layer of half of the pita chips across. Cover with half of the cheeses, and half of the Loukaniko. Add another layer of pita chips and cover again with the remaining cheeses and Loukaniko. Sprinkle with the shallots and bake for 15 minutes or until the cheeses are bubbling and the chips are lightly golden. Next, top the warm nachos with the diced tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and Pickled Green Peppers (strained from the vinegar liquid). Dollop across with Tzatziki and sprinkle with the fresh mint leaves. Serves 4-6.
Go Pats!!

Busy Brussels Sprout Salad

Posted on: Thursday, January 19, 2017

As we jump into 2017, the new year debuts new recipes inspired by local spots and seasonal ingredients. One of my favorite neighborhood spots is Area Four in Cambridge. Whether stopping in for their A4 Sausage and Pickled Banana Pepper pizza or morning Frittata breakfast sandwich, they make most everything in-house with quality, fresh ingredients throughout the day and evening. While their pizza is my favorite in the Cambridge area, another go-to dish on their menu is the A4 Brussels Sprout Salad. The cascading sea of curly greens is packed with flavor, texture and pairs perfectly with a bubbling pie from the brick oven. 

At a recent family dinner party with my siblings and significant others, I decided to serve my own take on the salad alongside lemon and oregano roasted chicken and potatoes. Our plates popped with citrus, fresh flavors and vibrant colors. The thinly sliced veggies melded wonderfully with the tart apple matchsticks, sharp Manchego cheese and toasted hazelnuts. This busy salad will be a big hit at your next dinner party!
Busy Shaved Brussel Sprouts Salad with Hazelnuts, Manchego and Apple

1/3 c fresh lemon juice
2 T Dijon mustard
1 shallot, finely minced
1 small garlic clove, grated
2/3 c EVOO
1 lb Tuscan kale (about 1 big bunch), stemmed, leaves thinly sliced
1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed, very thinly sliced (a food processor works beautifully here)
1 Honeycrisp or Gala apple, cored, cut into matchsticks
6 radishes, halved, very thinly sliced (a food processor works again here)
1 c (about 4 oz) Manchego cheese, grated
3/4 c hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
Salt and pepper throughout

To make the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl. While whisking, slowly pour in the EVOO and allow to emulsify. Set aside. 

In a large mixing bowl, toss together the chopped kale and sliced Brussels sprouts. Add about 1/2 of the dressing, and use your hands to massage the dressing into the greens. Taste and add more dressing as needed (you may not need all of it). Let sit in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.

Before serving, add the the apple, radishes, cheese and remaining dressing. Toss together to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a salad bowl, and sprinkle the hazelnuts on top.

Feel free to add grilled chicken, salmon or a skewer of shrimp on top to further amp up this super salad!

Spicy Tortilla Chicken Soup

Posted on: Tuesday, December 20, 2016

With the winter chill setting in, I invited a few friends over for a festive Soup Fiesta lunch. I whipped up a big pot of my Spicy Mexican Tortilla Chicken Soup with all of the fix-ins, and let my friends mingle and assemble their bowls of soup...with Margaritas in hand, of course. 
This soup is the ultimate body warming dish with a hot, steamy broth and spicy, zesty accents. The addition of creamy avocado slices, melted cheese, lime, and crispy tortilla strips creates a fun layering of flavors and textures. Seated in the living room with big bowls in our laps, a late afternoon siesta followed for many of us.
Spicy Mexican Tortilla Chicken Soup

1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
1 T tomato paste
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
jalapeƱos, seeded and chopped
1 T chili powder
6 c chicken broth
4 c shredded roasted chicken
salt and pepper throughout

1 t Canola oil
4 corn tortillas cut into 1/4-inch strips
2 avocados, thinly sliced
grated Monterrey Jack cheese
1/2 c fresh cilantro leaves
2 limes cut into wedges

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat 1 T EVOO over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for 3-5 minute, until translucent. Add garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Add tomato paste, diced tomatoes (with liquid), 
jalapeƱos, chili powder, salt and pepper. Cook until liquid evaporates, about 2-3 minutes. Add broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Let simmer atop the stove for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors meld.

Meanwhile, toss the tortilla strips with the 1 t Canola oil on a lined baking sheet. Bake for 6-8 minutes until golden and toasty.

Evenly divide the shredded chicken among 6 bowls. Ladle the broth on top and evenly distribute the avocado, grated cheese, tortilla strips, and cilantro on top. Add two lime wedges on the side. Serves 6.

Have fun with the toppings - I sometimes add homemade pico de gallo, corn, black beans, or a spoonful of sour cream. This version is pretty spicy, so feel free to reduce or increase the seasoning to taste.

Hungry for Hygge

Posted on: Tuesday, November 15, 2016

After an emotional, politically-charged week, I drove down to Pomfret for a restful, rejuvenating retreat. As Kara, Patrick, Ryan, Shiloh and I lounged in the living room, we started reminiscing about happier times like traveling through Europe - most notably to Copenhagen, Denmark.
The Danish are some of the happiest people in the world. They are seen as incredibly supportive, generous and kind-hearted. It's only suitable that they have a word in their vocabulary, hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”) that encapsulates the feeling of cozy, relaxed comfort and well-being. The Danish consciously create hygge in their homes, social situations and everyday life. They prioritize positivity and taking care of yourself and those around you.
While simple in nature, I think we could all benefit from adding a little hygge to our lives. Whether it be with lighting - candles, a warm, pleasing glow; interior design - painted walls, pleasing images, plush throws and pillows; clothing - cozy sweaters and slippers; music - soothing and meditative tunes; or my personal favorite, cuisine. For me, the sharing of homemade dishes and drinks with friends and loved ones provides the highest level of comfort and ease.
Kara and I have many recipes that create a soothing sense of familiarity. Most notable is a Meat Pie recipe we brought home years ago after a visit to Old Sturbridge Village. The rich and savory pie is an aromatic blend of gravy, ground pork, beef potatoes, onions, carrots, and spices all enveloped in a buttery pie crust. We make it every year, and this past weekend was an opportune time.
Cozy Meat Pie

Beef Gravy
3 T unsalted butter
3 T flour
2 c beef stock
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1/2 t garlic powder
salt and pepper throughout

Pie Filling
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 c diced carrot
1 c diced Russet potatoes
1 c diced carrots
1 1/2 lbs ground pork
1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
1 t cinnamon
1 t ground clove
1 c breadcrumbs
1 recipe pie dough for a 9-inch double crusted pie
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper throughout

To prepare the Beef Gravy, in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, add 3 T butter. Once melted, stir in the flour with a wooden spoon. Stir until a brown roux has formed, about 2-3 minutes. Slowly pour in the beef broth, and whisk until fully incorporated. Add the Worcestershire, and garlic powder, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and continue to cook until the sauce has reduced and thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll out 1 piece of dough to fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Roll out the other piece of dough and set in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil over medium high heat. Add the potatoes and carrots and blanch until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

In a large saute pan over medium heat, add the pork, meat and onions and saute until the meat has browned, about 8-10 minutes. Add the cinnamon, clove, salt, pepper and prepared Beef Gravy. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the drained potatoes, carrots, and bread crumbs to the pan. Stir to combine and then pour the filling into the prepared pie crust, leveling the filling at the top. Cover the filling with the reserved pie crust, pinching the edges of the bottom and top layers together. Trim off any excess dough with a knife. Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg, and make a few slits with a fork or knife to allow the steam to escape. Bake for 45 minutes. Serves 6-8.

This rich and delicious pie is perfect for winter and holiday entertaining - enjoy it alongside a simple kale salad. It can be prepared a day or two ahead of time too!

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