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Ode to Opus

Posted on: Tuesday, October 21, 2014

This past Saturday, I walked over to the Charles River for the fiftieth annual Head of the Charles Regatta. I set my sight on the Reunion Village located at the race’s halfway point to meet up with some old Hamilton College friends. While sipping Sierra Nevadas, nibbling on sweet potato fries dipped in maple mayo and watching the rowers zip by, we reminisced about the good ole college days in upstate New York. 
Walking back to my Cambridgeport apartment, I had Hamilton in mind when brainstorming lunch ideas. Hamilton had quite creative dining options including an amazing vegetarian cafe, Opus. Opus’ rotating menu featured falafel pitas, black bean and sweet potato burritos, and insanely gooey and delicious chocolate chip cookies. One rare item which, when on the menu, instantly generated a line of hungry students was the Mango Brie Panini. The unique pressed sandwich was the ultimate melty layering of sweet, salty and savory.
Mango Brie Paninis

EVOO
1 T unsalted butter
1 red onion, sliced thin
1 mango, sliced
4 oz brie, sliced
4 oz goat cheese, softened
2 small baguettes, halved lengthwise
salt and pepper throughout

Heat 1 T EVOO and 1 T butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sautee, stirring occasionally until soft and caramelized, about 17-20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
 

Heat a panini press to medium-high heat. Drizzle EVOO on all sides of each baguette and arrange on a flat surface. On the 2 bottom halves, spread 2 oz of goat cheese. Evenly distribute the sliced mango atop the two pieces in a fan, then the sauteed onions, and then the sliced Brie. Top with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, then place the top two pieces of the baguette on top. Grill in the panini press for about 5-6 minutes until the interior is gooey and melted and exterior is golden and toasty. Slice each panini in half and enjoy. Makes 2 paninis.
Maybe next time I'll make these mini-sized like Kara and float them atop a spicy soup!

Autumn Soup with Mini Crouton Grilled Cheese

Posted on: Monday, October 13, 2014

This past Saturday, while dipping a freshly-baked pumpkin donut into my morning coffee, I brainstormed lunch ideas for family in town. For inspiration, I drove up Route 44 to Lapsley Orchard where I was greeted by a live folk band, made-to-order caramel apples and a BBQ food truck. Instead of apple picking this time, I decided to walk around the grounds, grab some gourds, pastel pumpkins, a chunk of sharp Vermont cheddar, and the last tomatoes of the season. As I drove home with lunch on my mind, I cranked my oven, and started chopping while awaiting my guests.
While I always enjoy spoonfuls of classic tomato soup with toasty grilled cheese on a crisp day, I decided to add a little creativity with a heartier, aromatic spin. I roasted the tomatoes with carrots and onions which allowed the flavors to become much more concentrated and sweet. Since it’s always about presentation, I decided to transform the ultimate grilled cheese into cute, mini croutons. To do so, I covered my caste iron skillet with butter and generously sliced large chunks of cheddar cheese for each buttery slice of brioche. The cheesy, decadent cubes were so cute bobbing up and down in the orangey liquid. I think it’s okay to eat more than just one. . . or a few.
Velvety Roasted Tomato and Carrot Soup

EVOO
8 vine-ripened tomatoes, quartered
4 carrots, peeled and cut into thick biases
1 yellow onion, cut into large wedges
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 T fresh thyme
1 t paprika
1/2 c chopped fresh basil
2 c chicken stock
salt and pepper throughout

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 


On an oiled baking sheet, toss the tomatoes, carrots, onions, generously with EVOO, salt and pepper and thyme. Roast for 35-40 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and golden brown, turning occasionally.

Heat a large pot on medium heat. Pour 1 T EVOO inside and add the garlic. Sautee for 1 minute then pour in the roasted vegetables, paprika, chicken stock, and bring to a simmer. When the baking sheet is cool enough, add the scraped roasting bits as well. Let simmer for at least 15 minutes, then add 1/4 c chopped basil. Puree the soup in a blender in multiple batches. When blending, fill the blender halfway with the vegetable mixture to create a smooth puree. Pour the pureed liquid into a large bowl and continue with the remaining soup. Return the pureed soup to the large pot and let simmer for 5 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with remaining fresh basil and serve with Mini Grilled Cheese Croutons. Serves 6

Mini Grilled Cheese Croutons

4 T unsalted butter, softened
4 slices brioche, crusts cut off
4 T Dijon mustard
4 oz Cheddar cheese, thinly sliced

Heat a skillet on medium heat.Spread the softened butter onto one side of each piece of bread and arrange on a flat surface, buttered sides down. Spread 1 T Dijon mustard onto two pieces of bread. Evenly distribute the cheese on top of the two pieces, and then place the other two pieces of bread on top, buttered sides up.


Grill the two sandwiches in the skillet for about 2-3 minutes and then flip with a spatula. Grill for another 2-3 minutes until the toasty sandwiches are nicely golden brown and the cheese is melted inside. Remove to a cutting board, cut into 1-inch cubes, and float a few in bowls of the Velvety Roasted Tomato and Carrot Soup.

Crunchy crouton sandwiches oozing with melty cheese, I wonder what Marni will think of next!

Essex Harvest Feast

Posted on: Monday, October 6, 2014

This past weekend, K and M reunited for a special dinner up on Cape Ann. Growing up in Manchester by-the-Sea, we spent lots of time in the neighboring town, Essex and were so pleasantly pleased to see it linked to the Boston-based high-end culinary scene. Frank McClelland, proprietor and chef of the ever stunning, AAA-Five Diamond restaurant, L’Espalier in Boston, hosts five-course dinners prepared by L’Esaplier chefs throughout the summer at his farm, Apple Street Farm. The dinners feature the freshest, seasonal ingredients straight from the farm and neighboring ones. We were giddy with anticipation when we blocked off the Essex Harvest Feast on our calendars a month back.
We arrived at Apple Street Farm a little past 5:30pm. The light drizzle and misty fog made for an eerie yet oddly pleasant, mystical vibe. While sipping apple cider, rum, bourbon, thyme simple syrup, lemon and cinnamon cocktails, and nibbling on lamb and Brussels sprouts skewers, and smoked Gouda eclairs, we walked around the farm, greeted the goats, turkeys and chickens, and admired the vast gardens.
We entered the white dimly-lit dining tent and were welcomed by two long tables adorned with autumn gourds, candle-filled lanterns and foliage. We peeked at the whimsically printed menus at our seats and were so excited and in awe for what was in store. . .
Amuse Bouche
Wellfleet oysters, Apple Street Farm wild grapes, Maine seaweed and black pepper

First Course
NV Dibon,Brut Rose, Cava
Pumpkin, orange and saffron broth with lobster, mussel, and shrimp salad; our apples and scallion oil

Second Course
2013 Armas de Guerra, Blanco, Bierzo 

Roasted cod in herb crust with Puy lentils, Apple Street Farm ham, green tomatoes, and chanterelles; spiced carrot juice
Third Course
2011 Chateau Haut Monplaisir “Tradition,” Cahors
Wood fire roasted saddle of lamb in North African spices and sausage with piperade, pickled eggplant, and fresh dug potato in goat cream; garlic anise hyssop jus

Dessert

Honey-ginger glazed plum with almond macaroon and burnt honey ice cream
Each dish and wine pairing was so meticulously plated and balanced with textures and flavors. We could not have dreamt or imagined a more perfect and memorable tasting menu.

Fun and Fancy

Posted on: Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Like Kara, I too am ready to dive full force into Fall. I see Fall as the season of cozy gatherings and dinner parties - a time to take full advantage of fresh, local ingredients. This past weekend, I visited family and friends in New York and spent the majority of Saturday in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Strolling through the neighborhood, we hit up some vintage shops, popped into Nita Nita’s outdoor patio for a couple brews and fun small plates, and ended the afternoon on the Wythe Hotel’s rooftop terrace. Atop the charming restored waterfront factory, we took in the crisp breeze among an eclectic mix of locals and out-of-towners and easily convinced ourselves to stay until the sunset cascaded across the Manhattan skyline.
While sipping Moscow Mules, we nibbled on a colorful plate of fresh peaches with goat cheese, cashews and sourdough toast. I loved the spastic presentation and celebration of local fare.
I was inspired to do the same at home with fresh figs, one of my absolute favorite fall fruits. Figs are so versatile in salads, desserts, entrees, appetizers, you name it. I sliced the deep purple gems and topped them with tangy goat cheese, salty pistachios, a sprinkle of orange zest, a drizzle of agave syrup, salt and freshly cracked pepper. I fanned the unique, late-afternoon bites on a platter for all to delve into and enjoy.

Mission Figs with Goat Cheese, Pistachios and Agave

8 fresh black figs, halved
2 T balsamic vinegar
1/4 c pistachios, toasted and finely chopped
1/2 t orange zest
1 T fresh mint, finely chopped
1/4 c goat cheese
salt and pepper throughout
agave syrup, to drizzle

Pour the balsamic vinegar in a shallow bowl and lightly dip the figs in one by one. In another small bowl, toss together the pistachios, orange zest, mint, pinch of salt and pepper. Arrange the lightly coated figs face side up on a platter. Sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon of goat cheese into the center of each fig followed by a light sprinkle of the combined pistachios, orange zest, mint, salt and pepper. Drizzle with agave syrup and serve. Makes 16.


This quick appetizer or snack could also be instantly transformed into a salad. Just toss some baby mixed greens with EVOO, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and arrange on a flat platter below the fancy figs. 

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!

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