Tag Archives: Garlic

Flex Mussels *****

 
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154 W 13th Street
New York, New York
212.229.0222

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If there is one food that I crave above all others, it is mussels. They can be prepared in a variety of ways, encompassing a broad range of flavors; from coconut curry Thai to classic French white wine garlic. There are mornings that I literally wake up and have a hankering for a steaming pot of mussels. Not cheerios….mussels.

Needless to say, if mussels are on the menu at a restaurant, I’m usually ordering them. And I have suffered dearly for this habitude, because lets face it, there are certain restaurants (i.e. Irish pubs) where you should NOT be ordering the shell fish. I know the bacon cheese burger is the safer bet, but I have no self-control and inevitably end up eating the mussels…..for better, for worse.

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This weekend though, I had the opportunity to go to Flex Mussels, which is renowned in NYC for their fantastic pots of ornate and unique mussels…23 different types in all! You can imagine how difficult it was to choose only a couple to share with my friends and fellow diners, Sam & Sara. In fact, a third party observer would have thought this was one of the most difficult decisions of my life the way that I carefully weighed out each option, debating whether to go with the tried and true classics or branch out and go for the exotic.

Finally, after a quick pep talk with our server, we arrived at a game plan. We would order three different pots of mussels to share among the table along with some truffle fries. First we got an order of the Dijon Mussels made with dijon mustard, white wine, creme fraiche, and parsley ($19.50). These were by far my favorite of the three, and I made that known by locating the pot directly in front of me and my big fat fork. The broth was so good, I would consider it drinkable. The mustard brought forth a tangy and acidic flavor that was carefully balanced by the creaminess of the creme fraiche. And the chopped parsley was fresh and earthy.

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Next we enjoyed the Fra Diavolo mussels made with San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, fresh basil, crushed red pepper flakes, and garlic ($19.50). Sam insisted that we order this classic, and although I thought they were good, I probably would not order them when at Flex again. Instead, I would opt for a more complex broth when at the Mecca of mussels, and save the run-of-the-mill spicy red sauce for the amateurs. I will admit that the large chunks of crushed tomatoes were delightful on the fresh baked bread provided for dipping and dunking!

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Lastly, we recieved our order of the South Pacific Mussels, which were made with kaffir lime, cilantro, white wine, and lemongrass. I tried persuading Sam and Sara to order the Thai mussels instead, which were very similar to the South Pacific in flavor, but with the added richness of curried coconut milk. Unfortunately though, it was two against one and we ended up going with the lighter broth. I wasn’t crazy about these because the broth was too almost too light. There was nothing sticking to the the meat of the mussel. I hoarded the remaining dijon mussels while my eating companions picked at their mistake.

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Last but not least, I must review the truffle french fries which were served with a creamy aioli dipping sauce. They were really delicious and made a perfect accompaniment to dip in the mussel broth (especially the dijon….did I mention it was drinkable?).

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I am looking forward to my next dinner at Flex and I will definitely be trying the Thai Mussels along with the Mediterranean which has shrimp, kalamata olives, fennel, lemon, anise, and oregano ($22.50)

Ohh and I almost forgot to mention the wine/cocktail selection, which is pretty reasonable for NY fine dining. My friends and I shared a bottle of the Vincent Dampt Chablis for only $54. The selection of wines was also fairly extensive, which is somewhat expected at a mussel-centric restaurant. I mean, what goes better with mussels than wine?!

…..besides crusty bread, of course!

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XIX – Nineteen *****

bellevuephilly
 
200 S Broad Street #19
Philadelphia, PA 19102
215.790.1919

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I was in desperate need of a getaway, so this Friday night my friend and I got a last minute hotel deal at the Hyatt Bellvue in Philadelphia and made plans for an 18 hour girls retreat. We packed up the car after work and headed out to enjoy our mini “staycation,” which was to include a beautiful dinner at XIX Restaurant on the 19th floor of our hotel.

XIX is known for its luxurious dining room and incredible views overlooking the Philadelphia city skyline. Sara and I were lucky enough to snag a table outside on the balcony—along with 3 other couples, who were clearly in the early stages of dating, as we listened to the men desperately attempt to impress their female companions. I have never rolled my eyes so many times while simultaneously being grateful for my single status. This being said, it is a beautiful place to take a lady on a special occasion!

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We got started with a round of cocktails called the Kentucky Straight Orange, made with bourbon, orange bitters, and elderflower liquor. It was much sweeter than I was expecting a bourbon-based cocktail would be, but I attribute this to the elderflower liquor, which did grow on me as I sipped it down. I tend to prefer straight manhattans, but this is a great way to work your way into bourbon, if you’re just starting to experiment with it!

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Next we ordered the Steamed Blue Bay Mussels in white wine and garlic sauce with fennel ($12). I would definitely have to rank these in my top five mussel experiences. They were meaty, and the sauce was obnoxiously good with thinly sliced fennel garnishing the top of the dish. The grilled sour dough bread served alongside the pot of mussels was perfect to soak up the remaining sauce. The only complaint I can find with this dish is that ¼ of the mussels in the pot were closed shut—and everyone knows you shouldn’t eat those suckers!

Grilled Spanish Octopus

As I began coming down from my euphoric mussel experience, the waiter arrived with our second appetizer: Grilled Spanish Octopus served on top of a bed of baby arugula with sweet peppers and fingerling potatoes, dressed in a sherry vinaigrette ($14). I would consider myself an octopus/calamari connoisseur because I order it out whenever possible, and this was the second best I have ever tasted, ranking just behind Mario Batalli’s grilled octopus with limoncello vinaigrette. For those of you that don’t know, Chef Batalli is famous for his grilled octopus, so that is saying A LOT! The meat was not rubbery and the delicate balance of acid in the vinaigrette was perfect.

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Finally it was time for our entrée, and I just didn’t know if it could even compare to the appetizers, but it certainly did! We split the Pan Seared Diver Scallops with spicy poblano chili polenta, carrot puree, and mango ginger chutney ($32). The scallops were so perfectly cooked and the flavors of the mango, ginger, and carrot were very interesting and brightened the whole dish with a fresh taste. The polenta cake was definitely spicy and just the perfect size portion to compliment the scallops.

Bottom line, I would definitely go back to XIX for dinner and I hope to one day go for their brunch, which I heard was out of this world (I can only imagine based on last night’s meal!). I thought the price point was completely reasonable for the atmosphere and quality of the food. My only gripe with the restaurant was the service, and that is primarily because our server got way too involved in our ordering decisions and side conversations. At times, we actually thought he was promoting other local restaurants because he seemed to be trying to recommend we go everywhere else in Philly for similar food. It was bizarre and quite annoying. But I will be back….hopefully sooner than later!

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Satay Stir Fry Sauce *****

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When I am in need of a quick dinner, stir-fry is my go-to dish. I’ve always got an abundance of veggies in the fridge for my morning omelets, so I rarely even need to make a trip to the grocery store for ingredients. Plus, it doesn’t really matter what is in the dish (i.e. chicken, veggies, steak, tofu), because we all know the secret to an incredible stir-fry lies within the sauce.

Finding just the right sauce can be tricky though, which is why I am sharing this incredible recipe for Satay Stir Fry Sauce. It only requires a few ingredients and it makes just about anything taste amazing! The surprise ingredient is chucky peanut butter, which thickens the sauce and allows it to better adhere to the veggies and/or meat for a more flavor-packed bite. I love this sauce because it is just the right consistency and balance of Asian flavors—incorporating soy, orange, ginger, peanuts, and garlic.

Use this for vegetarian stir-fries with eggplant, mushrooms, onions, snow peas, and carrots served over rice or use it as a dressing/dipping sauce for grilled meat kabobs.

All you need is….

{ Ingredients for Satay Sauce }

  • 4 tablespoons chunky peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons Tamari sauce
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 inch ginger root, peeled and minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 orange, juiced

{ To Make the Satay Sauce }

Combine all of the ingredients in a sauce pan over medium-high heat and stir until well combined. The peanut butter and honey should be dissolved.

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{ Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette }

Cilantro Dressing on Fajita Salad

I love Southwestern-style salads, but I hate the calories that come with Chipotle Ranch salad dressing. So I set out to make a healthier alternative with fewer calories. The result?

This flavorful cilantro-lime vinaigrette made with greek yogurt. The yogurt gives the dressing a smooth creamy texture without the fat, while also sneaking in some additional protein.

I use this dressing as a veggie dip, as a sauce for chicken and beef empanadas, and of course, for salads (my favorite is over spinach in combination with with my black bean corn salad recipe).

{ Ingredients }

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup 0% plain yogurt (I like Fage or Chobani)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Cilantro Lime Ingredients

{ To Make the Dressing }

  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.

In food processord

  1. Continue to add olive oil 1 tbsp at a time as necessary to create a smooth finish.
Finished Dressing

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{ Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde }

Turns out my spicy avocado dipping sauce was so good last night, that it was eaten at an unproportional rate with repect to my empanadas. I have left over empanadas, but no more sauce, providing me the perfect opportunity to experiement with cooking a new one. In keeping with the green theme, I decided to give roasted tomatillo salsa (aka salsa verde) a whirl tonight. I would love to say it is my own recipe, however, I stole it from Tyler Florence. And with this confession now out in the open, I say that it deserves two thumbs up and earns a respectiable place among my collection of favorite recipes.

This salsa combines the favors of roasted garlic, Spanish onions, sweet tomatillo tomatoes, spicy jalapeños, and lime juice to create a condiment suitable for topping any protein or corn product. You can put it over chicken, over pork, over seafood, over nachos, hell, you can even spread it on a piece of toast for a banging Mexican-inspired snack. It is flavorful, yet not overpowering, which makes it one of my new favorite condiments.

{ Ingredients }

  • 10 tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • 1-2 jalapeños, stemmed
  • 1 spanish onion, quartered
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 lime, juiced

{ To Make the Salsa Verde } Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the tomatillos in half (NOTE: you should have already removed the husks and washed them). Place them cut side down on a baking sheet. Add the garlic cloves, jalapeños, and onion to the tray and roast for 12-15 minutes.

Transfer the roasted vegetables and the juices from the pan into a food processor. Add the cumin, salt, cilantro, and lime juice and pulse the mixture until well combined but still chunky.

Adjust the seasonings to desired taste. I always add a couple dashes of tobasco for more spice, as well as extra lime juice.

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{ Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies }

I was really sad about missing Thanksgiving dinner this year. Sad to the point where I dreamt about rosemary-infused stuffing, cranberry condiments, and golden-glazed turkey long after the holiday had passed. These thanksgiving “accruciaments” (as Tony Soprano would say) are all obsolete in Argentina, a country that is recognized for both its prized bovine and lack of importation. The only cans of cranberry sauce and pumpkin puree to be found, were in the possession of foreign service agents that had “special postal privileges.” There was literally a black market among BA expats for gravy starter and Sarah Lee products. Unfortunately, my measly teaching salary did not afford me one of these luxury canned items (I will never look at a food-drive the same way again), and so I resorted to a chicken stir-fry on Thanksgiving evening.

For a foodie like myself, this is a crime because Thanksgiving is unequivocally the best day of the year–a day where we are finally accompanied by family and friends in our passion for food and the desire to consume exorbitant amounts of it. So to miss such a momentous event…well, it’s downright depressing. So my family decided to have Thanksgiving round #2. They say it was just for me, but how many people really keep a spare Butterball in their freezer?!? A 16 pound one no less…

We made all of our Thanksgiving family favorites; starting with a juicy Lemon-Herb Roasted Turkey, accompanied by Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Lemon-Scented Broccoli, Rosemary and Sage Infused Stuffing, Corn, and my mom’s delicious Homemade Gravy!

But it wouldn’t be a proper Thanksgiving feast without some sort of pumpkin-flavored dessert, so my sister and I decided to try out Paula Deen’s recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies (although we made some modifications, as one must with Paula Deen’s butter rich recipes!).

Overall, I thought the cookies had a really great flavor but they were more cake-like than cookie in composition. If you are a fan of soft cookies, then you will love these!! I would probably opt for my Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting in the future though, because I like crunchy cookies instead.

{ Ingredients }

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 cups (1 12-ounce bag) semisweet chocolate chips
  • Nonstick cooking spray or parchment paper
{ To Make the CookiesPreheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper or nonstick spray.
Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until smooth. Beat in the sugar, whisking until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs 1 at a time, then mix in the vanilla and pumpkin puree. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, until everything is well combined.
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.

Slowly add the flour mixture to the wet mixture in 3 parts, and continue to mix on a low speed until well combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and drop cookies onto prepared cookie sheet. NOTE: I like to use a small ice cream scoop so that the cookie batter is evenly distributed!

Place the cookie sheet into the oven and allow to bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Allow to cool and serve!

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{ Lemon Caper Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes }

One of the most difficult aspects of planning a meal, aside from getting all the groceries together, is deciding what the heck your actually going to make! As is true of most hardcore foodies, I’m no basic meat and potatoes girl. I love elaborate side dishes and I practically live for condiments–the more, the merrier! So after I choose a protein to cook, I usually find myself flipping through the section labeled “side dishes” in my recipe binder (aka my bible), searching for the perfect partner(s) for my main dish. The standard garlic mashed potatoes and roasted veggies just haven’t been tickling my fancy as of lately, and tonight I wanted something different. So I turned to the end all be all recipe collection, the direct source itself, the food network.

After a great deal of searching, I resolved to try making this lemon, garlic, caper pasta created by Giada de Laurentis. My main dish was a simple herb grilled chicken breast (although my mom also paired it with a nice filet of salmon), and it complimented both dishes beautifully. There are very few ingredients used in making the pasta, so the tremendous flavor comes as quite a surprise, but it was more than welcomed by my plate tonight.

{ Ingredients }

  • 1/2 pound spaghetti
  • 2 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons capers
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
{ To Make the PastaBring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta and transfer to a large bowl.
Add the garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to combine.
Just before serving, add the basil, capers, lemon zest, and lemon juice to the spaghetti mixture and toss to combine.

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{ Pasta Puttanesca }

Pasta Puttanesca with Grated Parmesan Cheese

After having dinner at La Stalla (read post below), I met up with my girlfriend Jennifer to go out and celebrate St. Patty’s Day in the typical fashion of chugging Irish Car Bombs and drinking pints of green beer! And since Jen and I are always looking for an excuse to dress up themed (cowboy hats to country concerts, Santa hats at Christmas time, ect…), we used St. Patty’s Day as an excuse to rob party city of everything green and sparkly. In major cities, where there are large celebrations for St. Patty’s Day, girls decked out in green apparel like this are the norm. However, we found out that in small rural towns (such as the one we live in), people are not as crazed about drinking holidays and don’t feel the need to get dressed up…at all. I didn’t even see people wearing green tee shirts! That being said, you can imagine just how much Jen and I stuck out in the crowd with our glitter green top hats! We got dirty looks from girls who wanted the attention, and free drinks from the boys giving us the attention. Long story short, our St. Patty’s Day shot glass necklaces were rarely hanging from our necks and certainly put to use, and we ended up requiring a ride home (top-of-the-morning to you dad!) after just two short hours at the bar.

Once we got home, I went scavenging for food and was bitterly disappointed that I had no leftover Puttanesca from dinner. Nothing other than more Puttanesca was going to satisfy drunk-food craving and so I set about to make my own from scratch (much to my mother’s dismay when she say the stove in the morning, with dried linguini caked onto the burners). I make this Puttanesca dish pretty frequently, because it is super easy and relatively inexpensive.

Puttanesca means “food of the whores” in Italian, because it was a staple dish among the poor made with cheap ingredients commonly stocked in the pantry. I choose to make my Puttanesca without anchovies, although they are commonly used in traditional Puttanesca dishes and can be added to my recipe. Tonight, I modified by recipe slightly by adding mushrooms and substituting arugala with baby spinach based on what I had available in my house. The dish turned out incredible, and certainly hit the spot.

If you want a little bit of protein, feel free to add some sliced chicken breast over top the dish! Otherwise, serve hot with Pecorino cheese and enjoy.

{ Ingredients }

  • 8 ounces linguini pasta
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • ½ cup pitted Spanish kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (less if you don’t like spice)
  • 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • ¾ cup chopped fresh arugala (or baby spinach)
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

{ To Make the PastaBring a large pot of water to a boil, and add 2 tablespoons salt. Add pasta and cook according to directions on package.

While the pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium flame. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the parsley, olives, capers, oregano, and crushed red pepper flakes to skillet and sautee for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and juices and simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in arugala (or baby spinach) and simmer for 1 minute more, until the greens wilt slightly.

When the pasta is done, drain it and return it to the skillet, combining with sauce. Top with grated cheese and additional red pepper flakes for spice.

**Tip: Do not rinse the pasta after draining it because the sauce does not stick as well to the noodle. The starch is necessary and binding so do not rinse it off.

Tossing the Linguini in with the Puttanesca Sauce

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Lemon-Herb Roasted Turkey *****

I can officially do anything.

This is the exact thought that ran through my mind as I pulled my perfectly roasted 16-pound turkey out of the oven today. Of course I’m exaggerating slightly—I don’t think that I can solve poverty in India, or bring peace between North and South Korea (or North Korea and the rest of the world for that matter) but in terms of the culinary world, I have conquered my biggest fear and feel ready to take on any challenge.

I decided to take on the daunting task of cooking “the bird” because I simply got too impatient to wait another week for thanksgiving food. Once Starbucks starts playing Christmas music and Sarah Lee pumpkin pies hit the shelves at the supermarkets, my internal clock starts counting down for turkey and stuffing. So I sent out a facebook message to 13 of my girlfriends inviting them over for a potluck style thanksgiving meal before we all went home for break. I had each of them sign up to bring a side dish and agreed to make the turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and stuffing myself. Obviously, everyone was down for this epic feast and so the night before the dinner I found myself face-to-face with an enormous 16 pound turkey. (For the first time ever, I actually asked for assistance to my vehicle at the supermarket). I put “the bird” in the sink, took off the plastic wrap, and then just stared at it in sheer panic…I didn’t even know where to begin. So naturally, I got on the phone and called my mom. She walked me through removing the giblets (reminiscent of my 7th grade frog dissection) and then told me to stuff it with whatever herbs and veggies I wanted. She recommended not to do stuffing as that greatly increases the cook time (especially for a turkey as big as mine) and also because it can cause a health issue if the stuffing absorbs any bacteria from the raw turkey meat. So I kept it simple and stuffed my turkey with sage, rosemary, Spanish onion, garlic, celery, and lemon. Then I made a nice lemon herb butter to drizzle on top so that the outside would get golden and crispy (recipe follows). I tied the legs together with some twine, brushed on the butter sauce, and covered it in foil before putting it in the fridge for the night.

Then today, I woke up and gave my roommate, Ariana, the cooking instructions for the turkey because I had to go to work. I told her to pre-heat the oven to 350° and put the turkey still covered in foil into the oven. I told her to do this at 1:00 so that it could cook for some time before I got home from work at 5 O’clock. When I turned on my phone at 5 O’clock, I received a text from Ariana saying:

“I couldn’t get the turkey in until 2:30, but its in the oven now and don’t worry….I took the foil off!”

Now I love Ariana to death, so I couldn’t get mad at her, but you can only imagine how fast I ran home from work. I just kept imagining my turkey black and smoking, completely inedible, and the chance of my apartment burning down. Well when I finally got home and saw my oven smoking, I thought the worst of my fears were a reality, but I managed to salvage the situation. I took the turkey out, scraped off the top burnt layer, recovered it in foil, and then put it back in on a lower heat. I let it keep cooking until 6:30, and then took off the foil and let it cook for another 30 minutes uncovered. When I pulled it out of the oven at 7 O’clock, it miraculously looked picture perfect. I couldn’t even believe it. I then let it sit for an hour and a half (covered) on the counter while I cooked the rest of my side dishes.

Now they say not to judge a book by its cover, so I didn’t have my hopes up yet (even though it looked pretty incredible). But when I popped a little piece of that warm turkey into my mouth, I was amazed that it tasted even better than it looked. I couldn’t have asked for a better first turkey experience!! And I couldn’t have asked for any greater people to share it with either. I am proud to say that we ate all of the turkey with the exception of maybe ½ pound of meat…which I happily ate the following day for lunch.

Turkey Stuffing Ingredients:

  • 1 large Spanish onion quartered
  • 1 cloves from an entire head of garlic, peeled
  • 1 lemon quartered
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 stalks of celery with leaves cut into thirds
  • Bundle of sage leaves tied with twine
  • Bundle of thyme leaves tied with twine
  • Couple sprigs of rosemary

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Remove the giblets from the turkey and wash the turkey inside and out, patting dry when finished. Place the turkey in a large roasting pan and then liberally salt and pepper the inside of the turkey cavity. Stuff the cavity with the bunches of thyme, rosemary, and sage, the quartered lemon, celery, quartered onion, and the garlic cloves.  Brush the outside of the turkey with the butter mixture (recipe below) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the turkey.

Roast the turkey about 21 minutes per pound of meat, or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh. I liked letting mine cook for the last 30 minutes uncovered so that the outside browned and crisped up.

Remove the turkey from the oven and cover with aluminum foil, let stand for at least 30 minutes, or up till serving time. (Hint: the longer the turkey sits, the more the flavors develop and the juicier it is….but don’t let it sit at room temperature too long or bacteria can develop).

Slice the turkey and serve.

Ingredients Lemon Herb Butter:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves

Directions:

In a medium sauce pan, melt the stick of butter. Then whisk in the zest and juice of one lemon and the chopped thyme leaves. Remove from heat and brush on turkey.

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{ Tomato Basil Bruschetta }

Today was a fabulous day that ended with a fabulous dinner–as all truly fabulous days must! (I am certain that the quality and quantity of food that I consume in a day and my respective mood are positively correlated). Anyways, tonight my friend, Brooks, hosted a family-style Italian dinner. No, Brooks is not Italian (he is Brazilian) but yes, he is one of the best damn cooks I have encountered and therefore he can cook anything well–including meatballs and gravy! My little home-maker instincts kicked in earlier this afternoon, and I decided I would make bruschetta to bring as an appetizer…plus, my mom always said, “never go to a dinner party empty handed!” So I ran out to the store and bought bruschetta supplies….12 Roma Plum tomatoes, a package of cherry tomatoes, a bulb of garlic, and some basil. Then I came back home and set about making my mouth-watering creation. I did not follow a recipe to make this but I am going to give the approximate portions of everything that I used, so that you can make it and so I can replicate it again!
It was a huge hit and sadly there was none left totake home, but I’m glad everyone enjoyed it. I served it on diagonally sliced tuscan bread, which I first toasted in the oven on 350 degrees with a little drizzle of olive oil and oregano. I then generously topped each piece with the tomato mixture and garnished with basil leaves! For anyone who loves the tomatoes at Vilaggio (and who doesn’t?), these come out tasting practically the same!

{ Ingredients }

  • 12 roma plum tomatoes
  • 1 package of grape tomatoes
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 green onions
  • 10-15 basil leaves
  • 1-2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
{ To Make BrushettaHalve all of the grape tomatoes and place in large mixing bowl. Cut an X into the top of each plum tomato and then bring a medium sauce pan of water to a boil. Add the tomatoes 2-3 at a time for one minute each and then remove from water and peel back the skins. Cut off the tops and remove seeds, chopping into small pieces.
Add these pieces to the mixing bowl of grape tomatoes. Repeat until all of the plum tomatoes have been done. Chop the green onions and basil, and mince the garlic gloves, adding all ingredients to mixing bowl. Then add the olive oil and vinegar and a few generous sprinkles of Kosher salt. Mix well to coat all tomatoes. Allow to sit and then serve on toasted bread!
But let me also mention the delicious main course that took place tonight. Brooks was head chef (as he should be in his own kitchen) and I enjoyed playing sous chef for a change! The menu included a Baked Brie Bread Bowla Mixed Green Salad with Petit Tomatoes and Red Onion tossed in Homemade Dijon Vinaigrette, Spaghetti with Gravy, and Homemade Meatballs! Ohhh, and i forgot about the Brownie Sundaes for dessert. Talk about a feast….
The meatballs were unreal. I am Italian and I think my mom makes the best meatballs ever, but these were a close rival and they were incredible. Plus, Brooks made them in a cupcake pan, and I tend to love anything that comes out of a cupcake pan so I was instantly happy. Here is a photo of the meatballs, just after coming out of the oven….

Meatballs Post Oven

You can see the fat drippings in the bottom of the pan, which is abundant considering that Brooks uses a combination of Veal, Beef, and Italian sausage to make his meatballs….plenty of fat there. After he spoons out each little masterpiece from the pan he pours the drippings into his pot of gravy, which instantly thickens the tomato sauce. He then places each of the meatballs into the pot of gravy and allows them to finish slow cooking amid the tomatoes for another 20 or 30 minutes. The sauce absorbs the flavor of the meat, and the meat absorbs the moisture and acidity of the sauce….it’s a beautiful marriage a meatball and gravy!
The salad was simple but the homemade dijon dressing really took it to another level. It was very similar to the much coveted secret sauce from La Sandwicherie!! (see post) and the bite of the dijon mustard with the greens was great. Here is a look at my beautiful plate of food…

Spaghetti with Meatball topped with Ricotta and Parmesan Cheeses

As you can see, we finished off the meatball with a scoop of ricotta cheese and parmesan cheese shavings!!! WOW! Even “Big Nick”–clearly fully Italian–approved of Brooks creation, despite his former doubts. So delicious.
Now for my little confession….and I’m praying that no one from the dinner party reads this (although I secretly hope that some of them follow my blog!). As sous chef, I was in charge of cooking out the pasta. And believe me, I can cook out a perfectly salted and al dente pasta in my sleep. I know how to cook pasta like people know how to spell their name….it is just a part of me…second nature. Anyways, I salt the water with the large salt container, add the pasta, and start to cook. But, when I taste the pasta it isn’t salty! So naturally, I add more salt. A few minutes later I taste the pasta and it almost tastes sweet. I can’t believe it, so I reach for the salt one last time and realize that it is actually a container of sugar. His sugar container looks just like my salt container at home. So instead of salting the pasta, I have been coating it in sugar water. Before I start to panic, I reach for the morton’s and begin a generous pour just hoping that the salt will mask the sugar. Thankfully, it did and no one noticed. I couldn’t even taste the problem myself! Anyways, funny little secret that no one knows…..yet, at least!

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