Monday, September 30, 2013

Potato & Leek Soup

Soup season has returned! There is no rule that says you can't enjoy soup all year long, but there is always something special about enjoying a warm bowl of soup on a cool, fall night. This potato and leek soup is the perfect mixture of heartiness and lightness. The potatoes pack their usual heavy punch, but they are outbalanced by the lighter flavors from the leeks.

Recipe yields servings 6 servings

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 large leeks, white stems only
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 tsp ground thyme
1 quart small potatoes (I used Nicola from the crop share)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Cream and parsley for seasoning, if desired

To a large stockpot, melt the butter. After thoroughly rinsing the leeks, finely slice the white stems only. Remove and discard the dark green leaves. Add the leeks to the melted butter and saute for about 5 minutes until softened and fragrant.

Add the chicken broth, bay leaf and thyme to the pot and bring to a boil. While the liquids are heating up, peel and finely dice the potatoes. Try to make them as even sized as possible, but they don't need to be perfect.

Add the potatoes to the pot and keep the heat high until the liquid reaches a rolling boil. Add a pinch or two of salt and pepper at this stage, and we can adjust the taste later on. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want the potatoes to be cooked through and soft.

Remove the bay leaf, and using an immersion blender, blend together the soup until it is creamy. You want to remove all chunks and traces of potato and leek. It should be nice and smooth. Once everything has been blended together, give the soup a little taste to determine if it needs anymore salt or pepper and adjust accordingly. If your soup is too salty at this point (lets just say you didn't listen when I said 'unsalted' butter) you can add a drop of chicken broth to balance it out. Make sure it is low sodium chicken broth, or you might just be adding more salt!

Spoon the soup into individual serving bowls and top with a drop of cream and some freshly chopped parsley for added flavor (plus it makes it look fancy!). Enjoy!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Shrimp Fra Diavolo

Fra Diavolo is always a favorite of mine because it likes to bring the heat. A little spice never hurt no one, so feel free to add an extra dash of crushed red pepper if you are feeling adventurous. This version is more rustic with the onion slices and chunks of tomato, so it goes nicely with a lighter base such as angel hair pasta or brown rice. Today I threw in shrimp, but this is also delicious with chunks of lobster meat if you want to get fancy.

Recipe yields 6 servings

2 lbs large shrimp, cleaned with the tails off
2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (plus more if you want to turn up the heat!)
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (you want enough to cover the bottom of the pan)
1 large yellow onion
28 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups dry white wine
1 head of garlic
1 tsp oregano
1/4 cup parsley
1/4 cup basil

Start out by rinsing off the shrimp and tossing with the crushed red pepper flakes. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the shrimp. Cook, turning once, for about 1-2 minutes per side. Don't worry about cooking the heck out of these guys right now, they will see the heat again!

Remove the shrimp to a plate and set aside for now. We will get back to them a little later.

Slice the onion and chop the garlic.

Add your onion and garlic to the same skillet the shrimp were in. Add an extra tablespoon of olive oil to the pan if things are looking a little dry. Cook until the onion is translucent and the garlic is fragrant.

To the skillet, add the diced tomatoes, wine and chopped oregano. Give everything a good mix and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let the sauce simmer for 15-20 minutes. You want a lot of the extra water to evaporate and allow the sauce to thicken up. Once your sauce has thickened, dump the plate of shrimp back into the skillet and toss to coat in the sauce. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until all the shrimp are cooked through and all the flavors have had some time to get to know each other.

Cut the heat and stir in the chopped parsley and basil. Serve over rice or pasta for a delicious meal. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Butternut Squash Risotto

Fall is officially here and there is no denying it. With that said, I might as well embrace the cooler temperatures, heartier meals and pumpkin everything. I received beautiful butternut squash from the crop share and decided to make a creamy and fluffy risotto. This dish is very hearty, so you can serve it alone with a side salad or alongside a simple grilled chicken. The mix of the butternut squash and vanilla adds warm and comforting flavor to this dish.

Recipe yields 6-8 servings (as a side dish)

4 cups vegetable broth
1 vanilla bean
3 cups butternut squash (about 1 medium butternut squash)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 tsp salt
1 tsp parsley

In a medium stock pot, add the vegetable broth. Cut open the vanilla bean and scrape the insides into the pot. Toss in the outside bean and bring the broth to a simmer.

Chop the butternut squash into 1" cubes. Add the squash to the pot and cook in the broth for 8-10 minutes, until the squash is tender. I like to keep the squash on the 'harder' side so it has a bite to it when added to the risotto. But if you prefer, you can cook it longer and it will be softer in the final dish. Once the squash has reached your preferred texture, remove from the pot with a slotted spoon and reserve on the side. Keep the heat on low, so the broth mixture stays warm.

In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and add the chopped onion. Cook on medium low heat so the onion becomes tender without browning. Add the rice and coat in the butter. Add the white wine and continuously stir the rice until the wine is absorbed. About 1/2 cup at a time, transfer the broth into the skillet and stir into the rice. Continue this process, waiting to add more broth until the current portion has been soaked up by the rice. Keep on stirring until all the broth has been removed from the pot and has been soaked into the rice. The rice should now be plump and creamy. (*Note - remove the outer vanilla bean from the broth, DO NOT mix it into the rice!)

Cut the heat on the skillet and add the remaining butter, cheese and salt. Stir to incorporate throughout the rice. Add the reserved, cooked butternut squash and fold into the mixture. Remove to a serving dish and top with chopped parsley. Serve on its own or alongside a simple main dish. Enjoy!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake with Cinnamon Swirl

This coffee cake is given an extra dose of cinnamon with the swirl through the middle. It is the perfect sweet treat. The cake is very moist (due to the sour cream) so it allows for the heavier impact of all that cinnamon sugar and those delicious chocolate chips. This cake is also very easy to make, so it is great for bringing to a dinner party (plus, you are guaranteed to impress everyone with your baking skills!).

Recipe yields 24 cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp water
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and chocolate chips. Mix everything together and then set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and baking powder.

In a larger mixing bowl, cream together the butter, remaining granulated sugar and eggs.

Add in the sour cream, vanilla extract and water. Mix well so all ingredients are fully incorporated.

Slowly add the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and stir to incorporate. Do not overmix, you want your batter to stay airy and soft.

Butter and flour your baking pan. I used a foil one as I was taking mine to a party, I could just leave the foil pan there and not have to worry about it. Split your batter in half and spread half the batter on the bottom of the pan.

Evenly top with half the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Repeat with the second half of the batter and the second half of the cinnamon sugar mixture so you have two layers of goodness.

Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the cake is cooked through and a tester comes out clean.

Slices into individual squares and serve for dessert with coffee or tea. You can easily cut this into 24 squares, as it is so sweet, you do not need a big piece. If there are any, store leftovers in an airtight container. The cake will stay fresh for about 5 days or so. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Aruba - Part 2

We did a lot of relaxing during the first few days of our trip to rest up for all the excitement to come. We eventually got sick of this view..

Just kidding! How could anyone get sick of that? But one morning we decided it was a beautiful day to go on a waverunner ride around the beaches. We spent an hour twisting and turning, jumping waves and getting soaked!

That day we worked up some appetite and went to our favorite restaurant on the island - El Gaucho. El Gaucho is an Argentinian steakhouse. You can order a steak as big as the table, or just a little petite one perfect for me. The side dishes were delicious and we finished the night off with a Dulce de Leche Crepe, but what really stole the show was the chimichurri sauce. Trust me when I say this sauce was sent from heaven!

Keeping with our adventurous spirits, the next morning we left on an ATV tour to the other side of the island from where the hotel is situated. By far this was the most amzing part of the trip. We spent hours riding rocky trails and up and down mountains looking out at the most amazing views. We visited a natural pool, a chapel built in 1750, a gold mine and a natural bridge.

That night, we visited Hostaria Da Vittorio, an Italian restaurant. We filled up on carbs to re-energize after the morning tour. I had the Fusilli Bolognese and Carmine had Linguine with Shrimp. We spilt a cannoli for dessert.

The end of the trip consisted of more lounging on the beach and relaxing at the hotel.

By the end of the trip, we were dreading our flight home to New York and planning when we could return. We both loved everything Aruba had to offer and are looking forward to our next visit. For anyone looking for a sunny and fun spot to visit, make sure Aruba is at the top of your list.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Aruba - One Happy Island

We arrived in Aruba on Monday morning. After a long flight, we were ready to get right to the beach. We checked into the hotel (Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino), threw on our bathing suits and sprinted to the sand.


After hours of swimming and sun bathing, we headed up to our room to get ready for dinner. Our hotel room is very spacious and we have a great view.

Our first night on the island, we had reservations for Simply Fish. This is one of the restaurants at our hotel. It will come as no surprise that the restaurant serves a variety of fresh and local seafood. The setting is beautiful, as the tables are set up on the beach and you enjoy your meal with your toes in the sand and taking in the sunset over the ocean. You couldn't stage a more perfect sight.

We started with the jumbo shrimp cocktail.

I had the sauteed halibut for my main, with creamy spinach and coconut rice.

And Carmine had the sauteed striped bass with broccoli and mashed potatoes

We finished the night with the restaurant's specialty, a banana and coconut cake.

After a long day, we headed to bed to rest up for day 2. On Tuesday, we explored the island's offerings. Aruba is filled with lots of little shops and cute restaurants to stop at for lunch.

For dinner, we headed over to Madame Jeanette's. This is a cozy, local restaurant, with outdoor seating under ivy covered pergolas and tons of little lights. The portions here are large, so I suggest sharing to save room for dessert.

Carmine and I shared the crab cakes and a shrimp and lobster gratin for an appetizer.

For our mains, I had the Schnitzel-style pork tenderloin covered in sauteed onions. Carmine had the chicken cordon blue. 

The food was absolutely fantastic. I couldn't recommend it enough! 

We have had two wonderful days so far, and I am excited to see what the rest of the trip brings. The weather is perfect, the food is delicious, and I am here with Carmine - what more could a girl ask for!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Chocolate Chip S'mores Cookies

With the warm summer nights slipping away from us, I am trying to hold on to every last bit of summer I can before jumping into fall. With that said, these cookies are a great way to reminisce of summer, even if it is too cold to sit around the table outside. One of my favorite parts of summer is to toast marshmallows over the fire and make s'mores. These cookies are filled with all that great s'mores flavor and can easily get you there in the comforts of your kitchen.

Recipe yields 24 cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup marshmallows
24 chocolate squares (I used ones filled with sea salt and caramel, but chose any flavor you like)

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. In a food processor, place 3-4 graham crackers and pulse until you have one cup of evenly sized crumbs.

In a mixing bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, flour, salt and baking soda.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.

Add the egg and vanilla extract and continue to beat until fully incorporated.

Slowly mix in the dry ingredients until they are fully incorporated and there are no white streaks of flour. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and get all the ingredients in there.

Add in the chocolate chips and give it one more good mix.

Line your baking sheet with parchment paper and using a cookie scoop, place the cookie dough onto the tray. Bake in the oven for 7 minutes.

Once you remove the cookies from the oven, immediately press a handful of marshmallows on top and return to the oven for 2-3 additional minutes (or until the marshmallows are melted.)

Push the chocolate squares onto the melted marshmallows and let the cookies cool. After 5 minutes, remove the cookies to wire cooling rack.

Serve these cookies at your next BBQ for all the familiar flavors of a s'more that everyone loves.