Category: Parties

Greek Night Part 2- Hummus, Whipped Feta Dip and Spiced Labneh

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If you are looking for delicious sauces/dips to eat alongside the flakey pita bread I made last week, then I have some great recipes for you.

Tommy is a firm believer that the sauce makes the dish.  He prefers to have something to top, dip or spread on almost all his food.  So he was THRILLED when he came home to gyros, pita and three delicious dips.

The first recipe I have for you is for a whipped feta dip (as pictured above).  It has four ingredients and couldn’t be easier, or more tasty.  It obviously was delicious alongside the pita bread, but also would work as a fabulous dip for raw veggies as well.

Whipped Feta Dip- makes about 1 1/4 cups

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Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces good feta cheese (imported or domestic is fine- just make sure its good quality)
  • 2 TB finely chopped dill, plus more for topping
  • 2 TB finely chopped cilantro (parsley would work well too)
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  • S+P to taste

Directions:

Combine feta and a few tablespoons of water in the bowl of and food processor and blend until you have a whipped consistency.  Stir in dill and cilantro and freshly ground pepper. Taste for seasoning and add more pepper or salt as necessary.

Pour out into a shallow bowl and top with 2-3 tablespoons of EVOO.

Hummus – Makes about 1 1/2 cups

I don’t know about you, but I don’t love very garlic-y hummus.  It tends to overpower the other flavors in the hummus and leaves you with garlic breath for hours on end.  As such, my hummus contains no garlic.  If you think it is a requirement, by all means, add a couple of cloves!

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Ingredients:

  • 1 15 ounce can of garbanzo beans
  • 1/4-1/3 cup tahini (I really like tahini, so I added 1/3 cup. If you prefer a more olive oil flavor, then use 1/4 cup)
  • 2 TB lemon juice
  • 2 TB –1/4 cup olive oil (depending on you prefer the consistency)
  • S+T
  • Paprika for topping
  • Parsley or cilantro for topping
  • Olive Oil for topping

Directions:

Add beans to the bowl of a food processor and blend for 20 seconds to break down the beans. Add the tahini, olive oil and lemon juice and blend until the hummus is creamy adding more olive oil or tahini if you need to thin it out a bit. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour out into a shallow bowl, top with paprika, chopped cilantro or parsley and 2-3 TB of EVOO.

Spiced Labneh – makes approx. 1 cup:

Labneh is actually Lebanese strained yogurt.  I had Greek yogurt on hand and so used that instead of the traditional lebanese style and it worked great.  The dip using aleppo, which is a slightly spicy pepper that has great depth of flavor. This sauce worked particularly well alongside the gyros.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Greek or Lebanese strained yogurt
  • 2 tsp aleppo pepper, plus more for topping
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice.
  • S+P
  • EVOO for topping

Directions:

Whisk the yogurt with the aleppo pepper and ground allspice in a medium bowl until well combined. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into a shallow bowl and top with 2-3 TB of EVOO and more Aleppo.

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, Hazelnuts, Fresh Basil and Arugula

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Tommy celebrated a birthday this past Saturday – the big 29!  Because we were going to be in Cape Cod on his actual birthday, I wanted to make him a special dinner prior to our departure.

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The appetizer portion of our dinner featured one of Tommy’s favorite foods – beets.  The guy just can’t get enough of the variety of colors and sizes available at the farmers’ market.  As such, I have been making lots of beet salads this summer.

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My favorite beet salad preparation involves using creamy goat cheese, crunchy hazelnuts (sometimes called filbert nuts at the grocery store) and fresh basil.  I then drizzle everything with a homemade balsamic mustard vinaigrette.

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Now don’t be intimidated by the “homemade” vinaigrette.  It is literally the easiest dressing one could possibly make as it involves olive oil, balsamic, dijon mustard and salt and pepper shaken up in a mason jar.  And it is so good, you would never even consider using the bottled stuff again.

For Tommy’s birthday, I also added some farm fresh arugula to the mix because the peppery lettuce really makes everything better.

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If you are concerned that your family and friends might not love beets that much, I would suggest buying light colored ones.  The lighter the beet, the more mild the flavor (think white, yellow or light red.  The deep purple ones definitely have the strongest flavor).  I have served this salad to self proclaimed non-beet lovers and have gotten rave reviews! So I really encourage you to try this yourself, even if you aren’t sure about this sweet root veggie.

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Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, Hazelnuts, Basil and Arugula – Serves 4 as an Appetizer

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium sized beets, any color, sliced
  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil, chopped
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
  • 4 cups arugula
  • 1/2 cup balsamic
  • 2 TB dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • S+P

Directions:

To cook the beets, place them in a large sauce pan and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil.  Once at a boil, add a small handful of salt, cover and cook on low heat for 30-45 minutes (depending on size of the beets) until they are fork tender.  Drain, cool, and peel the beets.

To make the dressing, add the olive oil, balsamic, mustard and salt and pepper to a small jar and shake vigorously to combine.  You can also whisk everything in a bowl, but I find the jar method to be more fun!

To toast the hazelnuts, add them to a dry sauté pan and cook on medium high heat until they are slightly toasted (make sure not to burn!).  Allow to cool slightly and then peel.  Hazelnuts have a very thin skin on them that comes off easily once they are toasted.  Carefully give them a medium chop.

Once the beets have cooled, slice them into 1/3 inch slices.  For a nice presentation, I like to overlap different colors of beets on top of each other.  If serving on individual salad plates, it looks nice to arrange them in a circle. If serving on one large platter, I arrange the overlapping beets up in long straight lines.

Season the beets with salt and pepper and drizzle with the enough dressing so that there is a bit on each bite.  Top with the chopped hazelnuts, crumbled goat cheese and fresh chopped basil.

In a separate bowl, mix the arugula with enough dressing to coat, but not over dress! Toss together and then add on top of the beets.

Cream of Asparagus Soup with Saffron Croutons

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A few weeks ago, my beloved Green City Market opened for the season.  Granted, the market didn’t feature the bounty of summer, but it did still have a great selection of farm fresh items.  One of my favorite spring time vegetables is asparagus and I was happy to see that many of the vendors were selling a number of varieties – thin and thick, purple and green.  I opted to buy the thick cut (more flavor in my opinion) green variety.

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These babies were so beautiful!  While I contemplated just steaming them up and serving them alongside a piece of fish, I decided to get a bit more creative and turn them into the base of a cream of asparagus soup.

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This proved to be an excellent decision.  The soup had the perfect amount of creaminess, slight tang from fresh lemon juice, and a wonderful crunch thanks to homemade saffron flavored croutons.

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This recipe was actually a slightly adapted version of an asparagus soup recipe of my mom’s that I have made many times.  Hers is a “healthified” version of cream of asparagus soup which replaces the cream for potatoes to thicken the soup and add the right texture.  And while I love that soup, I wanted an option that was a little bit more refined and truly allowed the asparagus to shine.

Speaking of asparagus – did you notice that the asparagus were sitting in water glasses in the above picture?

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This is how I store asparagus!  I find that, like fresh flowers, asparagus responds really well to being stored in water.  They stay tender and maintain their vibrant color for at 3-5 days in the fridge (but of course, the earlier you use the asparagus, the fresher it will taste!).

Anyway, back to the soup.  This would be the perfect starter to a fancy dinner party, but works equally well alongside a big salad on a busy weeknight because the whole thing comes together in 30 minutes.

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However you enjoy it, just make sure you give it a try when the asparagus is at its freshest – a.k.a RIGHT NOW!

Cream of Asparagus Soup with Saffron Croutons – Serves 4-6 as an appetizer

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs asparagus
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 3 large shallots, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups water
  • S+P to taste
  • Fresh lemon juice (approximately the juice of one lemon is what I used)
  • 3-4 slices of any variety of bread (I chose a multigrain variety), crusts removed and cut into small cubes
  • 2 TB EVOO
  • 1/3 tsp saffron threads

Directions:

In order to remove the tough bottoms of the asparagus, I simply take the asparagus and bend lightly.  Wherever the asparagus bends is the place where the tough meets the tender.  Discard the tough pieces (keep if you make your own veggie stock!).

In a large stock pot, add the butter and melt over medium low heat.  Once melted, add the chopped shallots and cook until they are soft, but not browned, about five minutes.

Add the cream, water, salt (start with 2 tsp) and pepper to the pot.  Increase the heat to high and bring liquid to a boil.  Add the asparagus, lower to a simmer, and cook until the asparagus is tender, but still has a bright green color, about five minutes.

Now it is time to puree the soup.  Working in batches, add the contents of the pot into a blender and puree until smooth.

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I found that the texture of the soup was perfect for me.  Slightly thick, but very smooth.  If you prefer a finer texture, you can push the contents of the soup through a fine mesh sieve.

Add the soup back to the pot and keep warm until you are ready to serve.  Taste and adjust for seasonings as necessary.  Right before serving, add enough lemon juice to taste.  You certainly don’t want the overwhelming flavor of lemon to come through on the soup, but you want enough to know that it is there.  I think 1/2 to a full lemon’s worth of juice is perfect, but let your palate guide you!

While the soup is staying warm, you can make the croutons, which is very easy!  In a large sauté pan, add the EVOO and heat over medium-low heat.  Add the saffron shreds and cook in the olive oil for 1 minute to infuse the oil.  Add the bread and toss to coat in the saffron oil.  Spring with salt and pepper and cook until the croutons are golden and toasted.

Serve the soup topped with croutons and one more spray of lemon juice!

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Restaurant Recreation – Inside-Out Arancini

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Remember when I visited iNG a few months back for the Martin Scorsese themed dinner?  If you don’t recall, Homaro Cantu, the acclaimed executive chef at iNG and Moto, stopped by our table while we happened to be eating probably my favorite dish of the night – “The Color of Money.”

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The Color of Money was a dish that featured a reverse arancini.  Arancini are popular in Italian cuisine and are traditionally made from leftover risotto that has been mixed with egg and breadcrumb, stuffed with mozzarella and fried in olive oil.  iNG had the brilliant idea to turn the arancini inside out and put the cheese around the rice instead of the other way around.  Not only did I appreciate the whimsical nature of this dish, but loved the idea of putting the cheese on the outside because it increased the cheese-to-rice ratio, which is always a good thing.

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It happened to be great timing that Chef Cantu stopped by while I was eating this dish because I was able to pick his brain about how he had managed to pull it off.   When I asked my questions, I half expected Chef Cantu to give me laundry list of steps that included molecular gastronomy – the food science he is so well known for – and half expected him to flat out deny me any insight into how the balls were made.  Much to my surprise, he listed out the five or six steps it takes, gave me a big vote of confidence, and told me I should give it a try.  It has been on my list of “restaurant recreations” ever since.

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I served my arancini with some homemade pesto sauce in a nod to the warm basil sauce that iNG presented with their arancini.  I think these would also be delicious with a regular marinara.

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So next time you make risotto, add a little extra to the pot so that you can make these arancini.  I think these would be great as an appetizer for a dinner party (they really impress) and also make a delicious lunch alongside a salad.

Restaurant Recreation: Inside-Out Arancini – (Serves 4 as an appetizer)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cup leftover risotto, cooled (for a straight forward risotto recipe, check out this recipe just don’t add the butternut squash at the end)
  • 1 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 8 ounces fresh buffalo mozzarella (2 large balls)
  • Olive Oil for frying
  • 1 cup premade or store bought pesto

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees.  Slice mozzarella in 1/2 inch slices lengthwise.  Place sliced mozzarella on a sheet pan (with sides).  Cook in the oven for 5 minutes until the mozzarella has slightly melted, released some of its water and spread out into a larger diameter, but thinner size.  Remove each piece of mozzarella and place onto wax paper.  Top mozzarella with another piece of wax paper and place sheets in the freezer.

Meanwhile, mix 1/2 cup of bread crumbs, eggs, parmesan and risotto together in a large bowl.

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Add remaining 1 cup of breadcrumbs to a shallow bowl.  Roll risotto mixture into small balls (about 1 to 1 1/2 inch in diameter) and roll in breadcrumbs.

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Pour approximately 1 cup of olive oil into a large cast iron or heavy set pan and heat over medium high heat.  Once the oil is hot, drop the arancini and cook in batches until the balls are golden brown. 

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Drain fried arancini on paper towels to remove excess oil.  Keep the balls warm in a 350 degree oven while you continue cooking the remaining batches.

Once all the balls have been fried, remove the mozzarella slices from the freezer. Allow them to sit out for 2-3 minutes so that they become slightly pliable, but are still cold.

Once at a time, take a risotto ball out of the oven and place on top of one mozzarella slice. Allow the hot risotto ball to warm the mozzarella slightly so that it is completely pliable and can be formed around the ball.  Use your hands to wrap each risotto ball completely with the mozzarella (don’t worry if it’s not perfect – it will still taste delicious!).  Place the balls on a platter with 1/2 cup of the prepared pesto spread on the bottom.  Repeat the process with the remaining balls.  Once all of the arancini have been wrapped, top with more pesto and serve warm.

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Better than Takeout Thai Food Part 1–Summer Rolls

I generally am not a huge takeout person.  If I am not in my kitchen, making food, I generally like to go out and enjoy all the great aspects of restaurant dining – a server, a unique wine list, fun atmosphere, etc.  However, there are some nights where you just can’t bring yourself to get dressed, let alone put on make-up and pretty yourself to be seen in public.  These nights often coincide with a deep desire to sit on the couch and do nothing – funny how that works out.

On the rare occasions that these nights come around, I often default to my favorite kind of takeout food – Thai.  I love all kinds of Thai food – curries, rice dishes, noodle dishes, salads, soups, everything.  And while I like to think of myself as someone who ventures out and tries new things, I do find myself often ordering the exact same meal every time I do take out from my favorite Thai restaurant: Summer Rolls and Pad Thai.

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I am not sure summer rolls are technically considered Thai.  They are often on Thai restaurant menus, but I often see them referred to “Vietnamese Summer Rolls.”  Whatever their origin, I don’t consider a Thai meal complete without some summer rolls.

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These little rolls are just so balanced.  Everything from their texture to their taste hits on all levels.  They have a soft exterior, but you still get a nice crunch from the plethora of fresh veggies in them.  You get subtle sweetness from the shrimp, mint and basil contrasted with spice from the hot peppers and cilantro.  Plus, they are so pretty to look at!

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 I served my summer rolls with my recipe for spicy peanut sauce.  While Hoisin sauce is probably the most traditional accompaniment for summer rolls, I really enjoy the creamy texture and spicy flavor of peanut sauce.  Plus, if you make peanut sauce for the summer rolls, you can ensure there are extras to be served with the Pad Thai (recipe coming soon!).

Vietnamese Summer Rolls – Serves 4 as an appetizer (inspired by this recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 8 round rice paper wrappers (I used wrappers that were 8 1/2 inches in diameter and located in the international aisle of the supermarket)
  • 1/2 lb pre-cooked shrimp, sliced in half
  • 2 ounces rice stick noodles (vermicelli size)
  • 1/2 English cucumber, julienned
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • 1/2 bell pepper, julienned
  • 2 serrano peppers, julienned (seeds and membrane removed if you want it less spicy)
  • 1 cup mixed greens
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, ripped into large pieces
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, leaves separated from stem
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint, leaves separated from stem

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Directions:

Soak rice stick noodles in hot water for 15 – 20 minutes until soft and pliable.

Prep veggies, shrimp and peanut sauce (if serving).

Add hot water to a large sauté pan (or other bowl that is wide enough to fit rice paper).  One at a time, place a rice paper in hot water for 10-15 seconds until soft and pliable.  Working quickly, remove the rice paper and place three shrimp halves in the middle of the rice paper cut side up.  In this order, add the: noodles, two-three piece of mint, basil and cilantro, serrano, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers and finish with 1-2 large pieces of mixed greens.

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Wrap the summer roll like you would a burrito: 1) fold the bottom half of the rice paper wrapper over the filling 2) holding the whole thing firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in 3) pressing firmly down to hold the folds in place, roll the entire wrapper horizontally up from the bottom to the top 4) turn the roll so that that the same faces down and the row of shrimp faces up.

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If not serving immediately, place the summer rolls on a rimmed baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Make sure you leave room between summer rolls so they don’t stick to each other.  If you are serving immediately, dip a sharp knife into hot water and cut on a diagonal down the middle.

Repeat the entire process with remaining rice paper, replacing the water in the sauté pan whenever it gets cold.

Serve with spicy peanut sauce and enjoy!

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