Oven Roasted Branzino with Chimichurri Sauce

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James and I are both very fond of seafood, and growing up in New England meant that we were lucky enough to have easy access to a great variety of fish and shellfish. I have many memories of going fishing with my family and then taking the fish home and promptly eating them whole, simply seasoned and succulent. Every so often we love to seek out whole fresh fish to bring home, and thoroughly enjoy the process of picking out all the delicate bones. This recipe is one that can be used on just about any fish, and is especially great to put together on hot summer days when all you need is a light meal.

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Ingredients (for fish): Two whole branzino with insides cleaned and scales removed, 2 large rosemary sprigs, 1 lemon (sliced in rounds), 4 large sprigs thyme, 2 tsp salt, 1 tbsp olive oil.

Instructions: Heat oven to 400F. Season each fish inside and out with salt. Fill each fish cavity with 1 sprig of rosemary, 2 sprigs of thyme and half of the lemon slices. Heat olive oil on a large skillet, and cook each fish on hot oil for 2 minutes per side. Transfer fish to a baking dish and roast in oven for 12 minutes.

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Ingredients (for chimichurri): 1/2 cup basil leaves, 1/2 cup fresh parsley, 1/4 cup fresh oregano, 1/4 cup fresh mint, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes.

Instructions: Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend until smooth. Drizzle sauce over cooked fish.

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Paired with simple sides like salad and roasted potatoes, this meal feels plentiful and decadent, and makes for an excellent date night at home.

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White Bean and Rib Stew

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Beans were my very first solid food, and to this day have remained one of my very favorite foods. There isn’t a type of bean I don’t like, and going more than a few weeks without having some form of them is rare for my family. When it comes to white beans in particular, this flavorful and hearty stew beats out all other recipes for this legume.

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The stars of this dish are of course the beans themselves, and the dry guaque chiles that give it it’s rich and moderately spicy flavor.

Ingredients: 1 lb white beans, 1 lb pork ribs, 1 1/2 guaque chiles, 3 tomatoes, 1/2 red bell pepper, 1/2 yellow onion, 4 small tomatillos, 3 garlic cloves, 1 bay leaf, 4 sprigs thyme, 2 tsp ground cumin, 1 Tbsp dry oregano, salt and pepper to taste.

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Instructions: Slice the tomatoes, tomatillos, onion, and peppers, and place on a hot griddle along with peeled garlic cloves. Turn over after 2-3 minutes, allowing the undersides to slightly char and soften. Add grilled vegetables to a blender with a cup of water and blend until smooth.

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Add the beans, ribs (cut into smaller pieces), bay leaf, thyme, cumin, blended ingredients, salt and pepper to taste, and enough water to just cover everything to a pressure cooker. Cook for about 45 minutes, and slowly allow pressure to release. Add the oregano and stir. If you would like to thicken the stew you can take out some of the beans, blend, and re-add to the stew.

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Serve hot with rice, and garnish with cilantro.

 

 


Homemade Sourdough Bread

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Bread is one of those foods that I love to eat, but had never made myself at home. Though it’s such a staple item eaten all around the world, I always found it a little intimidating. Those three simple ingredients (flour, water, and salt) needed to create a delicious loaf are in most households, but the process of converting those ingredients felt like nothing short of alchemy. Recently, I finally decided to just go for it and make my all time favorite bread: sourdough.

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The most important component of sourdough is the starter dough, which will give the bread that essential tangy flavor, and provide the yeast necessary for the dough to rise. To make the starter dough mix 4oz water with 4oz of all-purpose flour in a bowl. Cover and let sit at room temperature.

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The next day, ‘feed’ the dough by removing all but 4oz of starter and feeding it 4oz of flour and 4oz of water, mixing thoroughly. Repeat this process every 12 hours for a few days. The amount of time for the starter can vary, but it helps to keep it at a consistent temperature away from the cold. You will know it’s ready when it is very bubbly and even a little foamy on top.

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Place any extra starter dough in the refrigerator, and feed once a week to maintain. When it came time to discard and feed the ready starter, I poured some into jars instead of discarding, and gifted to some friends.

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To make the bread: add 30 grams of active starter to 75 grams of all-purpose flour, and 75 grams of water. Mix thoroughly, cover, and let sit overnight or for about 12 hours. Once the leaven is bubbly you know it’s ready. To double check that it is ready, drop a small dollop of the leaven into a bowl of water – if it floats, you’re good to go.

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Mix all of the leaven in a large bowl with 475 grams of room temperature water. Mix it in with your hands until the leaven has dissolved into the water. Add 350 grams of all-purpose flour, and 350 grams of whole wheat flour to the bowl with leaven and water. You can also do 700 grams of all-purpose if you don’t want whole wheat, but I think it gives it a richer flavor. Mix until you no longer see any dry flour. Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours. Once the dough has rested, dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt into 50 grams of water and add to dough. Mix with your hands to combine.

Fold the dough, in the bowl, by grabbing one end and folding the dough in half. Then, move the bowl a quarter turn and fold again. Repeat until you have folded it over four times. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes, then repeat the folding process. Do this process a total of 4 times, every 30 minutes. After you have folded it for the 4th time, let the dough rest for about 45 minutes, until it looks a little puffed.

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Sprinkle flour on your countertop, and turn the dough over onto the flour. Cut the dough in half to pre-shape the loaves. Shape into rounds by running a pastry scraper or blunt knife around the bottom edge. This will start to make the top of the dough taut, and give you a more even shape. Let dough rest for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare two proofing baskets or bowls by lining with a kitchen towel and dusting them with flour. It helped me to lightly spray the towels with water first before adding the flour. Rub the flour into the towel to create a layer of flour on the towel.

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Give the loaves their final shape by dusting the tops with flour, then turning them over so the flour side is down. Gently take the top lip of the loaf, and fold it into the center, then repeat with the other three sides. The idea here is to make the top more taut. Cup your hands around the edges of the loaf to give it its final shape. Sprinkle with flour, then transfer to the towel lined baskets or bowls, smooth side down. Cover with plastic, and let sit at room temperature for 4 hours, or place in refrigerator and let sit overnight.

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When ready to bake – place a dutch oven or heavy pot with lid in the oven and pre-heat to 500F. Remove the hot dutch oven from oven, and place one of the loaves inside, smooth side up. Score the top with a sharp knife. You can do three diagonal lines like I did, or do an X in the middle.

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With the lid on, bake at 500F for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 475F for 15 minutes. After the first 30 minutes of baking, remove lid and continue to bake for another 20 minutes – or until the crust has a deep golden brown color.

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Remove from oven and place the loaf on a cooling sheet for at least 10 minutes before slicing. You will see the quintessential holes filling each delicious loaf.  Enjoy it fresh and warm with toppings of choice.

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Kitchen Remodel

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After a full year of planning and saving, we have finally completed the first major remodel in our home: the kitchen. As soon as we bought our house, I knew that the kitchen had to be one of the first major projects. Not only do I spend a lot of time in the space, but the previous kitchen looked unappealing and was hardly even functional. The changes we made compliment the texture palette of the house, provide functionality and organization, and give the space the charm that it was begging for.

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As you can see from this before and after, we mostly kept the layout of the kitchen the same. However, there are some major differences in the sizing and features of cabinets and appliances. The previous cabinet doors were very small and poorly spaced, making it almost impossible to store anything larger than a medium sized pot. Most of the drawers were either broken or didn’t open, the faucet was turned to one side and refused to budge, the vent did not function, and the teeny oven couldn’t even fit a standard cookie sheet. These were all very frustrating issues for someone who cooks as much as I do. We had our custom cabinets built by Martin Cabinet Designs, who were able to construct everything just as we envisioned.

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Even before we bought our house, I had a general idea of how I wanted the kitchen to look. Once we had the measurements, James created this concept art to help us figure out exactly how it would all come together. Though some changes were made to the final version, the feeling you get when you see something you designed come to life is nothing short of exhilarating.

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The biggest change to the layout was opting for open shelves above the stovetop, instead of cabinets like it had before. This change has been so impactful not only visually, but also functionally. I absolutely love that the tile goes all the way up to the ceiling, and now I can display more items while keeping common pantry items organized and within reach.

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The small oven was one of my biggest complaints, so after a lot of consideration I decided to go big and add not one, but two standard size ovens. I have always loved the look and flexibility double ovens provide, and I’m already so glad I went in that direction.

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Going with butcher block countertops was one of the very first decisions that we made. We picked out this beautiful acacia wood that has a wonderful variety in color. It’s perfect for the the galley layout of our kitchen, and adds so much warmth and country charm.

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One of my favorite features of the kitchen is the wall mount faucet. The butcher block counter top dictated that the faucet not be mounted to the counter, so it created the opportunity for it to come out of the tile instead. For the farmhouse sink, James insisted that the apron absolutely had to be fluted to breakup the large white front, and I couldn’t agree more.

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Aside from the kitchen galley, this remodel also included the breakfast nook corner. The same team that made our cabinets made this built-in bench with a top that lifts for extra storage.

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Here’s a look at the corner before the remodel.

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We kept the original built-in corner cabinet which we always liked, and just gave it a fresh coat of paint to match the new cabinets.

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There are a few items in our new kitchen from our trip to Guatemala that we previously had on display in our old apartment. Not only do they work well with our terra cotta floor tile, but they provide a sense of continuity with our first home together.

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We felt that it was very important to incorporate a variety of patterns with these pillows to liven up the breakfast nook.

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We also added several new plants throughout the space, which are a simple way of adding life to any room. I made these macramé hanging planters using twine to fill in some of the space above the bench without feeling too heavy.

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I am so pleased with how the entire remodel came out, and relieved to have such a large project completed. I have already been busy using the new space, and look forward to many delicious meals that will be cooked in our lovely new kitchen.

 

 


Gingerbread Mini Bundt Cakes

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The holiday season is in full swing, so I have been baking to my heart’s content. Gingerbread is a classic holiday baked treat, and this recipe is for the true gingerbread lover. The flavor is ultra rich with a perfect amount of holiday spice, which pairs wonderfully with unsweetened coffee and tea. Making the gingerbread as individual sized mini bundt cakes not only makes hosting easier, it also helps for saving them for later – and these mini bundt gingerbread cakes get even better a few days after making.

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Ingredients: 1 cup oatmeal stout, 1 cup molasses, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 2 Tbsp ground ginger, 1 Tbsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground gloves, 1/4 tsp cardamom, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup white sugar, 3 eggs, 3/4 cup vegetable oil

Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 350F. Butter and lightly flour bundt cake pan, shaking out excess flour. Place in the refrigerator. Add oatmeal stout and molasses to a saucepan and bring to a boil, then add baking soda. Let stout/molasses mixture sit and cool.

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Beat together eggs, sugars, and oil, then add molasses and stout mixture. Add flour, baking powder, and spices and continue to mix until fully incorporated. Pour batter into bundt cake pan, filling to nearly the top.

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Bake at 350F for about 45 minutes (until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into cakes). Remove from pan by flipping it upside down onto a cooling rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

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Stuffed Squash Blossoms

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Summer at the farmers market means an abundance of produce options. We’ve started to go somewhat regularly to stock up on produce for the week, enjoy a meal from one of the hot food stands, and browse around to discover unique items. On our most recent trip, I purchased a box of squash blossoms. I couldn’t wait to fill them with a creamy cheese mixture, serve with a flavorful tomato sauce, and share them with friends.

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Ingredients (for blossoms): 30 squash blossoms, 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, 1/3 cup shredded manchego cheese, 1/3 cup goat cheese, 1 egg, 1/2 Tbsp ground cayenne pepper, 1 tsp black pepper, 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 cup cold water

Instructions: bring a large pot of water to a boil and add all blossoms at once. Boil for about 30 seconds, then immediately remove the blossoms and add them to a bowl of ice water. After blossoms have sat in ice water for about a minute, dump them into a colander, then place them on paper towels to drain.

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While blossoms are drying a bit, prepare the filling. Combine cheeses, egg, cayenne, and pepper in a bowl and mix until smooth, then scoop filling into a piping bag. To fill each blossom, gently open them to have access to the center. Place piping bag tip toward bottom and fill until filling reaches the opening of the petals. Cover the exposed filling by folding the petals over the top of blossom. Place all blossoms on a plate, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes so that the cheese will set.

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To make the batter, combine 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, and a dash of salt in a bowl. Slowly add cold water to bowl while whisking with a fork until batter is thick but still creamy.

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Add 1/2 inch of oil to a heavy skillet and heat to 375F. Take blossoms out of refrigerator, and lightly dust with flour. Dip blossoms one by one into batter and place in hot oil. Cook for about 2 minutes, then flip and cook the other side. You’ll see the batter crisping and setting on the bottom as your cue to flip. Set each blossom on a plate with paper towels as they cook.

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Ingredients (for sauce): 1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes, 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 large sliced garlic clove, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.

To make the sauce, add tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, paprika, salt, and pepper to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Let tomatoes simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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Serve blossoms over warm tomato sauce as an appetizer or as a snack.

 


Recipe Cards

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We recently acquired a few recipe cards from James’ late grandmother’s collection, and it has inspired me to get better about writing out recipes on cards myself. To continue expanding my small collection, I decided to design my own, rather than purchase existing cards.

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The cards we received from family contained some variety, so when deciding on my own pattern, I knew I wanted to make something unique with a floral motif for my own recipes.

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The cards were first created digitally, incorporating an antique wallpaper pattern, and then printed. I then embossed a teapot and teacups using a set of stamps, and used a gold ink with clear embossing powder, following the same process as when we made our wedding invitations.

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Once the design was printed and cut, it took just a few minutes to stamp and emboss a whole set of cards. I love the finished product, and am very excited to collect all of my recipes in one place.


Portobello Fries with Basil Dip

 

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Of all the great ways to prepare mushrooms, portobello fries is at the top of my list. The crispy outsides with the warm earthy inside make these ultra indulgent, and paired with a rich basil dip it can be a substitute for regular fries, or an appetizer for a dinner party.

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Portobello Fries: 6 large portobello mushroom caps, 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 tbsp garlic powder, 1 tbsp pepper, 1 tbsp salt (I used pink salt here since it has a bit of a subdued taste compared to table salt), 2 eggs, 1/4 cup milk, 1 qt canola oil.

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Add oil to a sturdy pot, and heat on high. Clean the mushroom caps, remove stems, and gently slice into strips. Mix eggs with milk and whisk in a bowl. In a separate bowl combine flour, garlic powder, pepper, and salt, and mix with a fork. In batches, add mushrooms to egg mixture and thoroughly coat, then transfer to flour mixture and coat, then add mushrooms to hot oil. You will know the oil is hot enough if you sprinkle a tiny bit of flour into the oil and it starts to sizzle. Fry the mushrooms for about 4 minutes, until crisp and starting to brown. Remove from oil and place on a plate to cool.

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The dip follows a similar method used when making homemade mayonnaise, but with a few additions.

Basil dip: 2 cups fresh basil leaves, 3 garlic cloves, 1 egg, 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, 1 cup extra light tasting olive oil, 1 tsp mustard powder, 1 tsp zest, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1 tbsp lemon juice.

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Add the egg, basil, garlic, mustard powder, fennel seeds, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup of oil to a blender. Blend for about 1 minute, then very slowly pour in the remaining 3/4 cup of olive oil. Once you have poured in all of the oil, add the zest and lemon juice, and blend for an additional 10 seconds.

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Blackberry Tartlets

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I love mini desserts – not only are they cute, but you also don’t have to worry about cutting up pieces to serve like you would with an entire cake. For a recent gathering with friends, I volunteered to bring the dessert, and made these little blackberry tartlets. The filling was decadent and creamy, with the hint of acidity from orange zest and a splash of liqueur. The crust was buttery and sweet, and the fresh fruit and bright colors were perfect for springtime.

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Ingredients: 1 cup heavy whipping cream, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 8 oz cream cheese at room temperature, 1 cup sugar, 2 1/2 cups fresh blackberries (plus more for decorating), zest of 1 orange, 2 tsp Cointreau, 1 tsp cornstarch, 2 tsp brown sugar, 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, 1 stick melted butter

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Instructions: Combine graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in a bowl, and gently mix with a fork. Make sure that all crumbs have incorporated the butter, and that the mixture isn’t too dry. If you see dry crumbs, add more butter as needed. This should make eight 3 inch tartlets.

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Scoop the graham cracker mixture into tartlet pans, and push down on bottom and sides, packing in the graham crackers tightly. It helps to use a tart tamper to really press down and even out the mixture. Once all of the tartlet pans are filled, place them on a baking sheet and freeze for at least 2 hours, or refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

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In a small sauce pan add the 2 1/2 cups of blackberries, 3/4 cup of sugar, orange zest, orange liqueur, cornstarch, and brown sugar. Heat over stovetop on medium-low, and let simmer until most of the blackberries have broken down and you have an almost syrup like consistency. Set aside to cool.

Add heavy cream to a mixing bowl, and beat on high for about 5 minutes, until peaks form in the cream. Set aside. Add cream cheese, remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, and vanilla extract to a mixing bowl, and beat for a couple of minutes until ingredients are incorporated and cream cheese is fluffy. Add cream cheese mixture, and cooled blackberry syrup to the bowl of whipped cream, and gently fold in to mix all ingredients together.

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Remove tartlet pans from refrigerator, and remove crusts by gently tapping bottoms while holding upside down. Fill each tartlet with blackberry cream, and top with fresh blackberries. Place tartlets back in refrigerator, and chill for at least 30 minutes. When ready to serve dust with powdered sugar, and garnish with small mint leaves.

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