Along with planning the meal itself, planning the drinks for a dinner party can be fun and creative. I love to serve an apéritif as guests arrive, preparing them for a hearty dinner, and to end the evening with a relaxing digestif. Here is one apéritif and one digestif that have become some of our favorites, and would be great for either a dinner party or a date night in.
Negroni Sbagliato: using classic aperitif ingredients like Campari and Prosecco, this cocktail is just the right amount of bitter while also being very punchy and refreshing.
1 oz Campari, 1 oz Sweet Vermouth, 4 oz Prosecco
Add ice to glass and layer each ingredient. Serve with a citrus garnish.
Coffee Spritz: On cold nights an Irish coffee is a great way to end a meal, but if you’re looking for something cooler as the weather warms, or simply looking for an alternative without losing the coffee flavor, this is the perfect cocktail. The Averna digestif liquor in this cocktail gives it a delicate herby taste, while the coffee and vanilla syrup give it body and sweetness. The foamy texture comes from an egg white, which makes this a great brunch cocktail as well.
1 oz Averna, 1/2 oz dark rum, 1/2 oz vanilla syrup, 2 oz cold brew coffee, 1 egg white, 1 1/2 oz Prosecco
Add all ingredients except for Prosecco to shaker and shake for at least 15 seconds. Add ice and shake until chilled. Pour into glass and let sit for a few seconds before topping with Prosecco.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After our apple picking adventure, we came home with five pounds of apples just waiting to be enjoyed in various ways. Naturally, one such way had to be warm and sweet, so I decided to bake up a simple apple dutch baby – perfect for autumn mornings.
Ingredients: 3 small apples, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, pinch of nutmeg, 4 Tbsp butter, 3 eggs, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup milk, 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 350F. Peel and slice apples into thin pieces, then add to a bowl with cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg. Stir to combine. In a cast iron skillet melt 2 Tbsp butter and add apples. Cook until apples are becoming tender (about 3 minutes).
Remove apples from skillet, and wipe clean. Place skillet in hot oven, and let it heat. While skillet is heating in oven whisk eggs, flour, milk and sugar in a bowl. Add remaining 2Tbsp butter to hot skillet and melt. Once the butter has melted add cooked apples to center of skillet, then add batter. Cook at 350F for 10-12 minutes, until the batter rises and edges start to crisp.
Serve immediately with syrup, and fresh apple slices. Best enjoyed with a cup of hot coffee for an even more comforting breakfast meal.
Growing up with peach trees in my backyard, I have always thought of stone fruits as the quintessential summer produce. As summer slowly comes to an end, I’m taking full advantage of the season’s produce while I still can, and adding them to a variety of dishes. For days when you want something light and summery, but still a bit hearty and filling, this stone fruit panzanella fits all of the above.
Ingredients: 1 small loaf of bread, 3 nectarines, 3 plums, 2 large heirloom tomatoes, 1/2 cup burrata, 3 cups arugula, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 350F. Cut the loaf of bread into slices, then rip apart using your hands to make small pieces. Toss the bread with olive oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl, then place on a baking sheet. Bake in oven for about 8 minutes. You want the bread to be a little toasted, but not so much that they turn into crunchy croutons.
Slice nectarines, plums, and tomatoes into wedges and add to a large bowl. Add arugula, bread, and burrata in small dollops.
For the dressing: 1 shallot, 1 cup packed basil, 1 garlic clove, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Add all dressing ingredients to a blender, and blend on high until all ingredients are completely liquified.
Drizzle dressing and fresh ground pepper over salad before serving.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Serve blossoms over warm tomato sauce as an appetizer or as a snack.
I’m not a big fan of cake, which puts me in the minority. Lava cake, however, is a thing of its own, and a treat I can have on any given day. I recently made little chocolate lava cakes for a few girlfriends, and it was the perfect ending to a relaxing evening. Each bite, with it’s oozing warm chocolate center was incredibly rich, and each cake disappeared within just a few minutes.
What’s great about this dessert isn’t just that it’s rich and indulgent, it’s also very easy to put together and most people likely already have all of the ingredients for it in their homes. You can also prepare ahead of time, and bake just before serving for a freshly baked warm treat for guests.
Ingredients (serves 4): 2 eggs, 2 egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter, 4 oz bitter-sweet chocolate, 2 tsp flour, 2 tbsp cocoa powder
Instructions: Combine eggs, yolks, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat at medium speed. Meanwhile, heat the chocolate and butter on a stovetop over low heat, just until it’s oozy but not completely melted, whisk together to combine. Once the egg mixture has thickened (about 4 minutes), add the warm chocolate and butter mixture to the eggs, as well as the flour, and beat for a few more seconds to combine.
Butter four ramekins, and lightly dust with cocoa powder, shaking out any excess. Pour in the batter, dividing equally among each dish. At this point you can either bake immediately, or refrigerate until a few minutes before serving. When ready to bake bring batter back to room temperature, and bake in 450F oven for 7 minutes on a baking tray. You will see that the sides are set, but the middle will still be soft. Invert each cake onto a small plate, and let sit for a few seconds before lifting ramekin. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with fresh berries.
I plan to make this treat again for Valentine’s Day, and I know I will be making it many times in the future. It is a decadent dessert to enjoy during these winter months, with good friends, or to finish a dinner for two.
Sliders are one of my favorite bar foods; I especially love when there is more than one type of slider available instead of having four of the same. They are also a great meal to prepare at home for casual nights in and are quite popular with guests. My favorite way to prepare sliders is with mini pretzel rolls and paired with home-made french fries and a good beer. Here are four different slider combinations I tend to keep coming back to whenever making them at home.
For the beef patties: 1 lb ground beef, 4 strips bacon, 1 large tomato (diced), 1/2 yellow onion (diced), 1 teaspoon each of dry parsley, salt, pepper, and paprika.
To get started fry the bacon strips in a large pan until crispy. Remove bacon and set on a paper towel (you will use the bacon for one of the slider recipes). Keep the pan with the bacon oils on low heat. While the bacon is frying, prepare the meat by combining onion, tomatoes, parsley, salt, pepper, and paprika with the meat. Mix well with your hands to thoroughly blend the ingredients. Create small patties with your hands, and add the patties to the hot bacon pan. Cook patties about 2 minutes per side and remove from pan.
From left to right –
Slider 1: Make a basil aioli by combining 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise with 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, 1 minced garlic clove, and a dash of salt. Spread aioli on pretzel bun then add a slice of havarti cheese, beef patty, arugula leaves, and a couple pieces of bacon.
Slider 2: Spread softened goat cheese on bun, top with beef patty, a few sliced pieces of sun-dried tomatoes, and a little bit of fresh parsley.
Slider 3: Make a spicy aioli by adding four sweet and hot cherry peppers (or you can use canned chipotle peppers), and 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise to a food processor. Mix in processor until puréed. In a small pan sauté sliced yellow onion with a teaspoon of olive oil, a dash of sugar, and a dash of salt. Remove onions from pan and fry egg in the same pan (add more olive oil if needed). Spread aioli onto bun, top with beef patty, sautéed onions, and fried egg.
Slider 4: Chop 2 large portobello mushrooms, 4 caper-berries, and 1 teaspoon of capers. Sauté ingredients in a small pan with 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Spread burrata cheese onto bun, top with beef patty and sautéed mushrooms.
Having just had a wedding, and having married an Italian, I thought it would be fitting to make Italian wedding soup for the first time. Italian wedding soup apparently has nothing to do with Italian weddings; it was mistranslated from the Italian ‘minestra maritata’ which means ‘married soup,’ because the ingredients all go so well together. I couldn’t agree more, and it has instantly become a favorite that I plan to make over and over again.
James grew up having this soup made by his grandmother, and always called it ‘scarola soup’ in reference to the leafy green typically used, escarole. Many recipes note that you can substitute escarole with other greens, but I wanted to make sure to include it in my attempt to replicate the soup James remembered.
For the broth:
2 quarts of chicken broth
2 sprigs dry thyme
1 small bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large bunch of escarole (about 3 cups chopped)
1/4 cup orzo (optional)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
For the meatballs:
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, finely minced
3/4 cup Italian parsley
1/2 white onion
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons pepper
Finely chop the onion, garlic, parsley, and oregano. I like to use a small food processor to get the ingredients really finely chopped so that you don’t have any large pieces in the meatballs. Add chopped ingredients to a bowl with ground meats, salt, pepper, cheese, egg, and breadcrumbs. Mix gently with your hands, incorporating well but not overworking the meat. Roll into small bite sized meatballs, set aside. Note: if you find you have too many meatballs you can freeze some and use for later.
In a large soup pot heat up the olive oil and add the garlic and onion, sauté until translucent and tender. Add the chicken stock, thyme, and bay leaf to the pot. Let the broth come to a boil and gently add the meatballs. Let the meatballs cook for about 10 minutes, they will begin to float when cooked through. If you would like to add orzo you can add it at this time. Once meatballs are mostly done add the chopped escarole and let simmer until it has wilted down.
Whisk the two eggs and cheese in a small bowl and slowly pour into the hot soup, whisking constantly to form ribbons. Serve in a large bowl, because you’ll want a lot of it, and feel it warm up your insides with deliciousness.