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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Autumn Biscotti

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October is nearing its end and we are embracing autumn and all of the treats that go with it. To welcome the new season I made these autumn spiced biscotti with an apple cider glaze that felt just right. They’re not too heavy, but still have a warm and comforting spiced flavor. An Italian biscotti recipe from James’ grandmother’s collection served as my starting point, and I then added some classic autumn spices and mixed nuts to make it my own. The apple cider glaze is the perfect touch to complete the flavor profile, and enjoy with warm apple cider.

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Ingredients:

For the biscotti: 3/12 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 3 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, 6 eggs, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, 3/4 cup chopped mixed nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans)

For the apple cider glaze: 1 cup spiced apple cider, 2 Tbsp butter, 3/4 cup powdered sugar, pinch of cinnamon

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Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 400F. Mix all of the dry ingredients in one bowl, and the eggs and oil in a separate bowl. Whisk the eggs and oil to break up the egg yolks, then add to the bowl with dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add nuts to mixture and stir to combine.

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Scoop out the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper to form two loaves, then bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Slice thin slices from each loaf and lay each piece flat on the baking sheet. Return to oven to toast for another 5-10 minutes, until lightly browned.

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Add apple cider to a small saucepan and simmer for about 10 minutes, until it has reduced by half. Add remaining ingredients, and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes until glaze has thickened to a syrup like consistency.

Once the cookies have cooled, lightly drizzle each with the apple cider glaze. Serve with apple cider for a perfect autumnal treat.

 

 


Mushroom Ravioli

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Ever since getting the pasta attachment for my stand mixer, I have been dabbling in making homemade pasta. I especially love preparing fresh pasta for guests, or for a romantic date night in. Ravioli in particular can be a perfect special dinner for two without spending the money on going out to a restaurant. This mushroom ravioli, stuffed with a creamy mushroom filling and covered with an herby mushroom sauce, is one of our absolute favorites.

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For the pasta: 5oz flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 whole egg, 2 egg yolks (reserve one egg white for later).

Add all ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook and mix for about 10 minutes. All of the ingredients will come together to form a ball and hook will knead the dough until it is smooth and shiny. Wrap dough in plastic, and let sit for at least one hour. When dough has rested, cut in half and roughly shape each piece into rectangles, flattening with the palm of your hand, and lightly dust with flour. Run each piece of dough through the pasta attachment, starting on setting 1 and gradually making your way to 5. I like to run the dough through each number about 3 times. Once each piece has gone through setting 5 at least twice, cut each strip in half and rest on a baking sheet lightly dusted with flour until ready to use.

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For the filling: 1 tsp olive oil, 2 1/2 cups roughly diced mushrooms (any kind and combination you’d like), 1 small diced shallot, 2 diced garlic cloves, 4 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 tbsp butter, 3/4 cup ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese

While the dough is resting you can start making the ravioli filling. Heat olive oil in skillet and add shallots and garlic. Sauté shallots and garlic until starting to lightly brown, then add mushrooms and thyme. Lower heat to low and let simmer gently until mushrooms are cooked through. Add butter and salt and pepper to taste. Remove the thyme sprigs and let the mushrooms cool, then add to a bowl with ricotta and parmesan cheeses. Mix until thoroughly combined.

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To make the ravioli, lay out the sheets of pasta and place about a tablespoon for each ravioli of mushroom filling along the sheet. Brush with egg whites along the edges of the filling. Cover with the second half of the pasta, then gently press around the edges of the filling to seal each ravioli and remove air.

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Using a ravioli stamp press each ravioli along the edges to give them their proper shape. Gently pull each ravioli apart and set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook ravioli for about 3 minutes, until they all float to top. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on plates.

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For the sauce: 1 tsp olive oil, 1 garlic clove, 1 cup sliced mushrooms, 1 cup chicken broth, 2 tbsp minced parsley, 1 tbsp butter

Heat olive oil in skillet and add garlic. Add mushrooms and sauté for a couple of minutes, until mushrooms start to lightly brown. Add chicken broth and parsley and let simmer until broth has reduced by about half. Add butter and salt and pepper to taste, mix well.

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Drizzle mushroom sauce over freshly made ravioli, and garnish with fresh parsley to complete the dish.

 

 


Apéritif and Digestif

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.

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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.

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1 oz Campari, 1 oz Sweet Vermouth, 4 oz Prosecco

Add ice to glass and layer each ingredient. Serve with a citrus garnish.

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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.

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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.


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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Apple Dutch Baby

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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.

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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

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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).

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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.

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Serve immediately with syrup, and fresh apple slices. Best enjoyed with a cup of hot coffee for an even more comforting breakfast meal.

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Stone Fruit Panzanella with Basil Vinaigrette

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Slice nectarines, plums, and tomatoes into wedges and add to a large bowl. Add arugula, bread, and burrata in small dollops.

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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.

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Drizzle dressing and fresh ground pepper over salad 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.

 


Chocolate Lava Cake

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.