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Quick and Easy Marinated Roasted Peppers–sweetness and sunshine to brighten your next dish!

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Don’t get me wrong–I love crunchy and juicy, fresh red, yellow and orange bell peppers raw, and most of the time I eat them that way, either as a snack or in salads, or in crudite.  But once in a while I totally crave the delicious, easy to prepare roasted version, whose luscious caramelization gives a wonderful, sweet depth of flavor which can enhance so many dishes.

Arugula salad with avocado, fresh basil, roasted peppers with a fried egg on top (my breakfast today–SO delish!), turkey, ham and swiss rollups with mixed greens, roasted peppers and mayo (my dinner last night), frittata with pepper jack, cilantro and roasted peppers, pressed panino with melted fresh mozzarella, salami Calabrese, pesto and roasted peppers or the hors d’oeuvres featured here:  garlic crostini with warm goat cheese, fresh basil and roasted peppers, are just some of the endless possibilities.

Technically, these are broiled rather than roasted–I think they come out juicier that way!  You can also achieve similar results by grilling the peppers over high heat, if you prefer.

To make these crunchy treats, you’ll need:

3 sweet bell peppers (1 red, 1 orange and 1 yellow), washed and dried, and cut as illustrated below

extra-virgin olive oil (a tiny bit to rub on peppers before roasting, and about 1/4 cup to use for garlic oil, and a couple of tablespoons to marinate the peppers in)

balsamic vinegar (about a tablespoon)

1 baguette, cut on the bias with a serrated knife into 1/3″ slices

2 cloves garlic, crushed

kosher salt to taste

1 11 oz. log fresh goat cheese

garnish:  tiny leaves of fresh basil

Prepare the peppers.  Heat broiler (or grill, if using) on high.  Line a sheet pan (for the broiler) with foil.

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Slice the ends off of each of the peppers.  Discard the stems.  Set each pepper right side up onto your cutting board.  Make one vertical cut all the way down to open each pepper, and then run your knife along the inside horizontally to remove the ribs and seeds.  Shake the peppers to dislodge any clinging seeds.  Slice each pepper swath vertically, into two or three pieces.

Rub the skin sides of each pepper slice with a tiny amount of the olive oil (to avoid smoking).  Place the peppers with a little space in between onto the prepared sheet pan (or skin side down onto your hot grill).  Allow them to broil (or grill) for about ten minutes, rotating pan halfway through for even browning, if using your broiler.

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When peppers are nicely charred (see photo), scrunch the aluminum foil from the pan (use a new piece for peppers on the grill) up and around them, sealing it shut to allow the peppers to steam and the skins to loosen.  Let them sit for about 20 minutes or more, until they are cool enough to handle.

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Remove and discard the skins from the peppers.  Slice the peppers vertically into 1/3″ pieces.  Toss them with a little extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and kosher salt until the flavor is well-balanced.

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Prepare the crostini.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine the 1/4 cup olive oil with the crushed garlic and a generous amount of kosher salt in a small bowl.  Brush the garlic oil onto both sides of each baguette slice.  Set them onto a foil lined sheet tray, and place them into the preheated oven.  Cook crostini for about ten minutes, or until they are starting to lightly brown and get toasty and crisp.  Flip them over, and allow them to cook for another couple of minutes.  Remove crostini, and let them cool for a few minutes, reserving foil on the tray.

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Spread each crostino with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the goat cheese.  Place three or four roasted and marinated pepper slices on top.  Put them back onto the lined sheet tray, and this time, put them under the broiler for a minute or two, until the goat cheese is warm and soft.  Remove them from oven and let them cool for a few minutes.  Right before serving, sprinkle each crostino with the prepared tiny basil leaves.  Enjoy!!

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And that’s Love On The Table!

Cheese Importers Marketplace and Bistro of Longmont, CO– a restaurant and rainbow of international offerings for the kitchen and home

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When a new friend invited me a couple of months ago to meet her for lunch at the Cheese Importers in Longmont, CO, about 25 minutes northeast of Boulder, I expected to have a quick meal in a local restaurant and then get a driving tour of up and coming Longmont, which I had been wanting to check out since I had moved to Boulder back in September of last year.  Well, I enjoyed a lovely Quiche Lorraine and salad, and later, the tour, but I never expected to be captivated by the establishment itself.

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The Cheese Importers Marketplace and Bistro is set in a large parking lot in an industrial area, a location where you would more likely see auto parts yards and manufacturing facilities, but not so much a very charming restaurant and store.  From the outside, the colorful and whimsical outdoor furnishings, bright orange and green front doors and mosaic of decorations beckon you inside, and only hint at the blaze of color which envelops you when you walk in.

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There is a counter laden with French pastries, graced, on that day, by Natalie, whose warmth and friendly professionalism instantly made me feel welcomed.  Although this second visit was for photographing, it was hard to resist the freshly baked almond croissants and rainbow of macarons, which were quietly beckoning to me.

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It was mid-afternoon, so the lunch rush was over and the dining area was almost empty, but when I had dined there before, the place was packed.  It was obvious that this treasure was no secret.  My friend had to drag me through all of the different corners of the store, as I was attempting to register all of the enticing goods the place was stocked with.  The strong emphasis on products from France ignited my romantic and culinary proclivities, and I took a quick inventory of the gems I might purchase upon future visits.

Off to one side of the marketplace is a huge refrigerated room, stocked with cheeses, charcuterie, crackers and olives from around the world.  It is manned by a cheese monger, Heidi, who helped me select a soft wedge of black truffle brie to take home with me.

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If you venture upstairs, there are more tables for diners, and a few different rooms filled with unusual treasures.  One room is stocked with books and toys for kids, including a puppet theater.  The main room is filled with gifts from Paris, but my favorite is the salmon pink room, which looks like a boudoir, at the center of which is an antique organza tutu on a wire armature, sewn with sequins and topped off with a brightly dyed orange-pink fur stole.   The room is ringed with French soaps and toiletries, assorted costumes and baubles, and is crowned with a glass chandelier so colorful and glistening, it looks like candy.

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Once again downstairs on the main level, I was very pleased to make the acquaintances of Rose and Jeanette, who warmly told me a little bit about the store’s owners and history.  I kept returning to their registers with different treats I could not live without, like my favorite violet and rose flavored pastilles, and salted caramels.

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Finally, I did another quick walk-through to be sure I didn’t miss anything, making a mental note to return and acquire embossed glasses, napkins and tablecloths in delicious colors to stage my food photos for this blog and my future cookbooks.

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And since I had purchased the truffle brie, I needed some French wine and baguette to accompany it, of course, so I headed to Whole Foods on the way home to pick them up for my dinner.  It was the perfect way to end the day, imagining I was at a Parisian bistro on the Left Bank, watching the beautiful, slender and sophisticated passers-by and listening longingly to their seductive language.

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I can’t wait to go back to Paris and explore more of beautiful France, but in the meantime, I can simply visit the Cheese Importers in unlikely Longmont, and let my French fantasies carry me away…

…and that’s Love On The Table (L’amour Sur La Table)…

Boxcar and Cured…A Recipe for Success

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After several challenging first months here in Boulder, things are lightening up a bit, and life is beginning to soften, to be more fun, and to present me with unexpected possibilities.  It has a lot to do with the fact that I kicked my own butt to join numerous meet-up groups and attend a few events (much better odds for meeting people than lounging on my love seat with my cat and my longtime companion, Netflix).  Since I have now connected with a few new actual human friends, life feels so much more warm, welcoming and fun, and Boulder is starting to feel more like the home I remember it to be.

When my new sweet friend, Marisa Greengold (also my creative, energetic and talented social media manager–marisa.greengold@gmail.com), suggested we meet for coffee at Boxcar to launch an afternoon of strolling along Pearl Street, the epicenter of Boulder, I was excited to try a new place which I had zoomed by several times but hadn’t yet stopped in to explore.  I never expected that it would also launch my destiny.

From the moment I stepped inside this culinary wonderland, I was transfixed—practically glued to the floor, as I attempted to take it all in.  The woman at the cash register to my right (Jules, as I found out later) observed my paralysis, and informed me that there are two businesses sharing the space:  Boxcar Coffee Roasters to the left, and Cured (offering gourmet packaged goods, cheese, charcuterie and sandwiches to order, and wine shop) on the right.  The charming historic exterior, the rustic exposed brick in the interior and the slightly industrial vibe, warmed with large paintings and leafy plants and trees, seduced me instantly.

After I ordered my cappuccino, Marisa joined me inside, and I reported to her how much I appreciated her suggesting this place.  It was not long before I had the urge to take photos of the endless selection of visual treats enticing me all around.

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A few years ago, my friend Janine Miller in Sedona, AZ (where I used to live), who is the most gifted psychic I have ever encountered (https://www.facebook.com/janine.miller.56), had given me a reading, which, among other things, catalyzed the writing/creating of my cookbook, Love On The Table, crafting ecstasy in the kitchen, which I will soon be publishing.  Much later, she texted to inform me that she had gotten a massive psychic download for me, which turned out to be a sweeping and colorfully detailed depiction of my life to come, specifically, how my work will express itself and unfold, and what it is meant to become.  As she began sharing all of this with me, it occurred to me that she was talking about me creating an online cooking magazine of sorts.  It felt perfectly right, and I starting seeing how I would really love traveling, having adventures, and encountering people, places and things, mostly food and wine related, and then reporting about them on my blog, recommending my favorites.  I saw also how these experiences would inspire me to prepare my own creations at home, and inform my cooking classes and future cookbooks.

It had occurred to me that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start exploring like this in Boulder, a town famous for being a foodie mecca, one of the best in the country.  Yet, for some reason, I wasn’t feeling inspired.  But that was about to change.

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While sipping on my delicious cappuccino in this lovely environment, I suddenly realized that the time was NOW.  I needed to stop imagining my website “eventually morphing into an online cooking magazine,” as I had explained to many friends over the last year or so, which clearly placed this potentiality as something perpetually in the future, and therefore never actually happening.  At long last, my destiny was undeniably right in front of my face.

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Marisa was kind to allow me some space to leave our conversation for moments at a time to take photos and connect with some of the staff at both establishments.  It was during and after these encounters when I was moved to tears, as I realized how much joy this brought me, and how everybody’s smiles showed that they were enjoying the attention and appreciation as well.  I could definitely see myself doing this type of thing more and more.  It was not only good for me to get exposure for my business and blog, etc., but it was great on a personal level as well, as I was meeting more great people this way.

Clockwise, from top left:  Sean making espresso at Boxcar; Jules, at Cured; baristas Joe, Sean, Emily and Joe at Boxcar; Marcus, behind the cheese counter at Cured; Amelia at the Cured register; Phillip at Cured
Ariana and wine distributor in the wine shop at Cured; Amelia at Cured

I returned the following day to get more photos of things I had missed.  And I took the opportunity to sample a couple of the delicious, expertly prepared baked goods at Boxcar and some of exquisite cheeses at Cured.  It definitely will become a place I will return to often, and when I do, I will know people there.

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Hazelnut Orange Blossom Double-Baked Croissant and Cardamom Earl Grey Donut at Boxcar
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Freshly made sandwich at Cured
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My own inner compass, reflected externally…

And this was just our first stop of the day.  So we ventured on, falling into shops spontaneously, enjoying our conversations with the people we met.  While at Alex and Ani, we met two women working there, one of whom, Emily, was wearing killer cowboy boots, pictured below.

There was a deck of numerology cards on the counter there, and after admiring some of the jewelry, both Marisa and I calculated the numerological values of our birth names, and looked at the corresponding cards.  This is what I got:

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If the shoe fits…

Our final stop of the day was at El Loro, where I found not only the thing I was looking for, a piece of rose quartz, but two lovely and inexpensive beaded bracelets.  While Marisa was looking for her own gemstones, I was enjoying the sweetness and warm hospitality of Mary, who had helped me make my bracelet selections.  Another reminder of how wonderful the local people of Boulder can be, if you just go slightly beneath the surface.

I now have a full heart of gratitude to the universe for bringing me this magical and pivotal day, and to Marisa Greengold, whose idea it was to go to Boxcar for coffee that afternoon.

So, readers, this is just the beginning of a great adventure for all of us!  Not only will I be posting my own original recipes on this blog, but I will be sharing all of my special discoveries with you as I encounter them.   I hope that you get much pleasure from learning about these gems.  And if I can inspire you to experience them for yourselves, that would truly be an honor.  Ultimately, I just want to share the love!!!  And that is what Love On The Table is all about.

I would like to give special credit to Ellen Sirena, of merangeltherapy.com, whose powerful meditation/exercise of rewriting your life story helped me to clear the way for this magical day to happen.  I have been enjoying all of her wonderful guided meditations on youtube for the last few months.  They have helped me remain positive in a difficult time, and have connected me more deeply to my life’s purpose.  The life story exercise was sent to me by her because I signed up for her email list.  I definitely recommend doing this, since there are many free treasures that will show up in your inbox at the precise moment you need them.

And that’s Love On The Table!!!

A Sensuous and Romantic Dinner for You and Your Valentine: Five-Spice Seared Sea Scallops with Purple Potato Cauliflower Puree, Glazed Baby Spinach and Arugula, and Port and Red Wine Reduction with Brown Butter

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Five-Spice Seared Sea Scallops with Purple Potato Cauliflower Puree, Glazed Baby Spinach and Arugula, and Port and Red Wine Reduction with Brown Butter

 

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Recently, I shared with a friend how gorgeous Peruvian purple potatoes are, and that when you cook and mash them, they turn a lovely shade of lavender, a surprising color to find on a plate.  When I was trying to come up with an idea for a Valentine’s dinner for this blog, that conversation came to mind, and I imagined that a delicate purple puree would be the perfect romantic accent in a Valentine’s Day themed dish.

     This aphrodisiacal treat was designed with sea scallops as the focus, but you can substitute medallions of steamed or grilled lobster tail, seared shrimp, filet of halibut, monkfish, or sea bass, if you prefer.  Encrusted with Chinese five-spice powder, the scallops have a slightly sweet and spicy exotic accent.

I pureed the purple potatoes with cauliflower to lighten them up, and accompanied the dish with butter-glazed baby spinach and arugula.  Everything is brought together by an orgasmic Port and red wine reduction, emulsified with delicious, nutty, brown butter, which I swirl around each plate, since it is absolutely heavenly with each of the elements of the dish.

Wash it all down with some Champagne, Prosecco or your favorite sparkling wine, eat it slowly and luxuriously with your lover, preferably feeding each other, and see what unfolds…at your own risk!!!

 

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Five-Spice Crusted Sea Scallops with Purple Potato Cauliflower Puree, Glazed Baby Spinach and Arugula and Port and Red Wine Reduction with Brown Butter
(for two servings)

 

For the brown butter:

2 tablespoons premium unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled till cold and firm

 

For the Port and red wine reduction:

1 cup Port

1 cup dry, full-bodied red wine, like Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel or Cabernet

 

To finish the sauce:

2 tablespoons chilled and cubed brown butter (see below)

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or pinch of fine salt

 

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Prepare the brown butter.  Place a small pot over medium-high heat for a minute or so, until is gets very hot.  Add the chilled butter, swirling the pan over the heat, for about a minute or so.  Allow it to get brown in color, being careful not to let it burn.  Remove pan from heat, transfer brown butter to a small ramekin, and put it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, until firm and cold.

 

 

When brown butter is cold, run a paring knife on the inside of the ramekin to release the butter onto a cutting board, and cut it into small pieces.  Return it to the refrigerator until just before serving.

 

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Prepare the Port and red wine reduction.  Pour the Port and red wine into a small or medium pot over high heat.  Bring wine mixture to a boil, lower heat slightly, and allow it to reduce for about ten minutes, until the bubbles get larger, and the reduction is almost as thick as a syrup.  Test the viscosity by dipping the back of a spoon into the reduction and tracing your finger across the spoon.  If it doesn’t bleed back together, it is done.  Cover and set aside.  This reduction can be prepared in advanced, and reheated just before serving to complete the sauce.

 

 

To finish the sauce, right before serving, reheat it over medium heat.  When hot, check for consistency; if it is too thick, whisk in a few drops of water until it is slightly thickened, but still runny.  When it comes to the boil, turn off heat, and add chilled brown butter pieces, two or three at a time, and swirl them into the sauce until they are completely dissolved, and repeat until all of the butter has been used.  Whisk in salt.  Adjust seasoning if necessary.

 

 

When the scallops are ready, drizzle sauce onto plates.

 

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For the purple potato cauliflower puree:

 

 

12 oz. Peruvian purple potatoes (make sure they are the kind that are purple on the inside as well as the outside), peeled and cut into small chunks

8 oz. cauliflower florets (from 1 cauliflower, cored, and thick stems and leaves removed), cut up into small pieces

 

3 tablespoons premium unsalted butter

3 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

 

Put a medium or large pot halfway filled with water up to boil on high heat.  Add the cut up potatoes and cauliflower.  Let it come to the boil, and lower heat slightly.  Allow vegetables to cook until they are very soft.  When they are done, pour contents of pot through a sieve in the sink.

 

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Transfer the cooked potatoes and cauliflower to the bowl of a food processor, and add the butter, creme fraiche and salt.  Process until a smooth, homogenous puree is formed.  You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a little, and process again for a few seconds until everything is incorporated evenly.  Using a rubber spatula, transfer contents into a small baking dish, cover with foil, and keep warm in a 300 degree oven.

 

For the glazed baby spinach and arugula:

 

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2 cups water

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt

4 tablespoons premium unsalted butter

 

5 oz. baby spinach leaves, washed and drained of excess water

2.5 oz baby arugula leaves, washed and drained of excess water

 

In a medium or large pot, bring water, salt and butter to a boil.  Cover and remove from heat.

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Right before serving, when scallops are almost done, bring seasoned water to a boil over high heat, and place spinach and arugula into the water, pressing down with tongs to submerge the leaves.  When they are completely wilted, transfer greens to a sieve, in the sink or over a bowl, and press excess water out with the back of a spoon.

 

For the scallops:

6 large sea scallops, muscles on sides removed, dried thoroughly with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel

2 tablespoons clarified butter (ghee) or vegetable oil

kosher salt to taste

Chinese five-spice powder (about a teaspoon or less)

 

For the garnish:

pink tea rose petals and tiny flowers

 

Turn on fan above stove.  Heat a large skillet (cast iron is best) on high for about two minutes, until it is very hot.

To coordinate the spinach and arugula, reheat the buttery water on medium high.  When it comes to the boil, lower heat until water is simmering lightly.

Season dried scallops with salt on both sides.  Sprinkle some five-spice powder on the tops of the scallops.

 

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Add clarified butter or oil to the hot pan, and when it is hot and shimmering, add the scallops, spice side down, not touching, with plenty of space in between.  Using tongs, loosen them from the pan until they are not sticking, and let them cook until a brown crust forms on each.

 

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Meanwhile, plunge spinach and arugula into the simmering buttery water.  Pour contents of pot through a sieve in the sink or over a bowl.  Press with tongs to drain out excess water.

When scallops are brown on one side, flip them over, and allow them to cook on the other side for a couple of minutes.

 

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Reheat the port and wine reduction over medium, and add the brown butter, as described above, and the salt.  Remove the purple potato/cauliflower puree from the oven.

Drizzle a generous amount of the sauce on two plates.  Scoop some of the purple potato/cauliflower puree onto each plate, and place a small heap of the spinach/arugula mix next to these.  Place three scallops, spice crust sides up onto the sauce on each plate, and garnish with tea rose petals and tiny flowers.  Serve with Champagne or sparkling wine, for a memorable, sensual, shared dinner experience for you and your loved one!

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day!  May there be much delicious love on your table!

Spicy Chipotle Hot Cocoa with Rum and Fresh Whipped Cream

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When I was a young girl growing up in Westchester County, New York, my family and I, as with all east coasters, suffered the most grey, bitter and dreary winters every year. Once in a while we made the most of the season, skiing in upstate New York, or ice-skating at Murray’s Skating Rink in Yonkers. Skating was never really my thing, as the skates always made my feet cramp, it was invariably freezing, and I was often wiping out onto the ice most ungracefully. But the best part was the reward of hot cocoa after an hour or two of mild torture. There was a machine inside the lobby area dispensing a watery and sugary facsimile of that hot and sweet treat. Looking back, it certainly ranked among the worst hot cocoa versions I have tried, but to my young taste buds, it was heaven.

My taste buds have come a long way since those days, and several years ago, I embarked upon a hot cocoa exploration in my own home. My friend, Heather Malloy, whom I have often relied upon to be my culinary guinea pig, would spontaneously pop by my place in Sedona, and I would usually prepare some treat du jour for both of us to enjoy. She has always been my biggest foodie fan, and it is really fun for me to cook for her.

So I started a winter tradition, with the goal of making an intensely chocolaty, but not too sweet, version of hot cocoa, spiked with booze, and topped with dreamy homemade whipped cream. Some favorite versions were hot cocoa with Peppermint Schnapps, blanketed in whipped cream and sprinkled with crushed candy canes, boozy Grand Marnier hot cocoa, and this spicy, southwestern influenced cocoa accented with hot, smoky chipotle powder and cinnamon, and fortified with rum.

When you use the best quality, dark, unsweetened cocoa powder, you can achieve a deep chocolate intensity without the result being cloyingly sweet. I love the warm buzz and heat from the rum and spices, and the contrast of the cool cloud of silky and decadent whipped cream, which first kisses your lips, yielding gracefully to the hot cocoa elixir beyond. Enjoy this recipe with very special friends.  And that’s love on the table.

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Spicy Chipotle Hot Cocoa with Rum

and Fresh Whipped Cream

serves 6

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For the whipped cream:

 

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 large pinch kosher salt, or 1 small pinch fine salt

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

 

7 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted

 

 

For the hot cocoa:

 

7 cups 2% milk

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon premium quality cocoa powder, like Valrhona, Green & Black’s, or Ghirardelli

5 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 1/4 teaspoons chipotle powder

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or 1/4 teaspoon fine salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

 

1/2 cup gold or dark rum

 

 

For the garnish:

 

6 cinnamon sticks

chipotle powder

 

 

Prepare the whipped cream. Place bowl of mixer and whip attachment in the freezer for ten minutes. Meanwhile, assemble all of the whipped cream ingredients.

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When mixing bowl is very cold, place cream, salt, vanilla and almond extracts into the bowl, and whip on medium, and then high speed, until soft peaks are just beginning to form. Turn off mixer, add sifted powdered sugar, and beat on medium-high, until cream is fluffy, smooth and glossy, being careful not to over mix (if you let it go too far, the cream will become grainy and begin separating, on its way to becoming butter). Cover whipped cream with plastic, and keep refrigerated until using.

Prepare the hot cocoa.   Place the first eight ingredients into a medium or large pot over medium heat. When mixture begins getting hot, whisk the cocoa and other ingredients to dissolve them into the milk. Allow cocoa to come to a simmer, and lower temperature all the way, cover and keep it warm.

To serve, whip cream very briefly with a whisk to re-inflate it. Bring cocoa back to a simmer over medium heat. Add rum, and allow it to simmer for a few seconds.

Ladle cocoa into heatproof glasses or mugs, and top each with a generous amount of the whipped cream. Sprinkle them with a little chipotle powder, and dunk a cinnamon stick into each hot cocoa to finish.

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Fixer Upper Fantasies

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Struggling to keep my head above water here in Boulder, CO, which is colder than my memory of it, and much more challenging than expected, it is hard to imagine that life might be easier.  And although I am so incredibly grateful to be living in a beautiful and special place that has always felt like home, my heart and soul are crying out for something way more expansive, fun, joyous and delicious than what my current life circumstances offer.

Having been steeped in the spiritual belief that the only limitations in life are those which we impose (mostly unwittingly) upon ourselves, and steadfastly clinging to my opulent and celebratory nature, I am still holding out for my dreams to become my reality.

So now I am truly committed to managing my attitude and emotions, noticing when I dip into negative thinking, and consciously releasing those thoughts and beliefs moment by moment.  And I am committed to dreaming.  I am actually looking at fantasy kitchens, both indoor and outdoor, beautiful and unique home decor, exotic destinations and Michelin-starred restaurants.  I imagine skiing in the Italian Alps, learning to make pasta with an Italian nonna living in an ancient hill town, riding horses with my beloved (still to come), sailing the Greek Isles on my honeymoon, riding bikes and tasting wine through Burgundy or Bordeaux, creating a cooking school, preparing elaborate al fresco dinners, and hosting impromptu jam sessions in the gorgeous, warm and inviting home that my future husband and I have made together.  Anything is possible, and I am hoping that the more I focus on my dreams, the more likely they are to manifest.

Recently, my dear friend, Christina Thomas, posted images on FaceBook of renovated kitchens and bathrooms amazingly transformed by Chip and Joanna Gaines of the wildly popular HGTV show, “Fixer Upper.”  I first was exposed to the show a few years ago when visiting my mother in Florida, and she and I binge-watched the first two seasons.  It was breathtaking to see how the couple turned ruins of houses into unbelievably beautiful, state of the art homes, often on a limited budget.  I rewatched those first two seasons on Netflix this past year, and, since I don’t have cable, I have been impatiently waiting for the next season to be available.

So when I saw Christina’s FaceBook post and then clicked on the links, the images on Joanna’s blog lit up my heart and soul, and reminded me how fun and delicious it is to fantasize about one’s ideal kitchen, or home space.  I immediately signed up with Joanna’s blog, putting myself on her email list, so I can really immerse myself in imagining the life I am destined for.

In case you happen to be like me, in the dreaming stage, or if you actually have the means to design the home of your dreams right now, I recommend that you dive in and enjoy perusing the beautiful offerings that this talented couple is making available.

Here is the link to Joanna’s blog, “At Home”: https://magnoliamarket.com/blog/.  I hope that it inspires you to imagine what your dream home might look like, and to reinforce the belief that magic is real, and that it is fully available to you!

And that’s Love On The Table!

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Warming Winter Comfort Food: Spaghetti with Spicy Vodka Sauce

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When there is a chill in the air, there is nothing like pasta with a creamy, decadent vodka sauce to warm your bones and satisfy your cravings.  This recipe for vodka sauce, perhaps the most flavorful version I have tasted, is accented with delicious pancetta, Italian salt-cured bacon, which adds both texture and tremendous flavor.  But, don’t worry, vegetarians–it will still be delicious if you omit the pancetta.  And if you really want to bring this dish to stellar heights of gastronomic pleasure, add pan-seared jumbo shrimp to the pasta before serving.  Any way you make it, this dish is true comfort food, and is likely to be a big hit with your special friends and family.  Enjoy the pasta with a small baby arugula and fennel salad, and a glass or two of Chianti or Nebbiolo.

And that’s Love On The Table!

 

Spaghetti with Spicy Vodka Sauce

serves 6 to 8

 

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2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

6 oz. pancetta, cut into 1/3” cubes

1 yellow onion, chopped finely

4 to 5 cloves garlic, chopped finely

2 teaspoons crushed red chile flakes (this amount makes the sauce medium-hot, which I think works well with the balance of flavors, but if you like, adjust the amount according to your taste)

1 cup vodka

two 28 oz. cans peeled whole tomatoes, like San Marzano or Muir Glen

 

2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

freshly cracked black pepper

1 1/4 teaspoon sugar

 

3 sprigs fresh oregano

3 sprigs fresh basil

3 sprigs fresh Italian parsley

cotton twine

 

2/3 to 1 cup heavy cream

 

1 1/2 lbs. dried spaghetti

 

1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, cut into small ribbons

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano leaves

 

for garnishing:

grated Pecorino Romano

fresh oregano sprigs

 

Pulse canned tomatoes, one can at a time, in a blender for a few seconds until pureed. Set aside.

Place a large pot over medium-high heat. After about a minute, add olive oil, and when it begins to shimmer, add the pancetta cubes, stirring them to coat. Lower heat to medium, allowing pancetta to render most of its fat and begin to brown, stirring frequently to cook it evenly.

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When pancetta is mostly crispy and brown, add the onion, stirring to coat. Let onion cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent and beginning to get tender and lightly golden.

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Add the garlic, stirring to coat, and allow it to cook for about a minute. Add chile flakes, stirring, and allow them to cook for about 30 seconds.

Deglaze pot with vodka. Raise heat to high, and let vodka reduce by about half, around three or four minutes.

Add pureed tomatoes, salt, black pepper and sugar.  Tie herb sprigs together with the cotton twine, and drop it into the sauce.  Stir to combine, and submerge herb bundle.

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When sauce comes to the boil, lower it to a simmer, partially cover it, and allow it to cook for about 45 minutes to an hour, stirring every few minutes to prevent scorching, until flavors are well incorporated, and sauce is thickened.

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After about 25 minutes, while the sauce is still simmering, put up a large pot 3/4 filled with salted water (about 6 quarts water with 2 1/2 tablespoons fine salt or 4 tablespoons kosher salt) to boil over high heat. When pasta water has come to a full boil, add the spaghetti, separating strands, and allow it to boil, stirring occasionally, until it is al dente.

While pasta is cooking, remove herb bundle from the sauce and discard it. Add heavy cream to the vodka sauce, stir, and allow sauce to simmer for a few more minutes. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. Transfer sauce to a very large sauté pan (or do it in two batches) over medium-high heat.

 

Using tongs to remove al dente pasta from the water, toss the pasta into the sauce in the pan, and sauté it over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes, until pasta has absorbed the sauce. Add the fresh chopped herbs, and heap it onto individual plates, or serve family style in a large bowl, or on a large platter. Sprinkle generously with grated Pecorino Romano. Serve.

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How did yours turn out?  Any questions??

Cranberry Almond Biscotti with Fennel Seeds, for the Holidays, or Any Day

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This is the first day of the rest of my life, and as such, I am so excited to embark on this blogging adventure with all of you!  It seems fitting that I begin this new chapter with a tribute to my dad, who passed away three years ago, the morning after his 77th birthday, November 28th, 2013, which fell on Thanksgiving that year.  He was a wonderful man, and was my food, wine and fun buddy whenever we were together.  Although we lived in different parts of the country (my family migrated, like so many, from New York to Florida after he retired, and I remain the only family member stubbornly resolved to stay west), we were very close.

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Since I usually only visited Florida once a year, during which time I would always cook at least one special meal for him, my mother, brother, sister-in-law, and my nephew, I made it a point to bake and send him special treats on both his birthday and Father’s Day.  He invariably requested these cranberry almond biscotti with fennel seeds, his all-time favorite.  My dad never seemed to tire of them, and, in fact, he would often put them in the freezer to deter him from eating the entire batch (or two) all at once.

I acquired the original recipe for these biscotti from an Italian-American woman in an Italian language class I had taken in San Francisco in the early nineties.  It didn’t have the cranberries, and it called for anise seeds rather than fennel, and they were wonderful.  But like most recipes I encounter, I changed it up to amplify the textures, colors and flavors, and they are so deliciously irresistible now, even Italian chefs who have tasted them have said they are the best biscotti they have ever had.  But you be the judge!

The ruby colored cranberries and green fennel seeds make them perfect for holiday entertaining or a great addition to a gift basket, but they are so good and easy to prepare, you can certainly enjoy them any time of year!

Hope these biscotti start a tradition for you and your loved ones, for the holidays, or any day!  And may they bring much love to your table!

 

Cranberry Almond Biscotti

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

Active, 1 hr.; Total, 2hrs.

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1 cup whole almonds

 

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for rolling dough

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt or ½ teaspoon fine salt

 

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1 cup sweetened dried cranberries

 

biscotti-ingredients

Preheat oven to 350° F. When oven is at temperature, put almonds on an unlined baking sheet and toast them for about 7 or 8 minutes. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn. Almonds should taste toasty but not bitter. Transfer almonds to another baking sheet or large plate, and let them cool at room temperature. Lower oven temperature to 325° F.

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Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl.

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In a separate bowl, in the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, or using a wooden spoon in another large bowl, cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until well combined. Add vanilla extract. If using a mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Add the dry ingredients gradually to the wet ingredients, again scraping down the sides of the bowl if using a mixer, and then remove the bowl from the mixer and place it on your work surface.

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Add fennel, cranberries and cooled almonds using a wooden spoon. Mix well with a wooden spoon.

 

 

 

 

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Sprinkle flour onto a clean and dry work surface and onto hands. Divide dough in half and shape into 2 logs, about 2” wide and 12” long. Set them on a parchment or silpat (silicone mat) lined sheet pan with space in between and around them, allowing for expansion. Smooth and shape biscotti logs with lightly floured hands until they are even in size and appearance.   Place pan on middle rack in lowered oven, and let bake for about 35 minutes, or until logs are light golden in color. Remove. Let stand at room temperature for about 5 minutes.

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With a long spatula or large chef knife, transfer logs one at a time to a cutting board (it may be easier to cut each log in half on the diagonal first, before lifting).   Carefully slice logs with a sharp chef knife on the diagonal every inch. When cool enough to handle, carefully lay biscotti on their sides on the lined baking sheet (they are fragile and will crumble if not handled gently), and spread them out evenly.

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Return biscotti to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes, or until they are golden brown and crisp. Remove them to cooling racks, and when cool, serve. Biscotti keep at room temperature in a tightly-covered container for several days, or frozen for up to two or three weeks.

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