“cuban by association” roasted pork

Sunday is my favorite day of the week. It’s the day I usually get to sleep in, it’s a day that’s often commitment free, it’s a day to relax and do what we want at the pace we want to do it. I like to have a proper dinner on Sunday, nothing overly fancy just a little more involved than your ordinary weeknight meal; a little Death Row Chicken, some slow-cooked pulled turkey or as on a recent Sunday a bit of Cuban-Style Roasted Pork. Now before we go any further I feel the need to make a few things clear: I am not Cuban nor am I married to a Cuban (yes I have a girlfriend who is but I’m not sure that counts), I have never been to Cuba and I do not profess to understand all the intricacies of Cuban cuisine. However… I do happen to love this inspired by a million other cuisines style of food (traditional Cuban food takes a page from Spanish, French, African, Arabic, Chinese, and Portuguese cultures) and have eaten it enough to think that I can come up with my own riff on Cuban Roasted Pork. And so I did.

To begin with I made a “traditional” Cuban mojo; a mixture of oil, garlic, onion, oregano, orange and lime. I let the meat marinate in the mojo overnight and then roasted it in the oven like I would our Christmas Prime Rib (start off at a high temp. to sear the outside then reduce the heat and let it cook for a couple of hours). The results were amazing, seriously delicious. So good in fact that I would almost be willing to serve it to my girlfriends mother-in-law. Almost. But wait, the story doesn’t end there.

On the eve of every weekend I say I’m going plan dinners for the week and shop for everything I need ahead of time, and every weekend I don’t. So invariably the same thing always happens; we’re good to go till Wednesday then kaput… mayonnaise sandwiches. It was one of those nothin in the fridge but condiments and Sunday nights leftovers (which happened to be roasted Cuban pork) that actually inspired the most fantastic leftover dinner to date. I decided to break out the panini press and turn the leftover pork, a little Dijon mustard, Virginia ham, dill pickles and swiss cheese into delicious Cuban Sandwiches. Winner, winner… Cuban pork take two dinner. Delish!

Cuban-Style Roasted Pork
You can cut this recipe in half, but then you don’t have much for leftovers.

2 heads garlic, broken apart and skinned
1 large onion
1 1/2 cups orange juice
1/2 cup lime juice
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. dried oregano
2 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. black pepper
zest of 1 lime
zest of 1 orange
6 lbs. pork loin end roast, trimmed

  1. Place all of the marinade ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Allow to process until fairly smooth. Pour the marinade into a large resealable container, add the pork and allow to marinate (turning once or twice) for 12-18 hrs. Remove the meat from the refrigerator an hour before you want to put it in the oven.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Remove the roast from the marinade and place on a rack in a roasting pan. Add a little water to the bottom of the pan and roast for 30 minutes.
  3. Reduce the oven to 350°F and allow to cook until the internal temperature reaches 160°F, about 2 hrs.
  4. Remove the roast from the oven and allow to sit for 20 minutes before carving into thin slices.

Cuban-Style Roasted Pork Panini
This is one of my favorite leftover meals and it’s so simple it really doesn’t even warrant a recipe.

cuban sandwich2

leftover pork loin end roast, sliced thin and warmed
crusty bread (I used a loaf of ciabatta)
Dijon mustard
baby dill pickles, sliced thin
Virginia ham
provolone or swiss cheese

  1. Preheat your panini press. (You can do this in a pan like you would grilled cheese as well, but you’ll need to weigh down the sandwich while it cooks.) Slice the bread into individual portions and then in half.
  2. Coat one half with mustard then start layering: cheese, then a couple of slices of pickle, then a few pork slices, top that with a slice or two of ham and finish up with another slice of cheese. Top with the remaining half of bread, squish in the panini press until the cheese has melted and the crust is warm and crispy. Repeat with remaining sandwiches.

a little lentil love

I’ve been thinking about side dishes lately, more specifically about how little love they get. Think about it— whether it’s a holiday dinner or your average weeknight meal the star of the show, the plate everyone descends on first, the component that gets showered with the most compliments is NEVER the side dish. It’s really too bad since there are plenty of fabulous side dishes out there significantly tastier than the dried out turkey, nearly incinerated steak or bland fish fillet they’re served alongside.

As you know by now I love a good cause and I’m always root for the underdog so… I’ve decided to do my part in supporting the frequently maligned side dish. How? With a recipe for a super simple, crazy delicious and ideal for a holiday dinner or alongside pork chops on a random Wednesday night side dish. Intrigued? Ready for the reveal? Okay here goes… Lentils with Brown Rice, Sautéed Mushrooms + Spinach. What you’re not impressed? Well you should be. This combination is really and truly delicious together, it’s super easy to make (especially if you use canned lentils and instant brown rice), is terrific as a side, fantastic stuffed in red peppers as a meatless meal and totally delish along with salad or eggs. And who doesn’t love lentils and brown rice: high in protein and fiber, low in fat and cholesterol, ready to take on any flavors you add to it. Are you starting to see things from my perspective? Yeah, I thought you would.

Who know’s, with the right love and support Lentils with Brown Rice, Sautéed Mushrooms + Spinach just could be the side dish of 2014. It could take on kale cult status! But don’t take my word for it, try it yourself and let me know what you think.

Lentils with Brown Rice, Mushrooms + Spinach 
I usually serve this as a side dish, but I’ve also been known to use it as a stuffing for red peppers or a topping for salad greens.

rice+lentils

3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, diced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 handfuls baby spinach, roughly chopped
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 can lentils, rinsed and drained

  1. In a large skillet warm the oil until shimmering. Add the onions and sauté until nearly translucent. Then add the garlic, mushroom, thyme, salt and pepper and let cook for 8-10 minutes or until the mushroom have released all their moisture.
  2. Add to the skillet two handfuls of roughly chopped baby spinach and stir well. Then add the cooked rice and lentils and allow to cook until everything is heated through and the spinach has wilted.
  3. Serve and enjoy.

life as i know it

My life the past few weeks has become a total whirlwind, all good but moving at the speed of light nonetheless. What’s going on you may wonder… have a seat and let me tell you.

For starters when I went back to work in the Fall it was only for a few hrs. a week, which still gave me ample time to grocery shop, cook, do laundry, etc. It turns out that I’m so good at being the “Director of Brand Strategy” for the new line of felt housewares I’m working on, I’m now in the office four days a week. Still not full-time I grant you, but each day after I leave that job I still have my “pick-up the kids from two separate schools, swing by the grocery store for dinner staples, clean up the breakfast dishes which are undoubtedly still sitting in the sink, shuttle someone to hockey, gymnastics or soccer, start dinner, throw in a load of laundry, make lunches (although my husband and I do share that responsibility), negotiate how many more bites must be consumed and if it was a dessert worthy dinner, remind the kids thirty million times that it’s time to take a shower, double-check with the big one that homework is done and he’s ready for the following day, actually assist in the bathing of the littlest one, remind the kids thirty million more times that it’s now time for bed and ultimately agree to let the littlest one watch ‘one last show’ in our bed before I can call it a day” job to do. I AM TIRED. But that’s not the end of what I’ve got going on. Nope, not even close. Here’s a quick rundown of the little projects I’ve managed to get myself involved in:

group3

 

ONE. I just mentioned my job, but here’s a few more details about it. I work for an architect who is also a practicing artist with a passion for creating with wool felt. For years she’s been making runners, coasters and placemats for friends and clients out of felt and recently decided to launch an actual line of felt housewares; felt. by Rachael Grochowski. That’s where I come in. My job is to take the line from a well thought out idea to a reality, and so far we’re off to a running start. Our website feltbyRG.com just went live, NJ Monthly will be featuring us in an article about NJ artisans, were currently being sold in several local shops, we were just accepted as a featured artisan by Scout Mob and we’ve recently started talking about officially launching our line of custom furniture as well. Busy, busy. busy.

TWO. There was an article in the paper the other day about several organizations here in NJ working to provide prom gowns to girls who may not ordinarily be able to afford one. I remember prom gown shopping and how important the “perfect gown” was, more important than the perfect date in fact. It made me sad to imagine a girl longing to take part in this high school rite of passage, but not having the means to get herself a dress. The woman featured on the front page of the article had started an organization called Cinderella for a Day and as it turned out she was based in my own town. So… I emailed her. I have a couple of bridesmaids dresses from back in the day that aren’t doing anything but taking up space and I wanted to donate them. The more I thought about it there more convinced I was that there had to be plenty of other former bridesmaids in my little circle of friends who would be more than happy to part with a bit of chiffon and lace in the name of charity. It turns out I was right. I’m now doing my best to spread the word about Cinderella for a Day and collect as many dresses, shoes, evening bags, etc. as possible before their next big giveaway on April 19th.

THREE. I love Twitter! I love how it allows you to connect with people far removed from your ordinary social circle, interesting people doing interesting things. One of these interesting people is a woman named Katie Visco who is the driving force behind Hot Love Soup. In 2007, in an effort to build a community for herself in an unfamiliar city, Katie started making soup and inviting folks to her home to share a bowl of it. Things snowballed, the occasional dinner turned into a monthly soup party and Katie realized that she was clearly onto something. Soup… nourishing for your body, nourishing for your soul. Katie decided to start a company that makes a variety of from scratch soups and delivers them via bicycle, to anyone who wants/needs some. According to Katie: “People order for themselves, or for loved ones, and each delivery comes with a special song and dance to brighten people’s lives. Often times I find myself being invited into soup recipients’ homes, as if we have known each other for years. The soul of soup is truly magical and I want to share that!” I love her mission and I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that food can nourish you in ways far beyond your belly. I never turn down the chance to get involved with innovators like Katie and while I’m but a small fish in a big foodie sea, I wanted to offer her a little support and a bit more exposure if I could. So stay tuned for a soup recipe courtesy of Hot Love Soup in the near future!

FOUR. A few weeks ago I read about a future food destination which will be about 20 minutes from my house called The Roselle. It’s going to be part farmers market, part cooking studio, part restaurant and totally cool. As it turned out someone from their marketing team decided to follow me on Twitter, which turned into me telling them I’d love to be involved in their adventure, which turned into a meeting with the founder and plans for a private kids cooking class for my two babes and a few friends. I’m truly excited at the prospect of something like The Roselle existing in my community and I’m beyond thrilled at the possibility of being involved in it from the ground floor.

Which leads me to this… While cooking for my family is just as important as it’s always been, finding the time to do it, blog about it and photograph it is becoming more and more difficult. So after much consideration I’ve decided that in order to give this blog as much love and attention as I think it deserves, I’m going to have to start posting on a biweekly basis. I know, I’m a bit sad too— but it will be fine, even better than fine, you’ll see. So until next post I’ll leave you with these wise words from the beloved Julia Child:

“The measure of achievement
is not winning awards.
It’s doing something that you appreciate,
something you believe is worthwhile.”

Well said Julia, I couldn’t agree more…

tomato soup and scooby-doo

Grilled cheese and tomato soup; it’s the ultimate comfort food combination. No matter who you are or where you’re from I’m betting you have some memory directly connected to this classic combo; for me it’s cozy weekend lunches as a kid. I’d set myself up with a tv tray smack in the middle of the living room, turn on one of my favorite shows; perhaps Scooby-Doo, Josie and the Pussycats or Schoolhouse Rock and settle in with a piping hot bowl of tomato soup and a good ‘ol grilled cheese. Simple. Classic. Perfect.

Flash forward 30+ years and nothing has changed. Sure the show on tv is probably SpongeBob, Fairly Odd Parents or Uncle Grandpa (Unfamiliar with this one? Count yourself lucky.) The soup is Slow-Roasted Tomato Bisque and the sandwiches are Grilled Rosemary Ham and Muenster on Marble Rye; but the cozy, comforting perfection is just the same.

Slow-Roasted Tomato Bisque
You can also make this soup with canned whole tomatoes and it will be perfectly good, but nothing beats fresh.

tom soup2

2 1/2 lbs. fresh Roma tomatoes
2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
3/4 cup low-fat half and half

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside. In a small bowl mix together the brown sugar, cloves, salt and pepper. Slice the tomatoes in half and place cut-side up on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle each half with olive oil then sprinkle liberally with the brown sugar mixture.
  2. Roast in the oven for 2 1/2 hours, or until the tomatoes begin to soften and collapse. Transfer the roasted tomatoes to a blender. Add the vegetable stock and blend until smooth.* Transfer the puree to a medium pot and heat until warmed, but not boiling. Stir in the half and half and cook for an additional minute. Ladle into bowls and enjoy!

*To make ahead: Follow the directions up to this point, then pour into a storage container and refrigerate. When ready to use heat until warmed, but not boiling. Stir in the half and half and cook for an additional minute, then serve.

*adapted from injennieskitchen.com

irish blue cheese + walnut crisps

As I’m sure you’re aware Saint Patrick’s Day is on Monday. The one day of the year that EVERYONE is officially Irish, that green beer is a thing to be celebrated and that a meal of boiled meat is consumed with gusto by a significant amount of the population. Don’t get me wrong— I like St. Paddy’s Day just as much as the next Polish/Italian girl and I will in fact be eating corned beef (or Chicken Stout Stew) and soda bread right along with the masses. My question is why? Why was Saint Patrick such a big deal that he deserves an entire boozy and bloated from the brined beef day named after him. Seriously, why?

I did a little research and quickly found out few things. First of all Saint Patrick’s Day has it’s own website, nope not kidding! It’s filled with lore, recipes, parade schedules and the like. Secondly, I found this great graphic from History.com of Saint Patrick’s Day stats…

st-patricks-day-infographic-final-forweb

Pretty impressive numbers for a day celebrating a guy who wasn’t actually Irish. Yup that’s right, the third thing I discovered was Saint Patrick was apparently born to either British or possibly Roman parents; either way his lineage was not Irish. Crazy, right?!? So why is March 17th such an international big deal? Well, it wasn’t always. Prior to the early 1900′s the day was considered a minor religious holiday in Ireland; a simple church service, a big family meal (which could include meat and beer, items normally abstained from during Lent) and that’s about it. Hmmm, so then how on earth did it become such a “day” here in the States? Well I’ll tell you how… According to NationalGeographic.com: Eighteenth-century Irish soldiers fighting with the British in the U.S. Revolutionary War held the first St. Patrick’s Day parades. Some soldiers, for example, marched through New York City in 1762 to reconnect with their Irish roots. Other parades followed in the years and decades after, including well-known celebrations in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago; primarily in flourishing Irish immigrant communities. ‘[Saint Patrick's Day] became a way to honor the saint but also to confirm ethnic identity and to create bonds of solidarity…’”  And there you have it; we apparently have a bunch of Irish mercenaries to thank for the grand celebration that is Saint Patrick’s Day as we know it.

When you think of typical “Irish food” potatoes, corned beef and beer are undoubtedly the first things to pop to mind. But in fact the Emerald Isle actually has a strong connection to seafood and dairy as well. You’ll find delicious Irish cheeses and butter for sale everywhere; from Costco to Shop Rite, Trader Joe’s to Fairway. Irish butter is a “European-style butter”, meaning it has a higher butterfat content than your average American butter and a richer, creamier texture. It’s fantastic on a slice of toast, or melted on some veggies but it really shines when you use it for baking. Your typical American butter contains more water and less butterfat than it’s European counterpart. When used for baking this additional water can act as a glueing agent and result in tougher pastry dough. Higher butterfat = light and lovely baked goods! (Next time you make a pie crust try using Irish butter instead, the results will amaze you.)

This year to celebrate the not so Irish patron saint of Ireland I’ve decided to pay a simple homage to the Irish dairy industry. What goes better with a few cocktails and snacks than some yummy crisps. (Listen to me, next I’ll be suggesting we put the kettle on the cooker and have a cup of tea!) Anyway back to the crisps… Irish Blue Cheese + Walnut Crisps to be exact. These are perfect with a bit of cheese and a pint, but equally delish all on their own! So until next we meet…

“May the Irish hills caress you;
may her lakes and rivers bless you;
may the luck of the Irish enfold you;
may the blessings of Saint Patrick, behold you.”

Irish Blue Cheese + Walnut Crisps
These are so amazingly tasty that you just may want to consider doubling the recipe so insure there are leftovers!

bluecheese crisps2

1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted and finely chopped
8 tbsp. unsalted Irish butter, at room temperature
8 oz. Irish blue cheese, crumbled and at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. cold water
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. of water, for egg wash

  1. In a medium dry skillet over low fame, lightly toast the walnuts. Remove to a cutting board, finely chop and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and blue cheese for 1 minute, until smooth. Add the flour, salt, and pepper and continue beating on medium speed until the dough resembles large crumbles. Add 1 tablespoon of cold water and mix until the dough comes together.
  3. Gather the dough together (you’ll need to scrape the bowl) and place on a lightly floured surface. Gently roll it into a 12″ long log. Brush the log completely with the egg wash. Spread the reserved walnuts on a cutting board and roll the log back and forth in the walnuts, pressing lightly to distribute them evenly. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Carefully cut the log into thin coins with a serrated bread knife (you may need to reshape them a bit after cutting) and arrange the coins 1/2 inch apart on the cookie sheets. Stagger the cookie sheets in the oven and bake for 11 minutes, rotate and continue baking another 5-6 minutes until they are lightly browned and crisp. Cool on a rack and serve at room temperature. Sláinte!

*adapted from barefoot contessa

closer to “home” clam chowder

I like food. All kinds of food prepared in all kinds of ways. In fact I’d like to think there aren’t that many food-realted absolutes in my world; sure I like my coffee strong, my chocolate dark and my curry spicy. I hate fast-food, I’m not a big fan of pb&j’s and I can’t stand pancakes. I am however willing to consider an exception to all those rules, if it’s the right exception. Where things become hard and fast is when we start talking about dishes connected to my Connecticut childhood.

My family was the car trip type; gas on up, pile on in and move on out. Whether it was driving for hours on our way to a fun-filled vacation or just going out for a drive because it was a beautiful Sunday without pressing plans— my parents were always up for it. We met a wide range of people on our travels and the opportunity to experience an endless array of different foods was always part of the adventure. It was fun, it was eye-opening and I’m pretty sure it was the basis for my love of food. I saw a considerable amount of the country from the backseat of our station wagon, but it was the time we spent traveling through the New England countryside that was always my favorite. This is no doubt the reason I have such a longing to move back and such an unflinching opinion on how some of the foods I associate with New England should be enjoyed. For example; In my book Lobster Rolls are carefree summer food meant to be eaten out of little paper trays, preferably at picnic tables with squawking sea gulls nearby. They should never be considered fancy restaurant food that costs a small fortune. French Fries taste the best cut thin and doused with salt and malted vinegar, not ketchup. (And take it from me, they taste even better if you happen to purchase them from a booth at a local country fair.) And Clam Chowder should never be anything but creamy and white. Sorry Rhode Island, but your permission to call the seafood soup you’re famous for clam chowder should be revoked. And don’t even get me stated on Manhattan.

Until recently I had never made New England Clam Chowder, but I figured there was no time like this snowy winter to give it a shot. I knew my son had grown fond of it while spending time in Connecticut with my parents, my husband I were already fans and my daughter was a soup lover from way back— so why not? The thing that made me hesitant about clam chowder, or any cream based soup for that matter, is its lofty calorie count. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t normally do things like count calories, avoid carbs or drink spritzers just to shave 100 calories off my day. But if a lighter version of something can appear, taste and satisfy the same way the full fat version does, then I’m all for it. So I decided that if I was going to make New England Clam Chowder I would try to make a “lighter” version. I did some recipe research and spoke with my dyed-in-the-wool New England mother (who frankly was aghast when I suggested possibly adding celery, garlic or a bay leaf to the recipe) and finally worked out a creamy, delicious but not overly guilt inducing recipe. A recipe that makes New Jersey seem a little closer to “home”.

New England Clam Chowder
This chowder is delicious with a thinner more traditional broth, not pasty, gloppy and heavy like clam chowder can sadly sometimes be.

clam chowder2

1 cup white wine
2 8 oz bottles clam juice
2 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and diced large
3 slices bacon, minced
1 medium onion (about 2 cups), diced small
4 6.5 oz cans chopped clams*, drained, juices reserved
1/2 cup 2% milk
1 cup low-fat half and half
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1-2 tbsp. ground arrowroot powder
oyster crackers, for serving

  1. Drain the canned clams, reserving the juice and set aside. Add to a large pan the white wine, bottled clam juice, reserved clam juice and diced potatoes and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside.
  2. Heat a large stock pot over medium heat, add the bacon and cook until it gets crispy and brown and render its fat. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onions to the pot and sauté until they’re translucent, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat and gradually whisk in the milk and half and half.
  3. Bring just to a simmer, then stir in the clams, bacon and potato mixture and bring back to a simmer, stirring frequently. Allow to cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the black pepper and arrowroot powder (1-2 tablespoons depending on how thick you want the chowder) and serve with plenty of oyster crackers.

* When I set out to make this recipe I fully intended to use fresh clams however, the selection at the three stores I went to was pathetic! So instead I bought the best “gourmet” canned clams I could find and omitted any additional salt from the recipe. I still plan to try this recipe with fresh clams, but until then…

gnocchi tinged memories

When I was a little girl nothing would please me more than a trip to the local G. Fox & Co. department store. I’d talk my mother into taking the escalator upstairs to the housewares department and that’s when the fun would begin. I would wander around the department reading the little bridal registry cards attached to each place setting, imagining which espresso machine or serving platter I would choose and dreaming of the day grown-up me would finally be able to register for all the housewares my little heart desired. I wasn’t dreaming of being a bride mind you, I was dreaming of having a fully stocked kitchen. Funny right? But true none the less.

My love of housewares hasn’t diminished at all over the years, which would explain why I own: Five sets of dishes (we had a yard sale a few years ago and I sold my two “extra” sets), enough serving pieces to easily set a buffet for a hundred, a ridiculous number of tiny antique aperitif glasses, a crazy collection of water pitchers, just about every size and shape cocktail glass imaginable, a huge variety of pots, pans and steamers, a cast iron skillet, Dutch oven and griddle, a kitchen scale, stand mixer, potato ricer and several sizes of box graters, not to mention an array of blenders and hand mixers, a waffle iron, espresso machine, regular coffee maker and a set of individual serving ice cream makers, plus all your standard whisks, spatulas, spoons and whatnot. (Yes I realize my love may border on obsession. We all have our vices.) However, believe it or not there is actually one cooking implement that I do not have but have seriously considered… a pasta maker. I thought more than once about buying an attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer, but one thing always stopped me. What if I found making pasta to be just as frustrating and disastrous as my attempts to make bread?!? Those attachments can be quite pricy and that just wasn’t a financial (or emotional) commitment I was ready to make. But that didn’t mean I was willing to give up my desire to make fresh pasta— come now silly reader, you know me better than that! No instead I decided to approach pasta making in the simplest fashion possible, one that required limited special equipment and with a recipe that seemed nearly fool-proof. My recipe of choice— gnocchi.

I first discovered gnocchi in college when my boyfriend (now husband) took me to dinner at Louis Seafood on E. Tremont Ave. in the Bronx. The restaurant has been around since the 40′s and it was and still is the epitome of good Italian comfort food with a side of Bronx attitude. I had considered myself fairly well versed in pasta (being half Italian and all) but somehow gnocchi had never made it on my radar. The gnocchi at Louis Seafood was unlike anything I had ever tried, it was dense and filling (especially with the Bolognese sauce he always seemed to order) but at the same time I couldn’t stop myself from snitching forkfuls off his plate. For years the term gnocchi make think of college, the Bronx and Louis Seafood. Then we traveled to Florence, Italy and my perception of gnocchi completely changed.

We arrived in Florence late one afternoon after a long train ride from Rome, and we were starving! So hungry in fact that once we physically found our hotel we didn’t even step foot inside it. Instead we dragged our luggage to the little cafe next door in hopes of getting something to eat. “Oh, mi dispiace signora.” the waiter said “La cucina è chiusa.” We looked at him in disbelief, we were starving and the kitchen was CLOSED?!? This was Italy for peat’s sake, they were soposta feed us till we popped! Thankfully the waiter sensed our desperation and decided that he could in fact offer us a few limited selections off the menu. We collapsed in our chairs, ordered a few glasses of vino rosso, looked over the menu and placed our lunch order. I’ll be honest with you, I have absolutely no idea what I ate that day. The only thing I remember of the meal is my husbands gnocchi. It was like air, little puffs of loveliness, amazing and unlike anything I had ever imagined gnocchi could be. It’s been quite a few years since that trip to Florence yet every so often one of us still mentions that gnocchi.

When I decided to try my own hand at homemade gnocchi I truly didn’t anticipate stellar results. It seemed like the opportunity for heavy little lead sinkers was just too great. So imagine my delight when they turned out light, airy and delicious. There not quite Florence quality gnocchi, but then nothing could ever possibly be, they are however the closest we’ve ever come to replicating that amazing Italian meal. Buon appetito!

Simple Potato Gnocchi
These were as wonderful as the ones we always reminisce about eating in Florence, as evidenced by the nearly clean plate below.

gnocchi3

4 cups riced russet potatoes, (about 2 large)
4 egg yolks
2 1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
sauce of your choice, for serving
optional special equipment: potato ricer, gnocchi paddle

  1. Place potatoes (skin on) in a large pot of salted water and boil until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes, let them cool just enough to handle and then peel. Cut each in half and place in a potato ricer. Rice into a large bowl. Stir in the egg yolks and salt, then add the flour and stir until a shaggy dough forms. Knead gently until a smooth but slightly sticky dough forms.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with flour. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Lightly flour a work surface and roll each piece into a 3/4-inch-thick rope, then cut each rope into one-inch pieces. Place each piece against the gnocchi paddle and gently roll with your pointer finger to make ridges on one side and a small indentation on the other; drop onto the prepared baking sheet and repeat the process with the other ropes.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and add the raw gnocchi, 36 at a time. Allow to cook until they rise to the surface, then simmer for another 2 minutes longer. Add to a bowl with you’re favorite sauce, sprinkle with the cheese and serve.

To Make Ahead: The uncooked gnocchi pieces can be frozen on the prepared baking sheet, then transferred to a resealable plastic bag and frozen for up to 1 month. Boil without defrosting.

*adapted from food & wine

a winter’s night turkey burgers

Theres nothing like a classic all beef burger to make you feel indulged and satisfied. I’m not talking about some slapped together fast food number (blech, never!) but a nice juicy hand-formed burger cooked medium, with just the right meat to bun ratio and topped off with a delicious bit of cheese. And I love the way burgers taste when they’re cooked outside on the grill, it’s a flavor I’ve never been able to duplicate in my kitchen. (Grilled blue cheese burgers with caramelized onions and Dijon mustard happens to be one of my all time favorite indulgences!) All that being said, in our house good ‘ol classic grilled hamburgers are strictly warm weather fare. There’s no way I’m standing at the grill on a cold dark winter’s night just for a couple of burgers (not even blue cheese ones) and that goes double this Winter. Imagine if for some crazy reason I did decide to brave the cold darkness in an attempt to grill up a few burgers— I would still need to climb over and trudge through three feet of frozen snow just to get to the grill! Nope. Sorry. Not happening… However, since burgers are such a great hectic weeknight meal I realized I had to find a solution to my weather-bound limitations. I happen to love Salmon burgers and would happily eat them on a regular basis, but my family— not so much. I like veggie burgers as well but try as I may to get my recipe perfect, they always seem to wind up a big crumbly mess. And frankly, I’m not so sure my family would be knocked out by the “perfect” veggie burger either. They do however happen to be fans of turkey burgers, which is quite fortunate since I just happen to have a killer turkey burger recipe that actually works better in a skillet than on the grill.

Let me begin by saying that a turkey burger will never satisfy the way a beef burger does. I know this. I acknowledge this. I agree with this. But… What turkey may lack in decadence it totally makes up for in versatility. Ground turkey is a bit like tofu in that it really takes on whatever flavors you add to it beautifully. In fact ground turkey is my go-to protein for many of the dishes I make; Turkey Shepherds PieTurkey & Bean ChiliTurkey Meatloaf with Salsa and Old School Turkey Sloppy Joe’s just to name a few. So the idea of a souped-up turkey burger seemed like a no-brainer to me, particularly one that incorporated all the cool weather flavors I love most; Tart apple, aged cheddar cheese, fresh garlic and sage with just a hint of maple syrup. Sounds kinda crazy, right? It is, in the most wonderful and yummy of ways. And while it won’t ever replace the taste of a freshly grilled beef burger, it has quickly become a Greco family favorite.

Apple, Sage & Maple Turkey Burgers
These burgers totally taste like Winter to me. A bit of tart apple, aged cheddar and fresh sage with a hint of maple syrup. Yup, frosty winter nights all the way…

turkey-apple burger3

2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. fresh sage leaves, minced (about 3 large leaves)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. raw apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. real maple syrup
1/2 a medium green apple, finely grated
1 lb. ground turkey
4 brioche rolls
4 slices cheddar cheese, for garnish
sliced tomatoes and fresh spinach, for garnish
Maple-Dijon sauce (see recipe below)

  1. In a small bowl mash together the garlic, sage, salt and pepper to form a paste. Add the apple cider, maple syrup and grated apple and mix well.
  2. Knead the garlic mixture into the ground turkey and form into 4 patties (they will be very soft and kinda wet, not to worry). Allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to give the flavors a chance to meld.
  3. Heat a non-stick griddle or skillet over medium heat, lightly oil and add the burgers. Carefully transfer the burgers to the griddle and cook until firm, cooked through and lightly browned, about 6 minutes per side. Serve on rolls with cheddar cheese, a slice of tomato, fresh spinach leaves and a schemer of maple-dijon sauce.

Maple-Dijon Mayonnaise
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. real maple syrup

  1. While burgers are resting mix together the yogurt, mustard and maple syrup and chill until ready to use.