Tag Archives: ideas for parties

Recipe for Slow Roasted Onion Dip

recipe for roasted onion dip

This is the onion dip taste you’ve been looking for – seriously. You’re going to want to keep this one.

You go to a party and – there it is – your favorite onion dip that we all learned to make with sour cream and dried onion soup packets from the market. It worked for us in the beginning, savory, salty, with all that delicious onion flavoring (and with all those ‘lovely’ preservatives). But, what if you can say that yours was homemade and much more delicious? Made one from scratch? Now, wouldn’t that turn some heads?

The exciting thing is that roasted onion dip is actually very easy to make. I found a straightforward recipe from Bon Appetit that will have you and your guests craving this over and over. And, I guarantee that you will never look at the soup packets the same way again.

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees
  2. Peel and trim the ends of about 1.5 pounds of mixed (red, white, brown) onions and thinly slice – you can use a mandolin if you have one.
  3. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper, toss the onions and 4 unpeeled (you want them to basically steam in their skin) cloves of garlic with a ¼ cup of olive oil and 2 TBS water. Season with salt and toss again to make sure everything is coated evenly. Then pile them up into a nice tidy pile in the middle of the tray.  The goal here is to actually steam them into submission.
  4. In this recipe, as you might expect, you have to caramelize the onions. But this is the part that really got my attention. Instead of shepherding your onions over a hot pan on a stove top, we’ll let the power of convection (and steam) do the job for us. And they won’t be soggy, and they’ll reach a beautiful color, aroma, and flavor!
  5. The “convection” action happens within the tidy pile of thinly sliced onions and garlic. The steam from all that cooking radiates heat in all direction. When you think about it a bit, it all makes total sense.
  6. As you bake, toss and stir your pile of onions and garlic about every 10 minutes. Make sure you push it all back into a big pile before putting it back in the oven. Do this until everything is golden brown and soft. When I use this recipe—see my video here—it took about 40 to 50 minutes. Some of the onions will brown quicker than others, but that’s fine.
  7. If you find after 40-50 minutes that your onions are nice and soft but not quite as golden as you’d like – spread them out on the sheet tray and put back in the oven for a few minutes to add color.
  8. When it’s time, remove the onions from the oven and allow them to cool. They will cool quicker if you spread them around.
  9. Transfer the onions and garlic to a cutting board. Separate out the garlic and squeeze the cloves: basically, the garlic will squish out from the peelings. Smash the garlic with the side of a knife until it turns into a paste. Transfer the squished garlic to a medium bowl.
  10. Finely chop the browned onions and add them to the same bowl.
  11. Then, add 1 ½ cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt that you’ve mixed with 2 tsp of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. I always recommend Kosher salt because it’s less salty and easier to control. Stir everything together until well combined. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
  12. Place in a serving bowl and sprinkle some cayenne pepper on the top for color.

Serve with fresh radishes, baby carrots, or potato chips. Note on the chips: use the unsalted ones because the dip will be salty enough. Now, look what you’ve done: an excellent game-day dip. Wait for the head-turning when your guests ask why this onion dip is SO much better than the one they usually get and you tell them it’s because you made it yourself!

How to Roast a Head of Garlic

home roasted garlic

A fabulous “quick” preparation for a favorite… wait a minute… what IS garlic anyhow?

Here’s a fun fact about garlic. While it’s probably easy to call it a vegetable it’s actually an allium like onions, shallots and leeks and is rarely, if ever, eaten on its own LIKE a vegetable. But, as a friend of mine likes to say, the discussion is merely academic.

Botanically speaking, garlic is actually part of the lily family and has been spicing up human food for thousands of years. Archeologists have found garlic among a list of favorite food flavorings and traditional medicine for Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Babylonians, and Greeks. These days, 80% of the world supply of garlic comes from China. I buy mine at my local Farmer’s Market.  It can grow almost anywhere it is dry and warm.

There used to be a little restaurant – I forget the name – on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, right across the street from the famous “Hollyvine” office building where John Wayne once had his office. The restaurant served one of the best bowls of creamy roasted garlic soups I’ve ever had. And if that sounds delicious to you, you’ll want to know how to roast a head of garlic.

There’s nothing sweeter than roasted garlic – especially for spreading on crostini or if you’re making garlic bread, or as an ingredient in a creamy soup. You can serve it on your charcuterie board or on a separate board with some tasty sourdough. And the thing is, it’s so simple to do if you follow the recipe I found by TheKitchn.com. To emphasize the point (how easy it is), you can watch me make this on my own video.

  1. The first step, preheat your oven to 400°F and place a rack in the middle of the oven.
  2. Peel off the loose papery layers of the head of garlic. Don’t worry about the skin – keep that part intact so that it holds the “head” together.
  3. Cut straight through, about one-quarter of an inch off from the top of the head – not the root end.
  4. Place the head on a piece of aluminum foil–cut side up. Include the small tops of the heads that you cut off.
  5. Drizzle about 2 tsp of olive oil on the cut ends. Don’t skimp on the olive oil. Flavor is important, see “How to pick olive oil.”
  6. Roll up the foil into a closed packet. Make sure that the foil will hold the oil and not let it drip out. Place the packets directly on the oven rack and roast until soft–about 40 minutes.
  7. If you’re worried about oil dripping in your oven, place a baking sheet UNDER the packets.

Serve warm and savor the taste of this most ancient of delicacies.

How will you make your football party stand out?

color coordinate your drinks

It IS great time to entertain your friends and family—make those memories stand out with a themed cocktail drink!

As you plan your football party, there are some quick and easy ways for you to enjoy the day too.  Keeping it casual and having plenty of food around is one way (see my previous post). But, one exception to the “casual” rule—I always have a ‘welcome drink’ ready for my guests as they arrive. I love thinking about focal points for my gatherings. One way to do this is by making drinks that are color coordinated with the teams playing.

Mixed Drink Recipe: Polaroid

Blue Cuarcao for your partySo, how about something BLUE if one of the teams playing is the New England Patriots or the Denver Broncos? Blue Curaçao is made from the dried peelings of the Laraha bitter orange native to the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao. The color comes from a natural food coloring used after the distillation process. It’s also the base mix of a drink called the Polaroid.

I guess they gave it that name because it’s so vivid and striking when you set it out on the table. The mix is all around Blue Curaçao, a liquor made from the dried peelings of the Laraha bitter orange native to the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao. The color comes from a natural food coloring used after the distillation process. Mix this drink when you really want to make a statement.

Ingredients

  • 1 oz of your favorite Vodka, chilled
  • 1 oz of Blue Curacao
  • 1 oz of a clear soda (e.g., Sprite or 7UP) to fill

Instructions            

Fill a suitable glass with ice, add the above ingredients, and stir gently. Add a sprig of mint or a wheel of lime or orange.

Mixed Drink Recipe: The Bijou

bijou cocktailOr, how about something GREEN if either the NY Jets or Green Bay Packers are playing? The key mix is Chartreuse, an herbal spirit made by Carthusian monks in the mountains of South East France for the past 200 years that’s a distillation of 130 herbs and flowers. The rough French pronunciation is ‘shart-ruz,’ the name of the Grande Chartreuse monastery where the monks live.

This is a classic cocktail that features this well-loved liquor with a splash of gin and sweet vermouth. The mix originates from the 1800s, and I’ll give you one guess why they call it the “Bijou.”

Ingredients

  • 1½ oz. gin
  • ¾ oz. green Chartreuse
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes orange bitters (Regan’s)

Instructions

Stir ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and strain into a chilled goblet or martini glass. Enjoy!

Mixed Drink Recipe: The Signature Bloody Mary Mix

bloody maryHere’s something RED, if the Kansas City Chiefs or NY Giants are playing? It’s an easy set up for chilled glasses of Bloody Mary’s—as if you need a reason to mix up a batch of Bloody Mary, right? This classic mix originates from the St. Regis of New York where it was invented!

Get a pitcher and mix up your favorite Bloody Mary mix (see below) and stash it away in the refrigerator until guests arrive. Make sure that your bar is complete with great vodkas (freezer chilled) with all the fun garnishes you can think of – including bacon, pickled beans (see my video), baby corn, olives—and don’t forget the celery!

Ingredients

  • Juice of 3 lemons
  • 2.5 liters tomato juice
  • 5 oz. Worcestershire sauce
  • 10 dashes Tabasco® sauce
  • 2 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp. ground celery salt
  • 2 tbsp. whole black peppercorns

Instructions

Pour ingredients into a pitcher and stir well. Use immediately or seal and refrigerate. Strain peppercorns from mix before adding alcohol.

Having team color coordinated cocktails as a welcome drink is a great way to great your guests and set the tone for the party.  It’s a fabulous way to start a conversation and excite some team spirit as well!

Football Season is HERE!

Ready for football season?

What a great time to entertain your friends and family—but don’t forget the most important ingredient!

It’s football season – a great time to entertain friends and family!

Football Sunday is an instant hit for most people. Even friends who don’t watch football, love to come to my gatherings just because it’s a great time to hang out and party a bit. And the great part?  Sundays are typically lazy days which make them perfect for casual get-togethers, right?

Keep it flexible.  These rules can work as easily on Saturdays if you’re a College ball fan as they do on Sundays if you like watching pro.  Keeping it flexible and casual means that entertaining areas don’t have to be limited to the kitchen or dining room. Your TV area/room is perfect for a football Saturday/Sunday you just have to spend a little time thinking and planning for a good place to set up the food and beverages. Keep everything in a space that is either in the same room where all the action is going on or a convenient location nearby. Make it easy for your guests to stay connected even when they’re hungry or thirsty.

Food on these lazy casual days should be easy to make and easy to handle on your lap. Here’s an opportunity to pull out all your mismatched small bowls, utensils and cups for a fun look. Have plenty of finger snacks already set out – chips, spiced nuts, pretzels, and so on.

One idea that’s always fun is a make-it-yourself taco bar. Or, maybe you have a famous chili recipe that cooks for hours and makes your house smell amazing. Place it in a colorful cast iron stock pot on a portable hot plate to keep it warm and surround it with all of the fixings (shredded cheddar, chopped onion, sour cream) in small bowls (they don’t need to match)

Another great idea for ‘serve yourself’ is a baked potato bar.  Get medium size potatoes. The classic is the Russet potato (of course), but you can use any. Wash and dry the potatoes, rub all over with olive oil, then rub all over with salt (make it Kosher) and bake in a 425°F oven for about 45 minutes or until they’re soft when pierced.  Keep them warm on a hot plate for service.  Set out the typical preparations like butter, chives (fresh), shredded cheddar, crumbled bacon, sour cream, or anything else that strikes your fancy!

Welcome your guests, keep them fed, hydrated, and engaged in conversation.  Use items in your entertaining spaces that you’ve picked up either during your travels or at the local flea market.  Your guests will remember your creativity and want to come back to see what you’re going to use at your next party. Most of all—have a blast and may the best team win.

We love our Avocados GREEN

You love green avocados

An easy to remember trick to keep your cut avocados from turning that unappetizing brown.

If you have been following me for a while, you know that I collect little stories about this and that. I think that’s one of the skills that a home entertaining expert should have: being able to dole out a quick story for any moment or situation. It’s better than trying to crack the ice at a party with talk about the weather. Right?

Here are a few tidbits about avocados.

If you haven’t heard, the avocado is actually a fruit. Botanically, they belong to the same plant group as do laurels. So, basically, we eat what amounts to an enormous berry that has a single large seed.

Originally, avocados were thought to have come from Mexico. A while back, a friend of mine who is an anthropologist (yeah, I have one of those too), told me that there was some new evidence that suggests that avocados started off as several distinct varieties that came from Peru, the Guatemalan highlands, and along the Central American isthmus. They’ve even found the remains of an avocado plant that they think is 15,000 years old!  It’s crazy that avocados have been around for that long.

Now for the practical part.

I love avocados. They’ve always been one of the staples in my home – ready to slice and eat at a moment’s notice. They’re a great “go-to” easy snack for friends who drop by and perfect for salads, sliced with veggies, or as guacamole (more on that later).  Don’t forget the ever popular avocado toast that you find in almost every restaurant and that is so incredibly easy to duplicate at home!

The downside for avocados – they have an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase that causes our tasty fruit to start browning almost immediately after cutting. This is really inconvenient when you want to save half in the fridge for tomorrow’s snack. I mean, who wants to spread brown avocado on toast? Seriously.

Everyone has their own little trick to keep their avocados from turning brown. Twenty years in the restaurant business – I’ve heard them all, seen them all and tried them all!

One of the most popular tricks is my least favorite: drip lime or lemon juice on the cut parts, which is the same trick we use on cut apples. It works but, in my honest opinion, not very well. They still turn brown after about 4 hours and then the avocado has an extra flavor that you might not want.

Then there’s the one about keeping the pit attached. I don’t know why, but it seems to work for about 4 hours or so, and then the oxidization starts. The big downside is that the pit has to be attached to the uncut half. You can’t add the pit back to an avocado that’s been sliced.

The fact is, many of us will eat an avocado that’s been stored in the fridge and has browned a bit, but not for company consumption.  So, a near miss just doesn’t cut it for me. If it’s going to work, it has to work really well.

The best method – tested in my own kitchen – place the cut half of an onion into an airtight container with your cut avocado. The onion releases sulfur dioxide which is a natural preservative – which puts a full stop on the browning. The great plus for this method is that it’ll keep cut avocados nice and fresh (cubed, sliced, peeled) for about 24 hours! And now you have a little onion to add to that toast.

See my video on this method. And enjoy your avocado!

Recipe for a Quick Pickle

A quick pickle VERT

An easy “pickle” recipe that’s great for home or as a gift.

I had a great Bloody Mary at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, and they served a simply wonderful vinegary/garlicky green bean as one of the vegetable garnishes – no celery stalk!   I was so impressed with the taste and simplicity, I brought the idea home and decided to try it for myself.

What I found out was that quick pickling is very easy. It requires no specialized equipment or skills, and it’s not at all like canning food. The recipe itself takes VERY little time, and it can be done with just about any firm vegetable – green beans, carrots, cucumbers, onions, asparagus, etc.

The main ingredients for the pickling “sauce” (brining liquid) are vinegar, water, Kosher salt (or pickling salt), and maybe sugar. You can use apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, rice wine vinegar, and so on depending on the flavor you are going for. Do not use balsamic or malt vinegar (no aged vinegar). Know that table salt is just way too salty and too hard to control so you want to stay away from that. I use Kosher salt because it is so easy to manage the taste.

Also, the veggies do not have to be cooked, but I recommend that you blanch them to bring out their natural color. Check out my video on the simple way to blanch veggies.

Before you start, think about the flavors you want for your pickled vegetables. There’s no science to it – it’s all to taste. For instance, I used lots of mustard seed and sliced garlic because I love garlic and I think the pickling tastes great when there’s a nice little kick at the end. I may also use more salt and vinegar than you want. If you want sweeter vegetables, add more sugar to the brine mixture.

Finally, for presentation (critical!) I settled on these 8oz (240ml) tall jars that have 2” mouths, about 6” tall, and gold colored lids. They’re not too big, just right for pickling, and you can get them from Amazon. They make a lovely presentation – especially if you’re planning on giving them out as gifts. And you’ll want to add gift tags to your jars. I found some cute rustic looking gift tags from Amazon as well that I think adds a nice touch.

Here’s my video for quick pickling veggies. You can see that everything is mix and taste. My recipe is loosely based on Michael Symon’s recipe for pickled onions. And you can find some helpful instructions for pickling from one of my favorite websites thekitchn.com.

Instructions:

  1. Wash the jars and dry thoroughly.
  2. Prep your veggies to the shape you want to fit into your jars. Tall stuff should be a tad below the “shoulder” of the jar (below the rim). And don’t forget to blanch the veggies for great color!
  3. Pack your blanched veggies into the jars and set aside on a tray so that when you add the liquid the excess stays in the tray and you don’t make a mess.
  4. Mix your pickling brine. Start by pouring equal parts of vinegar and water into a large pan. Add kosher salt. Add sugar (if you want it). Add more vinegar (if you need it). Add spices. I used mustard seed, black peppercorns, bay leaves, coriander seed, fresh dill, and sliced garlic. Remember, this is to taste, so start easy and work your way up to the flavor you want.
  5. Bring the mixture to a boil. Stir to dissolve the salt and sugar (if used). Taste the brine as you reach boiling and adjust seasoning (e.g., add salt, vinegar, spices).
  6. Ladle the brine mixture into the veggie filled jars. Make sure that you scoop up some of the spices. Be sure to add enough brine to cover the veggies, but leave some room at the top of the jars. If you decide to use the jars I suggested, then you’ll want to fill the liquid to the “shoulder.”
  7. Tap the jars to remove air bubbles that may have formed.
  8. Screw the lids on loosely and let them cool to room temp.
  9. Tighten lids and then refrigerate.

Your pickled veggies will get some flavor in as little as 6 hours, but I think you should leave them for at least 24 hours so that the vegetables absorb the full flavor of the brine. Remember that this is not like canning so they won’t last very long. Keep them in the refrigerator.  Recommended shelf life is about 2-3 weeks.

The whole experience made me think about how simple it is to make something that tastes great. And how cool is it to give a gift that you’ve made yourself.

How to Prevent a Holiday Party Nightmare

Candle Holders from Pottery Barn

Five things you can do RIGHT NOW to prepare for any holiday gathering – for the rest of the year!

The whole group was coming to my party. I was so happy that I found myself literally grinning from ear to ear every time the doorbell rang. People were in such a great mood and everyone was engaged in conversation. The atmosphere in the room was lively, people were laughing, it couldn’t have been better. But then, to my horror, I realized that I wasn’t ready. Worse than that – nothing was ready!

I had no drinks to serve.

My dining room was a mess.

None of the food was ready.

I was in a complete panic. Then I suddenly realized something else that stopped me cold in my tracks. I was still in my swimsuit and I reeked of sun tan lotion! And, even worse than that, I had an inflatable swim ring around my waist? Whaaaaaat? Seriously? I don’t even sit out in the sun much less use suntan lotion or an inflatable swim ring!

That’s when I woke up and sat bolt upright in bed.  It was all a horribly bad dream. I laughed. Of course. If you’ve ever wondered what a nightmare looks like to a home entertainment expert, this would be it. I’d been so busy this summer. I’d been up north, back east and in between. With that kind of schedule, who has time to think about the holidays?

But now, I am. In fact, part of this blog was written right after that silly dream – well, let’s call it what it was – a nightmare, okay? Now, this is my warning to all my fellow home entertainers – the time to prepare is NOW.  The holidays are literally, right around the corner. As a friend of mine is fond of saying: The trick to preparation is getting prepared now.

There are FIVE simple things you can do – today – to get your home prepared for the holidays.

ONE: Start with easy-to-do accent changes: change out the couch throws for heavy knit ones and add a few accent pillows that say, “here come the holidays” like this pillow and this one from Crate and Barrel. You don’t have to start with the ‘jingle bells’ thing just yet, but nice warm colors will help set the mood just right.

TWO: Think about the “welcome beverage” you will be serving at your parties.  Bring everything into the seasonal spirit with sparkling wines; Gruet and Schramsberg are always favorites in my home! And don’t forget the pomegranate seeds. Then stock up on beautiful reds, like these bottles from Long Meadow Ranch or Davis Estates. Speaking of bottles, don’t forget to put your favorite vodka (Chopin anyone?) in the freezer.

THREE: Remember your candles. My summer setting is always ‘white and bright.’ It’s time now to change up to softer colors to match the couch throws and pillows. Keep those simple candles (for fall white or ivory) but change out the holders to pewter, silver or soft gold.  The softer color of metals create a softer light – like these from World Market or Pottery Barn.

FOUR: If you have a mantel or fireplace, change décor but keep it light and simple. If you have centerpieces or runners for your coffee table and dining table – it’s time for a change. Think “autumn leaves.” Like this basket setting from Pottery Barn.

FIVE: Maybe this is on the top of everyone’s mind, but the music list is always good to figure out long before the guests arrive. Time to put away Elvis and bring back Frank. Well, maybe it’s the opposite for some folks, but you get the idea.

Want to go the distance? I even change out some of my framed pictures – ones of my family and friends on easel backs and some on the walls. Store away the pictures of beach parties and put up the ones of camping trips in autumn and ski trips to the alps. You’d be surprised how this simple switch will change the “feel” in your home.

The point of this exercise – don’t wait until the week or days before the first holiday party. Start now and set the canvas. You can add the finishing touches later. Besides, you’ll have plenty of other things to worry about before your guests arrive. Everything you do now will look like you really took time to plan things out. Taking these steps now will also help you enjoy your party that much more and you won’t be waking up from a nightmare like I did!

Have fun!

Let’s Talk About Halloween!

Pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin!!

Halloween is not just for kids!

Halloween has been one of my favorite holidays (just after Chanukah – presents – duh!). It’s been that way since I’ve been old enough to go Trick or Treating.  Oddly, even though I’m not a sweets person per se, I can’t get enough of the miniature candy that shows up this time of year.  Almost any type of candy, I’ll even eat black licorice. Incidentally, if it’s licorice, I always prefer Red Vines, in case anyone is curious.

I went Trick or Treating all the way through my High School years.  There’s nothing like a pillow case with holes cut into it (you gotta be able to see!) for a quick costume solution. I can’t say that I’ve been Trick or Treating since those High School days but I do love a good Halloween party and it’s that time of year again!  There’s a couple of rules that need to be followed if you’re going to plan one too.

The very first thing you have to decide is what kind of party are you having.  Every other rule follows from this one decision.  Is it a party for friends with children and everyone is going out to Trick or Treat together afterwards or is it just for the adults?  Just know that if you want to have an adult party on Halloween and the friends you are inviting have children that will be going out Trick or Treating – they probably won’t be coming because they have to take their kids out!

So here are my rules for a successful Halloween party with the kids:

  1. It has to start early enough for everyone to get to your house, eat something and still get out into the neighborhood before it gets dark. Little ones get scared and they have bed times! Or at least at my house they did.
  1. Always make the food easy. You could do potluck but, if you’re like me at all and a bit of a control freak then – NOT!
  1. Do bulk food – you know the kind that basically is easy to serve like a big pot of Chili on the stove with all of the fixings on the counter for everyone to help themselves, or a big platter of deli sandwiches and salads. Something quick and easy to eat.  Definitely nothing that requires plating and sitting around a big table.  The whole point is to get SOMETHING into the kids’ tummies before they are faced with all of that inviting candy.
  1. Use paper plates, cups, etc. You want to have fun too.  No cleanup is seriously the only way to go here.

And here are my rules for a successful Halloween party for adults:

  1. The best day to have an adult Halloween party is the Saturday BEFORE Halloween – for a couple of reasons. For one thing, nobody is excited for Halloween AFTER Halloween – only before! You can set up on Friday, party on Saturday, break down and recover on Sunday. Even if the adults that are invited have children they won’t need to take them Trick or Treating on the Saturday BEFORE Halloween.
  1. There are so many places to find ideas for really cool food for Halloween. Look to Pinterest first.  You will find a lot of fun and easy recipes for finger food in particular.  One of the funniest I saw was a take on Pigs in a Blanket – still using hotdogs and crescent rolls but in a very clever way.
  1. Be VERY CAREFUL if you’re planning on using dry ice for anything (it’s the usual way to get “smoke” on a drink). Dry ice – which is much colder at -109.3 F than regular ice – can cause serious burns due to frostbite if you don’t handle it properly with insulated gloves.  I’m not using any dry ice in any drinks I make.
  1. Find fun things to put in your drinks – I went to Amazon and found “eyeball” ice cubes. They’re shaped and look like bloodshot eyes that you can freeze and then use as “ice” in your drinks.
  1. To Theme or Not To Theme – That is the question! Themes and costumes are fun but just know that you may get a few people that won’t come because they don’t want to “dress up” (sad but true) and even some who will come but show up in street clothes for the same reason. NOT FUN!!  There are so many themes – some of my favorites are: Your favorite ghost – TV or otherwise, dead celebrities, a character that starts with the first letter of your first name, movie monsters, etc.

So the question is, what are you doing for Halloween and will it be as fun as you want it to be?

A Simple, Easy Treat: Great Golden Oven Fries

golden-oven-fries

Wanna Enjoy a Pan of Deep Golden Fries?

Did someone say you could get great French fries from the oven?  I’m in!  I am a serious potato lover in any form, it’s kind of pathetic- I can’t leave them alone – and if they’re fried then I’m completely gone.  Some of my favorite food memories are of eating crispy French fries with my friends at the local drive-in when I was in High School.  The secret to really great French fries, you know the ones that are very crispy outside and soft and wonderful inside, is to fry them twice.  Apparently there’s a very simple secret to get this wonderful result without, I repeat, without your fryer.  This recipe is from Deb Perelman on her website,  smittenkitchen.com , from October 28, 2015.  She said it was inspired by Michael Chiarello’s technique.  I’m trying it immediately! A treat for about 4 people.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium Yukon Gold or 3 smallish Russet potatoes (I find these to be equivalent in size, although the specific size isn’t terribly important)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Fine sea salt

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 450°F
  • Peel your potatoes if you wish; scrub them well if you do not. Cut potatoes into just-shy-of 1/2-inch batons. Place in a large pot and cover with an inch or two of water. Set heat to high and set timer for 10 minutes. If potatoes come to a boil in this time (mine usually do not), reduce the heat to medium. Otherwise, when timer rings, whether or not the potatoes have boiled, test one. You’re looking for a very “al dente” potato — one that is too firm to eat enjoyable, but has no crunch left. A good sign that they’re not too cooked is when you roughly tumble them into a colander, only one or two break.
  • Meanwhile, coat a large baking sheet with 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil and place it in the oven for a few minutes, so the oil gets very hot and rolls easily around the pan.
  • Drain your potatoes and immediately spread them on oiled baking sheet in one layer. Drizzle with last tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and roast for 20 minutes, until golden underneath. Toss potatoes around to encourage them to color evenly and return them to the oven for another 5 minutes. Repeat this 1 or 2 more times (for me, 30 minutes total roasting time is the sweet spot), until your “fries” are deeply golden, brown at the edges and impossible not to eat.
  • Season with more salt while they’re hot, pile them on a platter and dig in.

Easy Recipe for Gnocchi Skillet with Sausage and Tomatoes

Gnocchi on your Favorite Skillet

Food Memory in the Making with Gnocchi, Chicken Sausage, Tomatoes and your Favorite Skillet

This recipe is so quick and easy to make and looks beautiful on the plate – color in the dish is always important as we eat with our eyes.  It reminds me of a favorite food memory – the first time I ever tasted Gnocchi – they were so soft and delicate.  I found it on a great website, thekitchn.com, in their 23 Romantic Recipes post this week.  One of the best things about this recipe is that you can use store-bought gnocchi and any type of Italian sausage you like. Spicy, anyone? They also suggest that if you want to finish the skillet with Parmesan that you can but that it’s not necessary if you’d rather not have cheese. Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound gnocchi
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 9 ounces (about 3 links) cooked chicken sausage, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick coins
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1 to 2 ounces fresh basil, julienned (1/2 to 1 cup loosely packed)

Preparation

  1. Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling; cook the gnocchi for 2 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and toss with a drizzle of olive oil.
  2. Heat a 10-inch or larger cast iron skillet over medium heat with a light drizzle of olive oil. Add the sausage and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it begins to brown. Push the sausage into a pile at the edge of the skillet and turn the heat up to high.
  3. When the skillet is quite hot, add the tomatoes, skin down, crowding them in if necessary. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until they are blistered, then stir in with the sausage. Cook for 2 more minutes, until both tomatoes and sausage are slightly browned. Stir in gnocchi and cook just until all is combined, but the tomatoes have not broken down into sauce.
  4. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Cooking tip: a cast iron skillet is preferred only because it will give you the best color and sear to the sausage and tomatoes but any skillet will work as long as it does NOT have a non-stick coating.  That will interfere with the browning.

Brunch? How about a Frittata with Fontina Cheese and Mushrooms?

mushroom-leek-and-fontina-frittata

Frittata with Mushroom, Leek, and Fontina Cheese

Eggs are my favorite food and I could eat them all day long for every meal.   Frittatas are almost a perfect egg dish because they don’t have to be served hot to be delicious!  In fact, they can be served at room temperature so they’re a perfect do-ahead entrée when you have friends over for breakfast or dinner.  This recipe for a vegetarian frittata is from the bon appétit test kitchen issue February 2013.

Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 medium leeks, whites and pale-green parts only, chopped
  • 8 ounces crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 12 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 3/4 cup shredded Fontina cheese, divided
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

PREPARATION

  1. Place a rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 350°F. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 10″ nonstick ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add leeks; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until softened and all liquid has evaporated, 8-10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk eggs, crème fraîche, and parsley in a large bowl; mix in 1/2 cup cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Increase the heat to medium-high and add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet. Pour the egg mixture over the mushrooms, shaking the pan to evenly distribute mixture. Cook the frittata, without stirring, until its edges begin to set, about 5 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup cheese over eggs and transfer skillet to oven. Bake frittata until golden brown and center is set, 25-30 minutes.

 

Recipe for a Sweet Potato Casserole You Can’t Put Down

Spiced Sweet Potato and Parsnip Tian

This recipe is by Anna Stockwell

I think everyone has had a Sweet Potato Casserole at Thanksgiving. It almost doesn’t matter if dinner was at your house, your Grandmother’s or a neighbor’s, someone made a Sweet Potato Casserole. But here’s the thing – the old standard of Thanksgiving can be brought in any time, for all kinds of holidays and family celebrations. And people will love you for it. Food memories, anyone?

Anyhow, most recipes call for puréed sweet potatoes (of course we just referred to it as mashed) with cinnamon and butter. But, the most important thing about it was the perfectly browned mini-marshmallows. Sometimes, they were just sprinkled across the top but if you were really lucky, the person who made it placed a cloud of mini-marshmallows on top so every bite had some sugary sweetness. You always knew who took time with making the casserole because the marshmallows were in a design or rows on the top. Now that was perfect!

As great of a memory as that is, I’ve been searching for an alternative and I think I’ve found it in a recipe that I just read in the Epicurious November 2015 edition. It looks so pretty, but seems so simple to prepare and sounds great. It will definitely be on the menu for my next celebration dinner party – especially because you can make it up to 2 days ahead. Any recipe that lets me spend more time with my friends before dinner is a GOOD one.

Ingredients
  • 4 cups apple cider
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 6 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 8 medium), peeled, sliced into 1/8″-thick rounds
  • 2 pounds parsnips (about 3 extra-large), peeled, sliced into 1/8″-thick rounds
Instructions
  1. Special equipment:
  2. A 4-quart casserole dish or braiser, preferably round
  3. Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 325°F. Bring cider to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, add butter, thyme, Aleppo, and 2 tsp. salt, and cook, stirring, until butter is melted. Let cool slightly.
  4. Place potatoes and parsnips in a large bowl. Pour cider mixture over and toss to coat. Stack a handful of slices about 3″ high, then place vertically in casserole dish. Using a measuring cup or small bowl, keep slices standing up as you go, working around the perimeter and then into the center, forming concentric circles. Continue arranging slices in pan until tightly packed (you may have some leftover). Pour in cider mixture to come halfway up sides of dish; discard remaining cider mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tsp. salt and cover tightly with foil.
  5. Bake, covered, 1 hour. Remove foil and brush pan juices over tops of slices with a pastry brush. Increase oven temperature to 425°F and bake, uncovered, until golden brown on top, 35–40 minutes more.
  6. Do Ahead:
  7. After first round of baking at 325°F, let cool, then chill for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature, then bake, uncovered, at 425°F for 40–50 minutes.
  8. Cooks’ Note
  9. If you have a mandoline, use it to slice the sweet potatoes and parsnips—it will help you get thinner, more even slices in less time than by hand. The number of potatoes and parsnips you need to fill your casserole dish will depend on their width, so buy extra just in case, and try to seek out parsnips that are as close as possible to the width of your sweet potatoes.