3 Dips a Dipping...

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Life with an obsessive buyer.

Well, I guess that’s the view from hubby, JuanCarlos’, seats. I buy things; be it material scraps, vintage dishes, glassware, and even food ingredients with big ideas. Sometimes with no specific ideas at all, I just love how they look and I’ll figure it out later. Maybe that is what I should have called this blog. Buy it Now - Figure it Out Later.

In the looking good category, I’m often tempted by the olive bar at specialty stores. Or the condiment and cheese aisles. Who wouldn’t? They are stocked with alluring foods. So, it’s no wonder that when you open my fridge you will encounter jars and containers of what JC likes to call stragglers. Annoying stragglers, to be exact. We differ greatly in our view points. I love having these food items around because they come in handy in a pinch. On the flip side, my husband finds these types of jars, containers and “dangling participles’ quite annoying. The main reason: he doesn’t have much use for these ingredients, hence the questioning as to why we need so many of them. Which often leads to him needing to shift, maneuver around and rejigger them in the fridge. Of course, I see the absolute need for these, but I’m willing to consider his point of view; me as condiment hoarder for the ‘just in case’ moment.

In an effort to keep the peace around the holidays (at least that is what I’m telling him), I decided to make him happy and clean the fridge from condiment craze. Yet, we all know the real reason. I’m a serial something from nothing, experimentalist. I can’t help myself from looking at ingredients and seeing what they could be. And what perfect timing, as we look down the barrel of the final few holiday parties and gatherings left in the year, a trio of dips comes in handy. Dips are not just useful for dipping, but great to spread on sandwiches, or on the base of pizza or stuffed breads, dollop on a salad or tacos, or dang near anything else you can think of.

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Here are 3 dips for dipping. Or spreading or whatever you want to name them, for use in whatever way you choose.


Avocado & Sour Cream Dip

Ingredients
1/2 c avocado, cubed
1/2 c sour cream
1/4 c scallions + 1 T for topping
1 garlic clove, rough chop
1 T parsley
1 t lemon juice
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper

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Instructions
In a mini blender, buzz up the parsley, scallions and garlic first. Then add the avocado and sour cream. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper. Buzz again and taste for seasoning. Easy, breezy.

Chop up the scallions and garlic first. It helps to blend them up better.

Chop up the scallions and garlic first. It helps to blend them up better.

Chunks of avocado give it a creaminess.

Chunks of avocado give it a creaminess.

Fresh parsley and lemon give this dip a zip.

Fresh parsley and lemon give this dip a zip.

Avocado & Sour Cream dip. Creamy and tangy.

Avocado & Sour Cream dip. Creamy and tangy.

Roasted Pepper & Goat Cheese Dip

Ingredients
1/2 c marinated roasted red peppers
2/3 c goat cheese
1/4 c walnuts, roasted

Instructions
Roast the walnuts for 8-10 minutes in the oven or in a saucepan on the stove. Then using a mini blender, buzz up them up into small pieces. Remove from blender, then add the peppers and goat cheese and blend until you have a chunky consistency. Add the walnuts back in, and blend only until full combined, or you can simply stir them in. Taste for seasoning. Since I bought the marinated roasted peppers there was no need to add any additional seasonings.

Goat cheese makes it creamy and tangy. Peppers makes it sweet.

Goat cheese makes it creamy and tangy. Peppers makes it sweet.

Walnuts give a crunch. A wonderful combination.

Walnuts give a crunch. A wonderful combination.

Gorgeous bright color, full of tang, sweet and crunch.

Gorgeous bright color, full of tang, sweet and crunch.

Olive & Feta Cheese Dip

Ingredients
1/2 c oil cured black olives
1/2 c green olives
1/2 c feta cheese
1/4 c scallions, rough chop
1 garlic clove, rough chop
1/2 c parsley leaves
1/4 c olive oil
1 t lemon juice

The set up for something special.

The set up for something special.

Instructions
In a mini blender, buzz up the parsley, garlic and scallions. Add the black and green olives and buzz until it creates a paste. Add olive oil and lemon juice and blend until combined. Then add the feta cheese. Since the olives and feta have enough flavor and salt content, this dip should not require any additional seasoning. But always taste to see if you need more lemon juice or oil.

Toss the scallions, garlic and parsley in.

Toss the scallions, garlic and parsley in.

Buzz it up until coarsely chopped.

Buzz it up until coarsely chopped.

Add the olives. Then the oil, lemon juice and feta.

Add the olives. Then the oil, lemon juice and feta.

Olive tapenade with feta is a hearty dip, perfect with boiled potatoes for dipping.

Olive tapenade with feta is a hearty dip, perfect with boiled potatoes for dipping.

Bright, crunchy and super green string beans are a fresh and delightful addition to this platter.

Bright, crunchy and super green string beans are a fresh and delightful addition to this platter.

New and fingerling potatoes are the perfect size and consistency for dipping. They also make for a hearty bite.

New and fingerling potatoes are the perfect size and consistency for dipping. They also make for a hearty bite.

Did you see how easy it was to whip up not one but three dips? These were just one of those days when pulling ingredients out and seeing what works together creates ramekins full of goodness.

In my defense of stocking our fridge with these awesome ingredients, we had one of those ‘just in case’ moments when we needed to bring appetizers to a party. Perfect timing, I’d say, as I just finished making these dips and they were picture ready for the party. Pure evidence that having dangling participles in your fridge isn’t a luxury or a nuance but an absolute necessity. I feel redeemed and justified in my condiment collecting craze.

A colorful medley.

A colorful medley.

Fresh and inviting. So, go ahead and invite someone over. Pop some bubbly and dip away.

Fresh and inviting. So, go ahead and invite someone over. Pop some bubbly and dip away.

Post Note: While I was in North Carolina visiting my nieces, my youngest niece made all 3 of these dips for us to snack on. Then we brought the leftovers to my oldest nieces newly purchased townhouse, which we helped her moved into. These dips were the perfect snack as we unpacked, unwrapped and set up her new abode. Everyone loved them. I guess these 3 dips a dipping are even more handy that I originally thought.!

Shrimp Cucumber Roll - Tails Up & Out

Always a seeker of how to take ordinary ingredients and serve them up differently, an idea caught my eye the other day while I was working a catering gig. The chef was serving up coconut shrimp, sort of standing up with the tail sticking out. Of course, he served them with their tail shells still on. Which made sense for his presentation, so people could grab and bite away. I’m not usually a fan of shell tails on. Two reasons, really. One is that people often just bite up to that point and leave that cute little shrimp meat inside the tail, missing out the tail section. Two, it’s an extra thing people have to deal with, and can be messy depending on the presentation. But for this application, tails on it is. Tails UP & OUT to be exact.

So, borrowing from the ‘standing up shrimp’ idea I decided to create a shrimp roll of a different kind. I didn’t want something heavy, or that needed to be fried up or warmed up, making it more work for serving. I wanted something pretty, and pretty delicious. Using shrimp, avocado, daikon radish shoots and dab of wasabi sour cream, I wrapped everything up in a cucumber slice. Normally, we buy extra large, jumbo or Tiger Shrimp. But for this appetizer, using a smaller shrimp (medium 35 count) creates a one bite app that can be made ahead, kept chilled and served as guests first arrive.

Since we are all super busy with just days before Christmas I’m not going to make you read a ton of my mind’s meanderings. We are just going to get down to it, so you can serve this up for Christmas eve or day of. Also, no amounts for this one. It will all depend on how many guests you are having. An English cucumber will yield about 20 long slices. A large Gwen avocado will give you plenty of slices, then some.

Ingredients

Shrimp, smaller sized, cleaned and deveined
English Cucumber, long thin slices
Avocado, small, thin slices
Sour Cream
Wasabi paste (amount depends on how much heat you want)
Daikon Radish Shoots*
Aromatics for shrimp boil (bay leaf, peppercorns, garlic cloves, parsley, lemon, salt)

* You can use any micro sprout you find. However, the daikon radish sprout has a spicy note to it, so if you use something milder, you might want to increase the amount of wasabi paste. Use your taste buds as your guide.

It’s all about the green for this fresh bite.

It’s all about the green for this fresh bite.

Instructions

  1. Using a vegetable peeler, slice the cucumber lengthwise. And set aside covered with wet paper towels.

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2. In a small mixing bowl, mix together sour cream, wasabi paste and salt to taste. Refrigerate until ready to assemble. I used two heaping tablespoons of sour cream with 3/4 t wasabi. (only 1/4 t. shown below, because I tasted it wanted more heat so I added more.)

Wasabi comes in powder form or paste, and can be found in most grocery stores in the Japanese section.

Wasabi comes in powder form or paste, and can be found in most grocery stores in the Japanese section.

3. To get the shrimp really flavorful, prep the poaching water by bringing to a boil 6 cups of water with 2-3 bay leaves, 1 T peppercorns, garlic cloves, parsley and salt. Then let simmer for 10 minutes to allow the aromatics to infuse into the water.

The aromatics will lightly infuse flavor into the shrimp.

The aromatics will lightly infuse flavor into the shrimp.

A pot of goodness.

A pot of goodness.

4. Meanwhile, get an ice bath ready (a large bowl of water with ice cubes with a smaller bowl inserted in the middle) to transfer cooked shrimp immediately after to stop the cooking.

Nothing fancy, just a simple ice bath shocker to say ‘hey, no more cooking for you!’.

Nothing fancy, just a simple ice bath shocker to say ‘hey, no more cooking for you!’.

5. Once the water has simmered, squeeze the lemon into the water and toss it into the pot. Then add the shrimp and let cook for 2-3 minutes until they turn opaque pinkness orange. Transfer them immediately to the ice bath.

6. Cut the avocado into small strips. Sprinkle with course salt. (You can squeeze a bit of lemon, too.)

The avocado will add a creaminess to this bite.

The avocado will add a creaminess to this bite.

Mise en place. Get everything ready and in place.

Mise en place. Get everything ready and in place.

7. Assemble by laying the cucumber strip down and placing shrimp, avocado and radish shoots on the end of the cucumber, and begin to roll. Since shrimp curl when they cook, I found that straightening the shrimp out a bit helped with rolling it up.

Ready, set, ROLL.

Ready, set, ROLL.

8. Once rolled up, squeeze or place a dollop of the wasabi sour cream on top. (I used a piping bag because I find it easier. You can use a plastic bag with the tip cut off, or simply dollop it on).

Just a little squeeze of wasabi sour cream with brighten and bring heat at the same time.

Just a little squeeze of wasabi sour cream with brighten and bring heat at the same time.

Place on a platter. Or maybe a tiered plate rack. Whatever floats your shrimp boat. This bite size appetizer is light and a refreshing twist on the high fat, high calorie fried shrimp roll. I adore how the sprouts stick up. It’s colorful. It’s playful. It’s just the right size bite.

If you don’t have wasabi paste, then you can make any kind of jazzed up sour cream you like. Or even use mayo or yogurt. Some ideas:

  • smashed avocado mayo/sour cream or yogurt

  • lime zest mayo/sour cream or yogurt

  • siracha mayo/sour cream or yogurt

  • jalapeño mayo/sour cream or yogurt

You get the idea. Mix up a bit whatever creamy option you like with something you love that pairs well with shrimp to make it tad more special.

But wait, there’s more. Because I hate to waste, and I had cucumber left over, I cut it into thick slices and created a vegetarian option. All it took was some radish shoots, avocado slice and dollop of wasabi sour cream to create a bite for the non fish eating crowd. Another ‘leftover’ was the outer peel of the cucumber. I tied it into a knot and used it to decorate the plate. Two for one, all the way around.

Extra cucumber, comes to the rescue of vegetarians!

Extra cucumber, comes to the rescue of vegetarians!

Pretty, green pop in your mouth freshness.

Pretty, green pop in your mouth freshness.

Now that is a whole lot of LOVE going on. You might notice a new love sign. The large one was given to me by my sister, Jill. It brings me such joy that people notice a simple sign, and begin to spread the love. The whole idea is catching on. 2stirwithlove, everything you do.

Now that is a whole lot of LOVE going on. You might notice a new love sign. The large one was given to me by my sister, Jill. It brings me such joy that people notice a simple sign, and begin to spread the love. The whole idea is catching on. 2stirwithlove, everything you do.

These make a great pass-around appetizers as well as one that looks great on a buffet. Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas and a Shrimp Cucumber Roll, with their tails sticking out!

 

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Post Note: I made these again but I forgot the avocado. So in true ‘use what you have’ mode, I swapped it out with mango slices. I have to say, I think I liked it even more!

Fish & Bean Soup

You know the old saying, “Soup Is Good Food”.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s soothing. It’s filling. It warms your belly, and your soul. It cuddles you from the inside out. For me, it really doesn’t matter what time of year it is, I tend to always enjoy a bowl of soup. Naturally, soup fulfills its goals most definitely during the fall and winter months.

Soups can run the gamut from super complicated and time consuming endeavors, all the way to ‘throw it all in a pot and cook’. From thin, clear broths to thick, chunky stew types. From vegetarian to hog filled meat pleasers. No matter what kind you are making, the key is flavor layering. Building up flavor profiles one by one gives depth and makes the soup richer.

Even though I featured this soup with a simple ‘how to’ in my recent blog post Monday Night Dinner, some of you asked for more specifics. So if you ask, I want to deliver. Whatever I can do to make cooking easier, and a pleasure for you. JuanCarlos was the one who made this soup for our guests that evening. I have made versions of this by adding spinach and scallions. You will see that the add on possibilities are vast. Savoy cabbage would be great, or a scoop of rice. But I like to enjoy it like this, clean and pure to let the broth sing and the fish shine.

So, here goes it. This recipe and the steps are so easy you won’t believe that it takes practically no time to cook. The determining factor is the kind of fish used and how they are cut. Shrimp, Calamari (Squid) and Monkfish all cook in the same time, and super fast. I mean, 5 minute FAST!

I would venture to say if you had all your ingredients out and ready to cut, you could make this soup in 20 minutes start to finish.

Get the timer ready!

A few simple ingredients make a fish soup that will be remembered.

A few simple ingredients make a fish soup that will be remembered.

Ingredients

3/4 lb Monkfish, cut into bite sized pieces
3/4 lb shrimp, cleaned/deveined, cut into bite sized pieces
2 calamari bodies, cleaned, cut into rings
1 c onion, diced
3-4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 c parsley, chopped
2 qts broth (fish or vegetable)
1/4 t red pepper flakes (add more if you like more heat)
1.5 t salt
1/4 c Olive oil

Instructions

1.Cut the onions, garlic and parsley. Add the onions and garlic to a pot with oil, salt and red pepper flakes and
cook over a medium low heat, softly sautéing them. Then add the parsley, and cook slowly.

The aromatics. This is the beginning of flavor building.

The aromatics. This is the beginning of flavor building.

Build up the flavors and let the onions and garlic flavor the oil.

Build up the flavors and let the onions and garlic flavor the oil.

Then add the parsley and let it do the same.

Then add the parsley and let it do the same.

2. Meanwhile, clean and cut the fish into bite sized pieces.

Monkfish comes in a long strip. I cut in down the middle, then cut small 1” cubes.

Monkfish comes in a long strip. I cut in down the middle, then cut small 1” cubes.

For soups, I usually get a smaller shrimp and then still cut them in 1/3’s so they are small enough to fit on a spoon.

For soups, I usually get a smaller shrimp and then still cut them in 1/3’s so they are small enough to fit on a spoon.

No one should have to take the time to clean squid. Buy it cleaned. Just make sure the inner cartilage is removed. Then slice ringlets.

No one should have to take the time to clean squid. Buy it cleaned. Just make sure the inner cartilage is removed. Then slice ringlets.

All the fish is ready to go while the aromatics are cooking.

All the fish is ready to go while the aromatics are cooking.

3. Once the aromatics have softened (you don’t want caramelization, just a translucent cook through), add the
beans and their liquid. Slowly warm through.

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4. Add the broth. If you only have 1 quart of broth, do as I did and add quart of water. Just make sure that you
taste for seasoning since water isn’t seasoned where I come from. Bring to a boil.

5. Lower heat to a simmer and add all the fish pieces. Cover and cook for 5-6 minutes until the fish is tender.
DO NOT cook longer or the fish will get overdone and rubbery.

Monkfish in the pot.

Monkfish in the pot.

Squid next.

Squid next.

Shrimp ahoy.

Shrimp ahoy.

Taste the calamari and make sure it’s cooked through. Also, taste for seasonings.

Look at how beautifully cooked and tender each piece of fish is. A bowl of Good Food.

Look at how beautifully cooked and tender each piece of fish is. A bowl of Good Food.

All that is left is to serve it up immediately, garnish with more parsley and enjoy a warm bowl of clean broth with hearty protein. It will warm your soul, bring a smile to your face, and joy to your heart. Seriously, how much more can one ask from a soup?

Rice Noodle Rags with Stir Fry Veggies

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Yes, noodles again. It should be abundantly clear by now that I like noodles. It goes deep, my friends. My love for the noodle is profoundly imbedded in my DNA, pulling me toward them. A comfort that wraps me up like a warm blanket. And so, I am forever toying around with combinations of ingredients to conceal… I mean, accompany the noodle.

I resemble that joke about “have some coffee with your sugar.” That is my philosophy with noodles. If left to my own devices, I would eat them straight up plain. Not extra items need be added. However, I will admit that the other ingredients do enrich their flavor and bring more nutrients to the table. And for those reasons, I chop, dice and cook up noodle-enhancing ideas.

Let us start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. It didn’t actually start with the noodle. But instead, with pan on which I would be cooking. This stir fry noodle story actually was spawned by my husband’s complete and utter obsession with the Chef Frances Mallman. He is a world renown chef and an outdoorsman who loves to cook in the wild, and therefore has big grills and planchas. Thus the impetus for us buying a plancha.

What is a plancha, you ask? It is basically a flat metal plate for cooking. We purchased ours online from Little Griddle.

Funny thing is, I have used this plancha more frequently than my grilling, outdoorsman-mimicking husband. And that is how I came up with this stir fry a la plancha style dish. I was keen on using it, so I grabbed all my veggies and started thinking about what I would stir… fry up with love.

Don’t ask me why I had all these veggies in the house. That answer should be completely known to you all by now. I see it. It looks good. I get excited. I buy it. (It is then my job to figure out what to do with them once home.)

Now with the plancha perfectly situated on my stovetop (I’m less the outdoorswoman grilling type so I brought it indoors), I began stir frying up a storm.

I’m not going to give you amounts. This truly is about pulling out what you love and using it in whatever quantities you have or making it for the amount of people you need. (Hint, you can get an idea of amounts by looking at the photos.)

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ingredients

Baby Bok Choy, leaves separated
White or Nappa Cabbage, sliced
Purple Cabbage, sliced
Yellow & Orange Pepper, bite sized pieces
Bean Sprouts
Long Hot Pepper, sliced
scallions, thick slice
Red Onions, large dice
cilantro, chopped
Rice Noodle Rags
Turmeric
Cayenne Pepper, optional
Olive oil, salt, pepper

 
A bounty of good nutrients to counterbalance my rice noodle addiction.

A bounty of good nutrients to counterbalance my rice noodle addiction.

instructions

Chop and dice vegetables in bite sized pieces. Clearly you might not have a plancha like ours, so you can use an equivalent. A wok, of course, would be perfect or a large grill pan. Use what you have, the idea is to sauté/stir fry the vegetables over medium high heat. Meanwhile, soak the rice noodles in warm water for 15 minutes. Then submerge them in boiling water for another 5 minutes, and set aside.

Rice noodle rags soaking in warm water.

Rice noodle rags soaking in warm water.

I combined the sweet and hot peppers with the onions and scallions. Then add oil to the plancha and began stirring.

Look at that rainbow of colors. Also know as nutrients.

Rainbow equals nourishment for your body and soul.

Rainbow equals nourishment for your body and soul.

Then I add some turmeric and dash of cayenne pepper to the cabbage. If you don’t want any more heat, leave the cayenne out. There is spice in the long, hot peppers. Or make it spicier. Your call.

Cabbages getting turmeric-ed and spiced.

Cabbages getting turmeric-ed and spiced.

Remove the other veggies, then stir fry the cabbage separately, and do the same with the bok choy.

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The bok choy leaves are more tender than their stems which is why I didn’t cook these with the cabbage. I felt that each needed care with their cooking times to keep the veggies crisp but tender enough. Also, there was about 8 cups of bok choy, so the plancha would have been too crowded.

Bok Choy, bright green and vibrant.

Bok Choy, bright green and vibrant.

Once all the veggies are cooked, put them all back on the plancha and add the cooked rice noodles. Stir in the bean sprouts to warm through and stir all together. Top with freshly chopped cilantro, or if by chance you have made my tahini-peanut sauce, this would be a great place to use it. If not, this is great just as is.

Than is a boat load of goodness.

Than is a boat load of goodness.

Turned into a bowl full of yum.

Turned into a bowl full of yum.

Plancha or no plancha, find a way to stir fry up some nutrient packed veggies and toss in rice noodles for that warm blanket comfort feel. I promise you will continue to find ways to stir up noodles. If not, then you can add noodles to your veggies!

Monday Night Dinner - Shared with Friends

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In today’s world of hustle and bustle, technology and device driven social contact, there is one aspect (well, probably many) of our new reality that makes me truly long for days of yore.
Connection. Real, soulful, personal connection.
I miss those times when getting together with loved ones was easy, almost expected on a regular basis. When weekends were spent visiting friends and family, and not traveling in a car for hours to watch a little league, or spent in front of a computer trying to catch up on work. Nowadays, it takes calendars, a team of coordinators, pie charts and graphs and law firm to find a date that matches up for everyone. When I was younger, we had our midday meal at my grandmother’s house every Sunday in Brooklyn. It was known and expected and it was a comfort and joy to gather all together. When we moved out to Long Island, everyone then drove out to us for the day. We were a family, and friends were always welcome to join.

I long for those days. I’m not saying every Sunday but I do yearn for time spent enjoying a meal with people I love in a chill atmosphere just so we can catch up. I fully recognize some of the reasons why this has become difficult. People move further away from one another. Jobs and schedules are more demanding. Kids have extracurricular activities that require more time and attention. But I guess this new paradigm of life is what irks me. We put so much more emphasis on things that cause us stress, and less on carving out time to hang with people we care about. I know I might get some backlash about the kids’ activity portion. It brings joy, etc. But when did sports and violin practice consume 75% of a kids free time? When do they have time to socialize and be kids? Now, that is a whole other topic. But, you all get where I’m going.

 

So given that long diatribe, it completely warmed my heart that when my friend Tecla’s dad was back in NYC visiting from Tuscany, JuanCarlos and I were top of his list to visit. High on the list!! We were tickled Parmesano Reggiano. We made a date for a Monday night and as we were deciding where to meet, it was a no brainer to invite them to our home. Unfortunately, our dear friend Scott, Tecla’s hubby, was unable to join us, and he was missed.

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A simple meal is all that’s needed, since the purpose of the visit was spending time together. We did add an appetizer and soup because we wanted the evening to last longer. More time requires more food. Well, at least that’s my thinking.

Here is what we served, and the elegant, simple table setting we served it on.

Appetizer & Soup

Eggplant rounds with roasted tomato & goat cheese

Sliced eggplant dusted with flour, quick sauté, then placed on a baking. Top each one with a spoonful of roasted tomatoes (sauce), a dollop of goat cheese, some thyme leaves and drizzle of olive oil. Bake until cheese melts.

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Seafood Soup

This is the perfect starter on cold night. A light fish broth chock full of shrimp, monkfish, calamari and beans.

Simply sauté garlic, onions and parsley. Stir in cannellini beans to add a bit heartiness. Then add fish stock and bring to low rolling boil and add the fish. Cover and lower to a simmer until the fish is cooked through.

The same wine we enjoyed with Tecla’s dad in Italy on a visit to the winery. Perfect with the pork and the cake!

The same wine we enjoyed with Tecla’s dad in Italy on a visit to the winery. Perfect with the pork and the cake!

Main Course
Pork Roast
Oven roasted Heirloom Carrots
Oven roasted Butternut Squash with Brown Butter Sage
Quinoa with scallions

 
Photo credit: Tecla Palli-Sandler

Photo credit: Tecla Palli-Sandler

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Roasted Pork
Roasted vegetables & Quinoa
 

Cinque colore salad with oil cured olives

I’ve taken the traditional tri-colore salad and amped it up with a few more colors by way of citrus fruits and oil cured olives. I used both the juices from the grapefruit and oranges then added lemon, lime and zest whisked with olive oil, salt, pepper for the dressing. Fresh, bitter, sweet, sour, peppery. This hit all the right notes.

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Dessert
Gluten Free, Dairy/Egg free chocolate tart. This is not my recipe. Nor did I make it exactly as the recipe stated, but this came out chocolatey, rich and delicious. I made a slightly altered version of Brandi’s Chocolate Espresso Fudge Cake. I didn’t have chocolate to shave over top so I created my own decoration with a random almond sliver swirl. I must have been channeling crop circles.

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Table Setting & Decor
It was a Monday night so there was not a ton of time for a formal table setting. It was more of a last minute task. So no time for ironing meant no tablecloth, and a need to display a napkin that no one would notice the wrinkles. Deep green colored velvet placemats kept with a winter warm theme. White dishes and gold charger popped nicely off the deep color mats and made it feel rich and elegant, but not pretentious. Just the right touch to make our guests feel special, yet not a lot work for me.

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The heartiness of my cabbage floral arrangement, plus elements from my Fall themed arrangement lasted long enough for me to arrange them at the end of the table with some candles to warm up the setting.

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Table setting with green velvet placemats, gold chargers, white plates and a soup bowl with gold trim.

Table setting with green velvet placemats, gold chargers, white plates and a soup bowl with gold trim.

There is nothing more satisfying than making a meal that nourishes the body and the soul, and sharing it!

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Tecla and her dad, Paolo serving up food stirred with love.

Tecla and her dad, Paolo serving up food stirred with love.

JuanCarlos talking about the state of… If you want to know, you’ll have to join us for dinner.

JuanCarlos talking about the state of… If you want to know, you’ll have to join us for dinner.

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We had such a great night. We all love food, travel, family, and living life richly. So conversation was a flow as we enjoyed a simple meal together. Cherishing the time we each carved out for one another in our busy schedules, and realizing that anything worth enjoying takes a little effort. I’m glad we all made the effort. And even happier that we were on Paolo’s list during his short visit. Our turn next… in Italy!!

I hope that with all the rush of the holidays you, too, can carve our time in your schedules to share a meal, laughter and love with the people you love. Dig in, fork first!

Paolo, aka Babbo, digging into chocolate heaven.

Paolo, aka Babbo, digging into chocolate heaven.