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.

 

5 Quick, No Bake Desserts - In a Pinch

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I realize that this title will come as a shock to those of you who know how much I love to bake, but sometimes I need a dessert in a pinch.  If I've got 5, 6 or even more appetizers to make, plus the meal; well dessert just ends up getting the short end of the stick.  With these 5 fast and easy assemble desserts, you don't have to stress about making sure there is something sweet and appealing after your meal.  Plus a few of these can easily be brought as a dessert offering when you are the one asked to bring something sweet.

 

Fresh Ricotta with Figs, Peaches & Honey

There is nothing as simple as assembling items on a board or platter.  

 

This sweet and savory offering is just that kind of dish.  Arrange seasonal fruits, like figs & peaches for the summer, on a pretty plate or a wooden board. Fill a bowl with fresh ricotta & drizzle with honey.  It's just that simple. You can toss some nuts in if you like, but for the sheer simplicity of this dish, it's not necessary.  Let the purity of these vibrant flavors speak for themselves.  The creaminess of the ricotta against the nature sweetness of the fruit with that extra sweetness from the honey is soothing combination.

 

Chocolate Dipped Fruit

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This one might take a tad more effort but not much more.  Use the fruit of your choice or the ones in season.  I had raspberries, blackberries and bananas on hand.  Dip each piece in melted dark chocolate and let cool on parchment paper.  You can roll them in crushed nuts or coconut to ratchet it up a notch.  Then arrange on a plate and watch these fly faster than they took to make.  Believe it or not, these little 'pop in your mouth' treats are so pretty that they will make an "ohh' statement on your dessert table.  So easy enough to make, you can get your kids to help.

 

Cheese Course

Cheeses with strawberries, grapes, mini  bread sticks  and  Tortas de Aceite  (Sweet Olive Oil Crackers).

Cheeses with strawberries, grapes, mini bread sticks and Tortas de Aceite (Sweet Olive Oil Crackers).

Blue cheese (such as  Cabrales ,  Valdeon,  Stilton or Gorgonzola). Add nuts, date loaf, figs in syrup, oranges.

Blue cheese (such as Cabrales, Valdeon, Stilton or Gorgonzola). Add nuts, date loaf, figs in syrup, oranges.

Ok, this is not my idea, of course, but more of a reminder in case this option was misplaced in the memory banks. Instead of serving cheese as part of your appetizers, save it for dessert and do it the French and Italian way. Enjoy it after the meal.

Fresh Fruit Lovingly bound by Chocolate

This colorful, flavorful option is similar to but slightly different to the above chocolate dipped fruit.  Instead of individual chocolate coated fruits, this version creates a bed of chocolate for the fresh fruit, nuts and sea salt to lie gently atop.  I made this on just such an occasion when I didn't have time but wanted to serve a dessert after lunch.  It was better than I thought and served the purpose beautifully.   I already had a chocolate ganache in the fridge. (Ganache is just chocolate with a tad of cream added to it.  This keeps it from getting completely hard and makes it pourable to glaze a cake or drizzle. I liked using the ganache for this version because once I refrigerated it, it became hard enough to hold the fruit together but still had a softness that added to the yumminess. A result I didn't quite realize would occur. 

Spread the ganache on parchment. Not too thin.

Spread the ganache on parchment. Not too thin.

Lovingly place the fruit in a visual manner that pleases your eye and your belly. Add nuts and sprinkle with course sea salt.

Lovingly place the fruit in a visual manner that pleases your eye and your belly. Add nuts and sprinkle with course sea salt.

 

Chocolate Bark

If you don't happen to have fresh fruit, then go the traditional chocolate bark route.  This version does not use ganache.  It is pure chocolate melted down.  I use a combo of dark chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate. Spread the melted mixture onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper.  Then top with whatever suits your fancy.  I like cashews, dried apricots & dried cherries plus a healthy sprinkling of course sea salt.  That really makes the chocolate sing. Refrigerate until solid, then cut or break into shards.  No brainer of sheer joy. 

 

I hope these ideas provide you a few quick, easy but delicious desserts to have in your back pocket when you are in a pinch.  I promise you, your guests will not miss the cake or pie or any other more labor intensive sweet.  

Lunch with a Friend - Casual with Style

My dear friend, Donna, and I had been trying to make plans to get together for months. We had set a date to meet in the city for lunch, but alas those plans got axed.  Once we switched the day, it meant she was able to come up to my house for a 'ladies lunch'.  Does that make us sound old?  If so, then forget it.  We were just eating together.

It had been a while since we had last seen each other, so the idea was to enjoy each other's company and not have cooking occupy my time. The plan to keep it easy peasy was to create a menu where the majority of items could all be roasted in the oven and the rest could be made ahead of time.  Leaving me hands free for when she arrived.  I like starch (pasta, potatoes, rice not the kind used for ironing), and wanted to include that too. My immediate thought was polenta. However, after surveying the menu, a last minute swap out for rice felt like it paired better with the rest of the offerings, which also included a salad.  When it came to dessert, this needed to be super simple because I didn't have the time to bake.  Add to that, I wanted something that I could enjoy too. A traditionally baked item uses flour and eggs, well, no good for me. 

Sure sandwiches would have been even easier. Sure we could have eaten at the kitchen table.  But a little extra detail is much nicer. And so...

How hard is it to keep it casual but amp it a bit to feel special?  Simply throw down a runner the opposite way to create an more intimate area on a large table, add some placemats. Toss cloth napkins on the plate and put glasses on the table.  That always ups the ante, and really it doesn't take more effort than that.

So when you want to keep it chill yet with touch of style for no fuss lunch, here's a menu that can be pulled off without a hitch. The best part of this for me was that since it was pouring out and despise schlepping in the rain, I already had everything in the house, and didn't even need to shop!!  

Prep everything in their pans, season right before putting in the oven and have a glass of wine.

Prep everything in their pans, season right before putting in the oven and have a glass of wine.

If you need some recipes guides for the below menu, the highlighted items link to previous blog posts that feature each one. Also at the very bottom, you will find printable recipe versions.  If you have any questions on how to pull this menu off, write a comment below or email me

Lunch Menu

Simply roasted salmon nestled up against beautiful roasted vegetables all on one plate.

Simply roasted salmon nestled up against beautiful roasted vegetables all on one plate.

Paella rice risotto style with 3 kinds of onions (red, yellow and scallions)

Paella rice risotto style with 3 kinds of onions (red, yellow and scallions)

For the Paella Rice Risotto style, first sauté a mixture of red, yellow onion and scallion until caramelized.  Set aside. In a medium sized pot, simply sauté some more onions in oil, salt and pepper then add the rice to toast it. Then add either hot water or hot stock (chicken or vegetable) a few ladles at a time until the rice absorbs the liquid. Continue until the rice is tender then stir in the sautéd onion mixture. 

Another option, you can check out my Garlic Rice recipe.

You know this salad. This is the Citrus Salad Bowl, but in one big bowl not individually plated. This way we could go back for seconds.

You know this salad. This is the Citrus Salad Bowl, but in one big bowl not individually plated. This way we could go back for seconds.

The skinny on how the dessert portion was pulled together with just a few ingredients: Open the fridge. Check out what you have and use your imagination.  I found strawberries and blueberries, and tucked in the back a tiny bit of left over chocolate ganache* (previously used for some profiteroles I had made).  And just like that I had a dessert.  Fresh Fruit Bark.

* Ganache is chocolate melted down by adding warmed cream to create a glaze .  When I originally made mine I used much less cream since I wanted a thicker consistency for the profiteroles.  If I had a traditional ganache, it would have never worked for this dessert.  

Spread the chocolate onto parchment paper.

Spread the chocolate onto parchment paper.

Instructions

I melted down the chocolate, spread it over parchment and jammed, I mean lovingly placed, the fruit into the chocolate. For texture, I sprinkled some crushed Marcona Almonds and popped it in the fridge to set and chill until time to serve. 

Arrange the fruit in a way that is appetizing to you.

Arrange the fruit in a way that is appetizing to you.

Since this was made with a semi ganache, it had a softer consistency than traditional bark.  That didn't bother either one of us, and the fresh fruit route was the perfect choice since Donna prefers fresh versus dried fruit. Phew, good call on my part.  This literally was the truest form of 'something from nothing', pulling a dessert out of the hat from whatever I had handy.  We both agreed it was quite delicious.  Bigger bonus, it gave her a new way to use up all the gorgeous summer fruit she gets at her country house.  

Starting with the lovely Shinn Estates Rosé that Donna brought, we had a relaxing time, ate well, caught up on each other's lives and travels, enjoyed a surprise yummy dessert, and of course, finished the entire bottle of wine. It ended as a perfect Lunch with a Friend.  

Sprinkle chopped Marcona Almonds all over the top.

Sprinkle chopped Marcona Almonds all over the top.