Mint Tea Be Cocktail

Just recently I had a full day adventure in NYC with old friends. These were unexpected, last minute plans and were perfect moments for both reminiscing and making new memories. Outings that make life full and rewarding.

First, I met up with college pals. Dianne, who I’ve known since Junior High, and Dominique, since right after college, all of us graduating from University of Binghamton. We walked around eating and drinking, and window shopping our way through Soho. After attempting to eat at a French American Bistro, we ended up in a Sicilian Enoteca. The bistro didn’t open until 12n and it was 11:30a, and apparently we were all so hungry we couldn’t wait the half hour. Not even sexy drinks would tempt us into waiting. I had spotted the Enoteca as we were walking, as did Dom, so suggested it. I figured the Italians would be ready to serve food at any hour. If the sun had risen and people were awake, the Italians were ready with food. I’m glad we didn’t wait for the bistro to open their kitchen. Our Italian lunch was a symphony of delicious simplicity. We shared 3 plates; an Arugula Salad, a Fennel and Orange Salad and then Gluten Free Ziti with Shrimp in a creamy burrata, tomato sauce. I literally lapped up the last morsels of the pasta using a spoon to scoop up all it’s luscious goodness. I enjoyed the dish so much that I asked where they buy their pasta. Fortunately, it comes from Di Paolo’s Italian Market right near by in Little Italy. But before heading over to snag some gluten free goodness, we shopped a bit and I bought these flouncy white pants. Apparently, the ‘one size fits all’ JUST fits, and didn’t deter me one bit from racing to buy that pasta. Once home, I made my own version of it a few days later.

Feeling brave sharing this Rubenesque modeling moment.   Photo credit: Dianne Guarino

Feeling brave sharing this Rubenesque modeling moment.
Photo credit: Dianne Guarino

Really love this brand of gluten free pasta

Really love this brand of gluten free pasta

Paolo’s Gluten Free Ziti with fresh tomatoes and herb goat cheese. Clearly not the same but just as good.

Paolo’s Gluten Free Ziti with fresh tomatoes and herb goat cheese. Clearly not the same but just as good.

After more walking, shopping, talking and catching up we said our goodbyes to our friend Dom, then Dianne and I met up with friends from our elementary/junior high/high school days for drinks and light dinner. My original idea of meeting up at The Ten Bells was quickly shut down when we realized they didn’t open until 5 and we were all meeting at 4pm with a hard out time. Yet another timing dilemma. But I always find that these situations are for the better, as witnessed with the lunch happening. We ended up at Dudley’s, a cute little place with outdoor seating, with good food and drink in the Lower East Side. And that is where this post is really going. To share with you a recreation of the drink I so enjoyed. Sure, I meandered around to get here, but that was what the day was all about. Spending time with old friends with no real agenda but to share old and new memories. This day was not just good for me, but a great way to encourage you to do so too. I know, I’ve spouted a lot of words about a lot of other things just to get to the cocktail. But that is the beauty of life and the road we journey to arrive somewhere. It’s the mishaps and redirects that get you to the exact place you are supposed to be. In this case, Lunch Italian Style plus 4pm consumption of a refreshing cocktail with dear friends.

Friends for life: Dominique, Me and Dianne. AKA 3D. Smiles of well fed women looking for bargains.                       Photo credit: Dianne Guarino

Friends for life: Dominique, Me and Dianne. AKA 3D. Smiles of well fed women looking for bargains. Photo credit: Dianne Guarino

Nancy, Kathy, me and Dianne.                                                                                                                                             Photo credit: Kathy Lashlee

Nancy, Kathy, me and Dianne. Photo credit: Kathy Lashlee

I’m not a big drinker these days. Can’t seem to hold my liquor. But the drink that caught my eye was the cleverly called Mint to Be. An auspicious name for a cocktail that clearly defined the day and all our happenstances. It was so dang refreshing. I suppose I could have used my handy dandy phone to take a photo of the ingredients, but didn’t. Thank goodness, I only had one drink so from memory, it had Vodka, St. Germaine, tea and mint. I had no idea in what proportions so when recreating, I just guessed. And on my first try, I guessed right.
Here’s what I did.

Ingredients

2 oz. Green Tea, brewed with mint leaves & cooled
1 oz. Vodka
1/2 oz. St. Germain
Fresh Mint leaves & Cucumber for garnish

Enjoyed this drink so much,I actually almost finished it!   Photo credit: Kathy Lashlee

Enjoyed this drink so much,I actually almost finished it!
Photo credit: Kathy Lashlee

Cocktail set up. Mint, Freshly brewed Green Tea, St Germain, Vodka and cucumber

Cocktail set up. Mint, Freshly brewed Green Tea, St Germain, Vodka and cucumber

I brewed green tea and let it steep with fresh mint leaves and let it cool. In a shaker, I put ice, vodka, St. Germaine and more mint leaves then added the tea once it was fully cooled.

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Shake shake shake, then poured it into a cocktail glass over ice. I added a cucumber slice and more mint leaves.

Refreshing? Almost too refreshing. These babies will go down fast. So be careful. Of course, if you like your drinks stronger, you can certainly add more vodka, although it will change the flavor profile a bit. I like these ratios because it’s very smooth. JuanCarlos, who usually is the one making cocktails around these parts was pretty impressed. So we invited our neighbor friends over to enjoy. I don’t need to tell you that they did, indeed.

It truly was Mint Tea Be.

Served with crisp cucumber slices and crunchy, salty marcona almonds… A perfect cooling cocktail that suits to a T.

Served with crisp cucumber slices and crunchy, salty marcona almonds… A perfect cooling cocktail that suits to a T.

This cocktail paired with pretty much anything. Including langostinos with sautéd tomatoes & peas.

This cocktail paired with pretty much anything. Including langostinos with sautéd tomatoes & peas.

Linguine with Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Olives & Spinach

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Hello fellow pasta lovers.  I know I have been neglecting you. Believe me when I tell you that it is not from a lack of making pasta. Quite the contrary. I make and eat pasta. (Gluten free now) Maybe not as often as before when I used to eat it every day.  Yeah, you read that correctly.  EVERY DAY. Oh the glory years.  Every day requires a lot of invention. Which meant I needed to come up with a variety of combinations to swirl, toss and top my pasta.  This is the very essence of the 'something from nothing' style, and how I pretty much make every pasta dish. Which leaves you wondering why the hell I'm not posting them given that it is the literal building block of my blog. Oh the irony.  Quite frankly, these dishes, although delicious, didn't seem like such revolutionary ideas, nor ones you wouldn't have thought up yourselves.  But maybe not. So, if it's pasta you want, it's pasta you get.  Who I am to deny anyone from eating pasta? I'm not crazy.

This combo literally was a throw it together dish from last week.  I was spending time with my niece Gianna before she headed back to college, my alma mater Binghamton University. Our afternoon of shopping ended right at the dinner hour and we were hungry.  We first thought of grabbing a bite at some local restaurant, but Gianna being every thoughtful and dollar conscious, said why spend money.  After mentioning that I didn't have a ton to choose from at home, save pasta, her answer: "Well, I would never turn down pasta."  And this why she is my goddaughter.  Like minds.

Here we go with the old open the fridge and see what we have...

Container of oven roasted tomatoes

Moroccan oil cured black olives

Baby spinach

That's all we needed to make a pasta that had some real depth of flavor.

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Ingredients

1 lb. linguine (I used Tinkyada gluten free)
3.5 c oven roasted tomatoes
1/2c approx. roasting oil & juices from the tomatoes
1/3 c Moroccan oli cured olives, rough chop
4 c baby spinach, rough chop
1/2 med. yellow onion, diced (approx. 2/3 c)
3 large cloves garlic, sliced
pinch red pepper flakes, optional
Magic 3 (Olive Oil,  Salt, Pepper)

Moroccan Black Oil Cured Olives

Moroccan Black Oil Cured Olives

Instructions

Dice the onions, slice the garlic, chop the olives. While the pasta is cooking, sauté the onions and garlic until just softened. Add the olives and stir to combine. 

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Add the tomatoes plus their roasting oil and spinach and let cook until spinach is wilted and everything is warmed through.  Season to taste. (Note that the olives add a salty flavor so go light handed when adding salt.  TASTE, taste, taste.)

Once pasta is al dente, transfer it to the sauce pan and combine all together letting it cook the last minute in the sauce.  Top with grated cheese.

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The sweetness from the tomatoes, the salty, earthy flavor from the olives and the bite of spinach. There really is no need for me to tell you that this was yummy.  Trust me, it was.  So much so, I made it again when my sis, Jill came for her weekly visit.  Pasta NEVER disappoints. It really does provide a double dose of love.

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Leek, Onion & Fennel Tart - Gluten & Egg Free

My memory must be fading... like a distant memory.  I can't recall what exactly prompted me to make up this tart. It might have been that I was craving a tart-like something, or maybe I saw a quiche and had slice envy.  All I remember is a deep desire to eat crust. The solution for when you have a hankering for something?  Go shopping.

It's been stated that you should never shop when you are hungry but I was on a mission, which helped keep this buying event to a minimum.  I was lucky enough to find a gluten free tart shell that didn't have a lot of crap in it. Happiness in the frozen section propelled me with glee back to the produce isle. 

There I found leeks and fennel which were looking fresh and seemed like a fine fit for my crust craving creation. I knew I had onions and goat cheese (which apparently are in endless supply in my house).  Last item needed to make myself a luscious tart that would halt my hankering for quiche was cream. I don't eat eggs.  Pity me.  Yes, pity me because I love eggs and they are in EVERYTHING. But alas, eggs don't love me.  An epic unrequited love story.

Since no eggs, no quiche.  No problem. This tart was going to kick the butt of any egg laced tart dish. 
And yes, although this is gluten and egg free, I did not say calorie free.  So this one may not be my healthiest share but it might become a special favorite for when indulging is on your mind.

There aren't too many steps to this making this, minus a little slicing.  But you have to do that in most recipes, so stop any belly-aching. Homemade food does require a tad of effort.

Ingredients

Pie Crust 9" (I used Wholly Gluten Free)
4 c leeks, sliced and thoroughly washed
1 heaping c onions, sliced
1 heaping c fennel, sliced
4 oz. goat cheese
1 c heavy cream
fresh thyme, optional
1 T butter
Magic 3 (Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper)

The onion family ready to be tarted.

The onion family ready to be tarted.

Instructions

Using a fork, pierce holes in the bottom and sides of the crust.  Bake at 350 degrees until lightly brown.  Set aside.

Prep the crust by making fork holes to prevent from bubbling up.

Prep the crust by making fork holes to prevent from bubbling up.

Perfectly pre-baked crust

Perfectly pre-baked crust

While the crust is baking, slice the leeks and soak them in water. Removing and rinsing several times.  (Leeks are laden with sand and you want to ensure there isn't a grain left.  When changing the water, remove the leeks from the water using a strainer or big slotted spatula as opposed to dumping the water and leeks into a strainer.  If you do the latter, all the sand will go right back through the leeks.  By removing the leeks, the sand stays at the bottom of the water. Then just dump and refill with fresh water. )

Wash, soak, dump water. Wash, soak and dump again. Do this until no more sand appears at the bottom of the bowl.

Wash, soak, dump water. Wash, soak and dump again. Do this until no more sand appears at the bottom of the bowl.

While the leeks are soaking, slice the onions and fennel.  Once all vegetables are ready, sauté in butter and oil, seasoning with salt and pepper.  If you decide to use the fresh thyme, add it now. Cook these until fully caramelized. 

Onion slices

Onion slices

Fennel slices

Fennel slices

The best combo. Butter and Oil

The best combo. Butter and Oil

All veggies in: fennel, onions, leeks

All veggies in: fennel, onions, leeks

Sauté slowly until they are completely broken down and beautifully caramelized.

Sauté slowly until they are completely broken down and beautifully caramelized.

Now with all the items ready, fill the pie crust with the vegetable mixture, top with tons of goat cheese and pour in the cream. You can also just mix all these ingredients together in a bowl and then fill the pie.  Your choice.  I didn't mix it because I envisioned the pie I saw layers in my head.  Silly me, it truly makes no difference.

Vegetable mixture, goat cheese, heavy cream and crust waiting to join forces.

Vegetable mixture, goat cheese, heavy cream and crust waiting to join forces.

Fill the bottom with the sautéd vegetable mixture. (Or you can mix the veggies with the cream and goat cheese and then pour in.)

Fill the bottom with the sautéd vegetable mixture. (Or you can mix the veggies with the cream and goat cheese and then pour in.)

Lots of cheese and creamy goodness tops this tart off.

Lots of cheese and creamy goodness tops this tart off.

Place the pie in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes until center stops wiggling and when tested with a toothpick it comes out clean.

Let it cool slightly to allow it to set.  You can serve it warm, at room temp or even cold.  Slice and pair it up with a soup or salad.  This is ideal for brunch, lunch or dinner side dish.  I made it when my friend, Emilce came for an overnight stay.  We both had a slice, leaving the rest of the pie all to myself for days.  Bliss!

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Creamy, Cheesy Cauliflower Dip

Creamy, steamy, cheesy and delicious cauliflower dip

Creamy, steamy, cheesy and delicious cauliflower dip

Cauliflower:  the big, white, bulbous veg that is so versatile.  It can be crunchy when roasted, or creamy when pureed.  It's nutritious and delicious. (and even facilitates my propensity to rhyme.) Seriously, what more can you ask of it.  But I did. Please can you be a creamy, cheesy dip for my cocktail party? And the answer was, Sure Thing. 

Since this dip was such a hit for my post Thanksgiving cocktail party I thought it only fitting and quite appropriate to bookend the year by posting another cauliflower dish.  I started this blog with the simple but versatile Faux Creamy Cauliflower Soup and I end the year with another simple but this time decadent cauliflower dish that will help ring in the New Year's Eve.  There is no faux in the creamy nature of this dip. It's real, alright.  And it's cheesy, gooeyness is completely sanctioned when one is kicking out the old and cheering in the new.

Just as with the soup you can add a variety of extras as you desire.  You can even play with different spices, too. This is was my first attempt at asking my cauliflower to be dippable so I didn't venture too far into the experimental.  That said, we did just fine.  Here are the basics.

Ingredients

1 head of cauliflower
1/4 c shallots, minced
1/4 c onion, minced
2 small cloves garlic, minced
Magic 3 (oil, salt, pepper)
1/8 t red pepper flakes (optional, if you like a little heat)
1/2 c sautéd escarole (optional, I had some leftover from the Escarole Rolls so I tossed it in)
2/3 c fontina, grated (or cheese of your choice, Gruyere would be yummy)
Crusty bread, for serving
Endive, gluten free option for serving

Instructions

Break up the cauliflower in pieces and boil it in salted water. 

Remove, reserving 1 cup of the liquid for pureeing.  Set cauliflower aside while you sauté the onion, shallots and garlic, seasoning as they get nice and soft.  Then add the cooked cauliflower and let it get coated with that flavor.

Next step is to make it creamy.  Place the mixture into a food processor and puree, adding a little of the reserved liquid as needed to get the consistency you want.  Remember, you can always add but cannot take away, so go slowly to determine whether you want it chunky or super smooth.  At this point, please taste and adjust your seasonings as you see fit.  As I mentioned, since I had some leftover sautéd escarole, after I removed the mixture from the processor, I folded it in.

cauliflower puree

cauliflower puree

leftover sautéd escarole

leftover sautéd escarole

The mixture awaiting it's cheese partner.

The mixture awaiting it's cheese partner.

Place the mixture into an oven proof baking dish that can also be used to serve. I bought the one pictured from Despaña.  They have terra cotta cazuelas in a variety of sizes, and this one is perfect.  Then comes the best part, the CHEESE. Did I say I like cheese?  If you know me, you already knew that.  Add the cheese into the entire mixture, plus sprinkle some on top. Bake at 350 until nice and bubbly.  

Serve warm with crusty bread, endive or any other vegetable for dipping.  

Here's to ringing in the New Year with Health & Wealth of heart, body and mind.  May you reach for the stars, touch them and be electrified to do great things.  May love and peace show up at your door each day.  And may you know when to have faux creaminess and when it's absolutely necessary to have the real thing.  

Thank you all for your support and onto new food bites in 2017!

Smoked Salmon with Pickled Fennel

You may recall that I mentioned being inspired by a couple of dishes we enjoyed  when last in Miami. Last week's post provided my version of a Meaty Ragu, so this week is my take of the other dish featuring salmon and fennel. I also figured that with the holidays approaching and New Year's Eve around the corner, this no cook, fast assemble appetizer might be helpful.  It is an austere dish with just two stars but each one has its own strong identity.   

salmon & fennel
fennel & vinegar

Ingredients

Smoked Salmon
3 c fennel, shaved or sliced thinly
5 T rice wine vinegar
2 T sugar
3 T honey
1/2 t salt
Lemon Zest
Fennel Fronds for decorating the plate (optional)
Lemon slice for decorating the plate  (optional)
Rye or Pumpernickel bread for serving (optional)

vinegar & sugar

Instructions

Melt the honey and whisk together with the vinegar, sugar, salt.  Add the shaved fennel and set aside to marinate and pickle for at least an hour.

Thin slivers of fennel.  I love using a mandolin, but please watch your fingers!

Thin slivers of fennel.  I love using a mandolin, but please watch your fingers!

Fennel slices bathing in vinegar, sugar, salt and honey

Fennel slices bathing in vinegar, sugar, salt and honey

Once your fennel is pickled to your liking, you can begin to assemble your platter.  This is one of those dishes that can be assembled ahead of your party and kept covered in the fridge until guests arrive.  If you liked my idea of using the fennel fronds for color and decorating the platter, go ahead and place those as your base. Then roll up the salmon slices and arrange standing up.  Gather up a bunch of the pickled fennel and tap with a paper towel to remove any excess liquid before placing on the platter.  Arrange your plate any way you like.  Finish by grating some lemon zest a top the entire platter.  That is it.  I told you it would be a no cook, easy app!

Design your platter any way you like.  I like using the fennel fronds to decorate.  It adds color and architectural elements.

Design your platter any way you like.  I like using the fennel fronds to decorate.  It adds color and architectural elements.

Use a good smoked salmon, as it is the star of the show here.  I would recommend having it hand cut in thin slices. Pickling the fennel really brings out the crunch and adds that acidic element which is balanced with honey so as to not overpower the salmon. This dish was part of a cocktail party.  Knowing that the other plates on the buffet would provide hearty options I served this dish just as is, but had bread, crackers and endive on the buffet table.  However, if you wanted to make this a more substantial plate or serve this as a first course, you could present it with some creme fraiche and pumpernickel or rye bread.  I think that combination would be wonderful and perfect for a holiday party or New Year's Eve cocktail event.

Ideal for brunch, or as a starter to a dinner party. Hey if you are so inclined to have a party with pass around plates, this would fit that bill.  Refreshing and light but bold with just two stars shining.