Eggplant Balls by Anthony Michael Contrino

My dad has been making Eggplant Balls as long as I can remember. They are a cross between a meatball and a croquette, but we just call them balls.  The outside is super crunchy, while the inside is ridiculously creamy.  I think they’re best right after frying, but they’re still tasty at room temperature, and even good cold, although the texture will be different.

 

I often make a double batch, mixing everything to the point of frying, then divide the mixture into 2 so I can freeze some for a later time. Just defrost the mixture and pick up where you left off. 

 

Dad’s Eggplant Balls // Serves 4

 2 pounds purple eggplant, about 2 medium

1 large egg, lightly beaten

½ cup pecorino, finely grated

1 ¼ cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs, divided

½ teaspoon granulated garlic powder

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Pinch crushed red pepper flakes, optional

Vegetable oil, for frying

 

1.    Bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil.

2.    Meanwhile, trim the tops and bottoms from the eggplant and peel.  Cut the eggplant into quarters, lengthwise.  Cut each quarter into 5 chunks.

3.    Carefully add the eggplant to the boiling water.  

4.    Boil for 12-15 minutes, until the eggplant has softened.  Use a spider to stir and submerge the chunks every so often.  The eggplant should be very soft and mushy, but still hold its shape.

5.    Strain the eggplant in a colander.  Put the colander into a bowl, leaving at least 2 inches of space between the colander and the bowl.   Place a weight over the eggplant and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, to remove as much liquid as possible.  Discard the extracted liquid.

6.    Fill a large high-sided skillet with ½” worth of canola oil.

7.    Heat the oil, over medium-high heat, to 350 degrees.

8.    Meanwhile, transfer the eggplant to a large bowl.

9.    Using your hands, break the eggplant into smallish chunks.

10.  Add the egg, pecorino, ¾ cup breadcrumbs, garlic powder, pepper and red pepper flakes.

11.  Using your hands, mush all the ingredients together, to combine.  It’s okay if there are some chunks of eggplant left.

12.  Portion the eggplant mixture into 2 ounce balls, a little larger than a golf ball.

13.  Roll the balls in the remaining breadcrumbs and gently flatten the balls.

14.  Fry the eggplant balls on both sides until deep golden brown.

15.  Drain on a paper towel-lined plate and serve immediately.

 

NOTES:

  • If using cast iron to press the eggplant, wrap it well in plastic wrap, otherwise it will discolor and ruin the eggplant.

SWAP OPTION:  Use parmesan and a generous pinch of salt instead of pecorino.

CHEF’S TIP:  Make 1 ounce balls when serving as an appetizer or an hors d’oeuvre. 

Tiramisu by Anthony Michael Contrino

I’ve never come across someone who doesn’t like tiramisu. This “pick me up” is easier to make than you think and is the perfect make-ahead dessert!

IMG_8328.jpg

TIRAMISU // Serves 12

2 cups espresso or strongly-brewed coffee, freshly brewed

¾ cup sugar, divided

1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided

6 large egg yolks

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons marsala

16 ounces mascarpone, room temperature

4 large egg whites

30 ladyfingers

Cocoa powder, for garnish

 

  1. Pour the espresso into a 4-cup liquid measuring cup.

  2. Add ¼ cup of the sugar and ½ teaspoon of the vanilla extract and stir until the sugar is dissolved; cool.

  3. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized saucepan, bring an inch of water to a gentle simmer.

  4. Add the egg yolks, salt and ¼ cup of sugar to a large metal bowl and whisk to combine.

  5. Place the bowl over the simmering water and whisk until the mixture is warm to the touch; remove from the heat. At this point, the sugar should be dissolved and the mixture should lighten in color and increase in volume. Do not overheat or the eggs will curdle.

  6. Stir the mascarpone until it is smooth.

  7. Add the mascarpone and marsala to the egg yolk mixture and whisk to combine; set aside.

  8. In a large, clean bowl, combine the egg whites and remaining ¼ cup of sugar and whisk until soft peaks form.

  9. Fold the egg whites into the mascarpone mixture.

  10. To assemble, quickly dunk the ladyfingers into the coffee mixture.

  11. Lay the ladyfingers side, by side, trimming as necessary, in a 9”x13” casserole dish or cake pan, until the bottom of the dish is covered.

  12. Pour half of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers and smooth with an offset spatula. Repeat with the remaining ladyfingers and cream.

  13. Wrap the casserole dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.

  14. When ready to serve, dust the top with a fine layer of cocoa powder.

Zucchini Fries with Lemon Basil Aioli by Anthony Michael Contrino

Zucchini Fries (1 of 1).jpg

Zucchini Fries with Lemon Basil Aioli // Serves 6

 

4 medium zucchini, about 2 pounds

1 cups flour

Kosher salt

3 large eggs, beaten

1 ½ cups seasoned breadcrumbs

Canola oil, for frying

Lemon Basil Aioli, recipe follows

 

  1. Fill a large Dutch oven with 2” worth of canola oil.

  2. Heat the oil to 325 degrees; use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature.

  3. Clean and thoroughly dry the zucchini.

  4. Remove the tops and bottoms of the zucchini.

  5. Cut each zucchini in half, then cut each half into ¼” thick matchsticks.

  6. In a shallow bowl, combine the flour with 1 tablespoon of salt and stir to combine.

  7. Dredge the zucchini in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess.

  8. Dip the zucchini in the egg, allowing any excess to drip off.

  9. Coat the zucchini with the breadcrumbs.

  10. Fry the zucchini, in batches, until golden brown on all sides, about 2-3 minutes.

  11. Transfer to a wire rack to drain and season with salt.

  12. Serve with Lemon Basil Aoili

 

Lemon Basil Aioli

½ teaspoon lemon zest

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon honey

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup basil leaves, lightly packed

1 small clove garlic, optional

¾ cup mayonnaise

 

  1. Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, oil, honey, salt, basil and garlic, if using, in a mini food processor.

  2. Process until smooth.

  3. Add the mayonnaise and pulse, scraping down the sides, until fully combined.

  4. Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

  5. Stir before serving.

 

Stuffed Artichokes by Anthony Michael Contrino

Stuffed Artichoke (1 of 1).jpg

I love stuffed artichokes. Well, honestly, I love anything stuffed with this breadcrumb mixture! The prep is a tad time consuming, but the outcome is SO worth it! We sometimes serve these with antipasti, but they also make a delicious side.. Be sure to remove the choke (it’s inedible!), which will reveal the yummy, tender heart of the artichoke. I can easily down one of these myself, but you really can share one between two people.

Stuffed Artichokes

Serves 4

 

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

4 large cloves garlic

2 cups seasoned breadcrumbs

½ cup pecorino

¼ cup parsley, rough chopped

4 artichokes

1 lemon, halved

1 ½ cups chicken stock

¾ cup white wine

 

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, oil and garlic.

  2. Cook over medium heat until the butter is melted and the garlic is fragrant; remove from the heat and let steep for 5 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, combine the breadcrumbs, pecorino and parsley; stir to combine.

  4. Add the butter mixture to the breadcrumbs and stir to combine; set aside.

  5. Fill a large bowl with cold water and squeeze the juice of the lemon into the bowl; place the squeezed halves into the bowl.

  6. To prepare the artichokes, cut the stalk down to the base of the artichoke so it sits flat.

  7. Tear off any small outer leaves and discard.

  8. Using a serrated knife, cut 1” off the top of the artichokes.

  9. Use a pair of kitchen shears to cut the tips off the remaining outer leaves. Be careful - they can be sharp!

  10. Place the artichokes into the acidulated water for 10 minutes.

  11. Working 1 at a time, remove the artichokes from the water and shake off any excess liquid.

  12. Use your thumbs to loosen the leaves and open the artichoke.

  13. Starting from the center, spoon the breadcrumb mixture in between the leaves of the artichoke; fill them generously.

  14. Place the stuffed artichokes into Dutch oven filled with the stock and wine.

  15. Drizzle the tops of the artichokes with more oil.

  16. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover.

  17. Steam for 60 minutes, until the outer leaves are tender.

  18. Drizzle the reduced cooking liquid over the artichokes and serve.

NY Strip with "Puttanesca" Butter & Garlicky Broccolini by Anthony Michael Contrino

Steak & Broccolini (1 of 1).jpg

I’m not a huge steak person, but every now and then the mood strikes - especially when doused with “Puttanesca” Butter and served with Garlicky Broccolini.

SOME NOTES:

  • I like my steak more on the well done side - DON’T JUDGE ME!!! - so I like a thinner cut of meat. The cooking time provided for this thickness will result in a medium rare to medium cook. Feel free to use thicker cuts, but you’ll obviously need to adjust the cooking time.

  • If you can’t find anchovy paste, sprinkle a little salt over an anchovy filet and sprinkle with a tiny pinch of salt. Use the back of a chef knife to scrape it into a paste. This will make more than you need, so you’ll need to use a measuring spoon.

  • “Puttanesca” Butter should be made in advance to let the flavors develop. It will hold in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, and can be frozen for up to a month.

  • My recipes ALWAYS call for the proper amount of garlic. So, if you’re one of those people who always add an extra couple of cloves, don’t say I didn’t warn you. :)

New York Strip with “Puttanesca” Butter & Garlicky Broccolini // Serves 4

4 New York strip steaks, ¾” thick

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Puttanesca Butter, for serving, recipe follows

Garlicky Broccolini, for serving, recipe follows

  1. Remove the steaks from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking.

  2. Pat both sides of the steaks with paper towels to remove any moisture.

  3. Generously season both sides of the steaks with salt and pepper.

  4. Meanwhile, preheat a large cast-iron grill pan over high heat.

  5. Lightly brush both sides of the steak with the olive oil.

  6. Place 2 of the steaks onto the grill pan.  

  7. Cook for 1 ½ minutes, then rotate the steak 90 degrees and cook an additional 1 ½ minutes, to create a crosshatch.

  8. Flip the steak. Cook for 1 ½ - 2 minutes more.

  9. Transfer the steaks to a cutting board, cover with foil and rest for 5 minutes.

  10. Repeat with the remaining steaks.

  11.  Top with a generous slice (or two!) of Puttanesca Butter.

“Puttanesca” Compound Butter


8 ounces European-style salted butter, room temperature

1 ½ teaspoons tomato paste

1 ½ teaspoons fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 teaspoon capers in brine, drained, finely chopped

¼ teaspoon anchovy paste

  1. Place the softened butter in a bowl.

  2. Add the tomato paste, parsley, capers, and anchovy paste.

  3. Mix with a small rubber spatula until all ingredients are fully combined.

  4. Place the butter mixture onto a piece of parchment paper and form into a log, using the paper to manipulate the butter. 

  5. Twist the ends of the paper to seal.

  6. Wrap the parchment roll in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

  7. Slice with a warm knife.

Garlicky Broccolini

2 small bunches broccolini

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

6 large cloves of garlic

Salt

Red pepper flakes, optional

 

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare an ice bath.

  2. Trim the broccolini stalks, and slice the broccolini in half lengthwise. If they stalks are very large, quarter them.

  3. Blanch the broccolini, in batches, for 2 minutes.

  4. Place the blanched broccolini into the ice bath, until cooled, then transfer to a paper towel-lined sheet pan to drain.

  5. Meanwhile, in a large non-stick skillet, combine the oil and garlic.

  6. Cook over medium-high heat until the garlic is fragrant and barely begins to brown, for a couple minutes.

  7. Add the broccolini and sauté for 2-3 minutes, tossing to coat in the oil.

  8. Season with salt, to taste, and if using, a generous pinch of red pepper flakes.

  9. Serve immediately.

Five Minute Alfredo by Anthony Michael Contrino

Alfredo 1 (1 of 1).jpg

As with most sauces originating from Italy, the early version of what we call an Alfredo sauce, is not what we Americans are accustomed to.   A twist on cacio e pepe (starch water, pecorino, and pepper,) the authentic(ish) version of Alfredo, called fettuccine al burro (with butter) is made with a generous portion of butter melted with parmesan.  

Where the version made with cream originated is not entirely certain.  My guess is that, like with carbonara, some American just added a ton of cream to make it even more unhealthy.  

Now, while I'll throw a hissy fit if my carbonara is thickened with cream instead of eggs, I like my Alfredo swimming in thick, velvety cream sauce.  I would normally reduce the cream for 40 minutes or so to get the right consistency, but I either grew lazier or smarter, and now use a little flour to speed the process.  This sauce really does come together in minutes, but unfortunately I can’t make the pasta cook sooner!

FIVE MINUTE ALFREDO SAUCE

12 ounces spinach fettuccine, cooked just short of al dente in salted water; reserve 1 cup of pasta water

3/4 cup pecorino cheese, grated, plus more for garnish

2 tablespoons flour

Salt, to taste, if necessary

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

  1. In a small bowl, mix the cheese, flour and pepper.

  2. Add the heavy cream to a high-sided skillet and bring to a gentle simmer, over medium-high heat.

  3. Add the cheese mixture and whisk to combine.

  4. Allow the cream to return to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

  5. Season with salt, as needed.

  6. Add the cooked fettuccine to the sauce and toss to combine..

  7. Add reserved pasta water, as needed, until you achieve a creamy, velvety sauce.

  8. Serve immediately with a some grated pecorino and freshly ground pepper.

Apple Pie Jelly by Anthony Michael Contrino

Photo by Andrea Patton Photography

Photo by Andrea Patton Photography

Apple Pie Jelly

Makes approximately 64 ounces

 

5 cups apple cider

Juice of 1 lemon

6 tablespoons pectin 

5 cups sugar

¾ cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

 

  1. Sterilize the canning jars.

  2. Fill a large stock pot with water and bring to a rolling boil.

  3.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg until well combined; set aside.

  4. Add the cider, lemon juice and vanilla to a large, high-sided skillet.  

  5. Sprinkle the pectin over the cider and whisk until fully combined.  

  6. Place the skillet over high heat and bring to a boil.

  7. Add the sugar mixture, in one addition, and whisk until combined.

  8. Allow the mixture to return to a boil and cook, stirring constantly for an additional minute.

  9. Working quickly, carefully pour the jam into the prepared canning jars, being sure to keep the rims of the jars clean.

  10. Place the lid on and secure with the screw cap, without over tightening.

  11. Carefully place the jars into the boiling water and process for 10 minutes.

  12. Transfer the jars to a cooling rack and allow to sit, undisturbed for at least 2 hours.  

 Notes:  

·     Once the lids seal, you can store the jars in your pantry for up to 18 months.  To test the seal, press on the center of the lid.  It should be concaved, towards the jam.  If it pops back up, place it in the refrigerator and use within 3 weeks.  

·     Refrigerate after opening for up to 3 weeks.

Pistachio Hummus by Anthony Michael Contrino

Pistachio Hummus 2 (1 of 1).jpg

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of working with the American Pistachio Growers (APG) association. The non-profit trace association represents over 800 members whose purpose is to increase the global awareness of American-grown pistachios. When I opened the bag of pistachios they sent, I was blown away by their color, beauty and crispy deliciousness - I couldn’t wait to cook with them!

One of the recipes that I created for the event they were hosting is this Pistachio Hummus. It’s a perfect dip to eat while relaxing by the pool or watching the game.

PISTACHIO HUMMUS // Makes approximately 2 cups

3/4 cup American-grown pistachios, divided

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon tahini

2 tablespoons parsley leaves

Juice of half a lemon

Salt

Pomegranate arils, for serving, optional

  1. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees.

  2. Place the pistachios onto a sheet pan and bake until lightly toasted and fragrant, about 5-7 minutes.

  3. Place 1/2 cup of the hot pistachios into a mini food processor.

  4. Add the oil and process, scraping the sides as needed, until a paste forms.

  5. Add the chickpeas, tahini, parsley, lemon juice and 1/2 cup of cold water.

  6. Process until smooth, adding up to an additional 1/2 cup of water, to achieve desired consistency.

  7. Season generously with salt and pulse to combine.

  8. Transfer the hummus to a bowl and use a spoon to create wells.

  9. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil into the wells.

  10. Rough chop the remaining pistachios.

  11. Sprinkle the chopped nuts and pomegranate arils, if using, over the hummus.

  12. Serve with crudité or pita chips.

Dawn's Amaretto Pear Sunset by Anthony Michael Contrino

My good friend, Dawn, has been on a cocktail kick lately. She came by to shoot some content, and came with all the goodies to whip up this bad boy. She makes her own grenadine, but (as Ina would say) store-bought is just fine. Be sure to use pear nectar from a box and not a can. Even lined cans give the nectar a metallic taste.

Amaretto Pear  (1 of 1).jpg

Amaretto Pear Sunset // Makes 1 Cocktail

 

1 oz. Amaretto

2 oz. vodka

½ cup pear nectar

Squeeze 1 wedge lemon

½ tsp. Grenadine

Seckel pear, for garnish, optional

  1. Add the amaretto, vodka, pear nectar and lemon juice to a cocktail shaker.

  2. Fill with ice and shake vigorously.

  3. Pour the cocktail into an ice-filled highball glass.

  4. Slowly add the grenadine; it will naturally sink to the bottom.

  5. Garnish with pear, if desired.

Cinnamon Spiced Blueberry Maple Chia Pudding by Anthony Michael Contrino

Chia Pudding (1 of 1).jpg

Since I spend a better part of the week writing demo steps (culinary scripts) for various projects, I’m always appreciative when a recipe has a short title. In fact, long recipe titles are a pet peeve, BUT sometimes I break my own rules.

Ever since I discovered Chia Pods years ago, I’ve been hooked. When I realized I could make my own for much cheaper, I started playing with different flavor combinations. This one is my favorite. It mixing winter flavors with summer fruit and I think it’s just delicious!

Cinnamon Spiced Blueberry Maple Chia Pudding

Makes 4 Servings

2 cups unsweetened almond milk

1/2 cup chia seeds

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup blueberries

Berries, for serving, optional

Mango, diced, for serving, optional

  1. In a bowl, combine almond milk, chia seeds, maple syrup, vanilla and salt. Stir to combine.

  2. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

  3. Stir the mixture after a couple of hours, then again a couple of hours later.

  4. Fold in the blueberries.

  5. Spoon the pudding into 4 glasses or mason jars, cover and refrigerate overnight.

  6. Top with berries and/or diced mango, for serving, of desired.

Dawn's Rum Balls // Makes Approximately 1 Dozen by Anthony Michael Contrino

Rum Ball Curve (1 of 1).jpg

Dawn’s Rum Balls

4 ounces pecans (about 1 cup)

4 ounces Medjool dates, pitted (about 7 large)

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon rum

1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

  1. In a food processor, pulse the pecans until they are coarsely chopped.

  2. Add the dates and pulse until they are coarsely chopped.

  3. Add the salt and rum and pulse until the mixture comes together and forms a chunky paste.

  4. Shape the mixture into small balls.

  5. Roll the balls in coconut.

  6. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Serve at room temperature.

Rum Ball Duo (1 of 1).jpg


Mom's French Toast with Butter Mash by Anthony Michael Contrino

French Toast (1 of 1).jpg

French toast is one of my favorite Sunday morning breakfasts. It’s one of the things my mom would make for us growing up, and this “lightened” version is reminiscent of the one she’d serve. She always used sliced white bread, which comes in handy when your trying to cut calories. Instead of the more traditional challah or brioche, I use 647 bread which has 6g net carbs, only 40 calories and is packed with 7g of fiber. I do splurge on the butter mash topping. As a kid, I thought it was gross when my mom used to put it on hers, but I’m not sure what that was about. You can skip the topping to save even more calories, but I think it’s worth it!

Mom’s French Toast with Butter Mash // Serves 4

6 large eggs

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

2 tablespoons whole milk

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

8 slices 647 Italian bread

4 tablespoons salted butter, softened, plus more for greasing

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar

1 cup mixed berries

  1. In a shallow bowl, whisk the eggs vigorously.

  2. Add the syrup, milk, cinnamon, vanilla and salt and whisk well to combine.

  3. Meanwhile, warm a non-stick skillet or griddle over medium heat.

  4. Coat the skillet with butter, then use a paper towel to remove any excess, leaving just a thin coating.

  5. Dip the bread into the batter, as quickly as possible. Flip and repeat. You do not want to allow the bread to soak up the egg mixture or it will become mushy.

  6. Place the bread onto the pan and cook until light golden brown, about 3 minutes, flip and cook 2-3 minutes more.

  7. Repeat with the remaining bread. Whisk the egg mixture occasionally to keep the cinnamon from settling.

  8. Place 1/2 tablespoon of butter over each slice of cooked French toast and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of sugar over the butter.

  9. Use a fork to gently mash it into a slush and spread it over the bread.

  10. Serve warm with fresh mixed berries.


French Toast - Nutrition Label-2.jpg


Cranberry Rosemary Mule by Anthony Michael Contrino

Meet your new favorite holiday cocktail: The Cranberry Rosemary Mule. Now, i almost never drink, but sometimes I create a cocktail that is so effing good that I even drink it! I created this for a dinner party and I couldn’t make them fast enough. Typically you’d serve this in a copper mule cup, but I am ADDICTED to my Wintersmith Ice Making System and wanted to show off my crystal-clear collins cubes!

CRANBERRY ROSEMARY MULE / MAKES 1 COCKTAIL

3 ounces cranberry juice

1/2 ounce rosemary simple syrup, recipe follows

1 ounce vodka

6 ounces ginger beer

Rosemary sprig, for garnish

Cranberries, for garnish

In a cocktail shaker, combine the cranberry juice, rosemary simple syrup and vodka. Add ice and shake vigorously to chill. Pour into an ice-filled collins glass. Top with ginger beer, to taste. Garnish with rosemary and cranberries.

ROSEMARY SIMPLE SYRUP / MAKES APPROXIMATELY 1 CUP

1/2 cup filtered water

1/2 cup sugar

2 sprigs rosemary

Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. When the mixture barely comes to a simmer, add the rosemary and remove from the heat. Cool to room temperature. Remove the rosemary and refrigerate until ready to use, for up to 2 weeks.

Decadent Hot Chocolate by Anthony Michael Contrino

Hot Cocoa (1).jpg

I love me some hot chocolate, especially on a cold winter’s night, while lounging on the couch catching up on my shows. I used to be guilty of buying the packaged stuff, which honestly doesn’t even taste that good. I was just too damn lazy to make it from scratch, until I came up with a solution: Make a large batch of ganache, scoop it, freeze it and store it in ziptop baggies. Now when I want a cup of the good stuff, all I have to do is warm it in some milk (and cream!) If you really want to do it up, make it with half and half, but that’s probably not the healthiest thing to do often. When I’m feeling bougie, which is pretty much always, I like to jazz it up with fun toppings. My favorite version is a S’mores Hot Chocolate. I add a dollop of fluff, whipped cream and some toasted marshmallows - and, don’t forget the graham crackers, for dipping!

Happy Holidays!

Decadent Hot Chocolate

¾ cup whole milk

¼ cup heavy cream

2 Chocolate Ganache Balls, recipe follows

Whipped Cream

Toppings, optional

In a small saucepan, combine the milk and cream. Warm over a medium flame until it begins to steam. Add the Chocolate Ganache Balls and stir to melt. Continue to heat until desired temperature. Pour into your favorite mug and top with whipped cream and your favorite toppings.

Chocolate Ganache Balls

10 ounces 66%-72% chocolate, chopped

1 ⅔ cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

Place the chocolate in a medium-sized, heat-resistant bowl.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the cream, sugar, cocoa powder and salt; whisk well. Warm over medium heat. Allow the cream to come to a gentle simmer, then pour it over the chocolate. Shake the bowl so that all the chocolate is submerged, then let it sit for 2 minutes before whisking until a homogeneous, silky ganache forms.

Leave the ganache to set at room temperature. Use a medium-sized cookie scoop, about 1 ¼" diameter, to create mounds. Place the scooped mounds onto a plastic lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. Place the frozen mounds into a zip-top bag and store in the freezer until ready to use for up to 3 months.

My Favorite Things: 2018 Edition by Anthony Michael Contrino

Need a gift for the “foodie” in your life? I’m here to help with my favorite things of 2018

FOR THE BAKER: Dutch Whisk

I discovered this utensil by accident and I am ADDICTED. This whisk is designed to mix heavy batters and doughs, and it does a marvelous job.

Amazon.com $10.99

FOR THE EVERYDAY COOK: Kunz Spoon

I’ve had a Kunz spoon for a while, but really began to appreciate how useful it really is. It is used by many chefs and considered to be the perfect saucing and plating spoon. I use it almost every time I am plating, and often when food styling. If you really like the person you’re giving this to, JB Prince usually offers a Special or Limited Edition.

JBPrince.com Regular $11.90 // Special Edition $34.90

FOR THE WANNABE PROFESSIONAL: Anova Sous Vide

Sous vide machines have been gaining popularity over the past couple of years - and for good reason: they cook meat (and a lot of other things, too) to perfection. Use it to cook steaks to a perfect medium rare or the juiciest turkey breast you’ve ever had.

Target.com $89.99

FOR THE MIXOLOGIST: Winter Smith’s Phantom Ice Maker

Do you know someone who enjoys crafting the perfect cocktails? If yes, they will drool over this ice making system. The design creates crystal clear ice cubes free of any impurities. Molds to choose from include: spheres, large squares, and my favorite, collins cubes. While it may come with a hefty price tag, and take up some real estate in the freezer, it’s completely worth it!


Wintersmiths.com Statting at $119.00

FOR THE INQUISITIVE COOK: Salt, Fat Acid Heat Cookbook

From the host of the Netflix series with the same name, comes this wonderfully written cookbook. Samin Nosrat is being hailed as the next Julia Child and is both charming and inspiring. This book is really for anyone who loves food, cooks food and eats food.

Amazon.com $14.99

Caponata by Anthony Michael Contrino

In anticipating the need to defend myself, I'm going to start off by addressing the absurd amount of oil in this recipe.  Eggplant is one of those ingredients that acts like a sponge - you need to add enough so that it sautés properly.  When you drain the eggplant, you'll be surprised as to how much of the oil get sopped up by the paper towels.  To ensure optimal drainage, place the eggplant, in a single layer, on a plate lined with 3 layers of paper towel. 

Anyways, caponata is a Sicilian dish usually served as an appetizer or as a component of an antipasto platter.  Caponata recipes vary greatly based region and family preferences.  Some are simple, with just eggplant and celery cooked in stewed tomatoes, while others may have potatoes, octopus or even lobster in them.  This is a tweaked version of my grandma's family recipe which hails from Gratteri, a mountain town 35 miles southeast of Palermo.  It relies on the addition of capers and Sicilian olives to season the sauce.  If you like things on the salty side, you may want to add a pinch of salt.

Caponata// Makes approximately 1 quart

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, more as needed
  • 2 pounds eggplant, peeled, cut into 1” cubes (about 1 ½ pounds yield)
  • ¾ cup red onions, rough chopped, about ½ medium red onion
  • ½ cup celery, chopped, about 2 large stalks
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ cups crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup cracked Sicilian olives, pitted, rough chopped
  • 1 tbsp. capers in brine, drained, rough chopped
  • 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  1. Heat ½ cup of the oil in a large stainless steel skillet, over medium high heat.
  2. Add half of the eggplant and cook, flipping often, until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. If the eggplant absorbs all the oil, add a generous drizzle more.
  3. Transfer the eggplant to a paper towel lined plate; drain well.
  4. Add another ½ cup of oil and repeat with the remaining eggplant.  
  5. When you remove the second batch of eggplant, if there is not residual oil, add a couple more tablespoons to the skillet.
  6. Add the onion and celery and sauté until they begin to caramelize, about 4 minutes.
  7. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute.
  8. Add the tomatoes, reduce the flame to low, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often.
  9. Add the olives, capers and ½ cup water.
  10. Simmer an additional 15 minutes, stirring often.
  11. Add the eggplant and 1 cup of water.
  12. Simmer 15 minutes more, stirring often.
  13. Add the red wine vinegar and simmer for 5 minutes.
  14. Remove the caponata from the heat and cool for 30 minutes before transferring to a storage container.
  15. Refrigerate overnight; serve cold or at room temperature.

Crumb Cake by Anthony Michael Contrino

IMG_2338-3.jpg

I'm probably the only person who goes on a getaway and decides to recipe test and do a photo shoot.  In my defense, my cousins just moved into a brand new house with a gorgeous gourmet kitchen and I couldn't resist.  They've been living in Georgia for a while now, so I wanted to bake something that would remind them of New York/New Jersey.  A classic crumb cake was the obvious choice.

This crumb cake is ridiculously buttery and moist and a bit less dense than you may be accustomed to.  The crumb, in contrast, is crunchy and sweet.  This recipe comes together pretty quickly and can feed a crowd.  

Special thanks to my cousin, Joey for making me this reclaimed wood board.  You can't enjoy it too much in this picture, but I'll be sure to feature it soon!

 

FOR THE CRUMB TOPPING:

1-1/3 cup dark brown sugar

2/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

8 ounces European or European-style butter, melted 

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

FOR THE CAKE:

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for greasing

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

7 oz. unsalted European or European-style butter, softened, plus more for greasing

1-3/4 cups sugar

3 large eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ cup whole milk

½ cup buttermilk 

Confectioner's sugar, for serving

  1. Make the topping.  Combine the sugars and cinnamon in a large bowl.  
  2. Add the melted butter and pour into the sugar mixture; stir to combine.
  3. Add the flour and stir, until the flour is fully incorporated and the mixture begins to clump; set aside.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  
  5. Grease a 9x13 cake pan or casserole dish with the extra butter and flour.
  6. In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; whisk to combine.
  7. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  8. Add the eggs, one at a time, allowing each to incorporate before adding the next.  When all three eggs have been added, add the vanilla extract and mix to incorporate.  
  9. Combine the milk and buttermilk.
  10. Add half the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and mix on low speed.  Drizzle in the milk mixture and mix until it is almost completely combined.  
  11. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix on low until all ingredients come together.  
  12. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan.  Smooth the top with a small spatula and bang on the counter to remove air bubbles.
  13. Spread the crumb topping evenly over the top of the cake batter.  
  14. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes.
  15. Cool before serving.
  16. Serve with a generous sprinkling of confectioners sugar.

TIP: To get a mixture of larger and smaller crumbs, squeeze a handful of the topping and then break it up over the batter.

Master A Classic: The Old Fashioned by Anthony Michael Contrino

IMG_1898.jpg

Everyone loves a well-crafted cocktail, but sometimes when it comes to mixing a classic (think martini, Manhattan, or, in this case, an Old Fashioned, you may not always get what you're accustomed to.  Bartenders do their best to craft a drink that is traditional, but (as with everything in the culinary world) it's not so black and white. There are choices to be made.  Sometimes it's the spirit (for an Old Fashioned: bourbon or rye whiskey), sometimes the technique (shaken or stirred).  Even the choice of serving vessel can be debated (rocks or coupe?)!  Trying to figure out the most authentic recipe can be daunting.  To add another layer of stress, it's often the simple drinks (and foods) that are the hardest to execute as the ingredients need to be combined perfectly.  

When it comes to an Old Fashioned, it's all about the balance of the sugar, bitters and spirit.  In my opinion, in order to achieve the perfect balance you have to break a rule right off the bat.  I'm ditching the sugar cube.  First of all, who has them lying around?  (Full disclosure...  I do, but because they're nice to have for food styling, but normal people?  Probably not.)  Secondly, and more importantly, it's difficult to dissolve in this cocktail.  The solution is a potent simple syrup.  

So, bourbon or rye whiskey.  Choose what you like.  Most traditionalists would use rye whiskey, which has spicy tones, to add to the balancing act of the cocktail.   Of course I have to go against the grain and prefer to use bourbon since I always have it on hand for cooking and baking. 

Lastly, when you use so few ingredients, quality matters.  Use the best bitters and bourbon (or rye whiskey) you can get your hands on.  

Old Fashioned // Makes 1 Cocktail

2 teaspoons potent simple syrup, recipe below

2 dashes bitters

2 ounces bourbon 

1 orange, for serving

  1. In rocks glass, combine the simple syrup, bitters and bourbon.  
  2. While holding the orange above the cocktail, use a vegetable peeler to remove a 2 inch length of the peel, aiming so that the oils are sprayed into the glass.
  3. Add a few large cubes of ice and stir vigorously to chill; serve immediately.

Potent Simple Syrup  // Makes about 1 3/4 cups

1/2 cup water

1 cup sugar

Pinch sea salt

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan.  
  2. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the sugar and salt have completely dissolved; do not bring to a simmer.
  3. Remove from the heat and cool at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  4. Transfer to a pitcher and refrigerate until cool.
  5. Store in the refrigerator up to 7 days.

NOTES:  If you'd like to kick things up a notch, make the simple syrup with organic cane sugar to create a syrup with a more complex flavor profile.  Also, switch out the orange peel with blood orange peel.

Traditional Italian: Bolognese by Anthony Michael Contrino

original_1058463008.jpg

Nothing screams Sunday more than macaroni and gravy.  Yes, we say gravy in my family, not sauce - well, usually, but I don't need to get into that.  Anyway, while there's nothing wrong with a classic, simple gravy loaded with meatballs, sausage and braciola, I'll take a slamming bolognese over that any day.

In my opinion, making a bolognese is so much easier than making gravy and meatballs.  Aside from boiling the water for the pasta, everything is done in the same pot.  There's no need for mixing bowls and frying pans.  The only time consuming part is chopping the vegetables for the soffritto (an Italian version of mirepoix.)  If chopping vegetables isn't your thing, most supermarkets carry them already diced, but you'll pay up to four times more for the convenience.  

Some notes about the recipe:

  • I like a very hearty bolognese, so this version is loaded with the soffritto.  
  • Serve this sauce with a wide noodle such as tagliatelle or pappardelle.  
  • You shouldn't have any issues finding pancetta these days.  Freezing the pancetta will make it much easier to dice.  If you want a shortcut, Citterio sells a 4-ounce package that is already diced.
  • I like to use Cento brand tomatoes.  I like the way the flavor develops as it cooks, and I swear it needs less seasoning than other brands.

Bolognese // Serves 8 - 10

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 ounces pancetta, finely diced 

6 ounces celery, finely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)

6 ounces carrots, peeled, finely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)

6 ounces red onion, peeled, finely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)

4 very large cloves garlic, sliced (or 6 medium-large cloves)

2 pounds of meatloaf mix (1 pound ground beef, 1/2 pound ground veal, 1/2 pound ground pork)

2/3 cup dry red wine

2 28-ounce cans certified whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, pureed with juice

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 sprig fresh oregano

1 fresh bay leaf

2/3 cup whole milk

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the pancetta and cook until crispy.
  3. Add the celery, carrots and red onion (soffritto) and cook, stirring often until the vegetables begin to caramelize, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes.
  5. Add the meatloaf mix.  Use the back of a wooden spoon to break up the meat and cook, stirring often, until all meat is browned, about 6-8 minutes.
  6. Add the red wine and cook until it reduces by half, a few minutes.
  7. Add the pureed tomatoes; bring to a gentle simmer.
  8. Add the herbs and simmer, stirring every 15 minutes or so, for 2 hours.
  9. Fish out the herbs, as best as you can, and add the milk and nutmeg.
  10. Return to a simmer and cook an additional 30 minutes, stirring often.  
  11. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

 

 

Small Batch: Half Sour Pickles by Anthony Michael Contrino

IMG_2154.jpg

Living in NYC has it's pros and cons.  One of the biggest advantages to living here is the New York deli.  Until you go to a "delicatessen" outside of the city, you really can't appreciate just how amazing a pastrami sandwich really is.  One of my favorite places to hit up is actually in New Jersey.  Harold's Deli does everything over the top and larger than life.  Sandwiches and cake slices tower over the table.  The matzo balls are softball-sized and protrude from the broth.  The turkey platter can make your Thanksgiving offering look weak.  You get the picture.  

But, my favorite part is the self-serve pickle bar.  It's straightforward and nothing fancy.  Just some bread (so you can make normal-sized sandwiches from the mountain of meat being served) and some pickled things for topping.  My go-to is the half sour pickle.  Their vibrant green color makes them stand out from the rest of the spread.  Plus, you know, they're tasty AF.

If you're not familiar with this variation, it's because you won't find them in the pickle aisle at the supermarket, but rather the refrigerated section, probably near the cole slaw.  Because they are in a salt brine and not fully "soured" with vinegar, the shelf life is shorter, but they'll last a good couple of weeks in the fridge.  Sometimes I add the slightest bit of sugar for a hint of sweetness, but if you're looking to avoid excess sugar, omit it.

Half Sour Pickles //  Makes 1 Quart Jar

2 cups distilled water, divided, cold

2 tbsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. sugar, optional

4 cloves garlic, with peel, smashed

2 large sprigs fresh dill

3 allspice pods

1/2 tsp. coriander seed

1/4 tsp. black peppercorns

1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds

1 fresh bay leaf

4 thick kirby cucumbers, tips removed, cut into quarters to make spears

  1. Place 1/2 cup of the water in a small saucepan with the salt, and sugar, if using.
  2. Cook over medium heat until the salt and sugar are fully dissolved.
  3. Pour the warm salt water into a pitcher and add the remaining cold water.
  4. Place the garlic, dill, spices and bay leaf in a sanitized quart-sized mason jar.
  5. Add the cucumber spears.
  6. Pour the brine into the mason jar, filling almost to the top, being sure to cover the cucumber completely.  There may be some leftover brine.
  7. Secure the lid onto the mason jar and refrigerate.
  8. The pickles will be ready to eat in as soon as 5 days.   They should be consumed within 2 weeks afterwards.  (The longer they stay in the brine, the more their flavor will intensify.)