FOOD FINDS: Some of the Country's Best Restaurants by Anthony Michael Contrino

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I've been lucky enough to work in some of my favorite cities this summer.  Whenever I travel, I make it a rule to try as many new restaurants as I can.  Luckily, I haven't been disappointed!  Here are some of my faves, ranging from no-frills breakfast joints to fine dining - there's something for everyone!

LOS ANGELES // CAFE JANE

While in LA, I stayed in an AirB&B and the host left, as most do, an informative packet with local attractions, info and food recommendations,  Cafe Jane was on the list.  Featuring breakfast, lunch, and coffee options, this spot is as casual as it gets, but the food is on point.  Everything is made to order and fresh, fresh, fresh.  DO NOT skip the bacon - it's crack!! If you're not hungry, the coffee here, alone, is worth the visit.

FAVE DISH: 2x2x2 (2 eggs, your way, 2 strips of bacon and 2 pancakes)

LAS VEGAS // AMERICANA

In my opinion, the Vegas food scene is as good as it gets.  You can find whatever you want, pretty much when ever you want it.  I ventured off the strip to Desert Shores near Summerlin to try Americana.  Full disclosure:  My cousin Joe grew up with the executive chef/owner, Stephen Blandino, so we wanted to see what the Staten Island native had up his sleeve.  Having worked at some of the best restaurants in town, Chef Blandino knows his way around the kitchen.  Each dish is meticulously conceptualized, prepared and plated.  While this restaurant is by definition a fine dining establishment, eating at Americana will not set you back as much as its competitors on The Strip.   Also, contact the restaurants for specials - they'll even pick you up (on their dime) via Uber, so that you can enjoy a peaceful meal away from the strip.

FAVE DISH: Compressed Watermelon Salad with Watercress, Burrata, Heritage Tomatoes

NEW YORK CITY // GIUSEPPINA'S BRICK OVEN PIZZA

I almost hate to share this joint with the world - it's that good!  Chris, the owner, and all-round good guy, knows how to make a pie.  After all, he did learn from his brother who owns the celebrity-filled post, Lucali.  While Lucali is AMAZING, it's not worth the crazy wait (and not always friendly waitstaff,) unless you are desperate to see Beyonce.  Anyway, the pizza is banging, but the calzone will make you hear angelic voices.  You really can't go wrong with anything on the menu, just bring cash because credit cards are a no-no here.

FAVE DISH: THE CALZONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

NASHVILLE // KITCHEN NOTES

I came across this restaurant by accident.  Located in the Omni Hotel, Kitchen Notes is a southern-inspired restaurant serving favorites like Fried Green Tomatoes, Fried Chicken (by the bucket) and Shrimp and Grits.  Not only do they source local ingredients, this is the only joint in Nashville with a biscuit bar.  Oh, those tasty biscuits!

FAVE DISH: Rustic Meatloaf with Braised Green Beans, Whipped Potatoes and Mushroom Gravy

CHICAGO // MINDY'S HOT CHOCOLATE

This is possibly my favorite restaurant in Chicago.  I need to go whenever I'm in The Windy City.  Chef Mindy Segal is a James Beard Award Winning Pastry Chef.  While her desserts (and hot chocolate, of course!) are drool-worthy, she knows her way around the savory kitchen.  The menu is seasonal and Mindy sources as many local products as possible.  The only things that seem to never vanish from the menu - because they're AMAZING - are the Mac N Cheese and Burger.

FAVE DISH: The Mac N Cheese.  Not only is it gooey goodness, it's probably the only restaurant that cooks their pasta al dente for a Mac N Cheese.  Pair with a seasonal salad and have whatever your server recommends for dessert!

Yellow Cake by Anthony Michael Contrino

So, I wasn't going to share this one on my site.  I figure, I should probably save some recipes exclusively for my cookbook, but this one is too good to shut away.  When I tell you that I have spent years trying to perfect a yellow cake recipe, I, unfortunately, am not exaggerating.  

The problem is, if it doesn't sort of taste like it came out of a box, people just don't like from-scratch yellow cake.  This yellow cake is super buttery, like pound cake, but less dense.  And, while it may be reminiscent of the boxed stuff, it surely doesn't have the chemicals, preservatives and weird aftertaste.  

YELLOW CAKE // SERVES 12

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. European or European-style butter, softened (DO NOT skimp!), 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 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt some butter and brush it generously into a bundt pan.  Coat the butter with flour and shake off any excess.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; whisk to combine.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar.  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.  

Combine the milk and buttermilk.

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.  Add the remaining flour mixture and mix on low until all ingredients come together.  

Spoon the batter into the prepared bundt pan.  Smooth the top with a small spatula and bang on the counter to remove air bubbles.

Bake until golden brown, and a cake tester comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes.

Cool for 20 minutes before flipping onto a cooling rack.  Cool completely.  Wrap well with plastic wrap until ready to serve.

BUTTERY GLAZE

1-1/2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted, plus more as needed

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons whole milk

Combine all ingredients and mix well to create a smooth glaze.  The finished product should be relatively thick, but still run slightly.  If it is too loose, add a tad more sugar.  Use glaze immediately.  Allow the glaze to set before serving.

Roasted Corn Carbonara by Anthony Michael Contrino

Photo by Andrea Patton Photography

Photo by Andrea Patton Photography

Sit the 'eff down for this one - it's THAT yum!  When we were testing and shooting this recipe, we couldn't get enough of this creamy, but light sauce.  The roasted corn adds a subtle sweetness and smokiness that dances in your mouth with the sharp cheese, salty pancetta and earthy sage.  Dramatic, huh?  

To roast your own corn, you'll need about 4 ears.  Don't be afraid to char it up.  If you'd like to omit this step, you can find frozen roasted corn at Trader Joe's.  Be sure to fully defrost it in the fridge the night before.  It may seem like there's a lot of process going on in this recipe, but everything is quick and easy.  Be sure to toss the linguini as soon as it hits the sauce to avoid scrambled eggs.

Roasted Corn Carbonara // Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

8 ounces pancetta, diced

1/4 cup fresh sage leaves

2 cups roasted corn kernels

1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese, plus more for serving

4 large egg yolks

1 pound linguini

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small skillet, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the pancetta and cook, stirring often, until crispy.  Transfer the pancetta to a plate, leaving the hot oil in the skillet.  Add the sage and cook until crispy.  Remove the sage leaves and transfer to the plate with the pancetta.  Reserve the cooking oil and rendered fat.

Meanwhile, bring a stockpot, filled with water, to a rolling boil.  Add 2 heaping tablespoons salt and allow the water to return to a rolling boil.  Add the linguine and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, puree the roasted corn and pecorino.  When the pasta is halfway cooked,  add 2 tablespoons of the pasta water and process until creamy.  Add up to an additional 2 tablespoons of the pasta water, if needed.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Place the egg yolks in a large mixing bowl and whisk.  While whisking, drizzle in the reserved oil from the pancetta.  Add the pancetta, sage and roasted corn puree and mix to combine.  

When the pasta is done, use a pair of tongs to remove the pasta and add it to the bowl with the roasted corn mixture.  Toss immediately to coat the pasta and cook the egg.  Serve with some freshly ground pepper and a sprinkling of pecorino cheese.  

 

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S'mores Semifreddo by Anthony Michael Contrino

Photo by Matt Wagemann. 

Photo by Matt Wagemann. 

Someone once asked me why I was addicted to s'mores.  Honestly, I rarely eat a traditional s'more.  In fact, I am not a huge chocolate fan.  I'd rather have some graham crackers slathered in marshmallow creme.  That's why most of my s'mores recipes are light on chocolate.  In this case, feel free to double up on the chocolate chips, and go crazy with the chocolate sauce if it makes you feel better about life. 

If I was a basic bitch, I would've called this a no-churn ice cream cake, but the pastry chef in me won't allow that.  When it comes to the toasting of the 'mallows, go to town.

S'more's Semifreddo // Serves 8

1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 pinch salt

1-3/4 cups heavy whipping cream

8 graham crackers, crumbled, divided

1 ½ cups mini marshmallows, torched, room temperature

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Chocolate sauce, for serving

Line a 9x5 loaf pan with heavy duty (or doubled up) aluminum foil on all sides.  Be sure to leave a sufficient amount of overhang.  (This is how you'll get the cake out later!)

In a large bowl, whisk together the condensed milk, vanilla and salt; set aside.

In another large bowl whip the cream to stiff peaks.  Add half the whipped cream to the condensed mixture and fold to incorporate.  Add the remaining cream, half of the graham crumbles, the marshmallows and chocolate chips and fold until all ingredients are fully combined.

To assemble, scatter half of the remaining graham crumbs in the bottom of the prepared loaf pan.  Pour the semifreddo mixture into the loaf pan.  Smooth out the top with an offset spatula and top with the remaining graham crumbs.  Freeze overnight.

When ready to serve, carefully pull the semifreddo from the loaf pan, using the excess aluminum foil.  Gently pull the foil away from the semifreddo.  Slice as you would a loaf cake.  Drizzle the top of the semifreddo with chocolate sauce.  Serve immediately.

 

Photo by Matt Wagemann

Photo by Matt Wagemann

 

 

Oven-Roasted Summer Vegetables by Anthony Michael Contrino

Many people don't like to turn their oven on during the summer.  I do.  It ensures that the air conditioning will kick on, and, while my kitchen may be slightly warm, I'll be able to see my breath in the living room.

Anyways, roasting vegetables intensifies their flavor and the light caramelization brings out their sweet side.  When in the height of their prime, these vegetables do not need much, just some good extra virgin olive oil and some herbs.  

You can eat this dish hot out of the oven, warm, at room temperature, or even refrigerated.  If you can't find the mini versions of these vegetables, you can use the larger, more common size.  Try to find the smallest vegetables possible, as they'll be less seedy and bitter.  Just cut the vegetables into large batons or sticks.  Finally, if you're feeling bougie, garnish with some zucchini flowers.

Oven-Roasted Summer Vegetables // Serves 4

8 ounces baby eggplant, tops removed and halved lengthwise 

8 ounces baby zucchini, tops removed and halved lengthwise 

8 ounces mini cherry tomatoes, on the vine

1/2 cup high-quality extra virgin olive oil, divided

4 large sprigs thyme

Salt and pepper

Parsley, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place the eggplant in a casserole dish.  Add 1/4 cup of the oil and season generously with salt and pepper.  Roast for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss the zucchini with 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Carefully coat the tomatoes with the remaining oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

When the eggplant has cooked for 15 minutes, add the zucchini and thyme and toss well.  Place the tomatoes on top and roast an additional 15 minutes.  

Before serving, sprinkle with some fresh black pepper and chopped parsley.

 

Watermelon & Burrata Salad by Anthony Michael Contrino

I am not the biggest fan of summer.   I'm not sure why people enjoy the extreme heat, humidity, bugs and allergies.  But, since I'm stuck having to deal with it, I might as well try to make the best of it.  Cue: watermelon.  It is one of my favorite fruits, and I could easily eat a half of one.  

This salad is as refreshing as it's going to get.  Sometimes I do crazy shit, like making a chevron pattern out of fruit.  You do not need to do this.  Using a melon baller to create spheres is cool.  Even easier, cut the melon into chunks and call it a day.

Watermelon & Burrata Salad // Serves 2

4 thick slices ripe watermelon (I used a combo of golden and red, but you do you.)

1 burrata (4- or 8-ounce will work great)

1/2 teaspoon flaked sea salt

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

1/2 cup arugula micro greens, for serving (Baby arugula works great, too!)

Balsamic Glaze, for serving

Cut the watermelon into slices and line on a platter or large plate.  Alternatively, cut the watermelon into 3/4" cubes and place in a serving bowl.  Top the watermelon with the burrata.  Break the salt with your fingers and sprinkle it over the entire salad.  Sprinkle the pine nuts and micro greens over the salad and drizzle with some balsamic glaze.

 

 

 

Sangria Shooters by Anthony Michael Contrino

Red, white and blue day is almost upon us.  (I have to stop watching Sausage Party...)  If you'd like to be the poolside hero this Fourth, this recipe is for you.  

Not only are these little guys cute and fun - they are tasty AF.  And, it literally takes 5 minutes to make them.  What better way to celebrate 'Merica?!

Sangria Shooters // Makes approximately 2 dozen

1 pound mixed berries (I used blueberries, blackberries and raspberries)

1 package cherry jello

1 cup sangria or red wine

Mint, for garnish

Divide the berries into shot glass-sized plastic cups.  

In a small saucepan, bring one cup of water to a boil.  Add the cherry jello powder and whisk to combine.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the sangria; whisk to combine.

Pour the liquid over the fruit.  Refrigerate the shooters until set, at least two hours.  Serve with fresh mint.

 

Garden Mule by Anthony Michael Contrino

Photo by Matt Wagemann

Photo by Matt Wagemann

Summer is around the corner.  Have you even thought about this years go-to poolside drink?  No worries; here it is.  This bad boy is as delicious as it is refreshing - just try not to drink too many!

GARDEN MULE // Makes 1 cocktail

2 heaping tablespoons blueberries

Small bunch of basil leaves

Juice of 1 lime

1 shot vodka (1 ½ fluid ounces)

½ cup ginger beer, approximately

Lime, for garnish

Basil for garnish

Blueberries, for garnish

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the blueberries, basil and lime juice. Add 1 heaping cup of ice and the vodka; shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Fill a Copper Mug with ice. Strain the vodka mixture into the Copper Mug. Top with the ginger beer.  Garnish with lime, basil and blueberries.

Photo by Matt Wageman

Photo by Matt Wageman

Calamari by Anthony Michael Contrino

Photo by Matt Wagemann

Photo by Matt Wagemann

I'm pretty sure every single one of my family parties starts with a heaping plate of calamari - or as Sicilian-Americans call it, gah-la-mahd.  (C's are often pronounced as G's in Sicilian dialects.)  However, it is rare that we make them at home.  Aside from having to fry, they are quite possibly one of the easiest dishes to make.  Most supermarkets and seafood stores already take care of the cleaning, so all you have to do is some slicing and frying.

Fried Calamari // Serves 4 

1 pound squid with tentacles, cleaned, bodies cut into 1/2” rounds, patted dry

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons Kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Flakey sea salt, for serving

Lemons, for serving

Marinara sauce, for serving

Fresh parsley, for garnish

Canola oil, for frying

Fill a heavy bottomed stock pot with a few inches of the canola oil.  Bring the oil to 350 degrees.  (If you have a thermometer, now is the time to use it.)  

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the flour, salt and pepper; mix. Toss the squid in the flour mixture. Shake off any excess.  Fry the squid in small batches until light golden brown, about 2-4 minutes. Use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer the squid onto a plate lined with paper towels.  Season the calamari with sea salt.  Plate the calamari and serve with lemons and marinara sauce. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Photo by Matt Wagemann

Photo by Matt Wagemann

Brunch: French Toast Sundae by Anthony Michael Contrino

French Toast is one of the things my mom would make for us growing up.  She had a heavy hand when adding the cinnamon to the custard base - and so do I.  I figured, why not kick it up a notch and transform this breakfast favorite into a sundae.  It's a perfect ending to any meal!

Photo Courtesy of Matt Wagemann

Photo Courtesy of Matt Wagemann

French Toast Sundae // Serves 6

2 cups half and half
6 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon cinnamon
1 loaf challah bread, sliced into 1” pieces
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Vanilla ice cream, for serving
Maple syrup, for serving
Chopped walnuts, for serving
Whipped cream, for serving

Preheat a griddle over medium heat.

In a large bowl, combine the half and half, eggs, vanilla, salt and cinnamon. Whisk to combine. Quickly dunk the challah slices into the egg mixture, being sure to fully submerge. Brush the griddle with some butter. Place the bread onto the griddle and cook until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side.


To serve, cut two pieces of french toast in half and line in a sundae boat or bowl. Top with vanilla ice cream and some chopped walnuts. Drizzle with maple syrup and garnish with whipped cream and more maple syrup. 

Photo Courtesy of Matt Wagemann

Photo Courtesy of Matt Wagemann

Porchetta by Anthony Michael Contrino

Looking for a showstopper to serve at your next dinner party?  This is it.  Don't be alarmed by the lengthy cooking time - there's not much to do.  Have your butcher butterfly the meat and the majority of the heavy labor is taken care of.  Serve with potatoes roasted with the same ingredients in the meat rub.  The porchetta will slice like any old pork roast.  If you want more of that pulled pork texture, drop the oven temp to 300 and cook two hours longer, adding the lager after 4 hours.

Porchetta

1 whole pork shoulder, bone removed and butterflied (6-7 pounds) 1/2 cup fresh sage, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/4 cup garlic, minced

2 tablespoons orange zest
1 tablespoon toasted fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 bottles lager

Preheat oven to 325.

In a small bowl, combine the sage, rosemary, garlic, orange zest, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes and 1/4 of the olive oil. stir to combine.

Place the pork shoulder onto a cutting board, skin side down. Season generously with salt and pepper. Spread the rub evenly over the meat. Roll the pork up and fasten with twine. Place the roast onto the cooking rack of a roasting pan. Drizzle the pork with the remaining olive oil and rub to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 2 hours.

Pour the lager over the pork. Cook for another 4 hours, basting every 20 minutes or so. Remove the roast from the oven; rest for 10 minutes. Pour the sauce into gravy boat. Slice the porchetta into 1/4” rounds and serve with the pan sauce. 

S'mores Icebox Cake by Anthony Michael Contrino

Icebox cake may be the most underrated dessert out there, but what's not to love - some kind of cookie layered with some kind of cream!  This version is the lovechild of fireside s'mores and old school icebox cake.  As easy as this recipe is to make, it does require time.  I recommend making the cakes the day before so graham crackers disintegrate into the marshmallow whipped cream.  While you can use store-bought chocolate fudge, I've included my recipe, which is full of chocolatey goodness.

S'mores Icebox Cake

Makes 8 Individual Cakes

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 cup marshmallow creme (AKA Fluff)

12 graham crackers, halved

Mini marshmallows, for garnish

Chocolate fudge, for serving, recipe follows

Whip the whipping cream and marshmallow creme in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until firm peaks form.  Transfer to a piping tip fitted with a round tip.  To assemble, pipe 12 mounds onto a graham half.  Place another half over the cream, barely pushing the cracker to keep in place.  Pipe another layer of cream and then add another graham half.  Pipe one final top layer of cream.  Repeat until all eight cakes are built.  Refrigerate at least six hours, preferably overnight.

When ready to serve, place a handful of mini marshmallows over the top layer of cream.  Use a torch to char the marshmallows, being careful to not melt the cream.  Drizzle chocolate fudge over the marshmallows and serve immediately.

Chocolate Fudge Sauce

Makes approximately 2 cups

1 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 ounces high quality dark chocolate (58-62%)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small saucepan combine the cream, dark brown sugar, cocoa powder, corn syrup and salt.  Whisk over medium-high heat, being sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the saucepan, until the mixture begins to boil.  Cook for 30 seconds.  Remove from the heat.  Add the chocolate and butter and whisk until melted and glossy.  Add the vanilla and whisk to combine.  

Serve warm.  Refrigerate up to one month, warming in a microwave or water bath between uses.

 

 

Bikini-Body Deviled Eggs by Anthony Michael Contrino

Looking for a snack that won't tip the scales?  This is it!  Now, while I love me some mayo, it isn't missed in this recipe.  Each deviled egg half is only THIRTY calories.  That means, if you have two halves, it is LESS calories than a plain hardboiled egg.  You're welcome.  

BIKINI-BODY DEVILED EGGS

10 large eggs, hardboiled, cooled and peeled

2 ounces goat cheese

1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons Fage nonfat greek yogurt

1 tablespoon chives, minced

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Generous pinch Kosher salt

Micro arugula, for garnish, optional 

Halve the eggs longways.  Gently remove the yolks.  Put 4 of the yolks into a medium sized bowl, discard the remaining yolks.  Submerge the egg white halves in cold water to remove all specks of yolk.  Drain the whites on paper towels.

Meanwhile, add the goat cheese to the bowl of yolks; use a fork to mash the two together.  Add the yogurt and combine until smooth.  Add the chives, lemon zest, pepper and salt.  Stir to combine.  Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a small star tip.  

Pipe the filling into the 20 cavities.  Garnish with micro arugula and serve.

TIP: I buy my eggs hardboiled.  You can find them in pretty much every supermarket.  They are priced reasonably, and cuts the prep time to less than 10 minutes!

DISCLAIMER: If I've said it once, I've said it before - I am no nutritionist.  I use myfitnesspal to calculate the calories.  While I am confident that the numbers are accurate, I cannot be 100% sure!

Serving Size: 2 halves

Total Calories / 60

Fat / 6 grams

Carbs / 2.6 grams

Protein / 13.8 grams

 

Chicken Soup by Anthony Michael Contrino

There aren’t many things that make me happier than a bowl of steaming chicken soup on a cold, blistery day.  This is my favorite version of chicken soup, but it is just a guideline.  If your supermarket carries packaged soup vegetables, it is usually cheaper than buying all the individual ingredients.  The offerings vary, but the soup will be delicious either way - just make sure you have extra carrots, celery and onions on hand.  Finally, I like to add some chicken base to the broth to intensify the flavor, but if you don't have any on hand, no worries!

Chicken Soup

For the base:

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 carrots, cut into chunks

2 celery stalks, cut into chunks

1 yellow onion, skin on, quartered

1 leek, cut into chunks

1 rutabaga, cubed

1 large red potato, cubed

1 small organic chicken, 4 pounds or so

1 bay leaf

1 bunch fresh thyme

1 bunch fresh parsley 

1 bunch fresh dill

1 teaspoon peppercorns

For the soup:

4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch rounds

4 stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1 large yellow onion, chopped

1 tablespoon chicken base (paste), optional

Kosher salt

Ditalini, cooked to al dente

Pecorino cheese, for serving

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large stockpot.  Add the carrots, celery, onion, leek, rutabaga and potato.  Cook until the vegetables begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes.  Shimmy the chicken into the vegetables.  Add the bay leaf, thyme, parsley, dill and peppercorns.  Add cold water to the pot until it rises one-inch above the chicken.  Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 2 hours.  

Remove the pot from the heat.  Use tongs to carefully transfer the cooked chicken to a bowl.  Strain the broth into another large pot.  Discard the vegetables, herbs and spices.  (NOTE: For me chicken soup should be light and brothy, but if you prefer a slightly thicker, heartier soup, puree a cup or two of the vegetables with a little broth using an immersion blender and add to the broth.)  Shred the chicken and add to the broth; discard the bones.  Add the carrots, celery, onion and chicken base to the broth.  Simmer, over medium-low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.  Season with salt, to taste.  (You will need an aggressive amount!)

To serve, scoop some ditalini into a serving bowl, top with the soup and garnish with a generous sprinkle of grated pecorino cheese.  

Leftover soup can be stored in tupperware containers.  Be sure to leave an inch headroom.  Cool completely before freezing up to two months or refrigerate up to 3 days.  Warm before serving.  Do not freeze with pasta in the soup, as it will become too mushy when it is reheated.  

 

My Perfect Brownie by Anthony Michael Contrino

If there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that brownies are one of the most iconic American desserts.  What we probably won’t agree on is whether it should be cakey, chewy or fudgy. Should it have nuts or chocolate chips?  Sprinkles?  Be swirled with peanut butter?  The debate could go on FOREVER.  

When it comes to the classics, I’m a purist - no inclusions, just a finger-licking chocolatey batter.  Since chocolate is the star, it is important that you use the best you can get your hands on.  I like to use Cacao Barry’s Favorites Me-Amère, which has a 58% cocoa content.  You don’t have to be as fancy, but please DO NOT use chocolate chips. These have additives to keep the chocolate from melting into a silky puddle.  And in case you were wondering, these brownies are a little cakey, a little chewy and a little fudgy.  

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 ounces quality chocolate, 55-62% cocoa content, cut into bite-sized pieces

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoon vegetable oil

1-1/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8x8 cake pan with aluminum foil, leaving tabs to help remove the brownies after baking.  Spray the foil with cooking spray; set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; mix well.  Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and butter in a large bowl, over a double boiler.  Once fully melted, remove from the heat.  Add the oil and stir to combine.  Add the sugar and light brown sugar and mix to combine.  Add the eggs, egg yolk and vanilla, and whisk for 2 minutes until the batter is glossy.  Add the dry ingredients and mix with a rubber spatula, just long enough to combine all ingredients.  Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake until a cake tester shows moist crumbs, about 35 minutes.  Cool in the pan for 15 minutes before transferring the brownies to a cooling rack.  Carefully remove the foil.  Cut into 9 squares.

Pastrami & Provolone Stromboli with Caramelized Onions by Anthony Michael Contrino

Stromboli, a cousin of pizza and calzones, and, in my opinion, the easiest of the three to execute perfectly.  A stromboli is pizza dough rolled with whatever you want.  WHATEVER.  YOU.  WANT.  The "traditional" is usually jam-packed with the kind of stuff you'd find in an Italian hero - ham, salami, sopressata, hot sausage, etc...  This variation pays homage to one of my favorite sandwiches - Steamed Pastrami with Provolone and Caramelized Onions.  To ace this recipe, be sure to really caramelize the onions.  The sweetness pairs perfectly with the spices of the pastrami and the mellow flavor of the cheese.  

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 medium yellow onions, sliced into thin half moons

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 store-bought pizza dough

3/4 pound pastrami

3/4 pound provolone cheese

Honey mustard sauce, for serving, optional

Make the caramelized onions.  Warm the olive oil in a large, high-sided skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until deep golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Cool completely.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Stretch (or roll) out the pizza dough into a rectangle.  Be sure to stretch the ends of the dough; the entire sheet of dough should be slightly thinner than 1/4" in thickness.

With the long-end facing you, layer the pastrami, leaving a 1-inch "crust."  Sprinkle the caramelized onions over the pastrami.  Layer the cheese over the pastrami and onions.  Roll the dough longways to create a log, keeping the seam at the bottom.  Squeeze the dough at the sides to seal and trim off any excess dough.  Carefully transfer the log to a parchment lined baking sheet and twist the sides to create a crescent.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut 1-inch slits across the top of the dough, spacing each cut three inches.  

Bake until golden, about 35-40 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes.  Transfer the stromboli to a cutting board and slice into 1-inch pieces.  Serve hot, with honey mustard sauce, if desired.

Blueberry Almond Muffins by Anthony Michael Contrino

Now that the dead of winter is upon us, I figured you could use a recipe to help warm your insides.  This recipe is an adaption of the very first recipe I ever wrote, blueberry muffins.  After coming across it, I decided to see what my high-school-aged self had concocted - and was pleasantly surprised.  While the recipe stood on its own, I decided to add some crumbled almonds to the topping, as well as some almond flour and extract into the batter.  Enjoy.

 

For the crumb topping:

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted, cooled and crumbled

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

 

For the batter:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup almond flour

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 large egg

1/3 cup milk (approximately)

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup fresh blueberries

Make the topping.  In a medium-sized bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon and almonds.  Stir to combine.  Add the melted butter and stir until it is absorbed into the dry ingredients.  The finished product will be pasty.  Allow the butter to cool completely so that the mixture hardens.  Use your hands to break the mixture into large crumbs.  Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a standard cupcake pan with liners or well-grease the cavities.  

Make the batter.  In a large bowl, add the flour, almond flour, sugar, salt and baking powder; stir to combine.

In a 2-cup measuring cup, add the milk and egg.  Add enough milk to reach the 1-cup mark, about 1/3 cup.  Whisk with a fork to combine.  Add the almond extract, stir.  

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently mix to combine using a rubber spatula.  Add the blueberries and fold to incorporate them evenly into the batter.  Scoop the batter into the mold, filling almost all the way to the top.  Top the batter generously with the crumble.  

Bake until a cake-tester comes out clean when inserted into the center of the muffin, about 16 minutes.  Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before carefully removing them from the pan.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  Wrap cooled muffins in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

 

Make It Healthy: Turkey Bolognese with Zucchini by Anthony Michael Contrino

This is officially my new favorite meal.  This sauce is so quick and easy to make, and can be made in advanced, portioned and frozen, if desired.  The spiraled zucchini "pasta," which accounts for less than 50 calories of this meal, can be exchanged for cooked grains, cannelloni beans or real pasta!  Once again I've included some nutritional information; this dish comes in at an even 400 calories.

Turkey Bolognese with Zucchini / Makes 4 Servings

For the sauce:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup shallots, chopped

4 cloves garlic, sliced

1 pound lean ground turkey

1 15-ounce can tomato sauce

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the zucchini:

1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

24 ounces spiralized zucchini

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized, high-sided skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the shallots and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute.  Add the turkey.  Using the back of a wooden spoon, break up with meat and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until cooked through.  Reduce the heat to low.  Add the tomato sauce and cook an additional 2 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Meanwhile, to make the zucchini, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the olive oil and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the zucchini and season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Sauté for a couple minutes, tossing often.  Cover the skillet with a lid and cook for an additional minute.  

Portion the zucchini and top with the turkey bolognese.  If desired, serve with chopped parsley and grated pecorino cheese.  The cheese is an additional 20 calories, per tablespoon.  

NOTE: The cooking time may vary depending on the size of the zucchini.  The cooked product should be slightly crunch, like an al dente pasta.

Disclaimer:  I am not a nutritionist, and used an app to calculate the following nutritional information.  While I believe this information to be accurate, it cannot be guaranteed.

Calories / 400

Protein / 28g

Carbohydrates / 24g

Fiber / 7g

Sugar / 7g

Fat / 21g

 

Dine In or Take Out? by Anthony Michael Contrino

Is it me or are there fewer hours in the day?  The older we get, the more responsibilities we have.  Many of us do what we can to make life easier.   When the to-do list keeps growing, most often the easiest thing to skip is cooking dinner.   As a chef, this makes me sad, but truth-be -told, I do it, too.  When you think about it, if you order smart, it’s really not much more costly than cooking in, and it is nice to have someone do all the work for you.  Now to decide whether to head to the restaurant or pick up the phone. 

I get it, you’re tired.  It’s so easy to go online, check out a menu, order your grub and kick back on the couch (or do laundry) until the doorbell rings.  But, it’s also nice to grab a comfy seat in a restaurant and have someone serve and clean up after you.   As nice as it is to stay home and not have to worry about braving the weather or shuffling the kids to the car, is it worth it? 

When was the last time you ordered take out and were blown away by the quality?  For me, it’s been a while.  Unfortunately, many of the foods we take out are not meant to sit in a styrofoam box, steaming away, while the rest of the food is prepared, jammed into paper bags and then driven to your car.  Even in a best case scenario, your food is probably sitting around for a good ten to fifteen minutes before it’s delivered to your door - it’s just not nearly as good.  (In all reality, it’s probably longer than that.)

The sad truth is, many of us just don’t care.  So what if it’s not as good as it is in a restaurant?  Slightly warm pizza is still good, right?  Well, it is, but not when you need an extra hand to hold the crust up.  

In a perfect world, restauranteurs wouldn’t offer the service if their menu wasn’t delivery friendly, but you know, they need to stay in business.  About half of a restaurants revenue comes via takeout services.  That’s A LOT!  Restaurants, in an effort to be competitive, need to, at the very least, offer a pick-up, take-out option.  

Let’s be realistic, you may agree with me, but it’s not going to stop you from ordering take out.  Here’s a list of what to get versus what not to get.

DO NOT (PLEASE!) order pasta.  No matter how well it’s prepared, by the time you open the lid, the sauce will have drained, leaving the bottom soggy and the top dry, dry, dry.  Oh, and good luck with the whole al dente thing.

Instead, DO order hearty grains or rice.  While they can also suffer the same way that pasta does, they tend to keep their “bite” and also taste good if not piping hot.  You can always add a splash of oil to help hydrate the grains, if necessary.

DO NOT order thin-crust, wood-fired pizza.  The thought of a delicious pie with a perfect, crispy crust sitting in a box, steaming away can bring tears to my eyes.  These pies also tend to go from piping hot to room temperature in record time.

Instead, DO order a New York style pie.  The slightly thicker crust is often topped with a generous quantity of sauce (or is it gravy?) and mozzarella.  If cooked well, it holds up slightly better than it’s thin-crust counterpart.  As the pie steams in the delivery box, it does lose some of it’s crisp, but there’s something about the chewiness it creates that is just so satisfying.

DO NOT order burgers or steaks.  Let’s break this down.  Burgers.  They’re always cold, the toppings are all over, the bun is soggy and the cheese is opaque and waxy.  Steaks.  You want it medium?  After sitting in a tupperware, it’s now medium-well, at best - and cold. 

Instead DO order meatballs and braised meats - really anything in a sauce or broth, including soups and stews.  Since these items are served in a sauce or gravy the meat will stay both hot and moist, and really can't be overcooked.  

DO NOT order anything fried.  It’s never going to hold up.  Have you ever ordered french fries?  One word, SOGGY!

DO order Chinese food.  Almost anything you order will taste as good as it would if you ate it in house since most items are already steamed or served in sauce.  Skip dumplings and noodle dishes, though.

Make It Healthy: Cauliflower Fried "Rice" by Anthony Michael Contrino

Well, it's a new year and you know what that means.  Diet time.  I, like everyone else, am trying to eat healthier, but I refuse to live off salad and grilled chicken.  Throughout the year I will be sharing some recipes that are under 400 calories.  (Don't worry, the treat-yo-self stuff is coming, too!)  I'm sure this isn't the first cauliflower fried rice you've seen, but it's my version - and it's delicious.  While I've included the nutritional information below, keep in mind that I'm no nutritionist.  I used an app to calculate the calories, so hopefully they are accurate.  I sure hope they are; I logged them in my diary!

Cauliflower Fried "Rice"

Serves 1 *

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

3/4 cup red onion, chopped

3/4 cup carrot, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1 large egg

1/3 cup edamame beans, cooked and removed from pod

10 ounces riced cauliflower

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 cups baby spinach, chopped

In a wok or large high-sided skillet, warm the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and carrots and sautè until they begin to caramelize, about 4 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Using a wooden spoon, create a well in the center of the wok.  Add the egg and scramble with the spoon.  Mix the egg into the vegetables and stir until the egg is fully cooked.  Add the edamame and cauliflower.  Toss to combine.  Add the soy sauce; stir to combine.  Add the spinach and cook until it wilts, about 2 minutes.  Serve immediately. 

*The nutritional information provided is based on 1 serving, but it can definitely be divided into two, as it's a lot of food!

Calories / 396

Protein / 19g

Carbohydrates / 40g

Sugar / 17g

Fat / 19g

Fiber / 13g

Good source of Potassium, Vitamins A and C.