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.

Toasted Sesame Cookies by Anthony Michael Contrino

Photo by Andrea Patton

Photo by Andrea Patton

Toasted Sesame Cookies

Makes 3 ½ dozen cookies

Growing up there were always these sesame-coated cookies on the table when company came over.  We called them Regina cookies.  They looked so boring; I never even thought to take one.  Now that I’m older, I look for them.  They are one of those cookies that are great anytime of day - in the morning with coffee or tea, as a lunchtime snack or an after dinner dessert.  I like to make them the day before I eat them, allowing them to harden overnight.  

 

⅔ cup sesame seeds

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

4 ounces butter, very soft

½ cup sugar

1 egg

⅛ teaspoon almond extract

¼ cup scalded milk, cooled

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small skillet, toast the sesame seeds on high heat until they begin to color.  They will not toast evenly; some will be light and some will be dark.  Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl.  Allow to cool completely.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt and stir to combine.  

In a stand mixer, with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and almond extract and mix well.  The batter may be grainy; that’s fine.  With the mixer on low, add half of the flour mixture.  When it is almost fully incorporated, add the milk.  Combine.  Add the remaining flour and mix to combine.  Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes to an hour.

Use a small cookie scoop to create mounds of the dough.  Roll into balls and then drop them into the toasted sesame seeds, rolling them around until they are fully coated.  Flatten the round ever-so-slightly.  


Transfer to a cookie sheet lined with parchment and bake for about 15 minutes, or just until the cookies start to crack on top.

The Ultimate Chef Gift Guide: Anthony's Favorite Things by Anthony Michael Contrino

Every year I am bombarded with questions from friends asking me to recommend a gift for the cook/chef in their life.  So, this year I decided to make a list - move over Oprah - it's Anthony’s Favorite Things.

For more tips, follow Anthony on Twitter and Instagram @theSINGING_CHEF

Schmidt Brother’s Knives

With so many options out there, shopping for a knife can be overwhelming.   I have used many knives since working in professional kitchens, and this is my favorite.  Like most brands, Schmidt Brothers offers different collections of knives.  I like the balance, sleek style and feel of the Bonded Teak collection.  It get’s even better - the 8” chef knife is less than 30 bucks!   $27.99   amazon.com

Alice & Pearl Aprons

Ever since I met Becky Prescott on the set of Paula Deen’s cooking show, I have been a huge fan of her and her products.  Becky makes custom aprons (for adults and kids,) potholders and other linen goodies, all by hand in Savannah.  She is constantly updating her collection and sources fabrics with a vintage flare.  Follow Becky and her creations on Instagram @aliceandpearl Prices Vary      For Custom Orders, Email aliceandpearl5@gmail.com  

Staub Cocotte

Whether you are a professional chef or a home cook, every kitchen should have a cocotte or Dutch oven.  They are the perfect vessels for soups, sauces, stews, casseroles and braised meat dishes, amongst others.  Staub makes an assortment of pots in different shapes and sizes.  They also come in a variety of colors, so matching your kitchen will not be a problem.  With all the competition, why Staub?  1.  They are lighter than many other brands, including Le Creuset.  This might not seem important, but when these pots are full, they get heavy.  2.  They are priced right.  While they are not the cheapest option out there, they are not as costly as Le Creuset even though they are also made in France.  3.  They clean like magic.  I have made many a sticky sauce in these pans and they practically wipe clean!  Also, take good care of these pots and they will last a lifetime.     $264.99     zwillingonline.com

Pepper Mill

Not only are pepper mills practical, they are beautiful.  Sometimes you need a fine grain, sometimes a coarser.  With a pepper mill you can adjust the grind to suit your needs.  Buy peppercorns in small batches from trusted sources (see Penzeys below) and grind your pepper as needed for freshness.  $17.99 and up     amazon.com

Digital Scale

It often shocks me that most kitchens do not have a scale.  Why do you need one?  Many recipes call for items by weight.  If you shop in bulk, you may need to weigh out your ingredients.  On a diet?  Being able to weigh your food allows you to accurately track caloric intake.  When purchasing, look for a standard-sized (not mini) scale that can weigh up to 11 pounds.  $16.99 and up     amazon.com

Boos Board Cream

Most kitchens house a wooden cutting board.  Boos Boards are one of the most popular brands - I dare you to find a Food Network show that doesn’t use them - and they need to be properly taken care of.  Boos Cream helps ensure your cutting board (or wood handled knives) stay moisturized and looking brand-new.     $7.99     amazon.com

Penzey's Spices

Most of us chefs are snobs when it comes to ingredients.  For spices, they need to be of the highest quality - that's where Penzey's comes in.  They carry everything from allspice to zatar and they are always fresh, fresh, fresh.  Most spices are available in quantities as small as a 1/4 cup jar and up to a 3 cup bulk bag.  They offer various gift sets or you can customize your own.  They also sell spice jars, which come in handy.  Some of my favorites offerings include: Vietnamese Cinnamon, China Powdered Ginger, Whole Tellicherry Indian Black Peppercorns, Roasted Garlic and Smoked Spanish Paprika.  Prices vary.  penzeys.com

Salt & Straw Ice Cream

Sometimes you just don't have time to make your own ice cream.  Salt and Straw provides Portland and Los Angeles with some of the best, but thanks to dry ice, anyone can enjoy their pints.  Have a serious addiction, then join their pint club, otherwise you can purchase their seasonal pint pack or customize your own collection.  Salt & Straw changes their menu monthly to reflect what's in season and highlight any holiday that may be upcoming.  Flavors range from tame (Single Origin Amadeus Vanilla) to eclectic (Salted Caramel Thanksgiving Turkey. No, that is not a typo!)  If you can hold off until March, their Pots-of-Gold and Rainbows will change your life.  (I'm talking sweet cream base steeped with Lucky Charms cereal and churned with the marshmallows.)      $65, plus shipping for 5 pints.     saltandstraw.com

Meri Meri Products

Food needn't only taste good, it should look good, too.  Meri Meri offers an array of products including cake stands and toppers, cookie cutters, treat bags, cupcakes liners and an assortment of serve ware to make your food shine.    Prices vary.     amazon.com

Gift Cards

Many people think that gift cards are impersonal.  Maybe they are, but I love them. Instead of popping into a supermarket or pharmacy and grabbing a generic card off the gift card wall, head into a shop that specializes in products for culinarians.  Some of my favorites include:

Sur La Table - A nice assortment of home goods and equipment and tools for chefs and home cooks alike.  Added bonus, working chefs receive an industry discount.  Inquire within. surlatable.com

Amazon - As you've probably noticed, a few of the items listed above come from amazon.com.  Let's face it, you can find almost anything on the site, and because of their volume of sales, the price is often right.     amazon.com

JB Prince - This professional chef superstore is located in New York City and is loaded with toys and gadgets that will make any professional cook's heart race.       jbprince.com

Global Sugar Art - Does your loved one walk into a craft store and spend way too much time in the baking aisles?   Global Sugar Arts is for them!  You can find anything and everything you'd need to make a stunning dessert or cake.       globalsugarart.com

 

Five Minute Alfredo Sauce by Anthony Michael Contrino

Photo Courtesy of Andrea Patton Photography

Photo Courtesy of Andrea Patton Photography

As with most sauces originating from Italy, the early Alfredo sauces are not what we Americans are accustomed to.  The first recorded recipe dates back to the 16th century, in Rome.  A twist on cacio e pepe (starch water, pecorino, and pepper,) the authentic Alfredo is made with a generous portion of butter melted with parmesan.  

Where the version made with cream originated is not 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, so I just dump the pasta in a strainer and make the sauce in the same pot.

FIVE MINUTE ALFREDO SAUCE

12 ounces fettuccini

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

2 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 salt

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

Cook the pasta until al dente.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the cheese, flour, salt and pepper.  When the pasta is ready, strain.   In the same pot used to cook the pasta, add the heavy cream and bring to a simmer.  Add the cheese mixture, bring to a boil.  Once the sauce has thickened, return the pasta to the pot.  Toss to coat with the sauce.  Serve immediately.

Caramelized Fennel Soup with Crispy Shallots by Anthony Michael Contrino

Now that it's officially fall, it's time to throw on a hoodie and make some soup.  It just so happens that fennel is now in season.  If you're not typically a fan of the anise-flavored vegetable, I dare you to try this soup.  The caramelization process mellows the anise flavor and adds a subtle sweetness.  Get all cheffy and garnish the soup with some crispy shallots, fennel fronds and smoked sea salt - it's sure to impress!

Caramelized Fennel Soup with Crispy Shallots

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil

2 large fennel bulbs, sliced thinly

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 large yukon gold potatoes, cut into chunks

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crispy shallots, for garnish, recipe follows

Fennel fronds, for garnish

Smoked flake sea salt, for garnish

In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter in the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the fennel and cook, stirring often, until the fennel is caramelized, about 20 minutes.  Deglaze the pan with the wine and continue to cook until reduced by half.  Add the potatoes, and broth.  Add some water, but just enough to make sure the potatoes are submerged.  Cook, covered, over medium heat, until the potatoes are extremely tender.  Remove from the heat.

Using an emersion blender, puree the vegetables until smooth, adding more water, as necessary to achieve the desired consistency.  The soup should be smooth and velvety, but not runny.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Serve in small bowls.  Garnish with crispy shallots, fennel fronds, and smoked flake sea salt.

Crispy Shallots

Vegetable oil, for frying

2 large shallots, sliced into thin rounds

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

In a small saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring the oil to 365 degrees.  Meanwhile, dredge the shallots in the flour.  Shake any excess flour off.  Fry until crispy and golden brown, about 1 minute.  Drain on a plate lined with paper towel. 

 

TIPS

*If you do not have an emersion blender, you can puree the soup, in batches, using a standard blender.

*The soup can be made up to 5 days in advance.  Add water to thin it out after refrigeration.

Wine Forum: Corks vs. Caps by Anthony Michael Contrino

Photo by: Timur Saglambilek

Photo by: Timur Saglambilek

I recently visited Newport Winery, a beautiful facility in Middletown, Rhode Island.  The winery houses a cafe, a restaurant, a well-stocked gift shop, and of course wine tasting bars and the factory.  I arrived just in time to catch one of their daily tours - complete with tasting.   After tasting everything from delicate whites to oaky reds to moscato and port (I already had a list of everything I wanted to purchase!) we embarked on out tour.  The guide was very knowledgeable.  She took us out into one of their three vineyards, the processing room, the barrel room and, last but not least, the filling and labeling room.  I was very impressed by the operation and was excited to get into the gift shop, until she showed us how the wine is sealed with screw caps.  My first though was - CHEAP!  It was obvious that this winery was very passionate about their vintages and it was a beautifully maintained facility, so why the screw caps.  

Why?  That's what the winemaker wanted.  I assumed it was to cut corners, but she had a solid explanation.  Wine grown in the northeast (and USA in general) is more delicate than wines from other regions.  The winemaker believes that an airtight seal maintains the nuances and flavor of the wine.  

After I left, it got me thinking, there are many pros to using metal caps.  

COST: Yes, they are cheaper than using cost, but the savings is often passed on to the purchaser.  

SUSTAINABILITY:  While cork is both natural and renewable, it is a limited resource.  Screw caps are typically made out of metal and are recyclable.*

QUALITY:  Puritans may say that a cork is part of a vintage's character, but there is always a chance that the wine will be tainted.  It is impossible to tell if a wine is corked until the seal is removed and the cork is removed.  With a screw cap, no need to worry!  

PRACTICALITY:  Have you ever seen someone struggle to open a screw cap on a wine bottle?  I don't think so.  Plus, no need worry about owning a corkscrew.  

Now if only I could get past the stigma of screw cap = cheap, all will be good. 

*Some areas ask that you not recycle caps.  Because of their small size, they are prone to jam the machinery at recycling facilities.  

CousCous with Oven Roasted Butternut Squash by Anthony Michael Contrino

Transition into fall with this CousCous, Butternut Squash and Pomegranate Seed Medley.  This makes a perfect side dish at dinner, but holds its own when it comes to lunch.

CousCous with Oven Roasted Butternut Squash

2 cups tri-colored pearl couscous, uncooked

1 batch oven-roasted butternut squash, recipe follows

1 -1/4 cups ricotta salata crumbles

3/4 cup pomegranate seeds

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons champagne vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Cook the couscous to according to the manufacturer's instructions.  (I like to use Bob's Red Mill.) Rinse the cooked couscous in a colander under cold water.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Add the butternut squash, ricotta salata, pomegranate seeds, olive oil and vinegar.  Toss to combine.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve at room temperature.

 

For the Oven-Roasted Butternut Squash:

1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced, about 3 cups

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons sage, rough chopped

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized and toss to combine.  Dump the squash onto a roasting pan and spread it out evenly.  Roast until fork-tender, about 30 minutes.

 

 

Fillo Cups with Lemon Curd and Candied Sour Cherries by Anthony Michael Contrino

This is the perfect dessert to make when unexpected company drops by.  I often keep lemon curd in my freezer, where it can live for months, just in case I feel like making ice cream, a lemon tart, or these tasty fillo cups.  While we're talking about lemon curd, I dare you to find a better recipe than this one.  It is a version of the lemon curd I made when working in France.  The fact that there's a whole pound of butter probably has something to do with it!  Candied cherries (These are sour, but you can use bing.  Just know they'll be very sweet!) are another great item to keep in the fridge.  Just like the curd, these preserved cherries can live in the fridge for a while.  

As far as the fillo cups, I usually keep a couple boxes in the freezer.  They thaw in minutes.  I like to crisp them in the oven for a few minutes.  Make sure they are fully cooled off before filling.

Fillo Cups with Lemon Curd and Candied Sour Cherries

Makes 30

2 boxes fillo cups

2 cups Chef Laurent's Lemon Curd, recipe follows

30 candied sour cherries, recipe follows

Fresh thyme, for garnish

Crisp the fillo cups in a 350 degree oven for 3-5 minutes.  Cool completely.  Fill a pastry bag, fitted with a plain, round tip, with the lemon curd.  Pipe a heaping tablespoon into each cup.  Top with a sour cherry and garnish with thyme leaves.  Serve immediately.

 

Chef Laurent's Lemon Curd

Makes approximately 4 cups

5-ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

3/4 cup of sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

8-ounces unsalted butter, european or european style, refrigerated, cubed

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, combine the lemon juice, eggs, yolk, sugar and salt.  Whisk until the liquid begins to thicken and steam.  Immediately remove from the heat and pour through a fine mesh strainer into a food processor.  Turn on the food processor and add the butter, one cube at a time, until all the butter is added and has emulsified.  The curd should be smooth and silky.  Transfer the curd to a tupperware.  Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it onto the  top of the curd and refrigerate overnight.  Freeze for up to 3 months.

Candied Sour Cherries

Makes 1 pint

1 cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf

1-3/4 cups sour cherries, washed and pitted

2 cups sugar

Place the cinnamon stick and bay leaf in a 16 ounce mason jar.  Add the cherries.  Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, over medium-high heat, combine the sugar with one cup of water.  Cook until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Pour the hot sugar water over the cherries, stopping just 1/4-inch below the rim of the jar.  Cover the mason jar with a lid and screw cap.  Refrigerate at least 1 week before serving.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.