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.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing by Anthony Michael Contrino

If there’s one way to get me to eat my veggies, it’s in cake form.  My version of a carrot cake is moist and studded with plenty of carrots and shredded coconut.  Before anyone starts to complain - I am fully aware that this recipe yields a hell of a lot of frosting.  In my opinion, every bite of cake deserves a forkful of cream cheese icing to go along with it.  If you’re not into cream cheese icing, see a doctor, or use less.  If you'd like, you can halve each of the baked cakes to make a 4-layer cake, but who has the time?

You’ll notice there are no nuts in this cake.  Feel free to add up to a cup of chopped walnuts or pecans.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

Feeds 12, easily

 

For the Cake:

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

4 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

1-1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups shredded carrots, lightly packed

1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

 

For the Cream Cheese Icing

3 8-ounce blocks cream cheese, room temperature

12-ounces unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla paste (or extract)

2-1/2 cups confectioners sugar

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour 2 8-inch round cake pans.  

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, cloves, salt, baking soda and baking powder.  Mix well.  Meanwhile, in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the eggs, oil, sugars and vanilla.  Mix on medium-high for 5 minutes.  Add the carrots and coconut and mix to combine.  Add the dry ingredients and mix on medium, just until the batter comes together.  

Divide the batter evenly into the prepared cake pans and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes.

Cool for 15 minutes.  Flip the cakes onto cooling racks and let cool completely before icing.  You can also wrap the cooled cakes in plastic wrap for up to two days before icing.  Store at room temperature.  

To make the icing, combine the cream cheese and butter in a stand mixer bowl.  Using the paddle attachment, beat over medium-high speed until fully combined and light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Scape the sides of the mixing bowl with a rubber spatula often.  Add the vanilla and confectioners sugar.  Mix on the lowest speed until the sugar is fully incorporated.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for an additional 3 minutes, until light and fluffy.

To assemble the cake, place one 8-inch round onto a cake platter.  Load the cake with half of the cream cheese icing.  With a small offset spatula, level the icing.  Be sure to spread it to the edge of the cake.  Top with the other cake round.  Gently press on the cake to level it out.  Use the offset to scrape off excess icing in between the layers.  Top with the remaining icing and spread it out.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but not more than 24 hours before serving.  Serve cold or at room temperature.  

 

Ingredient Spotlight: European Butter by Anthony Michael Contrino

Sometimes buying the best is difficult, especially if you’re on a budget.  Luckily for us, due to popular demand, high-end butter is priced competitively enough to make the cut!  European butter (or European style butter) has a higher fat content than standard American butter and typically offers richer color and flavor.   If I’m making a batch of chocolate chip cookies, standard butter works just fine, but when it comes to pound cakes, croissants, and buttercream, only European butter will do.  

I took one for the team and tasted the five most common brands offered at local supermarkets - at least where I live.  While all the butters listed below make excellent choices for various applications, the clear favorite was Presidential.  

Retail prices are not listed, however they range from $2.99 to $4.99 for 8-ounces.  If you’re fortunate to have a restaurant depot card, you can grab a pound of Plugra for about $2.70 a POUND.  You can also buy most of these butters in bulk from online retailers at a wholesale price.  If you come across a bargain, stock up.  Butter will last for months in the freezer.

Land O’Lakes European Style

PROS:  comes in 4 ounce sticks like us Americans are used to

CONS: lacking a pure butter flavor, not as creamy

USE IT: for every day use in savory and sweet

Kerrygold

PROS: rich, yellow color; soft, creamy consistency

CONS: if used in certain baked goods, the butter flavor can take over

USE IT: on toast and pancakes; for desserts where butter is the star, like pound cake or biscuits

Plugra European Style

PROS: versatile; easy to find, standard in many restaurants and bakeries

CONS: doesn’t shine on its own

USE IT: for everyday cooking and baking, where butter is not the star

Finlandia

PROS: rich, yellow color, pure butter taste

CONS: if used in certain baked goods, the butter flavor can take over

USE IT: on crackers and to sear scallops and steak

Presidential

PROS: high quality, French butter; the perfect balance of neutrality and butteriness

CONS: somewhat hard to find, pricey

USE IT: for everything

French Onion Soup Casserole by Anthony Michael Contrino

I LOVE French onion soup.  If I see it on a menu, I order it -and I critique the hell out of it.  The broth needs to be flavorful and well-seasoned, the onions tender, the bread al dente, and the cheese PLENTIFUL, with crispy bits, of course!  

This version simplifies the process a bit, and packs a punch of flavor.  You can make the caramelized onions in advance and refrigerate them until you're ready to cook them.  Just heat the onions in the casserole pan at 350 degrees until hot, then add the croutons, cheese and broil.

FRENCH ONION CASSEROLE

Serves 6

5 large yellow onions, julienned

1 stick unsalted butter

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup white wine

2 tablespoon all-purpose flour

3/4 cup beef broth

3 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed

2 cups garlic croutons

8 ounces sliced swiss cheese

 

In a large, high-sided skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the olive oil and onions.  Cook, stirring often, over medium heat until the onions are amber colored, about 30 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir until it has been absorbed.  Add the white wine, and, with a wooden spoon, scrape any brown bits from the pan.  Cook until the wine reduces, about 2 minutes.  Add the beef broth and thyme.  Cook until the sauce thickens.  Add salt and pepper, to taste.  

Preheat the broiler.  Transfer the onions to a 8"x12" casserole dish and level them out with the back of a spoon.  Sprinkle the croutons evenly over the onions and layer the cheese over the croutons, covering the entire top.  Broil until the cheese melts and starts to crisp, about 3 minutes.  Serve immediately.

 

 

Old School Brooklyn: Grandma's Meatballs by Anthony Michael Contrino

Meatballs are a staple at any Italian-American table on Sundays.  Everyone thinks that their grandma makes the best meatballs - mine did!  They were always super tender and falling apart in her Sunday sauce.  While these will hold up better, they're just as good.  By using a microplane to grate the garlic and onion, you can infuse the flavor without having chunks in the finished product.  Don't be afraid to sear the meatballs really well.  The sauce will soften the exterior as it finishes cooking them.  

 

Meatballs

Makes 16 meatballs

 

1 pound ground beef, (80/20 blend)

1/2 pound ground pork

2 eggs

1/2 cup whole milk

1 cup Italian breadcrumbs

4 gloves garlic, grated with a microplane

1/2 yellow onion, grated with a microplane

1/3 cup parsley, chopped finely

1/4 cup pecorino, grated

1/4 cup parmesan, grated

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

Vegetable oil, for frying

 

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix, gently, by hand, until they are thoroughly mixed.  Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.  

Meanwhile, fill a large, high-sided skillet with a half-inch of vegetable oil, and bring to frying temperature.   Portion the meat into 16 equal portions.  Gently roll each portion into a ball, being sure not to pack the meat too tight.  Cook the meatballs in batches, flipping when the bottom has seared.  Sear the other side and then remove from the hot oil.  Drain on a plate lined with paper towels.  Cook the meatballs in sauce for 30 minutes to cook through before serving.  

 

SOME TIPS:

•Do not overwork the meat when mixing.

•You can test your oil to make sure it's hot enough by dropping a small piece of meat into it.  When ready, the oil will bubble vigorously around the meat.

•If you pack the meatballs too tight, they will be dense.

•Carefully flip the meatballs with a fork.  They are extremely fragile and will break if handled roughly.

•You can freeze the meatballs after they’ve been seared for later use.  Just defrost and cook for an hour in sauce before serving. 

Thai Iced Tea by Anthony Michael Contrino

Photo by Andrea Patton Photography

Photo by Andrea Patton Photography

Hello, summer!  While it might not be my favorite season, there are some benefits, like getting to drink this - preferably while on vacation, while the sun is setting.  

I buy the Thai tea mix online, and the rest is a breeze.  (See the link below the recipe.)  Make the components up to three days in advance, and you'll have this sweet treat on call.  

Thai Iced Tea

Serves 4

1 cup Thai tea mix

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup half and half

1/2 cup condensed milk

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium-sized sauce pan.  Remove from the heat; add the tea mix and the sugar and whisk to combine.  Steep for 4 minutes.  Strain using a chinois or fine mesh strainer.  Refrigerate until cold.  

Meanwhile, make the sweetened cream by combining the half and half with the condensed milk.  Stir to combine.  Refrigerate.

To serve, fill a cup with ice.   Pour the iced tea about three-quarters of the way up.  Top with sweetened cream and serve immediately. 

 

THAI TEA MIX:  https://www.amazon.com/Thai-Iced-Traditional-Restaurant-Style/dp/B00NJS4S6C/ref=sr_1_1_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1467060982&sr=8-1&keywords=thai+iced+tea

S'mores Pie by Anthony Michael Contrino

I am a marshmallow ADDICT - I love them soft or hardened, big or small, hot or cold.  So, obviously, I love this pie.  It comes together very quickly and you can even cheat and use a pre-made pie crust, if you'd like.  

 

S’mores Pie

Serves 8

 

For the crust:

1 cup graham crumbs

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Generous pinch Kosher Salt

 

For the ganache:

8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces

3/4 cup heavy cream

 

For assembly:

2 cups marshmallow creme

 

Make the crust.  Combine the graham, sugar, butter and salt in a medium-sized bowl and stir until the graham crumbs are evenly moistened.  Dump the crumbs into a standard pie pan.  Gently press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan.  Set aside.

Make the ganache.  Place the chocolate into a medium-sized bowl.  Meanwhile, bring the heavy cream to a simmer over medium-heat in a small saucepan.  Pour the heavy cream over the chocolate.  Shake the bowl to ensure all chocolate is submerged.  Allow to sit for 1 minute.  Whisk the cream until the chocolate melts and the ganache is smooth.  If there are still shards of chocolate, microwave the ganache for 30 seconds and then whisk to melt the remaining chocolate.  Pour the ganache over the graham crust and set at room temperature, about 90 minutes.  

When the ganache is set, dump the marshmallow creme over the ganache and gently smooth out with an offset spatula.  Brûlée the marshmallow creme with a hand torch and serve immediately.  

The crust and ganache can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.  Allow the ganache to come to room temperature before topping with the marshmallow creme.  Do not top the pie with the marshmallow creme until you a ready to serve. 

Rhubarb Quick Jam by Anthony Michael Contrino

Rhubarb Quick Jam

Makes approximately 1 cup

Early summer in New York City brings the rebirth of many seasonal fruits and vegetables.  One of my favorites is rhubarb.  For some reason, many people are intimidated by (or just don’t know what to do with) the red, celery looking stalks.  Just to clear the air, only the leaves of the rhubarb plant are toxic.  The actual stalks, although not exactly tasty, can be eaten raw.  This recipe takes just minutes to prep, and pairs the tart rhubarb stalks with sweet honey and cinnamon, for a subtle spice.  Use this jam on hearty bread or pair with a sharp cheese.

2 large rhubarb stalks (about     10 ounces)

1/4 cup clover honey

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons sugar

1 cinnamon stick

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Pinch of salt

Trim both edges of the rhubarb stalks.  Cut the stalk in halve, longways, and then chop into quarter-inch pieces.Combine all ingredients in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  

Bring the liquid to a steady simmer, and cook, for 5-10 minutes, until the rhubarb softens considerably.  Use the back of a rubber spatula to mash the rhubarb.  Cook for an additional 30 minutes, stirring every-so-often.

Transfer the jam to a heat-resistant container and cool to room temperature before covering and storing in the refrigerator.  Keep up to 3 weeks.

Summer Corn & Bean Salad by Anthony Michael Contrino

I love roasted corn, and I love it even more when I don’t have to roast it myself!  I came across the stuff at Trader Joe’s and from there, this salad was born.  Slightly sweet and zesty, this salad is perfect for BBQ season.  It also makes a convenient lunch. 

Summer Corn & Bean Salad

Serves 4

1 pound bag roasted corn kernels (or plain,) thawed

1 15-ounce can white kidney beans, drained, but not rinsed

1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced

2 tablespoons cilantro, rough chopped

4 ounces ricotta salata, crumbled

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons champagne vinegar

Zest of 1 lime

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Butter lettuce leaves, for serving, optional

 

In a large serving bowl, combine the corn, beans, jalapeño, cilantro, ricotta salata, olive oil, vinegar and zest.  Season with salt an d pepper to taste and toss.  Serve cool, or at room temperature.   Serve as is or on a lettuce leaf.

Photo by Andrea Patton Photography

Photo by Andrea Patton Photography

Almond Rum Pound Cake with Rum Syrup by Anthony Michael Contrino

Photo Courtesy of Kevin Quigley

Photo Courtesy of Kevin Quigley

Although I love making this cake during the Christmas Season, the combination of rum and almond can transport you to your favorite island.  I like to eat this cake the day after it's made, never warm.  You can save the syrup and drizzle it right before eating.

Almond Rum Pound Cake with Rum Syrup

Recipe Courtesy of Anthony Contrino ©

For the Cake:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup almond flour, plus more for greasing

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

4 ounces butter, plus more for greasing, at room temperature

4 ounces almond paste

1 ¼ cups sugar

4 large eggs

Seeds of 1 vanilla bean, pod reserved

⅓ cup vegetable oil

⅓ cup whole milk

½ cup golden rum

 

For the Rum Syrup:

½ cup light brown sugar

½ cup sugar

½ cup water

1//2 cup rum

2 ounces butter

Vanilla bean pod

Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Generously butter a Bundt pan and coat with a layer of almond flour.  Set the pan aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, almond flour, salt and baking powder.  Mix to combine, set aside.  

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and almond paste with the sugar until all ingredients are fully combined, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, only adding the next when the previous is fully combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl often and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add the vanilla seeds.  With the mixer on low, slowly drizzle in the oil and mix until fully incorporated.  

Combine the milk and rum.  

Add half of the dry ingredients and beat, on low, until it starts to mix into the eggs.  Drizzle in the milk and rum mixture followed by the remaining dry ingredients.  Mix just until all ingredients come together.  Give a final stir with a rubber spatula.  

Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake until a toothpick comes out cleanly, about 40-45 minutes.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes before unmolding.   Cool before serving.

Make the rum syrup.  In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients.  Cook over a medium-low heat, without stirring, until the mixture thickens into a syrupy consistency.  Remove the vanilla pod.  Drizzle warm syrup over the cake.