Author Archives for A Capitol Contessa

About A Capitol Contessa

A woman who loves parties - both political and full of friends. I hope to inspire people to cook, entertain and have fun by sharing tips, tricks and mistakes along the way!

Individual Tiramisu

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In keeping with last week’s “mini” theme I thought I would post a great individual dessert you can serve to a crowd.  These were the perfect sweet ending to an engagement party I threw that I will post about next week.  The best part is that they have to be made in advance, so while there are a lot of layers, they are easy to do and can all be made a day before.  I used 8 ounce glasses from Ikea but any small vessel will do, even plastic.  Grab a bunch of these mini spoons and you are good to go.  If you don’t want to do individual tiramisus then just follow the instructions without breaking up the lady fingers and layer in one large pan.  The special couple had a sentimental attachment to this dish but it turned out to be a real crowd pleaser – almost like coffee and dessert in one!

Individual Tiramisu

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 24 ounces room temperature mascarpone cheese
  • 2 cups of espresso (or 2 cups hot water with 6 tablespoons of espresso powder)
  • 1/2 cup coffee liqueur (like Kahula)
  • 36 lady fingers (found in the Italian section of your grocery store or in the cookie aisle)
  • cocoa for disting

Place the egg yolks, marsala wine and sugar in a heatproof bowl.  In a saucepan add several inches of water and bring to a simmer.  Place the bowl over the water (make sure its not touching) – this is called a double boiler.  Using a handheld mixer beat the egg mixture for 5 to 8 minutes, until the eggs have tripled in volume.  The mixture will be light in color and thickened.

Take the bowl off the heat (carefully) and fold in the mascarpone cheese, trying not to deflate the mixture (room temp is very important here so it incorporates easily).

Set aside.  In a shallow baking dish combine the espresso and the coffee liqueur.  Break the ladyfingers into a couple of pieces (I broke them into quarters).  Spoon a small amount of the mascarpone mixture into the bottom of the glass.  Dunk two ladyfinger pieces into the espresso mixture, quickly so they don’t fall apart, and pile them into the glass.

Repeat for 2 more layers and then dust with cocoa powder.  Repeat with the rest of the glasses (I did it in assembly line style which worked well).  Chill overnight and serve.

Chicken Salad Canapes

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I often have a hard timing figuring out what sort of canapés I can serve at parties that are filling.  Most meat based appetizers require them to be warm or are really expensive (think lamb lollipops) but if you are going to be drinking all night I want my guests to have more in them than just cheese!  Here little mini phyllo cups really come into handy.  You buy them in the frozen section of your grocery store and they are already cooked so all you have to do is fill them.  I decided for a recent party to go with chicken salad, most specifically chicken salad veronique, which is a French version with grapes.  It is really delicious as a regular chicken salad served alone or in a sandwich but for this application I cut the chicken and the grapes really small so they would fit neatly in the cups and be easy to eat.  These things went like hot cakes and I am sure your friends will appreciate the “heavy ap” at your next party.

Chicken Salad Canapes

  • 2 rotisserie chicken breasts (or roast your own)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 3 tablespoons chopped tarragon
  • 20 green grapes, quartered
  • 60 phyllo cups – I used the Athens brand

Cut the chicken breasts into small pieces and place in a large bowl.

In a medium bowl wish together the mayo, sour cream, white wine, tarragon and salt and pepper.

Add 3/4 of the mixture to the chicken along with the grapes.  Stir to combine and then add as much of the remaining dressing as necessary.  The salad can be made several days in advance and stored in the fridge.  When you are ready to serve, use a teaspoon to fill the cups with the salad.

Bolognese Sauce

I usually plan dinner parties weeks in advance – tinker with the menu, what wines to serve, what kind of tabletop I want to have etc until I settle on exactly the look, taste and feel I want.  However, there is something to be said for spontaneity and this sauce and the dinner party it spawned is a good reminder to me that I should trying to be less planned.  I have been working on my bolognese sauce for a couple of years, trying to meet my husband’s exacting standards.  I had been getting pretty close so when our good friend Dave was staying with us for the weekend I thought it would be a good way to try out the latest incarnation.  We were having a bunch of people over to watch the Patriots so the notoriously long cooing sauce could just sit and bubble away while the game was on.  Well smelling the sauce for a couple of hours drove my friend Baker to distraction – he offered up a deal.  Could he and his fiance Erikka stay and have dinner with us if he provided fresh pasta??  That was much too good for me to pass up and so suddenly a dinner for 3 because a party of 5 with a fresh pasta lesson to boot.  I was able to round up a nice salad to start and figured out some sort of dessert with what I had in my pantry.  Baker schooled us all on making pasta by hand (something that I am determined to conquer this year).

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It was one of the most fun nights in recent memory and the sauce was just perfect with the fresh pasta strands.  This sauce would actually be good on cardboard so if you don’t have fresh pasta just used boxed like I had planned to.  This makes a ton and freezes really well so you too can have an impromptu dinner party!

Bolognese Sauce 

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
  • 5 ounces chicken livers, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 6 ounce can of tomato paste
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • parmesan rind (optional)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • parmesan for serving
  • pasta (fresh or dried) for serving – its also great as pizza sauce!

Add the olive oil to a large pot and heat over medium temperature.  Add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic to the pot and season with salt and pepper.

Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned.  Add the chicken livers and the thyme and increase the heat to medium high.  Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the livers no longer look raw.

Add in the ground beef, pork and lamb and cook until no longer pink, breaking up the pieces with your utensil occasionally, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, then add the tomato paste, pepper flakes and the parmesan rind (if you have one).  Cook the tomato paste for a couple of minutes until it is totally incorporated with the rest of the sauce.  Add the red wine, stir to combine, and then stir in the cream.

Bring to a simmer and then turn down the heat to low and cook for 2 hours at a minimum, 3 to 4 hours if you have the time.  If at any time the sauce looks a little too dry you can add in a splash of wine or cream to loosen it up.   Remove the rind before serving. This sauce keeps well in the fridge for several days or in the freezer for several months.

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A Warming Dinner Party

Long weekends are perfect for hosting dinner parties – you have multiple nights you can host and plenty of time to cook, set up and recover.  I used this menu recently on a cold night and it was perfect to shake off the winter blues.  Light some candles, stoke the fire and settle in for a nice night with friends.

Food and Wine Chile Oil-Marinated Goat Cheese

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Easy to make and needs to be made in advance is key when thinking about snacks before dinner.  This checks both boxes – I served the goat cheese with a baguette, some crackers and sliced soppresata along with a couple of bottles of bubbly to start the night off right.

Roasted Prime Rib with Thyme Marsala Sauce

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I had never made prime rib before and man is that hunk of meat intimidating!  Especially when you pay good money for something you really want it to turn out well.  First time was a total hit.  This Giada recipe is easy to follow and delivered a perfectly cooked prime rib with a delicious crust and the sweet and savory sauce that went alongside.  Even if you are a prime rib expert this is one recipe worth trying.  Had to give my boy mashed potatoes alongside the prime rib along with roasted brussel sprouts.

Dark Chocolate Terrine

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Another new to me recipe from the real Contessa that is crazy good.  I could drink the orange sauce straight and be happy but the rich frozen mousse-like terrine is to die for.  Definitely don’t forget to sprinkle with sea salt before serving.  So just head to the grocery store tonight and you can easily host this fabulous dinner party for your friends this weekend.

How to Build a Bagel Bar

The holiday season is officially upon us.  I had my entire house decorated Friday by about noon but I am nuts.  I was at the White House yesterday and the army of volunteers are still putting up their decorations (check out my insta for a pic!) so if you haven’t gotten around to it, don’t feel bad.  For this crazy season I thought I would post things that are perfect for making ahead, ideas for simple but elegant entertaining and of course cocktails to get you through.  This bagel bar is a great combo of all three and daytime entertaining is ideal for the holidays.   Question: who doesn’t love a #sundayfunday brunch?  Answer:  the person who has to wake up early to cook!  I love hosting people for breakfast and brunch but sometimes it can be a real “scramble” getting everything ready in the morning.  Have a bagel bar means just a bunch of arranging and yes I guess some cooking making bacon but come on, we cannot skip the bacon!  Everything else can be prepped a head of time so all you need to do it pop the bubbles and enjoy the day.

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Step one:  Night before order the bagels – these beauties are the thing holding up the whole party so you don’t want subpar bagels and you certainly don’t want to show up at the bagel place to discover that they are out of the best flavors.  I like to order from Bullfrog Bagels on H Street here in DC.  If your bagel place doesn’t have online ordering just pick up the phone and place the order directly with them.  I would budget a bagel per person even though I find that most of my friends only really eat a half once they load up on the other goodies and toppings.  However, no one ever wants to be skimpy and any leftovers can be frozen.  Get a mix of plain, everything and sesame (the most popular flavors) and then grab whatever looks good – I love salt bagels in case anyone is inviting me to their bagel bar!  Now that the bagels are pre-ordered that means just popping out to grab them first thing in the AM or getting a helpful friend or spouse to do it for you.  If you want to save even more time go ahead and order cream cheeses with the bagels, if not stay tuned for how to spruce up plain old spreads.

Step two:  Night before bake some sweets – brunches are built on the two pillars of salty and sweet.  The bagels and their toppings have you set for savory so you need to provide some sort of dessert/sweet option.  If you order your bagels from a true bakery go ahead and grab some sweets there but I like to at least have my hands in something for this party.  This last time around I made Ina’s Ultimate Ginger Cookies but my cookies Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies would be perfect for brunch instead.

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Step three:  Night before prep the fixings – here you can really be creative.  What do you like on a bagel?  What would look pretty and colorful?  What is in season?  What is in my fridge that I want to get rid of?  Valid questions all.  For this bagel bar I went pretty traditional – I had lox, radishes, red onions and horror of all horrors, cucumbers.  One of the few things in the world I DO NOT EAT but here is where being a good hostess kicks in.  Its my understanding that some people actually like these thing and actually the green was a nice addition to the plate so what the hell.  Slice everything thinly and store in plastic bags in the fridge.  If tomatoes are in season they are also a nice addition as well as thinly sliced fennel.  For cream cheese I wanted to have a nice selection so I had plain as well as three flavors.  Flavoring cream cheese is incredibly easy – just blend finely chopped herbs or veggies in with the cream cheese.  The key is to have room temp cheese so that everything blends well.  I find that the paddle attachment in a stand mixer is the best way to do this but good old elbow grease and a spatula will work as well.  Just add in fixings until you get the flavor you like.  For this party I did scallion, honey and walnut and a veggie cheese made with carrots and celery.  Fill small bowls or ramekins with your custom or store bought cream cheeses and cover with saran wrap so they are ready to go.

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Step four:  Morning of make bacon and coffee – ok so yes you do have to do some work here but its truly minimal.  Patrick makes the coffee in our family so that’s one less thing I have to do but get it set up the night before and all you have to do is push a button.  The bacon you should do in the oven as I taught you here so you can do a huge batch at once.  Put as much as you can on baking sheets at 400 degrees for 15 minutes then drain on paper towels and done.

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Step five:  Morning of set up bar – dual meaning here.  You want to set up the bagel bar and the booze bar morning of.  Slice those bagels and arrange them prettily in a basket or on a tray.  Do not make your guests navigate the hazzards of slicing their own bagels – your friends will thank you.  Pull out the prepped fixings from the fridge and set them out as well to come to room temp (except the lox which should be set out right before).  Grab your toaster and set that out as well so people can toast if they want to (do you have toast tongs?  If not this is a great excuse to get some).  Also set up the bar so your guests can grab their own drinks.  I put out sparkling water as well as sparking wine (my house cava of course), some red and white wine, sodas and a variety of juices.  Glasses and an ice bucket and you are all set.

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This bagel bar is the perfect brunch for after a family event like a graduation or recital as you only need a few minutes of prep before your guests arrive and everything is served room temperature.  Pretty presentation and thoughtful homemade touches will make your guests feel special while you can catch some extra zzz before the party.

A Deconstructed Turkey Rachel

I used to be able to travel back to Boston all the time for work.  It was great because I got to see family and friends and stay connected to my hometown in a way I can’t do now.  However, I would be lying if I said it didn’t also have to do with frequent stops to the Paramount, an awesome diner like place on Beacon Hill.  Open since 1937 this place is always packed but worth the wait.  My standard lunch order was the roasted turkey Rachel with sweet potato fries.  If you have never had a Rachel, its basically a Ruben sandwich with turkey and coleslaw instead of sauerkraut.  The mix of the tangy Russian dressing with the hearty turkey and the rye bread make me super happy.  Since I no longer get to fly up to Boston for one every couple of weeks I started craving it big time.  That’s when the idea to deconstruct the Rachel came to me – turn a lunch classic into a dinner staple.  In place of the rye bread I simply breaded turkey cutlets with breadcrumbs mixed with caraway seeds (the nutty yummy flavor you get in rye bread comes from those seeds).  Then the Russian dressing and coleslaw come together as a bed for the turkey cutlet.  To elevate this a bit I made my own Russian dressing and used bagged broccoli slaw which is much more crunchy and flavorful then the cabbage kind.  A bite of the cutlet with the slaw together and BAM you have a Rachel sandwich!  This dish will definitely get me through until the next time I can go to the Paramount.  Serve it for a totally outside the box Thanksgiving with some hoppy beer and I am sure your friends and family will flip.  Have a great holiday!!

A Deconstructed Turkey Rachel

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup chili sauce
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons hot sauce
  • 12 ounce bag of broccoli slaw
  • 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pound turkey cutlets
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

In a medium size bowl combine the mayo, Worcestershire sauce, chili sauce, apple cider vinegar, and hot sauce.  Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in the broccoli slaw making sure it is all combined.  This can be done several hours in advance, store in the fridge and just take it out 30 minutes before serving to take the chill off.  Set out three bowls for breading – one with the breadcrumbs and caraway seeds in it, one with the flour and one with the egg, beaten with a splash of water.

Set out a plate or cookie sheet to place the breaded cutlets on.  First tip each cutlet in the flour, shake off the excess, then dip in the egg, making sure to coat the entire thing and then finish in the caraway breadcrumbs, pressing them on to make sure they stick.

Once all the cutlets are breaded heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Once they are hot add as many cutlets as comfortably fit in.

Cook 3 minutes per side and remove, add the remaining butter and oil to the pan and cook the remaining cutlets.  Serve the cutlets on top of the slaw mixture.

A Wine Soaked Dinner Party

Inspiration for my dinner party themes come from everywhere, including a bottle.  I was trying to think of an ingredient that I could build a whole menu around when it occurred to me that I not only like to serve wine with every course but I also love cooking with wine.  Why not use dishes that all have wine in them, and not just as a bit player but as the main event.  I tried to really stretch myself and use all kinds of wine – white, red, dessert, sparkling.  Invite your friends to bring over their favorite bottles to match the wine soaked meal and you are sure to have a great time.

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For decor I kept it pretty simple with fall colors and lighting.  Make sure to have wine glasses that match your wine (i.e. flutes for champagne, white and red wine glasses) at the ready so people don’t have to mix in their glass.

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Also try to pick wines that mirror, or are the same as those you put in the dish – I happened to have a magnum of my house white so I could use it in the Beurre Blanc dip as well as serve it on the side.  For the stew grab an extra bottle of red that you are planning on serving because a whole bottle goes into it.  The entire meal can be made in advance and then just reheated which means you will have plenty of time to hang and drink wine with your friends without having to worry about stirring or flipping anything.  Let the wine soaking begin!

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Appetizer – Food and Wine Whipped Beurre Blanc Dip

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If you have never had beurre blanc sauce on something you haven’t really lived.  Luckily the geniuses at Food and Wine magazine came up with this incredible dip that tastes a lot like the rich buttery sauce.  It’s not easy to find an appetizer that uses 2 whole cups of wine!  By cooking it down, this dip looses the booze taste and just retains the delicious winey flavor.  Add in lots of creme fraiche and you have a rich creamy dip perfect for dipping salty potato chips.  I served the white wine that went into the dip along side as well as our favorite local sparking from Greenhill Vineyards – sparkling wine or champagne if you have it pairs nicely with the richness of the dip and the saltiness of the chips.  Also how beautiful is that dip with the shallots, lemon zest and chives on top?  A real show stopper.

Main Course – Parker’s Beef Stew

An Ina classic, this beef stew takes an entire bottle of red wine to make.  She really puts the wine to work by using it as a marinade for the beef first and then as part of the stew.

What you end up with is incredible slow cooked flavor that also has that tart edge of wine. Make sure to use a nice bottle that you would want to serve along side the dish.  I went with a Cabernet Savuignon, Ina suggests a Bordeaux but really any medium to heavy body wine with lots of flavor will do.  Best part is that it’s a one pot wonder with meat and veggies included so you can serve it on its own for the main event or with some crusty bread to sop up the sauce.

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Dessert – Giada’s Poached Pears

Last but definitely not least we come to dessert made out of what else but dessert wine.  Another whole bottle goes in (if you are counting that is now almost 2,000 ml of wine in this meal!) and poaches the pears as well as becomes the sauce.  For those of you who think you don’t like dessert wine and have a dusty bottle hanging around somewhere that was gifted to you this is the perfect dish to use it in.

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The fresh ginger and tart pears counteract the sweetness of the wine.  Best part the pears can be made way in advance – just take the ice cream out 20 minutes before you want to serve it to let it soften.  More dessert wine would pair great with this as would port or another bottle of bubbly.  I hope you guys enjoy this menu with your friends – just make sure to have a DD or Uber handy following the meal!

Fried Chicken Perfected

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Fried chicken is my mom’s desert island meal.  And it’s mine.  And I am guessing most of yours.  However, good fried chicken can be really hard to find, and bad fried chicken is just sad.  When I was a little kid we would make a once a year pilgrimage to this place called chicken.gifFontaine’s.  It was a depressing sort of place with zero natural light, right off of a highway but they served hands down the best fried chicken I have ever tasted.  All the meals came with old school sides like mashed potatoes with a giant dent in the middle flowing with butter.  Best of all they used to serve hamburger buns, slathered with butter, cooked on the griddle, as their “bread service.”  Writing this out now it sounds sort of gross, but I am telling you it was amazing.  Fontaine’s had been serving fried chicken (not something that is particularly easy to find in Boston) since 1952 so generations of families, including mine, got very attached.  Fontaine’s sadly closed about 10 years ago taking with it their incredible neon sign and life altering fried chicken.

Once I moved to DC I figured finding good fried chicken would be easy but alas the best fried chicken is usually made by people’s grandmothers and not in restaurants.  I do love the version at Central but it’s distinctly high end, not exactly Fontaine’s.  Levi’s Port Cafe (RIP) in SE used to crank out great fried chicken but it is no longer.  So I realized that meant I was just going to have to satisfy my cravings myself.  Years (seriously) of trying different methods and recipes have finally culminated in Fried Chicken Perfected.  I almost cried it was so great (and I am pretty sure Patrick and our friend Jon did too).  My research paid off as I combined many different tips from famous chefs (Thomas Keller) to my friend Kevin’s mom’s Oklahoma Ladies Club Cookbook.  First you brine – this ensures juicy chicken and is key for those who are afraid of overcooked chicken.  Even if you leave the meat in for longer than you need to it won’t dry out.  Second you give them chickies a buttermilk bath – the buttermilk helps the coating stick to the chicken but also imparts a tangy flavor and further tenderizes the meat.  Finally you keep it simple – the coating is flour and flavor and that’s it.  Here I used Old Bay Hot because it includes garlic, onion and paprika flavor with heat and well because I went to school in Maryland where Old Bay is required eating.

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If you are afraid of deep frying you are not alone – I actually sort of dread it – but this chicken makes it worth it.  It takes a lot of oil that ends up getting thrown away and can be mightily intimidating.  That’s why I am giving you a full proof recipe to totally make it worth it.  Also make a whole bunch once you are taking the time.  The leftovers are delicious cold and or reheated in the oven (you lose some crispness but it’s still delicious).  So if you know a fried chicken fan show them some love and make this.  It’s so good alongside my classic cole slaw, the over the top mashed potatoes or as I served it last with my smoked gouda mac and cheese.  Damn, now I want fried chicken…

Fried Chicken Perfected 

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 lemon halved
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 10 sprigs of parsley
  • 1 head of garlic, cut in half lengthwise
  • 4 ounces of kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup whole peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • several pounds of bone in skin on chicken parts – I used 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, and 4 breasts cut in half, but there is enough brine and coating to do at least 4 more pieces
  • 4 cups buttermilk
  • 4 cups of flour
  • 5 tablespoons Old Bay Hot (or regular Old Bay, or dash of cayenne and garlic powder)
  • 2 1/2 to 3 quarts vegetable oil
  • sea salt for sprinkling

In a large stock pot combine the water, lemon, bay leaves, parsley, garlic, salt, peppercorns and sugar.  Bring to a boil and stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved.

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Allow to fully cool and then refrigerate for at least an hour until cold before adding the chicken (the brine can be made a day in advance).  Once the brine is cold, add the chicken pieces, cover and refrigerate overnight.  About 30 minutes before you are ready to start frying take the chicken pieces out of the brine and rinse them off (this is to get rid of any peppercorns stuck to the pieces and ensure it’s not too salty).  Put the buttermilk, along with some salt and pepper, into a large bowl and submerge the chicken pieces.  Let them hang out in the buttermilk bath for at least a half hour while you heat the oil.

In a large deep pot (I use my large Calphalon dutch oven) carefully pour in the oil.  I like to buy my oil from Costco since this uses so much.  If you want to use less oil, then fry in a stock pot that isn’t as wide – only downside there is that you can only fry one or two pieces at a time.  Clip your candy thermometer to the side, turn the heat to medium high and wait until you reach 375 degrees before cooking.  While the oil heats and the chicken soaks in the buttermilk, you need to prepare the coating.  In another large bowl mix the flour with the Old Bay Hot.  Since there is a lot of salt and pepper in that seasoning there is no need to add more, if you are skipping the Old Bay (don’t!) add lots of salt and pepper.  Also set out a cookie sheet lined with a cooling rack (if you have one, paper towels if you don’t) to have a place for the chicken to land when it’s done frying.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Once the oil has reached 375 degrees it is time to start frying.  Make sure to wear an apron and be careful because once the chicken is in the pan, the oil can start spitting.  Using tongs take the chicken out of the buttermilk, let it drip off, and then put it in the flour.  Make sure each piece is totally coated in the flour and that you have shaken off all the excess (a process called dredging).  Don’t dredge your chicken early or else it will get gummy, just do it a piece at a time and once the piece is ready add it to the oil carefully.  You only want to add a couple pieces at a time, in my pan I could fit about 4, so that they have room to fry and that you don’t bring down the temperature.  Once you have the right amount in the pan, monitor the temperature, you can turn up the heat if needed.  Larger pieces can take up to about 20 minutes, smaller more like 15.  Since you have brined the chicken it,s ok to leave all of the pieces in for the longer time frame.  Using a skimmer or tongs flip the pieces in the oil occasionally to make sure they are browning on all sides.  Do not walk away from this project!  Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temp if you would like – once the pieces are done remove them to the cookie sheet and sprinkle with sea salt.

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I then put the pieces into the preheated oven to keep them warm while cooking the rest.  Depending on the size of your pan and the amount of chicken you are frying it should take about 2 to 3 batches.  Serve the chicken hot and get ready for praise and adoration.

Portuguese Dinner Party

Patrick and I recently took an incredible class on Portuguese wine at our favorite local wine shop, DCanter.  Neither of us know a ton about wine, basically just what we like and don’t like, but wine classes are a great way to learn more about certain regions and what they are known for.  One you know you like certain varietals from a certain country it makes shopping a lot easier!  We love the classes at DCanter (what a cute name right??) and this one was no exception.  We stopped in Portugal over our honeymoon and drank some great wine while we were there so the class really helped us identify different labels that we like.  Of course we brought several bottles home that were part of the class (the Marcolino Sebo QP Colheita Seleccionada Red and the Quinta da Raza Grande Escolha Alvarinho white).  I decided that a dinner party was in order with Portuguese foods to match the wine.  I already had some great Portuguese olive oil on hand and Spanish chorizo sausage which is very close to the chorico that they serve in Lisbon.  I found these great almonds from a region called Douro (that also makes great wine) at Whole Foods so I was on my way to a menu!

It was a lovely night out so we decided to do the first course out on the deck.  The chorizo thinly sliced served along with some Spanish cheeses (no luck on Portuguese cheese!) and those lovely Douro almonds.  I also marinated some green olives and set those out which went really nicely with the crisp white wine.

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Saveur Shrimp Mozambique

In addition to the cheese board I knew I wanted some seafood on the menu.  Portugal has gorgeous fish markets all over and the influence on their food from global trading is really evident.  These shrimp are the prefect example – they get their name and flavor profile from Mozambique which used to be a Portuguese colony.  This recipe is incredibly easy to make and actually comes from a restaurant in Fall River, Massachusetts where there is a huge Portuguese community.

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Portuguese Style Garlic Roasted Pork

Arguably the most famous person to come out of Fall River, MA is Emeril Lagasse.  Most people assume that he is from New Orleans but actually he is a proud son of Massachusetts.  Listen to his cooking shows and every once and a while you will hear his accent!  While he became famous for his Southern cooking, he has many family favorite Portuguese recipes that he has made very accessible.  This pork dish is unbelievably flavorful.  It takes forever to make but it’s really hands off and the smell of your house will be incredible.  Also the left overs made an amazing sandwich.  I served this along fluffy white rice.

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NYT Sauteed Kale

Kale is ubiquitous in Portuguese cooking, especially their famous kale soup.  This quick side comes together at the last minute and is a good foil to the rich pork dish.

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Bon Appetit Strawberry Marscapone Tart with Port Glaze

If you are having a Portuguese dinner party then you have to end it with port right?  We had a great time when we were in Lisbon trying out different ages and styles of port at their Solar do Vinho do Porto, an actual institute of port.  To serve with a nice glass of port this dessert also makes use of it in the sauce drizzled over the strawberries.  Absolutely delicious and the perfect way to end a tour of Portuguese wines and food.  Where to next??

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Spinach and Artichoke Dip

In honor of the University of Maryland Terrapins starting their football season 4-0 (Fear the Turtle!!!) I am posting one of my favorite snacks from college.  I have already spoken about my love for the wings at Cornerstone in College Park but another important component of those happy hours was the spinach and artichoke dip.  Just another “healthy” college snack (oh how I miss my 19 year old metabolism) to knock back with some cheap beer and good friends.  Cornerstone’s was fantastic, though I am sorry to say since graduation it seems like they have changed their recipe and not for the better.  Anyway it is way easier just to make it at home and that way I can class it up a bit with nutty grueye cheese.  I can assure you the College Park version didn’t include creme fraiche either.

Because this version uses frozen spinach and canned artichokes it is extremely easy to pull together – just make sure to squeeze out as much water from the frozen spinach as you can otherwise it will end up soupy.  I like to make this ahead and then just pop it into the oven when folks get hungry.  LET’S GO MARYLAND!!!!!

Spinach and Artichoke Dip 

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 10 ounces canned artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 6 ounces cream cheese – room temperature
  • 4 ounces creme fraiche – room temperature
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup grated gruyere cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • tortilla chips and crudites to serve with

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat and cook the shallots and garlic until softened, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the spinach (make sure to really squeeze out all the water you can) as well as the nutmeg and red pepper flakes.  Cook for another 2 minutes or so until all the water is gone.

Remove from heat.  In a large bowl combine the spinach mixture, artichoke hearts, cream cheese, creme fraiche, mayo and gruyere cheese.  Season with salt and pepper and pour into a baking dish (I used a 7 by 10 dish but 8 by 8 or really any medium to large size will do).  Top evenly with the grated Parmesan.

If you are making this in advance let the dip cool then cover with saran wrap and store in the fridge for a couple of days until you are ready to bake.  Once ready to cook it, remove any covering and bake in the 400 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes (the length will depend on the size of pan you use and how brown you want it to get, just make sure its bubbling before you take it out).  Let cool for several minutes and serve.

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