Dinner & Roses To-Go: Summer-Bries Pasta

brie pasta dinner vegetarian basil recipe

Brie Pasta Plated and Ready

On Monday nights for a series of 16 weeks twice a year, I engage in a very sophisticated evening with a select group of friends in the City. It’s a weekly meeting of the minds and

dinner pasta vegetarian roses brie cheese sauce

So much hope on one tray

exchanging of incredibly insightful and valuable information. An opportunity to explore human behavior on an intimate level. To live – just for a moment – inside the lives (and hot tubs) of beautiful women and six-pack ab-ed men on their journey, their quest for love …..For the purpose of simplifying, let’s call it ‘Book Club’ – but know that it is oh, so much more. I mean, there are roses involved.

The west 86-ers (friends who live there) generally host and always provide an incredible meal to feed our minds and souls as we solve the world’s problems and follow the young hopefuls through the ups and downs of budding romance. Once in a blue moon, I offer to bring dinner, I mean, I’m the food blogger, right, this should be my job. Yet, on these occasions, I often find myself at a loss for what to bring. I don’t want to default to the go-to easily portable casserole family – this is a fancy evening after all – there’s generally evening gowns and a champagne toast. There are always tears. I brought my chicken milanese on one occasion and it was well-received, a good complement to this intellectually stimulating evening. So, when I offered to bring dinner for what was certain to be the most dramatic series finale ever, the pressure was on.

It would have to be a rose-worthy feast. One that could not only comfort us through the disappointment of a potentially heartbreaking end to the journey but could also support an exuberant celebration should the evening end in true love. There were other factors to consider as well – it had to be easily portable, not require too much ‘cooking’ as in tiny NYC apartments any heat thrown from the kitchen is too powerful for even the strongest of A/C units during a heat wave. It couldn’t be too salty (I tried to kill this group once before with an exceedingly salty, like dead sea salty, pulled pork dinner – that was a Des-Aster).

So, I borrowed a page from me mum’s culinary delights and made a Summer-Bries Pasta.

Tiny Kitchen Tips:

  1. basil brie pasta dinner vegetarian recipe

    Basil Bunch

    Fairway NYC has the best deal on Basil in town…but, you have to buy a giant bunch of it – so, plan to use some for a freezable pesto sauce or other basil-easy delights

  2. This recipe is too much…you can easily cut in half if your ‘Book Club’ isn’t that many people

Summer-Bries Pasta (serves like 85 people…or 6)

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cloves Garlic  you can go to three cloves, you can do 2 cloves garlic and 1/2 a shallot – it’s your call
  • 1 1/2 Cup Basil Leaves
  • 1 Pound French Brie
  • 1 Cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Container of Compari Tomatoes
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 – 1 1/2 lbs of Linguini or Boccacini or any other ‘ini’ pasta

Always Mise En Place – it’s just fun and makes you feel chef-like:

brie pasta dinner recipe

Mise En Place

1.  Cut the tomatoes – the entire box – into bite-sized pieces – like little cube-y-ish – and put into a large mixing bowl

dinner pasta summer brie campari tomatoes

Campari tomatoes – selected bc they are sweet and delicious

2. Mince the cloves of garlic and toss on top of the tomatoes in the bowl

dinner pasta  brie tomatoes garlic summer

No mincer? No worries, just chop super small – I used my microplane, just be careful!

3. Chiffonade the basil leaves and…uh huh…toss on top of the garlic and tomatoes

dinner pasta vegetarian cheese basil

Beautifully Chiffonade-d Basil-y Goodness

4. Remove the rinds from the brie and then tear into smallish pieces – like smaller than an ice cube and bigger than a marble…Throw the pieces of brie into the basil-y, garlic-y, tomato-y mix

brie pasta summer dinner vegetarian

Triple Cream Brie – two is too few, four is too many

5. Pour the Extra-Virgin Olive Oil over the brie, basil, tomato, garlic mix and toss gently to combine

dinner vegetarian pasta summer easy cooking

Mixed….And, now let it just sit

6. Add salt and pepper, cover and let the mixture sit out on your tiny kitchen counter for the day…at least 2 hours, but the flavors meld and intensify the longer it sits…I left it for no fewer than 5 hours…

NOTE: It will look runny and odd…do not fear — I already did that for you – no, there’s not too much olive oil or too many watery tomatoes…relax. It’s all good.

7. Boil the pasta about 1-2 minutes shy of the recommended cooking time, drain and immediately toss with the tomato-y, basil-y, garlic-y, brie-y mix

The brie will melt into an incredible cream sauce……yum.

8. Garnish with a few more basil leaves/pieces and serve warm

Book Club is more about getting together with friends than it is about watching the Des-bacle. Next time you want to bring dinner to a crew, just remember –  The journey to find love isn’t always easy, but this portable pasta dish truly is a bries.

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Fresh and Sweet: Tomatillo Salsa for Cinco de Mayo

Tomatillo sauce cinco de mayo

Tomatillos are a berry

I don’t love super spicy food. But, it’s Cinco de Mayo weekend – so spicy is the drill. To temper your spicy tacos, enchilada, burritos or whatever else you’re making, muchachas…Try this fresh and mild-ish tomatillo salsa.

Tomatillos are a berry. They come wrapped in a papery skin that needs to be removed and then they are sticky. Sounds gross. Isn’t. So just peel the skin off and wash them before using.

Fresh and Sweet Tomatillo Salsa (serves 6)

Tiny Apartment Tips:

  • Make ahead and chill in the fridge to save pre party counter space for margarita making
  • Wash your hands WELL after handling the jalapeno – the oils on your hands from the pepper will burn your eyes or any super sensitive areas…nuff said

Ingredients:

  • 8 medium Tomatillos – peeled, washed and quartered
  • 1 jalapeno – remove seeds and vein if you want to diminish heat – quartered
  • 2 Garlic cloves – smashed
  • 2 small onions – quartered
  • 1 ripe Avocado – peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
  • 2 TSP kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 TSP lime juice – just to freshen it up even more!

1. Put the onion, jalapeno and garlic in a Cuisinart food processor and finely chop

tomatillo salsa recipe

Love my Cuisinart

2. Add the tomatillos, avocado, lime juice and salt and pulse until chopped – but not totally smooth

avocado tomatillo salsa recipe

Add the green things

3. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cilantro

tomatillo salsa recipe

Stir in cilantro

Serve with the Skirt Steak from yesterday’s entry.

tomatillo avocado salsa recipe

Deliciously fresh salsa side

Adios! And, Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Bacon Makes It Better: Bacon-Y Bean Bundles

french green beans bacon evoo

Nestled and Oven Ready

Everyone’s family has different rules about what and how much a child must eat at any given meal. Some families go with praise cheering their kids who are members of the ‘clean your plate club’. Others threaten punishment if kids didn’t finish every morsel on their plates.

Salisbury steak

Salisbury Steak ’70’s Style

In our house, we just had to try what was served. I’m not saying that if we hated it that something else would be served. I’m just saying that even the most detestable of dishes had to be at least sampled. Once taste tested, we could decide whether to eat on or go hungry. There were a few key dishes in the dinner rotation at our house – your basic chicken, fancier chicken and dumplings, Salisbury steak, breakfast for dinner – all easy and kind to the pickiest of kids. But, for the most part, we were pretty easy to feed. OK my type-A brother had to change forks and plates between courses, cuz like one food can’t touch another – but that was probably the biggest challenge.

There was really only one staple in my mother’s dinner table rotation that killed us….Liver. Like pan fried liver ’70’s style. It was dry and sorta smelly and chewy and….Hated it.

So, charged with having ‘at least one bite’, my brothers and I had a strategy. Cut the tiniest of tiny pieces of the stuff, wrap it in 4-5 pieces of bacon, fill a large cup with water and swallow the bacon wrapped ickiness whole.

Since then I’ve known that I can eat almost anything if it’s wrapped in bacon. Bacon makes the worst things tolerable and the best things even better. I like green beans and have noticed that they tend to go unfinished when served alongside other sides like potatoes. One way to ensure that your beans are consumed is to wrap them in bacon.

Bacon-Y French Bean Bundles (Serves 6)

Ingredients:

  • green beans pricechopper

    Pre-Washed is the way to go

    1 bag of prewashed french beans – yes, you can use regular green beans, but I like the smaller more delicate taste of the French beans – they sell these bags everywhere now. Ours were from Price Chopper upstate.

  • 9-10 pieces of bacon cut in half
  • 2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 TSP of freshly grated parmesan cheese

You can also sub out the EVOO + Parmesan Cheese and use an Italian Parmesan Salad Dressing instead….

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

1. Wrap 5-6 beans in one half-slice of bacon and lay in a baking dish

green beans and bacon

Wrapped and Ready

2. Repeat until 2-3 bundles per person are created and the bundles are nestled in the pan

3. Sprinkle the bacon-y bean bundles with the olive oil and parmesan cheese

side dish bacon wrapped beans

Gently Sprinkled with EVOO and Parm

4. Bake for :45 mins to 1 hour – until beans are well roasted and bacon is fully cooked

french beans in bacon recipe

Beans & Bacon Well Crisped

5. Serve 2 – 3 bundles per person

That’s really it.

In my own apartment, I do subscribe to the ‘just try one bite’ philosophy. Doesn’t always work. But if I can eat ’70’s style pan fried liver, the toughest of taste buds can certainly give bundles of bacon-y beans a try.

NOPCME And Other Vanity Plates: Peas and More Pea Soup

pea soup with bacon and creme fraiche

Pretty Pea Soup – With Homemade Creme Fraiche and Bacon Bits

I sorta love vanity plates. I was driving a ton for a job – with a colleague/friend – up and down the west coast training people to sell fragrance. The countless hours in the car led to some in depth conversations….But, by about week 2, we already knew pretty much everything about each other, each other’s families, lives, histories, first loves, last loves, secret loves etc.

So we needed another way to pass the time. And, we were in California – land of the vanity plate. Coming from NYC and without a car of my own at the time, I hadn’t had a lot of experience with deciphering vanity plates. So, this became one of our favorite driving games. It’s like figuring out what text abbreviations mean now.

On our journey, we ran into some great plates including:

LXN1RLND:  Owned by my friend, Alex, who lived on Wonderland Drive

NA HE DNT: no explanation needed

8MPG: A Hummer owner making no excuses

L8ASUSL: For the terminally tardy

4RCEBWU: For the Star Wars junkie

One of my favorites, though, read simply ‘NOPCME’. Nopcahmah? Nopchemey? We spotted this one in the parking lot of a hotel and struggled to determine what it meant. And, then we found out that the owner was a urologist….And, his license plate advertised his business: No Pee? See Me!

So I thought about making Pea Soup…and realized that I had a ton of other vegetables that needed using. And I made…

Peas and More Pea Soup (Serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

  • leeks

    Fresh and Dirty Leeks

    2 slices of Bacon cut into small pieces

  • 2 Cups Chopped Leeks – 2 leeks, whites and light green parts – they’re usually pretty gritty, so wash them well
  • 1 Cup Chopped Onion
  • 2 Carrots, peeled and chopped small
  • 1 Sweet Potato – peeled, chopped and roasted until soft (see below)
  • 2 10oz packages of Birdseye or 365 Brand Frozen Peas – I used a combo of both
  • 5 Cups of Chicken Stock- I use Whole Foods 365 brand, it’s very well priced, rich and delicious
  • 1 TSP fresh Thyme leaves
  • 1 TSP Salt
  • leeks soup pea recipe

    Submerge Leeks to Clean

    1 TSP Pepper

  • Olive Oil
  • A tad of Gindo’s Spice of Life Fresh and Spicy Pepper Sauce – to taste
  • Creme Fraiche for garnish

Sweet Potato Prep:

  • sweet potatoes super food

    Super Sweet Potatoes

    Preheat Oven to 425 degrees

  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with Reynold’s Wrap Pan Lining paper – parchment side up
  • Spread the Sweet potato dices in a single layer on the parchment and gently sprinkle with Olive Oil – do not salt!
  • Bake for :08 mins, then toss and bake an additional :07-:08 mins until softened but not browned
  • Remove from the baking sheet and set aside

1. In the bottom of a large heavy bottomed pot (my 6qt Le Creuset, for example), heat 1 TBSP of Olive Oil over medium heat

2. Add the bacon pieces and render until crispy

smithfield farms bacon

BCN: Bacon Render Render Render….Crispy

3. Remove the bacon and set aside

4. To the bacon fat add a TBSP of olive oil and then add the carrots and stir – about :04 mins.

whole foods vegetable soup

KROTS: Carrots First

NOTE: You want to add the carrots first because they take longer to soften

5. Add the leeks and onion to the carrots and cook until softened – about :10-:12 mins stirring occasionally

pea soup recipe with sweet potatoes

OLC: Onions, Leeks and Carrots

6. Add the chicken stock, sweet potatoes, thyme, salt and pepper and bring to a boil

pea soup chicken stock whole foods

CHXSTK: Chicken Stock

7. Reduce to a simmer and add the frozen peas

365 frozen peas birdseye

+PS: Stir in the Peas

8. Simmer until the peas are softened – about :04 mins

9. Turn the heat off and allow the soup to cool – while it’s cooling, you can wash all of the prep bowls, knives and cutting boards you may have used

10. Set up a Puree Station: In my case…A KitchenAid blender and a second empty heavy bottomed pot on low

all clad puree kitchen aid station

PUR A STN: Puree Station

11. Transfer a few ladles of the soup to the blender and puree

pea soup vegetables

<PUR A: Pre-Puree – Needs to Cool

12. Pour the pureed soup into the second pot and repeat until all of the soup is pureed

365 chicken stock whole foods

> PUR A: Post Puree

pea soup recipe

PP N ACP: Post Puree in Pretty AllClad Pot

13. Serve with a garnish of Creme Fraiche and Crispy Bacon Bits

NOTE: Making your own Creme Fraiche is super easy – mix equal parts heavy cream and sour cream in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave out on a counter over night. In the morning, put it in the fridge and chill for about 4 hours. Done and done.

Years later, I do now have a car…But, no vanity plates. Instead, I allow the DMV to assign me a plate and then I make up a meaning for the letters I get. My first license plates read:

911 URE = Emergency! You Are Excellent.

My next was:

411 XPC = For Your Information. You’re Extra Pretty-Cute.

You can really interpret them anyway you want. Maybe, on my car NOPCME would mean: Numerous Organic Produce Creates More Elegance…in a Peas and More Pea Soup.

Emergency Go-Soup: Cream of Tomato

amore tomato paste cream of tomato soup

Creamy and Delicious

My friends who live in LA sleep at night with an Earthquake Go-Bag under their beds. This includes heavy bottomed shoes (I think because LA gals sleep in stilettos), water, cash, canned food, flashlight etc. Everything they might need to evacuate quickly and survive for a few days following a devastating quake.

henri bendel emergency kit

Henri Bendel-Prepared for the NYC Emergency

Over the holidays at Henri Bendel they were selling NYC emergency kits. Similar to the California quake kit…only very different. Instead of canned beans and a flashlight, it includes a metro card, hair bands, breath freshener, bandages, deodorant towelettes, pain relievers and some other girl stuff…

I’m not really sure what our emergency kit vs the CA one says. Maybe in New York waking up smelly, gently wounded and needing to take the subway constitutes an ’emergency’. It might. It’s no earthquake, but it is an emergency and Henri Bendel has the solution.

For people who cook, that go-bag or emergency kit translates to a go-meal; one that is ready to serve with very little notice…

At about 6pm on New Year’s Eve after a champagne boozy lunch, my friends decided that they would come over to my apartment for dinner. OK. I had :65 minutes to prepare for the arrival of hungry guests.

dinner party main course chicken

Chicken Milanese

I went to my go-to’s and quickly shopped for what I would need to prepare Chicken Milanese, salad, garlic bread, pasta…

And, luckily, I had a go-soup in my fridge. The day before I tweaked an Ina Garten recipe and made…

Cream of Tomato Soup (serves 6-7)

Ingredients

  • whole foods vegetables

    Chopped Veggie Mise En Place

    3 TBSP olive oil

  • 1 Red Onion Diced
  • 2 large Carrots Peeled and Diced
  • 1 Sweet Potato – peeled, diced and roasted
  • 2 Cloves Garlic Minced
  • 6-7 Medium vine-ripened tomatoes Chopped
  • 1 TSP Sugar
  • 1/2 TBSP Amore Tomato Paste
  • Ina garten tomato soup

    365 Brand Chicken Stock

    1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Basil Leaves

  • 3 Cups Chicken Stock – I used Whole Foods 365 Brand – I know I know, I should make my own…but didn’t
  • 1/2 TBSP Kosher Salt
  • 1 TSP Freshly Ground Pepper
  • 3/4 Cup Heavy Cream at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium/low heat. I used my Le Creuset 6 qt one – it’s just so pretty and so easy to clean!

2. Add the onions and carrots and saute until very tender – be patient, this takes a while – :15-:17 mins.

– In hindsight, I would have chopped the carrots smaller so that they might soften more quickly.

whole foods vegetables

Patiently Sauteing

3. While that’s happening…Place the diced sweet potatoes on a sheet pan lined with Reynold’s Wrap Pan Lining Paper in one layer and sprinkle with olive oil. DO NOT SALT.

sweet potatoes super food

Super Sweet Potatoes

4. Put in the oven and roast for :10mins – Toss and then roast an additional :05-:07 mins until tender. Remove from the oven and set aside.

whole foods sweet potatoes

Roasted – but not browned

5. Into the Le Creuset – Add the minced garlic to the softened onion and carrots and saute until fragrant – about 1 minute

6. Add the tomatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, sugar, tomato paste, basil, chicken stock, salt and pepper and stir well.

whole foods vegetarian

And the soup becomes soupy

7. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for :40mins – until the tomatoes are very tender

cream of tomato soup

Simmering Simmering Simmering

8. Add the cream to the soup and stir

9. If you have an immersion blender…great…But since I don’t – I set up a blending station by the stove on my counter

NOTE: Ina used her food mill…but, seriously, in my apt – no room for a food mill.

cream of tomato ina garten

Soup Blending Station

10. Most importantly…LET THE SOUP COOL before blending. Cuz like if you put hot soup in a blender and turn it on, it will blow the top off and there will be quasi blended hot soup everywhere…

11. In stages, ladle some of the soup into the blender and puree until smooth.

kitchenAid blender

Pre-Puree

12. Transfer the pureed soup into a second soup pot and keep warm

cream of tomato soup ina garten

A few ladles at a time

13. Repeat until all of the soup is smooth and creamy

cream of tomato soup

Kick it up a bit…

NOTE: If you like it spicy….Add a dash or two of Gindo’s Spice of Life Fresh and Spicy Pepper Sauce.

The soup was a great intro to the Chicken Milanese. And, with my ‘stick your head out the window-view’ of the Central Park fireworks and the impromptu late night dance party…The last-minute dinner party was a success.

I don’t have much of a need for the Henri Bendel NYC Emergency Kit because – and I’m not judging – I don’t tend to wake up slightly wounded, smelly and not at home…but a good batch of emergency go-soup in the fridge does come in handy.