Italian Seafood Stew

I just read that Anthony Bourdain is currently filming in Naples. He is there to examine the disparity between the picturesque Naples of Dean Martin’s lyrics and the gritty and raw Naples of today. Having just returned from Napoli, I absolutely cannot wait to see what Tony thinks of this chaotic yet endearing Italian city. Naples and I have a love/hate relationship. At one moment, I am shaking in terror, worrying that a vagrant on a scooter will whiz by and steal my bag. The next moment, I am sitting at a café overlooking the Bay of Naples and enjoying the best seafood stew I have ever had. Naples left me feeling disenchanted and quite cynical because the streets are grimy, buildings are crumbling, gangs of stray dogs are roaming, mobster men are scheming, and chances of being pick-pocketed are probable. On the other hand, though, I was delighted to find that the boulevards are lined with palm trees, ornate architecture and frescos are hidden behind secret doors, fishermen sing and playfully banter as they cast their reels, sea breeze wafts through the air, and the food is as delicious as it is authentic. I predict that Anthony’s episode about Naples will be filled with his signature expletives, referring both to the chaos of the streets and the deliciousness of the cuisine. As I eagerly anticipate the airing of this episode, I can always enjoy classic Neapolitan foods in the meantime.

Naples waterfront = Love

Piles of stinky trash in the streets = Hate

Classic Neapolitan pizza = Love

Crumbling buildings = Hate

Almost getting hit by a Vespa at an awesome open air seafood market = Love/Hate

For my Italian seafood stew, I used this recipe from Michael Chiarello. I absolutely love his show on the Cooking Channel, and I often find myself wishing I could crash his casual yet elegant dinner parties. I made a few changes to his recipe, as most people do when they cook any variation of a seafood stew. Instead of using jalapeños, I chose to use crushed red pepper. I also opted for mussels over clams and cod over halibut. Although making seafood stew can be quite a process, it is always fun to switch up the ingredients and play around a bit. Be sure to use the freshest fish possible to ensure that this Italian seafood stew tastes just like the real thing!


Fleur De Sel Caramel and Browned Butter Brownies

After going out to a lovely dinner over the weekend with another couple and consuming a bit too much Zinfandel, my husband and I woke up feeling a little under the weather. Our embarrassingly unexpected hangovers are a true testament to just how old we are getting. Grumble grumble. My attempt to sweat out my hangover at the gym and drink about a gallon of water left me still feeling like I was hit by a train. After a couple more failed remedies, I decided that there was only one foolproof cure – baked goods. I started to research recipes on my favorite and always reliable food blogs. My eyes widened and my stomach roared as I settled on this winning recipe for salted caramel brownies by the Brown Eyed Baker.

Fleur de Sel. I'm fancy :)

Although the original recipe is flawless, I put a few spins of my own on the brownies. I used Fleur de Sel because I had some leftover from our honeymoon in France that I kept on hand for special occasions, and this was clearly a special occasion. I also browned the butter in a saucepan first – a trick that I recently read in a recipe from Bon Appétit magazine. Plus, I added chocolate chips. The brownies were hands down the best brownies in the history of the universe. They were dense, fudgy, salty, gooey, and messy. They were perfect! These brownies are what hangover dreams are made of. My husband and I gobbled them up as our looming hangovers merely became a distant memory. I cannot wait to make these again. Come to think of it, they would pair incredibly well with some Zinfandel.

Miso and Maple Glazed Chilean Sea Bass with Edamame and Pea Puree

This dish takes me back to 2004 when I went on my very first date with my now husband. He took me to Tao in NYC. Naturally, I wanted the most expensive item on the menu, so I decided to peruse the more wallet-friendly, first date-appropriate entrees. My shame of being high maintenance was thankfully lessened when he said that he planned to order the same entrée that I had been eyeing – the Chilean sea bass. I think I fell in love with him right then and there. Food has the ability to evoke the fondest of memories. Simply the smell of certain dishes can whirl me back to my childhood when I used to sit in the kitchen and watch my mother skillfully caramelize onions, roast a leg of lamb, or bake oatmeal raisin cookies. This dish undoubtedly takes me back to my first date with my husband. It brings to mind all of the feelings that I had that night in NYC, when I was just a fool in love, both with my date and my food.

The renowned sea bass at Tao boasts perfection thanks to its flawless miso glaze. I have concocted this recipe, using Tao’s dish as my inspiration. Make sure that the miso and maple glaze fully caramelizes as you broil the fish to create the most deliciously browned crust.


2 6-oz. Sea bass filets
2 tablespoons brown rice miso paste
2 tablespoons Mirin (Japanese rice wine)
1 ½ tablespoon maple syrup
½ tablespoon soy sauce
¾ cup shelled soybeans
1 cup green peas
Squeeze of lime juice


Combine miso paste, mirin, maple syrup, and soy sauce. Add the sea bass and turn to coat. Cover the marinated filets and refrigerate for at least a few hours.

Drain soybeans and peas after cooking in salted water, reserving some water for later use. Puree in a blender, adding water and a squeeze of lime juice as needed to reach desired consistency.

Preheat broiler. Broil fish on a baking sheet 5 inches from the heater for about 5-7 minutes. The thickness of the fish will affect the cooking time. The sea bass should be browned on top and opaque in the center.


Bacon and Cashew Caramel Corn

A few months ago, I went to Colt & Gray in Denver and had a dangerously scrumptious snack with my Woodford Reserve (neat, thank you very much). The snack was - drum roll please - Bacon and Cashew Caramel Corn! Ever since I was introduced to this heavenly treat, I have not been able to stop thinking about it. And what makes matters even worse is that my mind now links the taste of Woodford to this jazzed up popcorn. It's my new milk and cookies or beer and pretzels. Every time I drink Woodford, which is quite often, I crave Colt & Gray's masterpiece. I just can't shake it!

As I desperately searched for ways to replicate the recipe, I was shocked to find the exact one from Colt & Gray in Bon Appetit magazine. I immediately put on my chef's hat and got to work. Here is the recipe from Bon Appetit, or you can find it below. I dare you not to try this!

The sweet and salty combination in this caramel corn is absolute perfection. I must warn you that you will end up eating all of the popcorn. Your will power will indeed be shot. Speaking of shots, where is my Woodford?


•1/2 cup popcorn kernels
•2 tablespoons vegetable oil
•6 ounces bacon, chopped
•1/2 cup unsalted raw cashews (one 2.5-ounce package)
•1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt or coarse sea salt •1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
•1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
•1 oolong tea bag
•Nonstick vegetable oil spray
•1 1/2 cups sugar
•1/4 cup water
•2 tablespoons light corn syrup


•Preheat oven to 300°F. Heat popcorn and oil in covered heavy large pot over medium-high heat until kernels begin to pop. Using oven mitts, hold lid on pot and shake pot until popping stops. Pour popcorn into very large bowl. Cook bacon in heavy large skillet over medium heat until almost crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain; cool. Add bacon and cashews to bowl with popcorn. Sprinkle with coarse salt and cayenne; toss to coat.

•Bring cream and tea bag just to boil over medium heat. Remove from heat; let steep 15 minutes, occasionally pressing on tea bag with back of spoon to release flavor. Discard tea bag.

•Line rimmed baking sheet with foil; coat with nonstick spray. Coat 2 wooden spoons or heat-resistant spatulas with nonstick spray; set aside. Stir sugar, 1/4 cup water, and corn syrup in large saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high; boil without stirring until syrup turns deep amber, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush, about 13 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately add cream (mixture will bubble up). Stir until blended. Immediately drizzle caramel over popcorn mixture; toss with sprayed spoons until evenly coated. Transfer to sheet.

•Place caramel corn in oven and bake until caramel is shiny and coats popcorn, tossing mixture occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool completely on sheet on rack, tossing occasionally to break up large clumps. Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight in refrigerator.


Prosciutto-Wrapped Dates

Tapas. Who doesn't love tapas? They are dainty, little plates of deliciousness, and often greasiness. They can be hot or cold, savory or sweet, and often bite size. Being that they are by definition small plates, you won't feel like a total gluttonous beast when you order plate after plate after plate...after plate. When eating tapas, my husband, without fail, goes for the patatas bravas and anything chorizo related. Big surprise there - a man likes meat and potatoes. My go-to tapas favorite (other than char-grilled octopus, of course) is prosciutto-wrapped dates. Sometimes the dates are stuffed with cheese, and sometimes they are stuffed with almonds; however, my favorite way to eat them is when they are simply prepared. Each date is wrapped in a slice of prosciutto and then broiled. You get the perfect sweet to salty ratio with these bad boys.

Outside of Spain, my favorite prosciutto-wrapped dates or any variation of that are from Chef Jose Andres' Jaleo in the DC area, The Spotted Pig in NYC (their dish is with prunes), Pipa in NYC, Ninth Door in Denver, The Port House in Dublin, Ireland (believe it!), and from my mom, of course. Some people like to order an assortment of tapas when they go out. I, on the other hand, order numerous servings of the same thing - dates. Just dates, be that wrapped in bacon, speck, prosciutto, or Serrano ham. I can't be bothered with meat and potatoes when prosciutto-wrapped dates are present, which makes my husband a very happy dining companion. Like when Emeril exclaims, "Another notch!" as he cooks, I manage to incoherently bark out in between bites of heavenly dates, "Another plate!"

To make these little treats, simply wrap each date in prosciutto and then broil them in the oven until browned, rotating as necessary. Munch on dates all on their own or throw them on a cheese plate for some extra flair! What are some of your favorite tapas?


Pan-Seared Turbot, Sunchoke Puree, and Sugar Snap Peas in a Sunchoke Broth

Sunchokes are, without a doubt, heinous little beasts. You've probably overlooked them at the market as they are usually ostracized to the deepest, darkest corners of the produce section. They rank up there with celery root in the ugliest vegetable category. Come to think of it, because of their nubby, reddish-brown appearance, I would describe them as ginger root's neglected red-headed stepchild.

After checking out some sunchokes at the market, I decided that I was willing to look past their unsightly appearance. It's what's inside that counts, right? In addition to the sunchokes, I also picked up some flawless Turbot filets and vividly green sugar snap peas. I could sense the sunchokes' jealousy as I oohed and awed over the beauty of my other ingredients. Poor sunchokes. I was determined to make the sunchokes look equally as delicious though - makeover!

I loosely used this recipe from Per Se Restaurant for guidance as I decided to make a puree out of my new nubby little friends. I peeled and then boiled them in chicken stock. Once they were tender, I reserved some of the cooking liquid for later use. I added a bit of butter and milk to the tender sunchokes, and then I pureed the mixture. On a plate, I placed my pan-seared Turbot over the puree and added the sugar snap peas, which I sauteed with lots and lots of garlic. I then poured some of the sunchoke broth around the fish and the puree. My finished dish was absolutely splendid, and the sunchoke puree actually took center stage. It tasted like a nuttier and creamier version of potato puree. With a little finesse and flair, I managed to transform the unattractive sunchoke as if it was my own little Eliza Dolittle project. My fair (or way more than fair) sunchoke. Would you try sunchokes? Are there any unattractive foods that you are intimidated by?


Rosemary Lamb Meatballs and Pan-Seared Polenta

There is so much hype surrounding meatballs these days. Take the Meatball Shop in NYC for instance. Here, the meatball is showcased and glorified in all of its homestyle, comfort food goodness. Are meatballs becoming the new cupcakes? Ha, probably not...although I did roast my meatballs in individual cupcake tins.

Typically, when I make meatballs, I use a combination of ground beef, pork, and veal. This time, however, I decided to let the lamb take center stage. I combined one beaten egg, garlic, onion, Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and lots of rosemary like I've watched my mom do millions of times. I then roasted the formed meatballs in cupcake tins, and then finished braising them in a traditional tomato sauce. For my polenta, I cooked cornmeal in chicken stock and a bit of Parmesan on the stovetop. Once it was thoroughly cooked, I spread it on a sheet pan to cool. I then cut the polenta into triangles and pan-seared them.

The rosemary lamb meatballs complimented the polenta perfectly. With food trends these days, making an old fashioned dinner like meatballs and sauce can make me feel like a posh little chef. Now all I need to do is make these meatballs into hand-held portable treats...


Roasted Rosemary Lemon Chicken with Butternut Squash, Kale, and White Beans

Nothing says home cooked meal quite like a roasted chicken. I like to think that my roasted chicken makes my hubby as happy as it makes Ina Garten's husband on a Friday night. I heart Jeffrey! I typically prepare roasted chicken a few different ways, though it essentially depends on whether I feel like being a total health nut or a bedridden pig. For the latter, I liberally slather every inch, and I do mean every inch, of the chicken in Irish butter. I even embed heaping pads of butter underneath the skin. Basically, if the chicken still had its beak attached, I would kindly ask him to open wide as I foully (Pun intended. Get it? Fowl?) stuff a full stick of butter down his throat. My apologies to any vegetarians. This time, however, I chose the healthy route. I brined the chicken overnight, and then I arranged lemon slices and rosemary sprigs underneath the skin and inside the cavity along with cloves of garlic.

I roasted a butternut squash alongside of my newly brined friend. Then I simmered the squash with kale and white beans in some of the chicken jus and rosemary. Brining the chicken proved to be just as delicious as its boastfully buttered counterpart, and our waistbands truly thanked us for it.


Elk Tenderloin in Blueberry Peppercorn Sauce

Talk about an antioxidant overdose! Blueberries, brussel sprouts, and purple potatoes, oh my! Can you take a guess as to what we drank with this free radical-fighting feast? That’s right – red wine!

My incredibly generous boss gave me this elk tenderloin from her Wyoming ranch. I loosely based this dish on an amazing dinner that I recently had at Cafe Diva in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. This restaurant is so fantastic. If you are ever in Steamboat, go!! Anyway, I marinated the elk tenderloin overnight in lots of delicious ingredients – Worcestershire sauce, evaporated cane juice, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, pink peppercorns, rosemary, Dijon mustard, roasted garlic, and macerated blueberries. I then pan seared it on all sides and finished roasting it in the oven, alongside my brussel sprouts and purple potatoes. To finish it off, I created a sauce from the marinade by reducing it in the pan used for searing the tenderloin.

The finished product was absolutely amazing! Note to self: Suck up to the boss more often.