Summer Cheese Board

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Happy Memorial Day! I’d like to tell you I’m currently lounging in the pool, sipping on a cold drink atop a float in the shape of a pineapple…but that simply would not be true.

I hope you are getting your fix of R&R this weekend. Believe it or not, my favorite thing to do with some extra time off is clean. Organize and clean. De-cludder, de-stress. They go hand in hand. Ever since I read Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I’ve felt an urge to purge. To rid myself of the unnecessary “stuff.” I’ve always loved purging, but this book gave me a whole new outlook on it. Things I had been hoarding became easier to say goodbye to. It became more simple to let go of the things that did not bring me real joy. Organized home, organized life!

I’ve decided to curate a cheese board each season, starting with summer. Memorial Day, the un-offical official start! I could eat cheese and charcuterie every single night for dinner. It just never gets boring. Why? Because there are endless combinations and configurations and ways to make each bite different and exciting. Textures and flavors, salty and sweet, soft and crunchy. There are countless ways to adapt to your tastes, offering a new experience with each little pick and taste.

For the summer edition, I centered everything around a cheese I recently discovered: French Brie with Garlic & Herbs. Brie is wonderful all on its own. The addition of the dried herbs takes it to level 2, with new depth and freshness that wasn’t there before. Creamy and dreamy. From there, I selected an assortment of fruits, nuts, and meats that say summer to me. I can personally guarantee that if you show up to any gathering with this in toe (don’t forget a bottle of Riesling, chilled) you will be the instant life of the party. No questions asked. Get on it!

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

  • Fresh burrata
  • French brie with garlic & herbs
  • Extra sharp cheddar
  • Black pepper salami
  • Prosciutto di Parma
  • Dried apricots
  • Red grapes
  • Blackberries
  • Sesame breadsticks
  • Black pepper water crackers
  • Parmesan crips
  • Walnuts
  1. Leave cheese and meats out at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to board assembly.
  2. Arrange cheeses, meats and remaining ingredients as you see fit. There is no wrong or right way in my book! Place things next to each other that you want your guest to experience together.
  3. Pair with chilled Riesling.

Parsley Pesto

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco for Food.com

I feel like a million bucks!

I decided I need to start drinking more water this year. I’ve known for a long time I’ve been dehydrated. This time of year last winter, my skin felt like a shriveled up prune. I would go at least 8 hours without drinking more than a 16 oz water bottle. I’m terrible at remembering to drink during the day. So I thought to myself: there must be an app for that.

I downloaded the My Water app (get it here) and I’ve been going 5 day strong! The app works in conjunction with Apple Health, taking your age and weight into account. It gives you a goal amount of fluid ounces for each day. Most agree you should drink half your body weight in ounces per day. The app keeps track of how much you’ve had and reminds you when to stop and take some gulps. I’m so proud of myself! I notice already that I have more energy and I’m not as fatigued during the day. Way to go, H20.

Over the weekend I made this killer pesto recipe for Food.com. The original recipe is for vegan pesto. I threw in a little parmesan/pecorino blend because I adore cheese. But, cheese aside,  this recipe holds its own. I picked up this pretty imported bow tie pasta from a local Italian shop. I am in love with the bold, garlic-y, nutty flavor and texture of pesto. If you’ve got some sad looking herbs in your refrigerator, break out the food processor! Vegans, rejoice!

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco for Food.com

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco for Food.com

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco for Food.com

Yield: 2 cups pesto

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 garlic gloves
  • 3 cups fresh parsley (or basil)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt*
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil

*if you’re going to add in parmesan or pecorino cheese, omit the salt. These cheeses are salty enough on their own, for my taste.

  1. In a small saucepan, toast pine nuts over medium-low heat until slightly brown. Toss around in pan to get even coloring.
  2. In food processor, add pine nuts, herbs, salt and pepper and blend well.  Slowly drizzle in oil and pulse until smooth. Add more olive oil if needed.
  3. Toss well with your favorite pasta. Choose one like bow ties with little pockets to hold all that good pesto. Also enjoy spread over crispy crostini or eggs!
  4. If not using immediately, store in the refrigerator with a little olive oil over the top to keep from browning.

Recipe adapted from Food.com

Stuffed Mushrooms

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco for Food.com

These are a staple on my family’s table. Mushrooms have that wonderful earthy, deep flavor. Organic white caps are perfect for stuffing. I love a good drizzle of olive oil and a light stuff with cheese, breadcrumbs and fresh herbs. The more cheese, the merrier. Roasted nice and long so that the cheese and crumbs become crispy and golden brown. You can’t have just one.

When it comes to stuffed mushrooms, I like to keep it simple. I’m not into stuffing with crab or extra fluff. Let the mushroom shine. They’ll steal the show.

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco for Food.com

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco for Food.com

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco for Food.com

Servings: 24 mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 24 large mushrooms
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (I prefer a 50% parmesan, 50% pecorino blend)
  • 1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated mozzarella for topping
  1. Clean mushrooms under running water to remove all dirt. Carefully remove stems from mushrooms and chop stems.
  2. In a medium skillet, melt butter and add garlic. Add chopped mushroom stems and saute until lightly brown. Add parsley stir, and remove from heat.
  3. Add cheese and stir to combine. Add bread crumbs, stirring until mixture is crumbly.
  4. Lightly fill each mushroom cap with the sauteed mixture, but don’t pack too tightly.
  5. Set on a rimmed cookie sheet lined with foil and bake in a preheated oven at 400F degrees for about 24 minutes (if they’re smaller caps, check them after 20 minutes).

Recipe adapted from Food.com

Summer Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette

4Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

One of the best things about summer is seasonal produce. Bountiful fruits and vegetables at farmers markets. Dinners made simple and easy. I love the idea of a big, filling salad that fills you up in the best possible way. Satisfying and nourishing. I crave a vinegar-y, bright plate of greens. Sometimes it’s nice to cut the meat and hoard all the beautiful vegetables! Try this salad with other things like sliced avocado or walnuts. Or swap the kale for your favorite green. Gather outside and enjoy this plate while the sun’s going down. Summer nights are calling!

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Total Time: 40 mins — Serves: 6 — Yields: 1-3/4 cups vinaigrette

Vinaigrette Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp Organic Mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 3-1/2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 garlic scape
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Salad Ingredients:

  • 1 large bunch kale
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 8 garlic scapes, blanched and shocked in ice water
  • 1/4 cup sliced radishes
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 small cucumber, thinly sliced
  • small bunch thin asparagus spears, cut into 3-inch tips
  • 1/4 cup snap peas, trimmed
  • salt and pepper
  • basil for garnish
  1. To make the vinaigrette, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, garlic scape and shallot in a food processor and 2 Tbsp of water. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until incorporated. Add 1-2 Tbsp of water if a thinner vinaigrette is preferred. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. To blanch the garlic scapes, bring a pot of water to a boil and drop in garlic scapes. Boil for 1 minute and remove with a slotted spoon. Immediately place into a bowl of ice water. This will “shock” the scapes, preserving their bright green color and mellow out the strong flavor. To assemble the salad, toss the kale, arugula, garlic scapes, radishes, tomatoes, cucumber, asparagus tips, and snap peas in a large bowl. Toss with dressing or serve on the side. Garnish with basil leaves and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Crispy Baked Chicken Wings

FullSizeRender-2Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Prep Time: 15 mins — Total Time: 35 mins — Serves: 8

Summer’s officially here! And with it, an increase in outdoor cooking, grilling, and chilling.

My husband and I live in an upstairs apartment, so… no grill for us! But I love our gas oven. Leave it to the oven to make something super crispy. We were in the mood for flavor-packed, tender chicken wings. We devoured these in minutes. For this recipe, I got a little help from the expert: Emeril. I can tell you this is my go-to recipe from now on! Fire up the, er, oven– and invite all your friends over! This pairs perfectly with a tasty arugula salad and baked sweet potato fries.

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs organic chicken wings
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (juice of 2 lemons)
  • 1 Tbsp ground pepper
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil. In a large bowl, toss chicken wings with lemon juice. Add pepper, garlic and onion powders, and salt. Add thyme, crushing it between your fingers as you go. Add cayenne and melted butter. Stir mixture thoroughly, then arrange wings in one layer on baking sheet.
  2. Cook 20 minutes, then rotate sheet and flip wings. Cook until wings are browned and cooked through, 10 minutes. Glaze or serve with your favorite dipping sauce. I chose BBQ!

 

Recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse.

Roasted Mushroom and Kale Pizzettes

5Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

I was feeling under the weather today and took full advantage of my day at home. While I should have taken the opportunity to clean my apartment, I proceeded to make more messes in the kitchen. But remember: behind every messy kitchen and filled sink is an incredible dish or two (or three). I realize now more than ever that the kitchen is my favorite place to be.

Today I graduated from my old camera, a Fujifilm I had in college, to a shiny, new, sparkly (did I say already say shiny?) amazing, professional, Canon 6D and a 50mm lens! I did the happy dance all over the house today. I’d been hoping and praying to be able to upgrade this summer. When an exciting food photography job came my way, I decided it was time to step up the game. If I was holding a glass of champagne, I would say, “Here’s to the future of Cuoco Contento and may it be utterly delicious!” I wish happy cooking for everyone.

I’ve been a huge Giada De Laurentiis fan for a while now. I’ve never seen a girl more enthusiastic about cooking, never mind  a girl with such a killer smile. She is one energetic, passionate, and needless to say, happy, chef. She released her book Happy Cooking late last year and I pre-ordered it. It’s filled with all the kinds of things that make me swoon: pastas, soups, healthy snacks, party drinks and little hors d’oeuvres that make you want to drop what you’re doing and host a dinner party. I love the Italian in her and it always shines through her dishes. I’ve had my eye on a few of her recipes that I finally decided to tackle this week. We begin with these darling little things: roasted mushroom pizzettes (just a cute word for tiny pizza!) topped with mozzarella, roasted button mushrooms, ribbons of kale, and blue cheese. Giada’s recipe calls for gorgonzola but I had blue on hand. And if you’re a fan of blue like me, it’s t-a-s-t-y. I could hardly wait for these to cool before I ate three in a row. They’re small so who’s counting, right? These are so great for summer parties or game day eats. Add a little sophistication to the wings and guac table. Follow along with me this week as we delve into three flavor-packed recipes from Giada!

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

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Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz button mushrooms, de-stemmed, washed and sliced
  • 1 tsp olive oil plus more for drizzling
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 ball store-bought pizza dough (12-16 oz)
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 small bunch kale, ribs removed, leaves sliced into ribbons
  • 2 oz blue cheese (or gorgonzola) crumbled
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss mushrooms with olive oil and salt on a parchment-lined sheet pan and roast for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside.
  2. Roll out your pizza dough to 1/4″ thickness. Using a 3″ round cookie cutter (or drinking glass) and transfer pizza circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the circles lightly with olive oil. Top each with a teaspoon of mozzarella, a little mushroom, kale and sprinkle of blue cheese. Drizzle a little more olive oil over each. Bake until bubbly and golden, about 10-15 minutes depending on your oven. Serve immediately.

Recipe/adaptation courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis.

Roasted Asparagus and Garlic Soup

7Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

It’s been extra spring-y lately. All I want to do is lay in the grass and nap in the sun, half in-half out of consciousness style. I find myself craving spring vegetables like asparagus. The asparagus and garlic combo is so tasty! Crack a generous amount of pepper and top with parsley. Restaurant worthy? Yes!

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds asparagus, tips trimmed
  • 10 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup milk (replace with broth for dairy-free version)
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • cracked pepper and chopped parsley, for garnish
  1. Preheat your oven to 450F. Toss asparagus and smashed garlic with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange asparagus on prepared baking sheet over parchment paper in a single layer. Roast for 12 minutes, stirring half way through.
  2. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Transfer asparagus and garlic to a blender. Add broth and milk, blending until smooth. Work in batches if necessary. Transfer soup to a soup pot and warm over medium-high heat. Thin with more broth if desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add finely chopped parsley and stir though. Enjoy!

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All Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Roasted Artichoke with Garlic Cloves

8Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

I’ve always stared at artichokes in the produce aisle with the blank look of confusion. Giant leafy green thing. I didn’t grow up eating them but this weekend I decided to give it a try. After a generous squeeze of lemon, drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and a nest of 4 garlic cloves, this little guy roasted in the oven for 60 minutes. It came out smelling so fragrant and savory. When it cooled slightly I peeled away at the outer layers and made it to the center, where the layers were super tender and saturated in that unbelievable garlic-y goodness. Extremely tasty! Don’t be intimidated.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large artichoke
  • 1/2 lemon
  • salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 Tbsp cold pressed olive oil
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut off the bottom stem of the artichoke and the top 1/3 off. Using a small knife, hollow out and discard the inner center leaves.
  2. Spread out the leaves as much as possible and drizzle with the juice of half a lemon and olive oil. Make sure it gets in all those layers! Season generously with salt and pepper. Don’t be shy.
  3. Nestle the peeled garlic cloves in the hollow center. Wrap the artichoke tightly in aluminum foil and roast for 60-65 minutes until very tender. Pull apart those leaves and devour! Eat the garlic, too.

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4369All Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Brown Butter Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

5Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

Have you ever made brown butter before? Well…you might want to try it tonight. Blizzard 2016 is in full swing on Long Island. Everyone is hunkered down in their homes, relaxing and enjoying time with family. Make them happy tonight and break out the butter!! To make brown butter, aka “beurre noisette,” you start by melting butter over medium heat. Swirl the butter around in the pan often to be sure it is cooking evenly. As it melts, the butter will begin to foam. The color will change from yellow to golden to a warm brown. Once it smells nutty, take it off the heat and transfer to a heat-safe bowl to cool. (Technique courtesy of The Kitchn, www.thekitchn.com). That’s it! Now imagine pouring this hot, golden butter on top of butternut squash before you roast it. You can’t even imagine how incredible the kitchen will smell during that 45 minutes. When it comes out of the oven all tender, you’re more than half way to this creamy, divine soup. I ate it for lunch three days straight…some of my coworkers may have been jealous.


Prep time: 20 minutes — Cook time: 45 minutes to 1 hr — Total time: 1 hr 20 minutes

Soup Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1/4 cup diced celery
  • 1/4 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • About 4 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups Roasted Winter Squash recipe (See ingredients below)
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half, optional

Roasted Squash Ingredients:

  • About 3 pounds butternut squash (preferably 1 large squash)
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves (Substitute dried sage if you need to)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons Toasted Spice Rub (See ingredients below)

Toasted Spice Rub Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup (1-ounce) chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Okay: here we go! Don’t be alarmed by the lengthy ingredient list above. There are just a few extra steps in making this soup turn into liquid gold! First, we start by mixing the spices for the toasted spice rub. Toasting them releases their oils and makes them more fragrant. It also adds another layer of flavor.

Toast the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns a small pan over medium heat. When the fennel turns light brown, work quickly. Turn on the exhaust fan, add the red pepper flakes and toss, continually. Immediately turn the spice mixture out onto a plate to cool. Put mixture into a blender with the chili powder, salt, and cinnamon and blend until the spices are evenly ground. Pour into a bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients. Keep the spice mix in a glass jar in a cool, dry place, or freeze.3Next, we roast the squash. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the squash with a vegetable peeler. Halve lengthwise, discard the seeds, then cut into 1-inch dice. Place in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter stops foaming and has turned a light brown, pull the pan off the heat and immediately add the sage, sugar, vinegar (stand back so as not to get splattered), maple syrup and 2 teaspoons of the toasted spice rub. Mix well and let simmer over medium-low heat for 2 minutes to let the flavors meld.

Pour the vinegar mixture over the squash and toss well, then transfer to a heavy rimmed baking sheet large enough to hold the squash in a single layer. Place in the oven and roast, tossing at least once, until very tender and caramelized, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Set aside until cool enough to handle but still warm, so the liquids are runny. Working in batches, if necessary, transfer the warm squash and all the cooking liquids to a food processor (I love my Nutri Bullet for this) and process until smooth. Use immediately, refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 2 months. Yields 2 cups puree.

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Next we go forth with soup! Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the onion, celery, carrot, cinnamon stick and sauté until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for several minutes. Stir in the squash until smooth, then simmer gently to let the flavors meld, about 10 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick. (Make sure you discard… I almost forgot).

Puree the soup in a blender until smooth. (The soup can be made ahead to this point, cooled, covered, and refrigerated for several days or frozen for about 1 month. It will thicken as it cools and may need thinning with stock or water when reheating.)

Return the soup to the pan and reheat gently. Add the half-and-half. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Keep warm until served. Garnish with roasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Enjoy!

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All photo credit: Ashley Cuoco

Recipe adapted from Michael Chiarello, www.foodnetwork.com

Chestnut Soup with Cognac Cream

Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” Nat King Cole says it best (or should I say, sings it best). I grew up listening to these Christmas words among others sung by the voices of Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby and Johnny Mathis. When I close my eyes, I can still see the familiar scene: It’s evening. The light is dim and my mother is tidying up the kitchen. My father hasn’t returned from work yet. I’m in the living room, watching and listening. The tree is a-glow. Not a light, bow or berry our of place. They know that Santa’s on his way, he’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh. So calm and so serene. This is Christmastime.

Although I didn’t grow up eating chestnuts, since I’ve been with my husband I’ve eaten them every Christmas Eve. His family roasts them and eats them warm. It’s a real treat, so soft and flavorful. Recently, a good friend of mine shared this recipe with me: chestnut soup. It sounded unreal… I love soups. And to boot, a cognac cream on top. Hello! This recipe comes from Bon Appetit magazine, from many years ago. It makes a perfect starter to your Christmas meal. I bought whole chestnuts so I could get the full experience. To save on time, you have the option of getting vacuum packed, ready-pealed nuts. Either way, this one is worth the effort! Merry Christmas, everyone!

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All Photo Credit: Ashley Cuoco


Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients for Soup:

  • 2 Tbsp (1/4 stick) butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 small carrot, chopped
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp minced fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups boiled chestnuts* (see instructions below for cooking) or 2 cups vacuum-packed chestnuts (about 10 oz), halved

Ingredients for Cognac cream:

  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tsp Cognac
  • pinch of salt
  1. To boil chestnuts (1 lb nuts will make about the 2 cups you’ll need): using a sharp, small knife, cut an X in each chestnut. Cook chestnuts in a large pot of boiling water until just tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer the nuts to work surface. Remove hard shell and papery brown skin while chestnuts are still warm.
  2. Melt butter with oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add celery, carrot, onion and thyme and sauté until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add broth and chestnuts. Cover partially and simmer until chestnuts are very tender, about 30 minutes.
  3. Puree soup in batches in a blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. This can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.
  4. To make cream, whisk whipping cream, cognac and pinch of salt in a medium bowl until thickened but not stiff. Bring soup to a simmer over low heat. Ladle into bowls. Swirl spoonful of Cognac cream into each bowl and serve. Enjoy!

Recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit Magazine.