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Spaghetti Puttanesca for Two

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Rumor has it, at one time the scent of this delectable Italian dish wafting out of brothels would entice prospective customers. That may or may not be true, but I think there could be a point to the lore. This was the most pleasing pasta dish I’ve eaten since Bucatini Carbonara. It certainly does smell amazing and tastes delicious. The wafting aroma of this Spaghetti Puttanesca should certainly be enough to make the neighbors jealous!

slightly adapted from: Extra Virgin
serves: 4

1/2 pound tomatoes
kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 garlic clove, sliced
2 anchovy fillets, or 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste*
pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1 ounce Gaeta or Ponentine black olives, pitted and sliced
1/2 tablespoon capers, rinsed and chopped
1/2 pound spaghetti
finely chopped Italian parsley, for garnish

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Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Submerge the tomatoes in the boiling water for 1 minute, then remove and peel them. Slice the tomatoes in half, remove the seeds, and cut into small cubes.

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In an 8- to 12- quart pot, bring 6 quarts of salted water to a rolling boil for the pasta.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the garlic, anchovies, red pepper flakes, olives, and capers and sauté  for 3 to 4 minutes, so the flavors can meld. Use a wooden spoon to break up the anchovies. Add the tomatoes and cook over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, being mindful that anchovies and capers play a big role in flavoring your puttanesca.

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Meanwhile, add the spaghetti to the boiling water and stir the pasta so it won’t stick together. Cook until al dente. Drain and add to the skillet with the rest of the ingredients. Toss well over medium-high heat for up to 2 minutes.

Serve in a large bowl with a sprinkle of parsley and a drizzle of olive oil on top.

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* Anchovy paste is a salty paste made from ground anchovy fillets. I find it easier to use than actual anchovy fillets. It is sold in tubes which are kept in the refrigerator. (Kind of like tubes of tomato paste.)

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Eden Park

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This cocktail is a must if you have fresh tarragon on hand, and if not, it’s a great reason to go to the store and get some fresh tarragon. This is a deliciously smooth libation that hits all of the notes I like in a cocktail- slightly sweet as well as tart, with a nice herbal finish. I thought the Hendricks worked nicely here, and the fresh muddled tarragon added a nice hint of anise.

slightly adapted from: Craft Cocktails
makes: 1 drink

absinthe rinse
1 ounce simple syrup (made with equal parts demerara sugar & water)
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce Green Chartreuse
1 sprig fresh tarragon
1 1/2 ounces Hendricks gin

garnish: 1 sprig fresh tarragon

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Rinse out glass with a splash of absinthe. Place all remaining ingredients except gin in a mixing glass. Muddle tarragon, then add gin and large ice cubes and shake vigorously. Taste for balance. Double-strain (see pics below) into the glass, garnish, and serve.

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Greek Pasta Salad

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I love a good pasta salad, and this recipe from Saveur is delicious. It’s very easy to assemble. Just a little bit of prep work and voilà- a delicious lunch, dinner, or picnic accompaniment.

from: Saveur
serves: 4-6

10 ounces macaroni (or rotini) cooked to al dente, rinsed with cold water, drained and chilled
2 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced
1 small cucumber, seeded and diced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Toss all ingredients in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper and serve chilled.

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Banana-Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

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I do love a banana cupcake! Especially a moist and delicious banana cupcake with chocolate chips and  rich and slightly tangy chocolate cream cheese frosting!

from: The Back In The Day Bakery Cookbook
makes: 24 cupcakes

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2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large eggs, separated
1 large egg white
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 1/2 large bananas)
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 recipe Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy cream
one 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

Put the semisweet chocolate chips and heavy cream in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water (do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water) and stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove the chocolate from the heat.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer), cream the cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar on low speed until smooth. Gradually add the chocolate mixture and mix until incorporated.

For the cupcakes

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 24 cupcake cups with paper liners.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the cake flour, 1 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large mixing bowl and handheld mixer), beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until frothy. Gradually add the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

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Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add half of the buttermilk, the oil, vanilla, and mashed bananas and stir for 1 to 2 minutes, until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Add the egg yolks and the rest of the buttermilk, stirring until just combined. Gently fold in the eggs whites and then the chocolate chips.

With a large ice cream scoop or spoon, scoop the batter into the prepared cupcake cups, filling each one about two-thirds full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Let cool for at least 20 minutes.

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To frost the cupcakes: Using a spatula or butter knife, spread the tops of the cupcakes with swirls of frosting. The cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days.

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Zucchini Salad with Fresh Herbs

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I get a box of fresh produce delivered every Monday and I have become overrun with zucchini. I have grilled them, sautéed them, and made zucchini bread. They keep coming. I have yet to eat them raw until I saw this recipe in the gorgeous La Tartine Gourmand. I really have to be honest, zucchini is one of my least favorite vegetables. It seems to be just a bit too slimy no matter how you prepare it and not much to boast in the way of flavor. The vinaigrette was awesome and the marriage with the fresh herbs was amazing. If you love zucchini you will love this salad. However next time I make this I’m going to try it with julienned cucumbers.

from: La Tartine Gourmande - Beatrice Peltre takes the most beautiful food photographs. You need this book!
serves: 4

vinaigrette
sea salt & pepper
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon maple syrup (or honey)
6 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
feta cheese, to taste

2 zucchini, finely julienned (use a mandolin if you have one)
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs like mint, parsley and chervil. I used mint and parsley.

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In a small bowl, add the ingredients in the order listed. Whisk to emulsify.

Dress the zucchini with the vinaigrette and toss the fresh herbs in.

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Mix well and refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Kiwi-Coconut Crush

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This refreshing and sweet drink is a fantastic use of that pretty green fruit, the kiwi.

slightly adapted from: 101 Mojitos
makes: 1 drink

1 kiwi, peeled and cut into chunks
½ ounce lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup (or coconut syrup)
½ ounce Midori
½ ounce vodka
½ ounce coconut rum
½ ounce coconut milk (boxed coconut milk, not canned)

In a mixing glass, muddle the kiwi with the lime juice and simple syrup. Add the Midori, vodka, coconut rum, and coconut milk. Top with ice and shake vigorously. Pour into a rocks glass.

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Lola Burgers

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This is the best burger I’ve ever made. It is the 2nd best burger I’ve ever eaten, second only to a heavenly one from Holstein’s in Las Vegas (a dry aged beef sirloin burger with smoked bacon, aged goat cheddar, tomato confit, baby arugula & garlic-chive aioli). Even then it is a very, very close second. First of all, you have soft and chewy pretzel buns toasted in butter. It doesn’t get much better than that. Second, a delicious and juicy burger grilled to perfection with smoked cheddar melted on top. Next, crispy bacon nestles on top of the melted cheese. After that, quick-pickled red onions that are a perfect choice to cut some of the richness and also add a bright and tangy note to this deliciously mouthwatering burger. We are not done yet, an over-medium egg is placed on top of this tower of glory and when you press the top bun down to be able to get this cheeseburger in your mouth, the yolk pops and golden richness drizzles down the burger onto your chin. When David and I sat down on our new patio to eat these, we took a big (messy) bite, looked at each other and just laughed. They are that good.

adapted from: Michael Symon
serves: 4

8 thick-cut slices of smoky bacon (1/2 pound)
1 1/2 pounds mixed ground sirloin and chuck
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 slices of smoked cheddar cheese (2 ounces)
4 large eggs
4 pretzel buns or English muffins split,spread with a thin layer of butter and toasted in a dry skillet or browned in bacon fat
pickled red onions, recipe follows
ketchup and mustard, for serving (we used mustard, but don’t love ketchup. It’s up to you!)

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pickled red onions
adapted from: Food + Wine

1 cup of thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

For the pickled red onions

In a medium saucepan of boiling salted water, cook sliced red onions until just tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the onions and transfer them to a glass bowl.

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Meanwhile, in another medium saucepan, bring the water and vinegar to a boil with the sugar, mustard seeds, coriander seeds and peppercorns. Boil until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes.

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Pour the liquid over the onions and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days. Drain before serving.

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For the burgers

In a large nonstick skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat in the skillet. Alternatively bake the bacon on a baking sheet at 350 until uniformly crisp, reserving 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat.

Preheat a grill pan or grill.  Shape the meat into four patties of your desired size (we made smaller patties because our pretzel buns were small)  and season generously with salt and pepper. Grill over moderately high to high heat until lightly charred, 2-3 minutes. Flip the burgers and top with the smoked cheddar. Cook for about 1 1/2 - 3 minutes longer or until cheese is bubbly. * Grilling times vary depending on the size and thickness of the burger. You really want medium rare to medium for a burger for maximum flavor.

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Meanwhile, in the reserved bacon fat in the skillet, fry the eggs over-medium over moderate heat, about 3 minutes. The whites should be set but the yolk still runny. I fried four together in a small skillet, then cut them into fourths when they were done.

Set the burgers on the bottoms of the toasted pretzel buns and top with bacon,  pickled onions, and fried eggs. Serve with ketchup and mustard.

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