Dining Outside the Home: Bocca di Bacco Theater District in New York, New York! Pay attention when a waiter tells you where he goes for dinner when he’s off work. It’s usually one of those best-kept secrets. If you don’t have a reservation, no worries. Snag a seat at the bar. Bartenders are usually pretty friendly, you can linger over drinks, and when you’re ready for dinner…they happily accommodate. Bocca di Bacco in the Theater District is hip, trendy, popular, and within walking distance of a Manhattan hotel. You’ll realize that as soon as you cross the threshold of this neighborhood trattoria, people flock here for a cozy atmosphere. Distant laughter and glasses clinking are cause for celebration. If Italian small plates are more your style, prepare to be amazed. Not everything is pasta, but it is Italian, so sit back and inhale the aromas.
Dining Outside the Home: Frank’s Gourmet Grill in Mystic, Connecticut! There’s something nostalgic about entering a dining room to see couples chatting over half-filled martini glasses. The words “style” and “grace” come to mind. People don’t seem to be in a hurry at Frank’s Gourmet Grill. Appetizers are appreciated. Soups are savored. Although seafood is always popular, it’s not unusual to see a spoon swirling in a bath of Fettuccine Alfredo or a knife cutting into a Rib-Eye Steak smothered in teriyaki glaze. The menu definitely deserves more than one visit. Passion and satisfaction are visibly perceived, understood, and remembered.
Dining Outside the Home: The Mariner in Mystic, Connecticut! In the center of Historic Downtown Mystic enjoy a meal, or two, at this upscale coastal restaurant where the seafood is fresh, food is made from scratch, and the cocktails go down real smooth. Try their version of New England Clam Chowder. Made with the freshest clams, the richest cream, and a secret recipe they’ll take to their grave. Is it any wonder it’s the top favorite in the restaurant? But don’t stop there. The gourmet chef also specializes in Italian cuisine from pastas to gnocchi as well as dry-aged steakhouse attractions that include tender filets and pan roasted rib eyes. Are you getting the picture? Perhaps you need to make The Mariner your regular eating house.
Dining Outside the Home: Nine One Five in Key West, Florida. During the day you may walk by this charming whitewashed Victorian home, with ocean blue accents, thinking it’s a magnificent private residence. What a glorious sight. However once the evening hours roll around, every table seems to be filled with jovial guests on the wrap-around veranda before overflowing into the front yard beyond the white picket fence. Notice how the amber lights soften the mood for intimacy and celebration. Your first thought may be, “How do I get invited to the party?” My advice? Make a reservation because if you don’t, you’ll wish you did. Take time to enjoy every course. For starters, think about the raw Ahi Tuna Gravlax or fig balsamic Burrata. Delectable choices. Homemade pastas like fettuccine, cannot be resisted, especially when mixed with Key West pink shrimp and capers. The menu is varied to appeal to every palate. Go ahead, you’re worth it.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Enjoyable Eats: Basil Pesto Pasta! I’m tired. And I’m hungry. What in the world can I cook for dinner that doesn’t take forever? But I want the taste to make me feel like I’m someone special. First of all, go over to the wine rack and open a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. Pour a little into a stemmed glass. Swirl and take a sip. This will put you in the mood. The wonderfully sweet herbal notes of the fresh basil will complement the flavor of the wine. Plus, the olive oil and parmesan cheese in the pesto sauce enhance the richness of fruit in the Cab. Take another sip. Now let’s get started. (Footnote: Obviously if you already have a jar of your favorite Basil Pesto in the kitchen pantry, you’re one step ahead.)
BASIL PESTO PASTA
10.5 ounce package of cherry tomatoes
12 large basil leaves
1/3 cup almonds, slightly toasted
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1 pound spaghetti
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
Combine cherry tomatoes, basil leaves, toasted almonds, garlic clove, and kosher salt in a food processor. Pulse to blend into a fine purée. Scrape the sides and turn the processor on Low setting. Slowly pour the olive oil into the mixture in a continuous stream. The pesto will thicken nicely. Set aside. Cook the spaghetti in salted water, according to package directions. Drain well. Transfer spaghetti to a bowl. Quickly toss with pesto sauce. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over all. Garnish with basil leaves.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Lentil Rotini Pizza Pasta! Going organic, especially with red lentils, doesn’t necessarily mean the meal has to be completely plant-based. Sure, you still get the protein and fiber you need, but think about making it appealing to your family as well. By adding cheese and pepperoni slices, you can turn the rotini spirals into an Italian favorite. Pizza Pasta. Spice things up with red pepper flakes, garlic, and oregano. Now you’re talking. Serve in individual baking dishes for extra special treatment. You may even have the kids asking for it again.
LENTIL ROTINI PIZZA PASTA
12-ounce box of organic red lentil rotini
1 1/2 cups prepared marinara sauce
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 cup pepperoni slices, divided
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
Crushed basil for garnish
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add rotini. Cook until tender, stirring occasionally, 8-10 minutes. Caution: Watch carefully as the lentils will foam up to overflowing. You may have to reduce heat to a Simmer. Drain well. In a large bowl, combine marinara sauce, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and oregano. Add rotini; stir to coat. Fold in 3/4 of the pepperoni and half the mozzarella cheese. Divide into individual broiler-proof baking dishes. Top with remaining pepperoni and shredded mozzarella cheese. Adjust oven rack to at least 4” away from broiler coils. Preheat broiler on High setting. Arrange individual casseroles on a baking sheet. Transfer sheet to oven. Cook until cheese is melted and slightly brown. Garnish with crushed basil. Serve with garlic bread.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Be Our Guest: Ziti Green Bean Salad! Citrusy and Refreshing, that’s how to describe this incredibly vibrant cold pasta salad. Thin and crunchy green beans are paired with luscious cherry tomatoes wrapped in highly fragrant minced parsley bits. Make-ahead options give you time to spend on leisure activities to maximize the final days of summer. Skip the mayonnaise and revel in the burst of lemon vinaigrette for a seasonal change. Life is good!
ZITI GREEN BEAN SALAD
16 ounces whole wheat ziti pasta
8 ounces fresh green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
16 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
3/4 cup Lemon Citrus Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Cook pasta according to package directions, adding green beans to boiling water during the last two minutes of cooking time; drain. Rinse pasta mixture under cold running water until cool; drain again. Combine pasta mixture, tomatoes, and vinaigrette. Toss to coat. Cover and chill overnight. Just before serving, gently fold in minced parsley.
LEMON CITRUS VINAIGRETTE
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 minced shallot
1/2 cup olive oil
1/8 cup fresh parsley, minced
1/2 tablespoon natural honey
1/2 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
Combine lemon juice and minced shallot. Set aside for 5 minutes. Add olive oil, fresh parsley, natural honey, and Dijon mustard. Whisk together to blend. Store in refrigerator.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Elbow Macaroni Salad! I owe freshness to the farmer’s market. And so should you. After all, they are a great resource for locally grown produce, herbs, eggs, and meats. Without a doubt, they are popping up everywhere. However, it’s okay to ask a few questions when you’re chatting with the growers. An important one might be if there are pesticides used. “Organic” does not always mean pesticide-free. Soil quality may be another concern. GMO seeds, animal treatment, and ideas for food preparation are also topics of discussion. Once I am familiar with a grower, I glean ideas for ways to store and cook the products. Some days I even walk away with recipes. The bottom line is, support your community. We’re all in this together.
ELBOW MACARONI SALAD
2 cups elbow macaroni, cook according to package directions, then cool
2 tablespoons sweet onion, sliced
1/2 cup baby carrots, julienned
1/2 cup snow peas, sliced horizontally
4 radishes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup garlic vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1 envelope Italian salad dressing dry mix
1/2 cup olive oil
In a large bowl, combine cooked macaroni and sweet onion slices. Add julienned carrots, sliced snow peas, and radish discs. Gently toss. In a measuring cup, combine garlic vinegar, lemon juice, water, Italian seasoning packet, and olive oil. Whisk together until completely blended. Drizzle dressing over the macaroni salad. Gently toss to coat ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? All the Buzz: Instant Mac ‘n Cheese! Face it. Every once in awhile the craving hits us to settle into a comfy chair with a warm bowl of Mac ‘n Cheese. Most pantries have all the ingredients you need to make it at home in a flash. Pasta, butter, milk, cheese, and seasonings. If you don’t have elbow macaroni, substitute ziti. If you’re low on cheddar cheese, use a couple slices of Velveeta instead. It’s all good. Sprinkle the gooey Mac ‘n Cheese with Cajun seasoning for extra zest. Oh, yeah!
INSTANT MAC ‘N CHEESE
4 ounces pasta
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup milk
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
Dash of Cajun seasoning
Cook pasta according to package directions. In medium saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add flour and sea salt. Stir until smooth. Raise heat to medium. Slowly add milk, stirring occasionally. Cook until bubbly. Add cheese and stir well until melted. Drain pasta. Blend with cheese sauce stirring to coat. Sprinkle with Cajun seasoning.