Moroccan Themed Ladies Supper Club!

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I am lucky enough to be part of a great little local ladies supper club. I was introduced to this club, and great group of women by my friend Erin (that’s her there in the front, striking a pose in the little dress) of The Olive Notes. I met Erin through the world of blogging, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that she and her husband Chris live about 10 minutes away from us. They have a great group of friends here in Saint Augustine, that have really welcomed Roberto and I since we moved here.

Well the ladies in this circle of friends started an awesome supper club. There are eight of us currently, and we all get together each month. It is kind of a dress up event. Sometimes people just show up in jeans and a nice shirt, which is totally allowed, but there are also party dresses and high heels. It is a very girly event – and no boys allowed!

We all take turns hosting, and each month, the hostess gets to pick the theme, then everyone brings a dish to add to the dinner. We always have a welcome cocktail and appetizer to start, which usually finds us all in the kitchen chatting, laughing and catching up with each other. Then we move on to the table and have soup or salad, and then the main course with a vegetable side and a starch side. There is always wine to accompany the meal, and of course we end with something sweet. It is always a great night and something we all really look forward to each month.

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Well this past Friday, it was my turn to host – and so I chose a Moroccan theme. For one, a lot of my table decor has a North African/ Middle Eastern flair to it, and the cuisine is one of my favorites….plus, did you know I recently got a Tagine!?? LOL! ;)

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This supper club was a huge success – the food was delicious and we ended the night by working off some of that food with a little belly dancing! I have a lot of music from this region of the world, and all of the ladies know I used to belly dance, so they asked for me to bring out all my gear and show them some moves. We all got down, and it was a wonderful time! Good music, good friends, good times.

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But I know that you are all here for the food, so here we go – We started with Moroccan Pomegranate Martinis – fresh lemon and lime juice mixed with vodka, POM Wonderful and simple syrup.

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The appetizer was a Spiced Moroccan Carrot Dip – with fresh cilantro, and green olives, served with pita bread.

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We started at the table with a wonderfully spiced Harira (traditional soup of Morocco. It is usually eaten during dinner in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to break the fasting day ).

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For the main dish, I did a Vegetable Tagine overloaded with fresh acorn squash, chick peas, onions and kale, dotted with prunes and topped with sliced almonds. There was fresh flat bread and a delicious vegetable curry to go with it, and for dessert,

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the Moroccan pièce de la résistance – M’hanncha -”The Snake” (although it kind of broke in the revelry!) – which was very reminiscent of baklava.

Everything was wonderful and I had a great time hosting these lovely ladies!
Click through for the Vegetable Tagine recipe. Read the rest of this entry »

Lovely Limoncello

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Last year I fell in love with the Meyer lemons that were being sold week after week at the farmers market. After a few weeks of buying them and enjoying their wonderful flavor, I decided it would be great to use them to make limoncello. When I went back the next week to pick some up for this purpose, I was told lemon season was over!!! I was heartbroken! I know I could have just gone to the grocery store to pick up some organic lemons, but I wanted local meyer lemons.
I wanted it to be special. So I decided that next year, I would be ready! Well it is now lemon season again here in the Sunshine State, and what is more sunny than limoncello?

I love limoncello and made it years ago using vodka as the alcohol. After quite a bit of internet research (I mean I had a YEAR), I discovered that many people use grain alcohol to make limoncello as it more closely mirrors the kinds of alcohol that would have been available to country people in the south of Italy, like the Island of Capri (where lemons are as big as grapefruits!) who originally made this aperitif. Plus vodka is not strong enough to get all of the oils out of the peel. So I decided not to go against the grain. ;)

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I looked at several recipes and decided to go with this one as most of the other ones matched this one. The only thing I did differently is I did not remove the peels before adding the simple syrup to the mix, and then I let everything sit for another 2 weeks. When it was time, I strained the peels, and then dried them – they became “candied” and are a great garnish for a limoncello spritzer

Boxed Tomatoes: Spaghetti and Meatballs….Spaghetti Squash, a Tomato Sauce Extravaganza!

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Here is another post about a featured pantry item. This was not planned it just so happens that the last few times I cooked, I got so inspired by a key ingredient and just went off on different tangents with it. Which to me, is my favorite way to cook – when I am inspired and excited about ingredients – when they make me hungry and I can’t wait for the dish to be done. This post is going to feature different uses for tomato sauces, which I made from boxed tomatoes.

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Now I am putting a disclaimer out there that this isn’t my mom’s, my grandmother’s or probably anyone’s grandmother’s recipe for tomato sauce, or meatballs. Even though I grew up both Spaghetti Squash and Spaghetti and Meatballs, I don’t like making anything EXACTLY the same way every time. Since I like to use my leftovers, when I make a sauce or any kind of dish, really, I always do a tour through the fridge to see what needs to be used yesterday, and find a way to incorporate it. Usually this means we get extra veggies in whatever dish I am making, which is never a bad thing. But it also ensures that my dishes are always slightly different every time, making it more interesting.

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Here is the story of this Tomato Sauce Extravaganza! I bought a spaghetti squash with all intentions to make baked spaghetti squash with fresh mozzarella for dinner. Then on Twitter, I was chatting with some of my buds and Elle, from Elle’s New England Kitchen was making Spaghetti and Meatballs, and Peter, from Kalofagas was talking about garlic bread. So naturally, I started craving both things. So I decided to act on those cravings and just make everything all at once. So I made the tomato sauce so that it could go in my baked spaghetti squash dish and also be used the next day for the meatballs. I must admit both dishes were fabulous!

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Then I made garlic bread topped with parm and a little leftover blue cheese. It was the perfect accompaniment.
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Recipe: Eggplant Involtini

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(This is not the actual picture of the dish, but I don’t know where they have gone – so imagine these eggplant slices rolled around the cheese (which is dotted with fresh herbs) on top of couscous instead of salad!)

We got some really cute eggplants at the Farmers Market recently. I didn’t really have a dish in mind for how to prepare them, but I love eggplant, so I knew I would get inspiration at some point. They sat in the fridge for about a week, and then I got a bright idea! Recently we had gone out to eat and I had a rolled, stuffed eggplant dish that was breaded in panko and fried. I didn’t really want to fry the eggplant, but I wanted to roll them and stuff them. I love the combination of chevre and eggplant, and I had some nice chevre in the fridge. I stuffed the eggplants with fresh herbs and chevre and broiled them in the oven. I drizzled balsamic-pomegranate reduction over top and served it with raisin and pine nut dotted couscous. The flavors were really magical and took my taste buds to new heights! I was really pleased with the way the dish turned out – I think the combination of herbs really made it. This is a great dish for the last days of summer and I am betting it would be phenomenal on the grill!

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Recipe: Pomodori e Riso Romano – Food 911 by The Leftover Queen

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I have been hearing about Pomodori e Riso (tomatoes and rice) for the past two years. This is one of Roberto’s favorite dishes that he misses the most since moving from Rome to the US. Like his mom’s Involtini, tortellini soup, and roasted potatoes from the Rosticceria, he mentions pomodori e riso often with a dreamy faraway look in his eyes. Pomodori e riso, roasted potatoes and roasted chickens are on offering in many a Rosticceria in Rome. I have been hearing about how great the food is from these places, that when I finally make it to the Eternal City, I imagine that they will be built of gold and marble. Not only this, but I really want to do my best to replicate Roberto’s favorite dishes and give him a sense of home. But Roman cuisine is all uncharted territory for me, as my Italian ancestors are from much farther South and therefore the cuisine is an entirely different animal! But I am always up for a good challenge in the kitchen!

My attempts at making the tortellini soup went over pretty big a few years ago (before I had this blog), so when we found ginormous tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market last week, and he got the pomodori e riso bug, I was all for it. I put on my proverbial chef hat, and my geeky researcher glasses and in a very Food 911 fashion, I asked a lot of questions about how it was supposed to taste and why his past attempts just didn’t do it for him.

Here were the problems with his past attempts:

1) The tomatoes and potatoes were too hard – the ideal texture is soft on the inside, but crispy on the top of the tomatoes and the outsides of the potatoes from sitting in the rosticceria all day getting nice and slowly cooked.

2) The tomatoes were too small and therefore not up to par

3) The sauce needed some help – it had been too bland in the past

4) Rice was not the right texture

So I thought about how to improve on the recipe, and came up with these solutions:

1) I have perfected roasted potatoes. So I knew how I was going to cook them (see recipe method), as for the tomatoes, they needed to be cooked a little ahead of time to get them to the right texture and then but under the broiler (with a little grated parm) at the end to get the crispy top.

2) Use the season’s bounty of beautiful big tomatoes (I don’t think these kinds of tomatoes grow very much in New England)

3) I made the sauce by using the insides of the tomatoes, some Pomi tomato sauce, fresh basil, fresh garlic and salt, sugar, balsamic and pepper to make a delicious and fresh tasting sauce

4) I used arborio rice and pre-cooked it, but added a little extra water so that when it was baked inside the tomatoes, it wouldn’t get hard

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Recipe: The BEST Homemade Pizza EVER and “Italian Mojitos”

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So as many of you know, in the Leftover Queen household there is an unending quest for good pizza.

I have written about it on my travel blog here, here, here and here , as well as attempting it at home, on the grill last summer when we were at my mom’s.

We have tried other, not so successful pizza making attempts at home that certainly weren’t worth blogging about. But still on this bread revolution kick, I decided to use my new favorite cookbook, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day to try my hand at a new recipe for pizza dough.

I decided to go with the Olive Oil Dough, but I modified it a little to get some whole wheat flour in there. I have heard the low down on all WW pizza dough from my good friend Helen’s blog, Food Stories, and so I didn’t want to make the same mistake (thanks Helen for being the guinea pig!).

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This dough was amazing! It was easy to work with, lifted right off the cookie sheet with no trouble and a perfect golden brown. We topped our pizza with Ciliengini (small fresh mozzarella balls), sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and anchovies with capers. It was the perfect combination of flavors and they texture of the crust was perfect – thin, crunchy on the outside, with a soft give inside. The flavor of the olive oil in the dough really gave it a whole level of deliciousness. The fruitier the olive oil, the better!

We enjoyed this pizza while watching The Spiderwick Chronicles when my mom was visiting. Now Roberto is insisting we have this pizza at least once a week! ;)
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Stormy Weather and Comfort Food: Keeping away Fay with “Italian Style Mac n’ Cheese”

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Nothing says comfort food like a Tropical Storm!

We are still waiting for the storm to hit. Latest news reports say that it will not have enough time out in open water to turn into a hurricane once it hits land again, which is good, but it will hit land again as a tropical storm, right here in our lovely town of Saint Augustine. We are right on the coast here in Northern FL. Less than a five minute walk from the water. We have already seen rising waters and some low lying areas (well everything is low lying around here) have flooded and the storm isn’t even here YET. We should be expecting it tonight or more likely tomorrow. Everything is closing up and our county has declared a state of emergency. The National Guard is already here, thankfully, and we live on the second floor, so we are staying put. We are ready with supplies and we have just moved everything off the porch. The wind is starting to pick up, but nothing severe yet.

The summer has been pretty rainy here especially since the end of July, which is like monsoon season in Florida – it rains everyday, and even if it doesn’t rain, a large part of the day is gray and the sky rumbles.

So much for The Sunshine State.

My appetite begins to get confused – from inside, looking out it seems like a fall day, but as soon as you step outside it is sweltering hot and sticky humid. Even so, during the first week or so of this, my brain temporarily goes from cooling summer foods, right back to the land of comfort food. Which in this case, was Pasta al Forno – or oven backed pasta, much like a Mac n’ cheese of sorts. This dish was creamy and satisfying – chock full of flavors and textures. Roberto took one bite and he was transported back to childhood memories of tortellini with peas in bechamel. This may be a new family favorite. It certainly does hearken to rainy days under a blanket with a good book and glass of rich red wine under a Tuscan sky… Or perhaps just a storm safe closet! ;)

But maybe this will even stave off Fay! :)
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Hummus Amungus: A Spicy Taste of the Mediterranean

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It is no secret that I adore hummus. I think if I had to pick a favorite food, hummus would be it. It even won us a bottle of rum in Jamaica! We played a newlywed game when we were on our honeymoon there and they asked Roberto what my favorite food was. When he thought about it, the most logical answer was hummus. When they asked me to guess what he said, I had to think about it for a minute. I mean I love all kinds of foods and have so many memories in my mind of different food experiences, it is hard to imagine choosing just one. But when I thought logically about what Roberto would have answered, I knew it had to be hummus, because it is the most consistent staple of my diet. I eat it almost daily, and it is not only filling and delicious, but it is really healthy and easy to grab when you have the munchies. Not only that, you can be as creative as you want with it. Purists may balk, but I say be adventurous with your hummus! So when I read that Tony Tahhan’s Taste of the Mediterranean event this month was focused on Lebanon (one of my favorite cuisines) and Hummus (my favorite food), I knew I was in!

I adore the original, unadulterated hummus. The one with just a few essential ingredients: chick peas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and salt, maybe a little water to thin it out. There is nothing better….except for when you add a little somethin’ somethin’. For this event, in honor of hummus and Jamaica, I have decided to add some special Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce we got while there (because I adore it) and adorn it with a few pine nuts for some added texture! bring on the heat!!!
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