3 Simple Summer Snacks

Having a porch party? Is it girls' night? Need a light lunch, snack or simple summer appetizer? Here are three ideas that have worked well for us recently. Each one is deceptively elegant, utterly easy, relatively inexpensive, and of course, absolutely delicious.

Brie 'n Berry Bites


1 package phyllo cups
4 ounces brie
1 pint berries
balsamic glaze, or reduced balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 350. Lay phyllo cups on a cookie sheet. Fill each cup with brie, top with a berry and bake for about 10 minutes, until heated through. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and serve warm. 
Idea plus: Try it with apples or peaches drizzled with honey.

Caesar Salad Lettuce Wraps


1 head romaine lettuce
1 pint grape tomatoes, diced
1 English cucumber, diced
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, diced
Caesar salad dressing, to taste
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup croutons

Peel off the outer leaves of the romaine and discard. Wash and allow to dry the remaining leaves of lettuce. Gently mix the diced tomatoes, cucumber, mozzarella cheese and Caesar dressing in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set the croutons aside for garnish. Place everything on a large platter and allow guests to make their own wraps. 
Idea plus: Add grilled chicken or shrimp to make it a meal.

Tomato and Basil Bruschetta


1 baguette, sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled 
1 pint grape tomatoes, diced
5-6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
olive oil, to taste
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Lay out the sliced baguette on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown. Rub each toast slice with raw garlic. In a small bowl, gently mix the diced tomatoes, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. Spoon tomato mixture onto the bread and drizzle with additional olive oil. 
Idea plus: Need it quicker? Buy pre-made crostini at your local market.


Best Husband Ever

Amy writes: It's our first day of summer vacation together. Huzzah!!! I went off for a hair appointment and was due back around 12:30, so on my way out the door I half-jokingly hollered, "I expect lunch when I return!" When I returned, his car was nowhere to be seen. Where had he gone? Then...a text: Lunch extraordinaire < 3 min. I texted back: I'm intrigued. 

When he came in, I heard pots and pans and rustling noises in the kitchen. I attempted to go in there, but in vain - I was uninvited. Not long after he delivered to the table sweet Maine steamers, perfectly steamed in a lemony broth served with browned butter. One of my favorite things. "This is only round one," he said. Hmmm...

Round two? A pound of crawfish. Oh yeah. Another one of my favorite things. 

And finally? An entire Dungeness crab. Rare around these parts, indeed. But he managed it somehow. And it was delicious. 

I think it's going to be a great summer!!!


Chive Blossom Vinegar

Not sure what to do with all of those beautiful chive blossoms? Neither were we. Sure, they are pretty and certainly sprucing up our almost-otherwise-bare garden. And we have been using them for garnish, here and there. But, really. There's a lot of them. There must be something!

Ah yes...how about making a chive blossom-infused vinegar? 





Is there a recipe? Not really. We cut off all of our chive blossoms, rinsed them well (to avoid getting creepy crawlies in the finished product), allowed them to dry, put them in a big pitcher, filled the pitcher with a mix of white and champagne vinegar, and let it all sit for about a week. 

Let sit

We then discarded the blossoms and poured the beautiful pale-pink infusion into pretty bottles. 

Tart and smooth, with the scent and finish of fresh chives. Mix with olive oil to finish a salad, use as a base for a vinaigrette, drizzle into a potato salad. Any other suggestions???


Secret Recipe Club - June

Secret Recipe Club

Brownies with a Twist

Chris writes: The school year is finally winding down. Exams are being graded. Papers are being handed back with sighs of relief, regardless of the grade. Prom pictures are being taken. Retirement parties are being given. Summer is fast upon us. Finally, time to cook again.

This month as part of this our SecretRecipeClub community blog we were asked to choose from Kristy's blog Gastronomical Sovereignty. This blog has it all: appetizers ranging from bruschetta to fried squash blossoms with chevre, soups, salads and mains for all of the ‘vores” (that’s carnivore, herbivore and omnivore for you non-biology-teachers out there), as well as a nice selection of sides and sauces. But most importantly, it has desserts. Yeah, that is the one that caught my attention. When I stumbled upon the brownie recipe from a guestblogger that used bacon fat and maple syrup as its primary ingredients I thought, “Yep. We have a winner!”.

This recipe is designed to make 4 to 6 ramekin chocolate lava brownies. Since I was only able to locate two of my ramekins I felt an experiment was in order and tried making them in a cupcake pan instead. It didn't turn out as bad as I thought it was going to. Actually, as I look across the rack of the dozen small coffee-infused, maple-bacon chocolate lava cakes one word keeps coming to mind -- “breakfast”. Think about it: bacon, eggs, maple syrup, coffee AND chocolate! That's a breakfast that would make Bruce Jenner happy. Well... the Bruce Jenner from our childhood that is. 

Yeah, tomorrow may be Monday and it may be the start of the last week school, but starting off my day with one of these cakes is going to make things a whole lot easier. This recipe is as easy to make, as it is delicious to eat. A big 'Thanks' to Kristy for turning us on to a new guilty pleasure. We have plans on revisiting her blog soon to try a few of her more healthy meals.


2 eggs
1 cup of strong coffee (if you aren't a coffee fan, chai tea might be tasty)
1/2 cup bacon grease (liquid or room temperature)
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup flour 
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp cocoa powder (We used Dark Chocolate powder)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

What to Do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, blend wet ingredients in a food processor, add dry ingredients and process until just mixed. Pour batter into into 4-6 small ramekins or a small baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes and let the brownies sit for 10-15 minutes before serving. Serves 4-6. Refrigerate leftovers.

Dry ingredients
Mixed with wet ingredients





Hartford Symphony Orchestra's Playing with Food

Can music make a dish taste different? Can you create a dish inspired by a musical composition? The answer to both questions is a resounding "yes," as Amy discovered when some friends invited us to the Hartford Symphony Orchestra's uniquely creative "Playing with Food," part of the 2012-13 Pops! series. Chris had to miss it for a stag (our niece is getting married) but Amy didn't mind being the third wheel and tagged along for a beautiful spring evening at The Bushnell. It seems HSO's conductor Carolyn Yuan is a fan of such shows as Top Chef and Iron Chef, and one day it came to her that her perfect "secret ingredient" for a dish is music. That thought was the essence of a performance that titillated all of the senses and blended them into an amazing musical menu.

Close your eyes, use your foodie imagination, and click on the links to the MP3 (the closest we could find to an orchestra) to hear the music. Perhaps you, too, will be inspired! And please pardon the lack of pictures - photography was not allowed during the performance, of course.

The set-up: In front of the orchestra and slightly off-center was a table set for two, while above the musicians hung a large screen that read, "Playing with Food." The night began with the familiar Aaron Copland's Hoe-Down (from Rodeo), easily recognized from those beef commercials. As the orchestra played the lively tune, pictures of the five featured Hartford restaurants came up on the screen. When they finished, Yuan introduced her idea. She explained that went to each of the restaurants' chefs, brought them a piece of music and asked them to come up with a dish inspired by that piece, dishes that would taste how they thought the music sounded. In turn, Yuan chose a work inspired by a dish she chose from their usual menu, so that each restaurant had two featured dishes. As the orchestra played each piece, foodie-porn-worthy images of the makings of that dish danced across the screen, inducing hunger in the members of the audience. After their two dishes, Yuan sat with each restaurant's chef at the table and had a short chat about the music and the food and the restaurant. 

Yuan seemed well familiar with the Rose Pasta from the menu at Salute! This classic, creamy, comfort food dish of four-cheese tortellini with onions, garlic, mushrooms, spinach, sausage and cream, she said, tastes like the classic, smooth-sounding Moon River by Henry Mancini. For his part, inspired by the William Tell Overture by Rossini, Chef Sean Jarvis created a Peppercorn-crusted Shrimp with Brandy over Linguine. As the music played, we saw chef flambee the shrimp in the brandy, douse it with cream, and could match the excitement of that action with the music.

When Amy heard the first notes of  In the Hall of the Mountain King from Grieg's Peer Gynt, she immediately imagined a giant lobster lumbering his way along the ocean floor. Apparently, so did Chef Jordan Stein of Pond House Cafe and Pond House Grille who created a Lobster Johnny Cake with a Spicy Habanero Jam that certainly builds up in heat just as the music does. After Yuan tasted Stein's Pomegranate Cheesecake Spring Rolls with Five-spice Caramel Dipping Sauce, she was reminded of Leonard Bernstein's Overture to West Side Story - it opens with a pop (the crunch of the spring roll), is smooth in the middle (the cheesecake) and it ends with a party (the explosion of flavor in the caramel sauce).

Right before intermission, Yuan asked the audience: "What does the theme to Mission Impossible taste like?" It seems she asked the bartenders of Max Downtown the same question, and they came up with the "Evil Hendricks," named after M.I. antagonist Kurt Hendricks and made with St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Hendrick's gin, blood orange liqueur, club soda and cucumber. These were available during intermission for a special $10 donation to the HSO's education and community programs, and were well worth it. So tasty, clever and spy-like!

The next restaurant to be featured was Peppercorn's, and we have eaten there often. One of our favorite dishes at Peppercorn's is the Osso Buco, which apparently reminds the HSO conductor of Johnny Mercer's Hooray for Hollywood. This is a seared veal shank braised for 8 hours in herbs, vegetables, white wine and stock, then served over creamy mashed potatoes. It's an impressive dish, worthy of a star on the Walk of Fame! The piece Yuan gave to Chef Dino Cialfi was Giuseppe Verdi's Brindisi from La Traviata. It's a drinking song, and made Cialfi envision springtime in the Italian mountains. His dish was a colorful pasta medley of Arugula, Saffron and Heirloom Tomatoes served over pasta and topped with a "snow" of shaved parmesan cheese. It was truly lovely.

Firebox was the fourth restaurant and the chef there, Sean Farrell, chose his own piece of music - Take Fave by Dave Brubeck. He explained how much he liked the artist when he was younger and how Brubeck was known for his improvisational skills - much like a chef in the kitchen. To go with Take Five, he made Stonington Scallops in a cast iron pan with asparagus; it was a gorgeous, simple, seasonal dish, like most things at the Billings Forge neighborhood restaurant. Back in February, Yuan dined on Firebox's Marwin Farm Duck with cauliflower puree, roasted Brussels sprouts and baby carrots. That same dish is now, in springtime, made with sunchokes, English peas, mushrooms and preserved blueberries to showcase the season's bounty. This reminded the conductor of Beethoven's Merry Gathering of Country Folk - pastoral, rustic, earthy, like a breath of fresh air.

And finally, it was Chef Hardman's turn. The pastry chef of Max Downtown was given Sicilienne from Pelleas et Melisande by Faure and said all he could imagine was Monet's water lily paintings. So he created a flowery dessert as calming as the music, a lily-shaped bowl filled with berries and rosewater whipped cream. In opposition was his second dessert, as layered and powerful as the symphonic Overture to Light Cavalry by Franx von Suppe - the Chocolate Raspberry Marquise, consisting of layers of chocolate - brownie, chocolate mousse, ganache, chocolate pearls and meringue. Miniature versions of these two desserts were available for purchase as audience members left the hall, which was a really nice touch!

The clever connections between menu and music, the drool-worthy photos, the inspiring sounds of the symphony and the intriguing chats with the chefs. All made for a fantastic night for music lovers and foodies alike. We can't wait for next year's version, scheduled for April 26, 2014.