Kitchen Must Have – “The Amazing Olive” Olive Oil and Vinegar

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I absolutely love flavored olive oil and flavored balsamic vinegar. They pack such a delicious punch and can really elevate your dish to something extra special. My favorite place to shop for these fine goods is at The Amazing Olive in downtown Port Jefferson, NY. Their store is beautiful and very well laid out with plenty of rustic charm and ambiance to go around. The best part is that you can sample ALL of the delicious oil and vinegar that they offer and with so many flavors to choose from, you might want to visit on an empty stomach!

A really good olive oil and balsamic vinegar are two staples in my home. My favorites are their Tuscan Seasoned Blend Olive Oil which is perfectly seasoned with just the right amount of garlic flavor and their 25 Star Balsamic Vinegar which is rich, thick and so complex in flavor. Both are incredible and are a “must have” in my kitchen. I love to use the olive oil for dipping and to add extra flavor to my Italian Tomato Sauce . Also, a little drizzle goes a long way in adding amazing flavor to my Italian Meatballs as well.

Some other notable favorites of mine are their Apricot Organic Balsamic Vinegar and Blood Orange Infused Olive Oil both of which are so light and fruity. They are the perfect addition to a fresh, crisp salad and so much more flavorful and better for you than store-bought bottled dressings. I have a vast selection of their oil and vinegar because it’s just too hard to choose one or two plus, they are so versatile so the more the better. You can use them to flavor meats, drizzle on fruits and veggies, add to sauces and stews or even bake with them! Check out their Butter Flavor Infused Olive Oil  for use in all of your baking.

Aside from their expansive selection of oil and vinegar The Amazing Olive also offers an array of other wonderful products such as unique salts and spice rubs, an assortment of jams and jellies, gift baskets and handmade bath products! If you’re a local, you can even host a Tasting Party for up to 12 of your friends at both the Port Jefferson and Patchogue locations. Click here for more details on scheduling! Lastly, gourmet oil and vinegar make fabulous gifts and party favors and The Amazing Olive will help to make your event more special and memorable with personalized bottles complete with your choice of sayings, dates and pictures. Check out all of these great offerings the next time you’re in town.

Don’t live on Long Island? No worries! All of their amazing products can be ordered online by clicking here . Enjoy!

Fresh Homemade Bruschetta

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There is nothing I love more in the summertime than fresh homemade bruschetta. It’s light, healthy, flavorful and goes great with so many different foods such as chicken, crusty crostini, fresh mozzarella and more! It’s also one of the easiest things to make and doesn’t require any hard and fast measurements. Everything is done to taste and you really cannot get this wrong, I promise!

The key to really good bruschetta is to start with fresh, perfectly ripe ingredients. You want to choose beautifully ripened, juicy, red tomatoes as well as crisp red onions and fresh, bright basil. The better the ingredients, the better the bruschetta! Once you have your veggies the only other ingredients you’ll need are Kosher salt, ground black pepper, extra-virgin olive oil and a good balsamic vinegar. That’s it! Super simple, super delicious. If I have it on hand, I will sometimes stir in a few teaspoons of homemade pesto too!

I LOVE to eat bruschetta on top of a good, crusty crostini brushed with olive oil and fresh garlic. It is so good and flavorful and a great summer appetizer! I also love it on top of grilled chicken or on thick slices of fresh mozzarella. It’s even delicious tossed with a little fresh pasta and served chilled. Bruschetta is the perfect accompaniment to so many of your summer dishes, it’ll really brighten almost any meal. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 4-5 ripened tomatoes, any variety 
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • handful of fresh basil, torn
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, to taste
  • Balsamic vinegar, to taste
  • few teaspoons of fresh pesto, optional

Instructions

Dice the fresh tomatoes and place in a large bowl. Add the diced red onion and torn basil. Add Kosher salt, ground black pepper, a little drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Gently toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Can be served cold or at room temperature.

**Tip – The longer you let the bruschetta sit, the more the flavors will come together resulting in a more flavorful bite.**

Classic Marinara Sauce

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I’ve been making homemade sauce for twenty years now and I generally stick to what I know and don’t really follow any recipes however, when I came across this recipe for Classic Marinara Sauce in one of my new cookbooks I had to give it a try. The original recipe is from The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook  by America’s Test Kitchen which is an excellent cookbook if you’re looking for heart healthy cooking ideas plus some new and interesting ways to prepare your vegetables, pastas and meats.

What I really liked about this recipe was the way they had you cook down the tomatoes until they were nicely browned and concentrated. This step, combined with the red wine, allowed the sauce to develop a really nice, rich, complex flavor that was simply perfect! I used a Merlot in this recipe but feel free to use whatever red wine that you have on hand, any wine is better than no wine! Because the sauce is somewhat thick and chunky adding a little of the pasta water to the finished meal really helped to give it the perfect consistency. It made just the right amount of sauce for one and half pounds of pasta however, if you like a more heavily sauced pasta, I’d stick with a pound. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 (28 oz) cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
  • 3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp minced fresh oregano or 1/2 tsp dried
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 3 tbs chopped fresh basil
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • pinch of granulated sugar

Instructions

Drain the tomatoes in a fine-mesh strainer that is set over a large bowl. Using hands, open the tomatoes and remove the fibrous core, discard. Let the tomatoes drain for about 5 minutes. Reserve 3/4 cup of the tomatoes separately. Reserve 2 1/2 cups of the drained tomato juice, discard the rest.

Heat 2 tbs of olive oil in a 12″ skillet over medium, heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and oregano and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the remaining drained tomatoes (keep the 3/4 cup of tomatoes set aside) and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring often, until the liquid has been evaporated and the tomatoes begin to brown and stick to the pan, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Stir in the red wine and cook until thick and syrupy, about 1 minute. Stir in the reserved tomato juice, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the reserved uncooked tomatoes to the sauce and transfer to a food processor (or use a handheld immersion blender) and pulse 8-9 times or until slightly chunky. Return the sauce to the skillet and add in the basil, remaining 1 tbs of olive oil, salt, pepper and sugar to taste.

When tossing with the pasta, add some of the pasta cooking water as needed to adjust the consistency of the sauce.

Italian Meatballs

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Being Italian, meatballs were a staple in my home growing up. There was nothing better than sneaking a crispy, hot meatball right out of the fryer. Pure heaven! Nowadays, I tend to bake my meatballs because it’s less mess and they end up in the sauce anyway but when I am feeling it, in the fryer they will go!

I’m always playing around with my meatball recipe but lately my “go to” is an adaptation of the recipe listed in the The Sopranos Family Cookbook . They really are so delicious and remind me a lot of the ones my mom use to make when I was a kid. I love a strong cheese, garlic, and parsley flavor in my meatballs so I tend to throw a little extra in every time I make them. Also, if you don’t have fresh parley on hand just substitute with a small handful of dried parsley instead, they will still be delicious. The original recipe calls for only the use of breadcrumbs however, I had found that when I made them that way the meatballs were just a little too hard for my liking. You really want them to have a nice softness when eating so adding in the moistened white bread gave the meat the extra chew and softness that I was looking for. A drizzle of olive oil into the meat just adds a nice touch of extra flavor.

These meatballs are as delicious with sauce as they are for any cocktail meatball recipe too. I detest store-bought frozen meatballs so I when I need to make a cocktail meatball appetizer I always use this recipe. Just roll them smaller and bake (or fry) for less time. You can find the recipe for my out of this world Whiskey BBQ Cocktail Meatballs right here.

Once the meatballs are done cooking, allow them to simmer for a while in your homemade sauce so that they become even softer and absorb all of the delicious flavor of the tomatoes. Enjoy!
Ingredients

  • 1 lb of 80% ground beef or a combination of beef and pork
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 tbs fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 3/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 slices white bread, crusts removed and moistened with water or milk

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Except for the white bread, combine all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Mix until just combined, do not over mix or the meatballs will be tough.

Break off small pieces of the moistened bread and add it to the meatball mixture. Mix into the meat and then continue to add more bread until it’s all combined.

Form the meat into balls and place them about 2″ apart on a sheet pan lined with a Silpat® or aluminum foil. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Alternatively, the meatballs can also be fried in oil until crispy and golden brown.

If serving pasta, add to the simmering sauce so the meatballs absorb the flavor and become softer.

Grandma’s Macaroni Pie

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Growing up in a big Italian family there were many food traditions that we had throughout the year, macaroni pie being one of them. We typically made this easy, delicious pasta dish at Easter time along with other family favorites such as sweet rice pie and Easter bread. It became a tradition in my family to serve the macaroni pie for dinner the day before Easter after spending the day baking Easter bread. We’d have a nice big slice and relax while watching “The Ten Commandments” on TV. Such great memories!

This dish is made with perciatelli pasta (pronounced pear-chuh-TELL-lee) however, bucatini is also fine as they are both the same cut which is a long, thin, tube like pasta. The key to great macaroni pie is lots of cheese and letting the macaroni soak after cooking so that it plumps up. Be sure to cook the macaroni very al dente as it will both soak and bake. If you overcook it from the start, your macaroni pie will be very mushy. Also, this is a very black pepper heavy dish so if you’re not a huge pepper fan feel free to cut it back to suit your tastes.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb perciatelli or bucatini pasta
  • 10 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 6-8 oz grated cheese (I prefer Pecorino Romano)
  • 1-2 tbs coarse ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large pot of boiling water, cook the macaroni until very al dente. Once it’s done cooking drain off most of the water leaving just enough to cover the macaroni. Set the pot aside off of the hot burner and let the macaroni cool until it swells and gets soft, about 10-15 minutes.

While the macaroni is cooling, mix together the beaten eggs, grated cheese, salt and pepper.

Drain off the macaroni and give it a quick rinse under cool water, if it’s is too warm when you add the egg and cheese mixture it will cook the eggs. Combine the cooled macaroni with the egg and cheese, mix well.

Spray a 9X13 dish with cooking spray, pour the macaroni in. Lightly mist or brush olive oil all over the top so that the macaroni browns as it bakes. Cook for about an hour or until it’s lightly browned and the center is set. Cool for 10-15 minutes, then slice and serve.

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Rainbow Cookie Cake with Crumbs

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A good friend of mine said it best, “This cake is everything“. I couldn’t agree with her more, it really is everything. EVERYTHING that I absolutely love in a good cake. Incredible flavor, moist cake, rich chocolate ganache, and chewy, sugary crumbs. It was pure heaven.

This cake came about because a picture started floating around Facebook of this amazing looking rainbow cookie cake covered in coffee cake crumbs. I searched for a recipe online but the only mention I found were of links leading me to the Donut Diva located in Astoria, Queens. Evidently, this is one of their specialties however, I couldn’t justify the drive out there or the cost. So instead, I decided to hack the recipe myself and make my own version.

A few years ago on Pinterest I came across an Italian Rainbow Cookie Cake from a blog called Always Order Dessert . It was moist, delicious, and tasted EXACTLY like a traditional rainbow cookie. I decided to use that recipe for the cake however, instead of baking the layers as cake rounds I baked three small rectangular cakes using Reynold’s Disposable Cake Pans. (I believe the size was roughly 11X9’ish – they were small, shallow rectangular bakers) I then covered the cake with a nice, rich layer of ganache and topped it with a crumb topping from Martha Stewart. This cake was decadent, delicious, and probably one of my most favorite recipes to date. This one is definitely a keeper!
Ingredients

For the cake

  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1.5 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs, room temperature
  • 12 ounces of almond paste, grated with a box grater
  • 1 tbs pure almond extract
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups all purpose flour, sifted
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • pink, green, AND yellow food coloring (look for gel food coloring, it is more vibrant)
  • 1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 1/4 cup apricot preserves
  • powdered sugar

For the ganache

  • 2 tbs unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 8 oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the crumbs

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour the cake pans, place a piece of parchment paper on the bottom, then set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs and continue to beat for 3 more minutes. Add the grated almond paste, almond extract and milk and beat until well combined.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Slowly add to the almond paste batter and mix until well combined. Batter will look slightly lumpy.

Divide the batter equally into 3 bowls and dye each one a different color. (pink, yellow, and green)

Pour the batter into the pans, smooth out the top and bake until done, about 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes and then invert onto a cooling rack. Remove the parchment paper and cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, make the crumbs. Mix the flour, sugars, salt and cinnamon together. Add in the butter and work the mixture together with your fingers (or a pastry blender) until large clumps form. Spread out the clumps onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.**

While the crumbs are cooling, prepare the ganache. In a small saucepan combine the butter and heavy cream. Cook over low heat until the butter melts and bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan. Remove from the heat, place the chocolate into the pan and allow it to sit for about a minute. Stir the mixture together until well combined and smooth. Add in the vanilla and give it a final stir. Let the ganache cool for about 15 minutes.

To assemble the cake – Place the pink layer on a platter, spread the apricot preserves all over the cake. Add the yellow layer, spread the raspberry preserves all over the cake. Add the green layer, spread the ganache all over the top allowing some to run down the sides of the cake. Smooth out the ganache with an offset spatula and then let it sit for about 5 minutes. Lastly, cover the top of the cake with the crumbs. Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. Place in the fridge for 5-10 minutes to just set the ganache. Serve cake at room temperature.

**NOTE REGARDING THE CRUMBS** – When the crumbs are baking they will spread and create a uniform “blob”. As they bake, move them around the pan with a spatula. When they come out of the oven place them on a dish lined with a paper towel, it will help to absorb the excess butter. Place the dish in the freezer for about 5 minutes. Remove, break up the crumbs and move them around then place in the freezer for another 3-5 minutes, repeat. Continue this until the crumbs are cooled down and fully clumped. About 15 minutes. Do not leave them in the freezer long enough to freeze, they just need to come together while cooling and form lumps. rainbow cake 2

“Saucy” Italian Sausage and Peppers

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Being Italian it will come as no surprise that one of my top favorite foods, hands down, is sausage and peppers and it just so happens that I make a seriously kick ass version! What makes this meal so good is the way the meatiness of the sausage mingles so well with the flavors of the peppers and onions and when done right, it’s an absolutely perfect dish! Scoop it out onto some warm, fresh Italian bread and you have yourself an out of this world sandwich experience. 

I prefer to make my sausage and peppers with red sauce and well browned slices of sausage over one that is more on the oily side and served with a giant, full sausage link. I find the versions cooked in just oil to be a little flavorless plus, I am just not a fan of biting into a huge hunk of meat either. Therefore, I always brown my sausages first while they are whole, then I slice them fairly thin and throw them back into the pan until they are browned on both sides and slightly crispy. Once the sausage is cooked through I remove them, saute the veggies in the sausage fat, add the sausage back in, adjust the seasonings, and toss with tomato sauce. It’s perfect EVERY single time and it really is super easy to make!

Naturally, the key to any great meal is to start with great ingredients. Cheap, fatty, unseasoned sausage will do nothing but bring the dish down therefore, I always get my sausage at a high quality Italian deli in my area. The sausages are far more flavorful and leaner than anything you will find in the supermarket. Also, I highly recommend getting sweet sausage with fennel because it adds such a nice complexity to the overall flavor of the dish. However, if you’re really not a fan of fennel you can skip it and plain sweet sausage will be just as delicious but give the fennel a try, you might be pleasantly surprised!

Ingredients

  • 2.5 – 3 lbs of pork sausage with fennel
  • 2 green bell peppers, seeded and sliced into strips 
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced into strips
  • 2 large sweet onions, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • extra virgin olive oil, as needed
  • 10-12 oz of plain canned tomato sauce
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tsp of oregano
  • pinch of red pepper flakes

Instructions

Drizzle about 2 tbs of olive oil into a pan and turn the heat to medium. Separate the sausage links by cutting the strings in between. Do not cut too close to the base of the sausage or you will slice the casing . When the oil is shimmering and the pan is hot add in the sausage. Cook the sausages, turning frequently, until they are browned on all sides, about 10-15 minutes.

Remove the sausage from the pan. Using a fork to hold each link steady slice it up into 1.5″ slices. Once all of the sausages are sliced, return them to the hot pan. Add in a little more oil as needed so they don’t stick and burn. Continue to cook the sausage slices until they are nicely browned on each side and cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the pan, cover and set aside.

Add to the hot pan the peppers, garlic and onion. Saute them in the sausage fat, adding extra oil as needed, until they are tender and browned. Season them with Kosher salt, pepper, oregano, and the red pepper flakes. Once the veggies are done, add the sausage back into the pan along with the tomato sauce and heat through, stirring gently to combine. Adjust the seasonings as needed. If a “drier” sausage and peppers is preferred, use less tomato sauce and conversely, add more to make it moister. Serve hot.

**Tip** – Sausage and peppers is actually even better if made the day before serving because the flavors have a chance to mingle. To reheat simply place the pan of sausage and peppers in a 350 degree oven and stir occasionally until warmed through or heat on low in a Crock-Pot. 

Great Grandma’s Italian Potato Salad

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This potato salad is one that I grew up on as a child and has been handed down through the years from generation to generation. To this day, it’s still a staple at every, single family BBQ that we have.  In fact, it was one of those dishes that we looked forward to the most at mealtime. It wasn’t a BBQ without Great Grandma’s Italian Potato Salad on hand!

In keeping with tradition, I made this tonight as a side to my BBQ chicken breasts and as usual, it was a hit. Even my 4 year old son who happens to be a fairly picky eater (thought not as bad as my daughter) finally gave in and tried this for the first time. He LOVED it and devoured over 3 helpings of potato salad. It’s a very simple and basic recipe and unlike other potato salads it does not include mayo. Instead, it’s generously seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and a little oregano. This potato salad goes great with pretty much anything you can think to grill up. In particular, it’s the perfect side dish for burgers, hot dogs, and chicken but it’s even delicious all on its own. Enjoy!

Ingredients 

  • Yukon Gold potatoes, about 3-3.5 lbs
  • 1 dozen large eggs, hard boiled and sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil, to taste
  • salt, pepper, and oregano, to taste

Instructions 

Choose potatoes that are roughly the same size so that they cook evenly. Gently scrub them under water to get all of the dirt off. Leave the skins on and place them in a large pot and cover with cold water.  Add about 1 tablespoon of Kosher salt to the water so that the potatoes absorb the flavor while cooking.

Bring the potatoes to a boil and then lower the heat to a rolling simmer. Cook the potatoes about 15-18 minutes, depending on their size. When a knife easily pierces through the potato, they are ready. Do not overcook them or you will have mashed potatoes instead of potato salad.

While the potatoes are cooking hard boil a dozen eggs. Cover the eggs with cold water, bring to a boil, then remove them from the heat, cover the pot and let them sit for about 20 minutes. Run them under cold water, peel, and slice.

Drain the potatoes and run them under cold water to cool them off. Slip the skins off of the potatoes, they should come off easily, and then cut into even sized chunks.

In a large bowl combine the potatoes and sliced eggs, season with salt, pepper, and oregano and then drizzle about 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil into the bowl. Toss gently with your hands or a large spoon. Adjust the oil and seasonings to taste.

You can serve this warm or cold. If you chill the potato salad beforehand it may dry out a little in the fridge as the potatoes will continue to absorb the oil. If that happens, just drizzle in a little extra oil and give it a gentle toss before serving.

**NOTE** – You can use whatever potatoes you have on hand for this recipe, they will taste just as good in the salad. I happen to love Yukon Golds because they have a nice buttery flavor and creamy texture.

Also, you can adjust the ratio of potatoes to eggs to your liking. Sometimes I will add in a few extra eggs, you just have to adjust the seasonings and oil.