craved creation: dirty pickle martini

Food is an amazing thing, but sometimes the spotlight finds itself shifting from the food itself, to the drink accompanying it. That is exactly what happened while visiting XIX (Nineteen) restaurant in center city Philly.

I, being a big fan of a classic dirty martini, ordered this similar drink off their bar menu. I was intrigued, but not necessarily expecting anything special. I was soooooooo wrong. In fact, I am pretty sure I smiled every time I took a sip of this cocktail… literally… every sip.

What made this drink so special? The pickle juice. It was not just ordinary pickle juice, it was spicy! There was definitely a kick, but the spice elevated this play on a dirty martini to something fantastical.

I had to recreate this at home.

Dirty Pickle Preparation
Dirty Pickle Preparation

The key to making this drink successfully at home was finding the right pickle juice. Exploring the grocery store for options, I came across Brooklyn Brine Co. Damn Spicy pickles. They pickle this particular cucumber with a brine infused with habanero peppers.

Really good.

Three parts vodka. One part vermouth. One part pickle juice (I like my martinis extra dirty). All that in a martini shaker with some ice, 50 shakes — it’s a habit — poured into a chilled martini glass and garnished with a pickle and you will have your self a great variation of a dirty martini.

If you are a fan of the briney taste of olives, pickles and the like — or just dirty martinis in general — this drink is for you. Recipe here if you are not able to make it to XIX in Philadelphia.

Enjoy (responsibly)!

Dirty Pickle Martini
Dirty Pickle Martini

steak with kale & oven roasted potatoes

l try not to eat red meat too often (try being the operative word there). So when I do decide to make a steak, I usually go all out and get a good cut. Eyeing up the options at the butcher counter the other day, I went with some filet mignon. A little pricey, a lot tasty.

Nothing is more classic with a steak than some variation of potatoes and a green vegetable. I saw a colorful medley of potatoes in the produce section, so thought those oven roasted would be a fun side. Also, I am a huge fan of kale, so I made that for the green vegetable.

Oven roasted potatoes. This is one of those side dishes that I make all the time.  I always use the same spice mixture no matter the type of potato I am making. In this case, I went with a medley of golden, red and purple potatoes.

This is the most time consuming part of this dish… All in it takes about a little less than an hour to make. I do not take any shortcuts making these though, it really makes for perfectly crispy potatoes that are velvety on the inside.  Definitely worth the wait!

Oven Roasted Potato Preparation

A good cut of steak does not need a lot of help because it is delicious all on its own. A salt and pepper coating on the outside, a hot pan and a pat of butter is all this steak needed.

I cooked this steak “restaurant style” by searing it in the pan on both sides and then finishing the cooking in the oven.  Doing this avoids a burnt outside and undercooked inside on the steak. You can manage to do it all on the stove, it just takes a little more finesse with the heat dials.

Steak Preparation

Lastly, the kale. This is such a quick and easy side to make that hopefully after trying this you will find yourself making it often. It cooks like most any other green (e.g. spinach), in that, you start with a lot and will end with only a little. I usually buy one bunch of kale to serve two people. You may think that is crazy when you are in the store buying it, but trust me – it cooks down a lot.

Kale Preparation

If you were to replace the potatoes in this dish with something a little quicker, you could easily have a great steak dinner on the table in under 30 minutes. However, I am confident if you try this potato preparation, you will be okay with the invested time.

This dish was super tasty and just the right size for a heavy lunch or light dinner.

I like to cook my steak to a nice medium-rare — perfect crust on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. Plated with the bright, lemony kale and crispy, velvety, oven roasted potatoes — I was not disappointed!

Try it for yourself with this recipe.

Steak with Kale & Oven Roasted Potatoes

live & laugh: fish tacos

Live & Laugh: Fish Tacos

Believe it or not, May is upon us. You know what that means (aside from the whole May flowers per April showers thing…)

Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner! In honor of this upcoming Sunday Funday, I thought I would make some fish tacos.

With just a few ingredients, you will have something mighty tasty for a fiesta of your own.

  1. Corn tortillas
  2. Shredded cabbage
  3. Pan-fried fish (I used haddock, but any mild, white fish will work)
  4. Sliced avocado
  5. Chipotle cream
  6. Freshly chopped cilantro
Fish Tacos!
Fish Tacos!

Yep – these tacos are definitely worthy of your Cinco de Mayo menu. The bed of crisp cabbage and tender fish topped with a spicy-cool chipotle cream, buttery avocado slices and some bright, fresh cilantro make for something really special!

If you are looking to throw a party that highlights more than just amazing fish tacos, here are some ideas:

get a piñata!

For a fun adult version, fill the piñata with a mix of candy and some alcohol nips (preferably plastic ones though, not glass!)

try these make-ahead frozen margaritas!

Anything make-ahead is great when you’re going to throw a party.

play some mariachi music!

Hopefully between those fish tacos (recipe here) and this list of ideas, you’ll be well prepared to throw a memorable Cinco de Mayo fiesta with friends and family!

What are your plans for Cinco de Mayo?

sausage, sun-dried tomato, spinach and goat cheese frittata

Breakfast is one of my favorite meals of the day. I especially look forward to breakfast on the weekends since I don’t have to worry about rushing to work. With no where in particular to go, frying slabs of bacon, cracking a couple eggs and making home-fries is a welcome event in my apartment.

Welp, sometimes the weekends don’t lend a lot of time for making a big breakfast — and what about the weekdays, certainly there has to be something more than a quick bowl of cereal or a stop at a drive-thru to eat — right?

The answer is yes! Enter frittata. Not only is it a great make-ahead breakfast goodie; but also, it can easily be made in one pan.

There are many ingredient combos you can put into this, think about what you might put in an omelet… I decided to make a sausage, sun-dried tomato, spinach and goat cheese frittata. (try and say that 5 times fast)

Overall, this was pretty easy to prepare. I think the most intensive part of this frittata was taking the sausages out of their casings and breaking them up in the pan. You could easily avoid this by either cooking them whole and slicing or simply buying ground meat from the beginning.

The rest was easy peasy, whisking the eggs with the half & half and chopping up the tomatoes rounded out all the prep that needed to be done.  After that, it was just adding each ingredient to the pan.

The goat cheese did get a little messy — I just broke it up with my hands and dotted those yummy morsels into the pan. After the eggs had set a bit, all I had to do was pop it in the oven for about 30 minutes and I had a promising few days worth of breakfast on my hands!

Frittata Preparation
Frittata Preparation

Mmmmm mmm mm. This was really good. Not only the day I made it, but also the next morning.

Sure, it required some prep and oven time, so maybe it wasn’t the quickest breakfast to make, BUT the fact that you can make, store and save it for another day is the real appeal here. Maybe pick a day you have some free time, but know you have some busy mornings to come. You’ll be happy you did!

It’s a nice change of pace and also great to have something other than a granola bar or yogurt at your disposal in the mornings. Try my recipe or use the base (the eggs and half & half) and substitute some of your favorite ingredients for the rest.

Sausage, Sun-dried Tomato, Spinach and Goat Cheese Frittata
Sausage, Sun-dried Tomato, Spinach and Goat Cheese Frittata

live & laugh: jambalaya and hush puppies

I don’t know what it is, but it seems like lately New Orleans is the place to be. My younger brother, Eric, was just there for his spring break; my good friend Katie, was there about a month after that. Now with Jazz Fest going on, I’m sure to hear of even more NOLA trips.

Actually, some of my work friends and I were hoping to plan a New Orleans trip for Mardi Gras this year, but unfortunately that didn’t work out as planned.  Even so, we got together and made some NOLA inspired food: chicken, sausage and shrimp jambalaya and hush puppies!

Jambalaya is a great dish to make, because a) it’s yum and b) it’s, more or less, a one-pot meal.  You don’t need to worry about dirtying a million pots and pans, which is always a plus for any recipe!

The hush puppies add for a couple more dirty dishes at the end of the meal, but trust me — it’s worth it. They are fluffy little balls of cornmeal, flour and buttermilk; this recipe in particular also had onion, jalapeño and cheese. They. Were. Awesomeeee.

Hush puppies
Hush puppies

The food inspired by New Orleans was as satisfying as it was delicious, but sometimes, the food just isn’t enough.

I tried to think of some fun activities you could do with friends and/or family that would expand on a New Orleans-like experience.  So, using my brother’s trip photo album, I was inspired and came up with this list of ideas:

NOLA  (Photos by: Eric Brizuela)
(Photos by: Eric Brizuela)
  • Explore: sometimes when you live in a big city, you take for granted all that it has to offer. Take some time to head to known popular streets or town squares/ circles on a beautiful weekend day. You are bound to run into street artists or musicians of some variety.Do you live in a small city, or far from a major one?  Try to find a local art museum in your area and spend the day perusing.
  • Find Live Music: whether it be a big or small venue, there’s bound to be some live music playing in your area (hopefully good music). If you can find something outdoors on a warmer day, that’s the best!  If not, look for bands playing at local restaurants or other venues.There’s just something about the combination of live music, good food and great friends that it’s worth seeking out from time to time.
  • Book a Trip: if all else fails, why not just book a trip for the real thing? I have heard such amazing things about New Orleans, and I hope to get there someday soon.

Hopefully between the food and this list, you can have a little New Orleans inspired fun!

Have you been to New Orleans before?

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