Amali Makes Midtown East Dining…Interesting?!

When my girlfriend asked me to meet her for dinner near her office, I inwardly groaned. Midtown. Ugh. Midtown East. Double ugh. and Park Avenue. Like…who goes there to have a GOOD TIME?

The answer: me. Now, anyway.

IMG_20131209_184411_809 Amali is a wine bar that looks more at home in the east village than on 60th and Park. it has a casual, warm, urban-farmhouse feel. It’s ideal for a girls night out and I can’t wait to return with some friends. It’s candlelit and not too noisy – gret for romance, not so great for food photography.

IMG_20131209_191853_018 Burrata di campagna kritiko olive oil, maldon sea salt

Excellent, and it’s pricey because it’s great. It’s imported from the Italian countryside, and whatever they feed their cows is the right stuff. This burrata is far superior to the domestic stuff – it’s stretchy and smooth, surrounding such dense, creamy innards that they spread with a spoon on the toasted, well charred bread. It’s served doused in olive oil that is fruity and smooth. It’s also well seasoned  plenty of crunchy salt and spicy black pepper, which really elevates it. This is what makes this stand out seasoning is everything.

IMG_20131209_193722_991 Eggplant with calabrian chili honey vinaigrette, cilantro, sesame, yogurt

A standout of the night! The eggplant must be fried at some point, or maybe baked in an insanely hot oven, because the skin is incredibly crunchy and the insides are melting and soft. It’s served with a very spicy chili sauce over tangy, creamy yogurt and the sweet vinaigrette. The cilantro gives this a decidedly middle eastern feel – don’t come here expecting the same ole, same ole. This is a standout dish!

IMG_20131209_193734_164 Spanish octopus with castelveltrano olives, yukon potatoes, wild oregano

Excellent for those of you who love shellfish – this is fresh and mild, with no hint of the sea – much like a mild, well prepared clam. It’s tender and served with a salty, crushed olive relish that lends it a briny flavor. The potato puree is a fun take on the classic octopus-potato combination. It’s not too salty or overseasoned – the flavor of the octopus really shines.
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Ricotta honey doughnuts with honeyed ricotta

Oh. Yes. Ricotta makes these doughnuts moist and custardy on the inside. They are served piping hot and rolled in sugar, but aren’t too sweet. they are served on this creamy, vanilla scented whipped ricotta. It’s like zeppole gone up town.

It’s like me gone uptown – or at least midtown! This is a little overpriced, but it’s midtown east, so everything is a little overpriced. The service is great, the wine list is extensive (there’s a full bar, too), and the food is a great switch up from the normal Italian fare at wine bars. The menu is kinda ll over the mediterranean and middle east, which is what makes it interesting.

I just said midtown east was interesting. Whoa.

Park Side – Don’t Fuggedaboudit

I never watched “The Sopranos”. But I love Goodfellas. The G-dfather. Every documentary about the Gottis is currently on my DVR.

I buy into the hype. I love a good mob story! Family, loyalty, intrigue…and food. Every mob movie seems to feature mouth-watering sequences with garlic, tomatoes, and ground pork. 

And if there were a restaurant that the mob frequented in real life…not saying they DID, just saying IF…that restaurant would be Park Side in Corona, Queens.

It’s across the street from a boccee ball court, described in my Ice King of Corona post. It has a valet run by men in suits – in fact, every server in the restaurant wears a suit with a bow tie and I didn’t even see any female ones. Funny enough, this doesn’t’ strike me as sexist – this is probably because most of the head servers there are career servers. They seem to have been here since the 1960s, and maybe they have.

This is Italian-American food at its finest. This is manicotti, spaghetti bolognese, and chicken francese. Don’t be looking for any micro-farmed greens or organic wines. Look for the food that you thought was Italian. And don’t be ashamed…we all love it.

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You can sit downstairs in chairs marked with plaques that  bear the name of the regular customers who weekly sit there. You can sit upstairs, in the frosted glass, flourescent lit, fabulously 1980s Marilyn Monroe room.

You might need shoulder pads to feel truly at home here.

Feel free to come dressed in jeans or an evening gown – anything runs and the hospitality is always the same – as if you are the head of the family, gracing the restaurant with your presence.

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Bread Basket

Like none I have ever experienced – it’s what Scarpetta’s bread basket was before it got all uptown and slick. Garlicky crostini, crunchy breadsticks, and the most fabulous salami and cheese filled bread. Its’s doughy and soft, layered with spicy pork and tangy provolone cheese.

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Don’t forget to treat yourself to the hunks of salty Parmesan and the juicy, garlicky, soft roasted tomatoes on garlic crostini.

This is the start to what is sure to be a gut busting meal.

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Every meal here comes with salad or pasta. Choose the salad, but only go for the Caesar dressing if you like an aggressive, heavy hit of anchovy. You will need something green tonight, after all.

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Chicken Parmesan

The finest in the world. On the planet. No apologies, no justifications. Just the best. The juiciest thicken cutlet, pounded thin so it stays tender. The crust is thick and very crunchy. The cheese is obviously whole milk mozzarella – nothing else could be this creamy and stretchy. It is broiled until it is bubbling and brown, with crispy bits amongst the soft, chewy bits of cheese. It avoids that horrible fate of most chicken Parmesan dishes – the dreaded sog factor. This is served with a generous swath of bright, oregano-heavy tomato sauce and still remains crunchy and juicy. It just can’t be beat. There is nowhere that makes chicken parm like Park Side. 

Oh, and I lied. Get that pasta with the chicken parm – it demands it.

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Chocolate cake

Of course, for a meal this nostalgic, only chocolate cake will do, and this one delivers. Fudgy, dense, moist…just like Grandma Mary made.

Or, in this case, Grandma Maria. 

This is the grand temple of Italian American cuisine. Without it, how could places like Carbone come to be? It’s not cheap but you get what you pay for – fabulous service, atmosphere that can’t be beat, and food that is just what you want when you order it. And in huge portions.

Maybe I better start watching “The Sopranos” after all…nothing like continuing with a theme.

Acqua at Peck Slip – Supporting the South Street Seaport

This was originally published about 3 years ago. Since that time, Hurricane Sandy ravished this part of Manhattan and many restaurants were badly hurt. So many closed and even more are struggling. I am republishing this in hopes to get people out of their ruts and into these restaurnts that want and deserve your business. 
If you think I spend a lot of time in the financial district…you are right.  I want to put the word in on a reliable, if slightly pricey, trattoria-esque option!
 Acqua Restaurant is located at peck slip downtown.  This is the oldest part of the city, and is covered in cobblestones and surrounded by buildings where Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill Cody used to eat and drink when they performed at Madison Square Garden!
White pizza with potatoes, onions, prosciutto, and house made mozzarella
 Just what you expect in the best way possible.  This is reminiscent of one of my favorite CPK pizzas of all time, the late, great, rosemary chicken potato pizza.  Many a tears were shed when that pizza was retired.  But replacing the chicken with salty, silky, gently charred, fatty PROSCIUTTO?!?!  OK, this pizza raises the potato pizza BAR!  The crust is thin, crunchy at the edges, and tender within.   The potatoes must be par-boiled because they are meltingly soft as well as fried to a crunchy crisp at the top layer.  The onions are sweet and the mozzarella is the final taste layer of creamy goodness.  This pizza is a salty, creamy, sweet, crunchy, flavor bomb. 
Steamed snapper
 The fish is excellently, if simply, prepared, and the moist, sweet flesh sings with just a squeeze of lemon.  The spinach is perfectly cooked, tasting of all it’s minerally, vegetal goodness without too much overwhelming garlic.  The potatoes are also great-crispy, rosemary flecked, steaming hot and fluffy within,..this place is great with tubers!
Great food, nice atmosphere, good service…are there any downsides here? Ummm…yes.  This is pretty overpriced.  The pizza was $16 and the fish is $26.  In the east village, those prices would never fly, and even in hell’s kitchen you can do better than that.  But this is the FiDi.  And pickins are slimmer.  So…they can overcharge.  Is it fair?  No.  Is it the way of the world?  Yes.  Is it insanely expensive and overcharged? No.  Will I return?…Probably, yes.  For that pizza.  Because I love it.  And because in this neighborhood, it’s one of the only places to get this kind of meal…and because, once again, it’s carbs on carbs.  How can you really put a price on that?

How to Ruin Your Waistline the Vegetarian(ish) Way!

This weekend was an exercies in proving that just because you aren’t layering hunks of bacon on yur plate doesn’t mean that your food isn’t unhealthy.

I mean that, of course, as a compliment:

Exhibit A:

IMG_20131003_204211_903 Duck fat Brussels sprouts at Little Prince

There aren’t any huge, hulking pieces of crispy duck fat here. No breaded, deep fried cheese, either. And, yet. this is the most indulgent vegetable dish that I have had in ages. The sprouts are roasted slowly in enough duck fat to make them incredibly crispy on the outside and almost soft within. The duck fat infuses into the sprouts, taking away any bitter flavor and leaving behind a savory, meaty richness that makes this hearty enough to have as a small main dish. Can’t wait to get my hands on some duck fat and make this at home! Just keep in mind that this tiny restaurant gets extremely noisy, so bring the fun friends here and lead romantic dates elsewhere.  IMG_20131011_122310_242 Carrot Soup at Eli Zabar’s

Cream. That is what I remember when I look at the (admittedly shoddy) photo of this soup. Rich, soothing, decadent cream. Oh, and carrots. Sweet, earthy carrots, punctuated by the slight zip of onions and garlic. And how could I forget the sharp black pepper that generously pervaded the soup, cutting through the heavy ingredients and bringing them into focus. This soup is insanely rich and wonderfully tasty. It isn’t a diet dish, bu tit is a dish to die for. 

IMG_20131013_120002_013 Eggs in purgatory at Rosemary’s

Oh YES! This is for people who love zesty, not to say insanely spicy, dishes. Two expertly poached eggs served in a chunky, vibrant tomato sauce that is equal parts acidic tomato, sharp garlic, and woo-hoo lip tingling chiles. Luckily, the rich yolk enriches the sauce and cuts down on the chiles heat, allowing you to taste each component without being overwhelmed. It’s finished with garden fresh herbs (From their own garden!), thin shavings of Parmesan, and two hearty slices of country bread. You wouldn’t believe that after this I needed a food coma nap, but oh…I did. It may have been due to the lard and cheese foccacia I had as an appetizer. This is the kind of food that you make yourself when you have the time, but if you are too rushed or hung over, then you will be happy to pay the rather premium price that Rosemary’s charges.

Little Prince on Urbanspoon

Luce’s Italian Fare Delivers

I wrote about Luce awhile ago, but thought that it deserved its own full write up.

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You already know that the restaurant is large and casual, nice enough for dinner but relaxed enough for a family brunch – just a great neighborhood spot. And I told you about the addictive sundried spread. How about the rest of the food?

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Casear salad

Serviceable. No more, no less. Fresh veggies, a big serving, and some really soft, wonderfully salty but not bitter anchovies.

However, the dressing is bland. Like – really, truly, crazily bland. It doesn’t even taste overly gloppy or mayonnaise-y. It just tastes…like water.

I was craving some lettuce. And I got it.

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Endive, fennel, mushrooms, artichokes and hearts of palm salad with shaved Parmesan

If I loved this salad any more, I would actually have to marry it.

It’s so simple and at the same time, interesting. Bitter endive, meaty hearts of palm, creamy artichokes, crunchy fennel, and delicate, woodsy mushrooms in a light, acidic dressing. The Parmesan is thickly shaved and adds a necessary hit of salt to the dish. If you are a salad lover, you are totally going to love this. You get something different in each bite and the ingredients all work together instead of competing withe one another.

IMG_20130929_150509_785 Mussels

Perfect. Each mussel arrives open and sweet, juicy, and soft. I have rarely had a bowl of mussels where literally every single one is open. This is a spicy, garlicky, overtly tomatoey sauce – just the kind I like. It’s filling but not greasy or overly salty. It’s just super satisfying with a slice of the accompanying bread. It’s listed as an appetizer but it’s really an ideal main dish.  IMG_20130929_150519_251 Parmesan chicken with lemon, peas, and artichokes

This disappeared so quickly that I didn’t’ even get a taste. Guess it was good, then?

Luce is a really great neighborhood spot. It’s reasonably priced, never too crowded, and the staff is prompt. Best of all, the food is really tasty.

Tasty enough to deserve a post of its own.

Paleo Turkey Meatballs in Mushroom-Sherry Sauce

So, my fiance started eating Paleo style.

Have you heard about that?

It’s where people eat like cave people used to eat – things like seeds, meat, and vegetables. They eschew things like dairy, refined carbohydrates, and sugar.

And they make their loved ones feel like Hannibal Lecter if said loved ones so much as look at a blueberry muffin.

So, in an effort to be supportive, I invented the below recipe. And I have to say…necessity is the mother of invention.

Because these are absolutely awesome!

Paleo Turkey Meatballs in Mushroom-Sherry Sauce

2013-09-23 paleo meatballs Ingredients:

1 lb. ground turkey breast

10 oz. sliced mushrooms

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup sherry

rew sprigs each thyme and rosemary, chopped

salt ans  pepper, to taste

1.5 tbsp. mayonnaise

splash of almond milk

paleo meatballs 014 1. Heat the oil in the pan until small bubbles arise, then toss in the onion and garlic. You want them to sizzle and turn translucent, but NOT to brown or color immediately – if that happens that means that those babies are burning.
paleo meatballs 015 2. When the onions start to give off a savory scent and are soft (after about 10 minutes), throw in the mushrooms and herbs.  paleo meatballs 016 After another 10 minutes, they should look like this. There will be a lot of water now, from the shrooms. You need that.

paleo meatballs 019 3. While the shrooms saute, combine the turkey, Worcestershire, mayo, and a bit of salt and pepper – not TOO much salt, because the Worcestershire is mighty salty.
paleo meatballs 021 4. Form the meat into ping pong sized balls, put them into the pot, turn the heat down to medium low, and cover for 25 minutes, or until the largest meatball is totally opaque when cut.  paleo meatballs 027 5. Add the wine and the tomatoes. Allow the meatballs to cook for about 5 minutes more, until the tomatoes burst.

paleo meatballs 029 6. Add the almond milk, stir, and taste for seasonings – I added quite a bit more pepper to mine.  paleo meatballs 030 7. Serve.

These are so good that I almost wouldn’t think that they are healthy. They are juicy and soft, thanks to the mayonnaise. They go perfectley with the creamy, savory wine sauce. It is reminiscent of chicken Marsala with a pop of unexpected brightness from the burst tomatoes. And the almond milk…wow. It has a sweet taste on its own, but it becomes rich and…yes, you guessed it…downright NUTTY in this sauce. It’s so creamy that I would never guess it’s a dairy substitute.  paleo meatballs 034 In fact, served over mashed cauliflower, I would never guess that this is an entirely Paleo meal.

The cave people never had it so good. 

Gina La Fornarina – I’ve Got The Gift

I have the gift.

The magic touch.

I always (well, 9.7 times out of 10) choose fabulous restaurants.

I don’t know how I do it, but somewhere between my lack of athletic ability and my unruly eyebrows, fate decided to give me one gift – the gift of restaurant picking. I can somehow sniff out the diamond in the rough, that oft-passed-over gem.

I guess that’s the only way that we ended up at Gina la Fornarina

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This small UWS restaurant is the sort of place where coworkers come for a light lunch and mommies with strollers sit their kids down with ipads while they enjoy a glass of wine and a decadent pizza. It is steeply priced, but the atmosphere is breezy and feminine,the menu is child and adult friendly, and it’s the only game of its kind within several blocks. It’s casual-nice, with efficient service and a full bar, without having to pay the premium price of a full-on foodie restaurant.

pix 018 Prosciutto and fontina panini

Very simple and very delicious. Buttery fontina cheese, soft and pleasantly salty prosciutto and the perfect panini bread -fluffy but thin, soft enough to eat but dense enough to stand up to the fillings. The meat fairly melts into the cheese and the effect is a surprisingly light sandwich. This isn’t huge or overstuffed, so you can indulge without feeling like you are going to need a new pants size after lunch. The salad alongside is fresh but underdressed – be sure to ask for additional dressing on the side.

pix 017 Four cheese and mushroom pizza

When I see a dish made with truffle oil on the menu, I’m bound to order it. This pizza is great! It has a thin, rather stiff crust that has a nice char and thick bubbles around the crust. The four cheese blend of mozzarella, fontina, Gorgonzola, and parmiginao is well balanced – nutty, creamy, stretchy, and just a little piquant form the Gorgonzola. The mushrooms are meaty and juicy and the truffle oil is merely the faintest hint of heady, umami scent…it really completes the dish without overpowering this.

pix 015 Gina la Fornarina is an ideal lunch or dinner spot. The breads are totally delicious and I would come back here for the pizza, sandwiches, or excellent wines by the glass anytime. You pay here, for convenience, for lovely surroundings, and for some good food. But, if you stick to food and not booze, it’s considerably cheaper. And more delicious than I would have thought, given the pink decor and cartoon-laden menu.

Thank heavens I stopped in here.

Thank heavens I’ve got the gift. 

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Garlicky Lemon Spinach

Popeye was onto something good.

And I don’t just mean those sweet tattoos.

I mean SPINACH!

Not that chopped, foul smelling watery stuff from the can.

Not even the very useful frozen kind that is perfect in highly seasoned dishes.

I mean fresh spinach.

Toothsome, hearty, almost meaty. It is refreshing raw but I far prefer it cooked. In this simple method, it is sauteed with garlic and oil, and served hot with a spritz of lemon juice.

Garlicky Lemon Spinach

2013-07-01 fooood Ingredients:

1 lb. fresh, clean spinach

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tsp. chile oil or 2 tps. olive oil plus 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flake

1 tbsp. lemon juice

salt to taste (at least 2 tsp)

fooood 027 1. Put the oil, pepper flakes(if using), and garlic into a hot pan. Let the oil heart up over medium low heat so the garlic gently starts to turn translucent, not browning at ALL. This should take about 10 minutes.

fooood 031 2. Add the spinach. At first it may hardly fit in your pan, but don’t worry.

fooood 032 3. Put a tight fitting lid on the pan and let the spinach cook for about 3 minutes, or until the spinach has wilted.

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4. Add the lemon juice and let it reduce for another 5 minutes. Then add the salt. 

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5. Then, taste for seasonings. If it is too bright or tart, you can add some sugar, but chances are that it will be perfect. 

fooood 042 6. Serve. 

This dish is so versatile. Fold it into a fluffy omelette. Layer it with freshly grated pecorino cheese onto a flatbread. Add a few slices of grilled chicken and turn it into a light pasta dinner. I especially love it with simply grilled fish. The trick here is to really be aggresive with the seasoning – spinach is a strong, minerally tasting vegetable. It can really take all of the tart lemon and savory garlic. Once you have tasted this super simple spinach, it is guaranteed to become a staple in your dinner menu rotation.

Popeye would be proud. 

Mussels Fra Diavolo – The Devil Made Me Do It!

I have very few vices.  I don’t smoke.  Don’t steal.  I gamble a little, but I don’t kick puppies or anything.

I do, however, have one devilish inclination that just won’t get out of my system…

Fra Diavolo.

Fra Diavolo is a pasta sauce that is made with tomatoes, garlic, and tons of crushed red pepper.  It’s main characteristic is the intense spice, which gives it the name “brother devil”.  It should be teeming with garlic and lip tingling spice. It’s super assertive and intense.

 Basically –  bad first date dish, great fifth date dish!

And although you can have fra diavolo plain, with lobster, or with other seafood, I prefer it most with fresh mussels.  Mussels are reminiscent of sweet, mild clams.  They are cheap, easy to prepare, and so delicious in this spicy tomato sauce!

I add fennel to this dish because it lends a really sweet, tangy note to an otherwise super savory dish, but feel free to omit it if you don’t like the licorice-y taste.

Mussels Fra Diavolo

2010-08-16 mussels fra diavola Ingredients:

2 lbs. mussels, cleaned (I like cultivated mussels, which come without beards or much dirt)

2 large cans peeled tomatoes

1 cup white wine

2 tbsp.  tomato paste

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, diced

1 bunch celery hearts, diced

4 carrots, diced

1 fennel bulb, diced (reserve fronds for later use or toss)

1 bunch basil, cleaned

3 tbsp. capers

4 tbsp. butter

2 tbsp. (or less) crushed red pepper flakes

2 tbsp. olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

1. Put the canned tomatoes, tomato paste,  celery, onions, fennel and carrots into a large stockpot and set to medium high  heat. Let the whole thing boil for about 30 minutes, or until the veggies are all very soft and fragrant.

 

2. Now, add the capers, wine, and red pepper flakes. Let cook for about 10 minutes, or until the flavors start to meld.

 By this time, that sauce should smell fabulous

 3. Now, puree the whole thing in the food processor. This is the step that takes it from rustic to restaurant quality. No one wants a huge lump of onion in their mussels, but a nicely pureed sauce preserves all of that vibrant flavor.

That’s the consistency that you want.

 4. Now put some of the broth in a shallow pan over medium heat, and when it bubbles, throw in the rinsed  mussels.

 

 5. Cover the pan (you may have to do the mussels in several shifts to be able to cover the pan).

 The SECOND the mussel pops open-just a couple of minutes for some of them – take that baby out and toss it back in the pot of pureed sauce.

 6. When the mussels are all cooked (discard any that don’t pop open), add in a good handful of roughly torn basil…

and the butter. The butter adds a really luxurious, velvety finish to the sauce.
7. Taste for seasonings and serve.

This is everything you want a mussel dish to be.  Hearty, robust, spicy, fragrant, sweet from the tomatoes and salty from the capers.  The mussels are plump and juicy, infused with the savory garlic and fragrant basil.  Add some crusty sourdough bread and you are well on your way to heaven…well I guess you are really on your way to hell

But what a way to go!

Heavenly Mushroom Ragout

I was so surprised and annoyed to learn that my mushroom ragout recipe didn’t transfer from my old blog to this current one. A reader pointed it out to me, and Nicole, I am so grateful to you! Republishing this recipe is a no brainer – it’s one of the greatest, most versatile recipes in my repertoire. This Madeira scented mushroom ragout is going to send you to fungi heaven.

And don’t tell me there isn’t such a place. After all, I don’t rain on YOUR religious parades.

 Mushroom Ragout

2010-09-07 mushroom sauce

Ingredients:

1 lb.cleaned and roughly chopped assorted mushrooms (these are chanterelle(silky and mild), bluefoot(woodsy and meaty), and that classic favorite button

2 tbsp. butter

1 small onion, diced

1/3 cup Madeira or Marsala

3 sprigs thyme

1 glug Worcestershire sauce

salt and pepper to taste

1. Sautee the onion in the butter over medium low heat until the onions are tender and have JUST started to turn golden brown. You don’t want to fry them into action, you want to seduce them into submission.

2. Add the mushrooms.

The mixture will cook for about 35 minutes. This process simply can’t be rushed. This is how long it takes for the mushrooms to gently soften and release their moisture and for the onions to become jammy and sweet.

Don’t be impatient here. A tough, undercooked bluefoot mushroom is the worst thing in the world.

Well, besides leprosy. 

Those are the two worst things in the world.

3. Now, add the thyme leaves, Worcestershire sauce, and wine. Cook for about 15 minutes or so, until the mixture has further reduced and the smell is intoxicating.

4. Taste for seasonings and serve

This is such a fulfilling meal. Meaty, savory, herby from the thyme, rich from the wine, and comforting but not at all heavy. I love it with a dollop of sour cream stirred in at the end, making in velvety and creamy. You can serve this in so many ways, including…

-with Parmesan over polenta

-with poached eggs and toast

-with chicken and mashed potatoes

-over rare steak

-with a spoon and a hunk of bread, standing over a pot and praying no one comes in and expects you to share

It’s vegetarian(if you use vegetarian Worcestershire sauce), it’s simple to make, and though it’s a little pricey, it’s a great show-off dish for a dinner party.

Toldja heaven existed.