Try Something New – A Cooking Class

TasteBuds Kitchen Cooking Class
Mangia!

 

At the start of 2016, I committed to getting out more, saying yes to things I would normally say no to and trying new things. Things are going pretty well. I’ve started my first book club, I tried couples golf and, just Saturday night, Tony and I took the girls to a comedy show in Boston. I’m not going to lie; it was rainy, I was tired and a part of me didn’t feel like going. But I rallied and we all had a lot of laughs.

Taste Buds Kitchen-Cooking Class

I also just recently tried a cooking class at Taste Buds Kitchen in North Andover. It was a blast. When owner, Laurel Holmes, opened Taste Buds back in May 2016, I thought it might just be for kids. I also thought it was an independent business. Turns out, I was wrong on both counts. The North Andover location is one of several franchises from Montana to New York. The company is based in New York City and offers all types of classes, camps and parties for people of all ages.

The Adult BYOB cooking class drew in the fun group of women I joined. BYOB – enough said! There were many dates and menus options to choose from; Steakhouse, New York Pizza, Tasty Thai and Handmade Pasta are just a few of the foods we could learn to cook. We decided on Tapas Espanolas. I was excited about this choice because I love small plates and I’ve never tried my hand at Spanish cooking.

Upon arriving I was immediately taken with the open floor plan and vibrant green/orange color scheme. I adored the industrial chic ambiance inside the West Mill space on High St. I’m a huge fan of the brick, wood, stainless steel vibe.

TasteBuds Cooking Class
*Tapas *Wine and a little something to much on *Cheers ladies! *Instructors in action.

 

My party occupied about half of the cooking stations. The remainder of the cooking class was full of other students ready to whisk, mix and roll right along with us. In the course of two, fun-filled hours we prepared three delicious tapas; Butternut Squash Empanadas, Patatas Bravas (diced potatoes with spicy sauce) and Albondingas (turkey meatballs). My favorite dish was the Patatas.

TasteBuds Kitchen cooking class
A fun night with a fun group and a tray full of Albondigas!
TasteBuds Kitchen cooking class
Empanadas in the making. Nice work Valerie!
TasteBuds Kitchen Cooking Class
**Stirring it up with my fellow chefs *My knife skills are on point *Executive Chef, Andrea D’Angelo and Instructor, Chef Susan

 

Before the night ended, we sat together to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Leftovers were nicely packaged for us to take home and we were each given the recipes for what we prepared in our cooking class.

 

TasteBuds Kitchen Cooking Class
*Albondigas, Empanadas, Patatas

 

It was a great night and I would be happy go back . In fact, Karla, Sue and Susan; how about a cooking class for our next GNO?

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Swordfish Recipe with Avocado Mango Salsa

ingredients for stir-fry swordfish recipe and avocado mango salsa

 

Before summer comes to an official close, I thought I’d share one of my favorite summer recipes. Typically prepared on the grill, I have brought this version inside to cook up on my new stir-fry pan, which I’m obsessed with by the way (thank you Mom).

 

Food Network Stir-Fry pan
My Food Network Stir-Fry pan – LOVE!

 

With a few minor adaptations, this May to September swordfish recipe is something I’d be happy to whip up when the weather is cooler, but I’m still in the mood for something light and refreshing.

Summer, winter, spring or fall; this swordfish recipe with mango avocado salsa is super easy and really tasty. Guests love it and it always makes a great impression when served.

When I’ve prepared this on the grill, I marinate the fish in oil, lime, juice, salt, pepper and even a splash of tequila. However, in the stir-fry pan I prefer to keep the fish dry so it can brown nicely – so just salt and pepper for today’s version.

The Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 pound swordfish, cut into cubes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large avocado, cubed
  • 1/2 cup red onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 cup mango (in summer I use fresh, but this time I used precut, frozen and it was delish)
  • ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley (original recipe calls for cilantro – I had parsley in)
  • Juice of 1 lime, more if you like
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A dash of red pepper flake for a kick

Directions

First prepare the salsa by combining the avocado, mango, onion, parsley, lime, salt, pepper and pepper flake in a bowl. Mix gently so not to break the mango or avocado. The frozen mango held up so beautifully, I may actually prefer it.

 

mango avocado salsa for swordfish recipe
The salsa!

 

Heat stir-fry pan on stove top and lightly oil. Sprinkle swordfish with salt and pepper and toss in the pan. It cooks through and browns so quickly, you’re done before you know it!

 

Fresh swordfish cut into cubes
Fresh swordfish cut into cubes
swordfish sauteing in pan
Sizzle, sizzle.

 

Serve over a bed of rice and you’ve got an amazing meal for every season.

 

swordfish with mango avocado salsa over a bed of rice
The meal

 

I hope you enjoy this swordfish recipe with yummy avocado mango salsa!

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Mike’s Magnificent 3 Olives and a Twist Martini

Mike and his perfect martini
Always served with a smile!

 

Lately, I find myself telling the story of how this blog got its name. I haven’t always been a martini drinker. There was that one time in my early twenties when I first experienced the thrill of a good martini. I enjoyed the taste so much, I somehow managed to drink five in one night (such an amateur). This little feat earned me the nickname of “Martina” for at least a year. My overindulgence also managed to turn me off from the sophisticated cocktail for twenty-five years.

I slowly reintroduced martinis to my repertoire about three years ago. As I slowed down, I began favoring the slow sip that a perfect martini encourages. I also enjoyed the soothing state of mind it delivered – I find myself very relaxed at the first sip of a good martini. I don’t really need more than one, but I often have two. Depending on the type I order, they can satisfy a sweet or savory craving.

While Cosmopolitans and Appletinis are nice, they are a rare choice for my palate. I most often gravitate to a classic martini. Upon ordering, typical questions follow:

  • Gin or Vodka? Vodka please!
  • Shaken or stirred? Shaken and very, very cold.
  • Olives or a twist? And here’s where I’d always pause.

Can’t I have both? I love olives, but I also love the crisp, freshness of lemon. And so my order became – a Grey Goose martini with three olives and a twist of lemon – emphasis on the “and.” I’d often get quizzical looks from the server followed by, “You want both olives AND lemon?” “Yup, that’s right – oh and can you be sure it’s 3 olives – I just like it that way.”

While this became my standard order, it was not until Mike Moffet, of North Andover Country Club, made my signature drink, did I know this should be my blog name. How he does his perfect 3 olives and a twist martini differently, I do not know for sure. But, I always know when Mike has made my cocktail it is smoother, colder and crisp with just the hint of lemon that I like.

Making the perfect 3 Olives and a Twist martini
The process!

 

My blog was intended to be a place where I write about things that I like and make me happy. That’s exactly how I’d describe Mike’s Magnificent Martini.

 

3 olives and a twist Martini with grey goose
Perfection

 

There you have it – a 3 Olives and a Twist Martini. I hope you enjoy it here as much as I do in a glass.

What’s your favorite martini and who makes it best? Share in the comments below!

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My Greek Family’s Stuffed Grape Leaves Recipe

stuffed grapes leaves

 

When I search for a recipe online, it drives me nuts when it’s hidden among paragraphs of narrative. With that in mind, I’ll keep this intro short. I’m often asked for my stuffed grape leaves recipe or, as my family calls them in Greek, dolmades. I find them easy to make and they are gluten, dairy and egg free. Over the years, I’ve made a few adjustments to the original recipe to make life easier and a little healthier. Traditionally served with an egg lemon sauce, avgolemno, I’ve eliminated that in favor of lots of fresh lemon juice.

Stuffed Grape Leaves Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 jar grape leaves (I use Peloponnese). Blanch to tenderize and reduce bitterness.
  • 1lb ground beef, lamb, turkey or any combination of the three (I use turkey for “light days.”)
  • 1/2 cup white or brown rice, uncooked
  • 1 large onion, chopped (yellow, red or whatever you have in)
  • ½ cup fresh parsley plus ½ cup fresh mint, chopped (original recipe called for less, but I like more.)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • Lemon pepper seasoning to taste (I’ve added this and like the extra punch it offers)
  • 2-3 fresh lemons (I like lots of lemon)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (original recipe cooks the stuffed leaves on the stovetop using plates to prevent the leaves from floating– I prefer oven baking). Gently remove grape leaves from jar. They are tightly packed, but take care not to tear them. Boil for 5-10 minutes, then rinse under cold water. Set aside until ready to stuff.

In a bowl, mix the ground meat, onion, rice and chopped mint/parsley mixture. Add salt and pepper.

 

ingredients for greek stuffed grape leaves recipe
Cut stems off leaves, chop mint and parsley together, combine meat, rice, onion, mint and parsley

 

Lay out grape leaves and be sure to cut off stems. Add about 1-2 teaspoon of the meat mixture to each. Do not over stuff or the leaves will break. Use any broken leaves to patch tears. Like a burrito, fold up from the bottom then in from each side and roll tightly. Place rolled leaves in 9 x 13 baking dish or roasting pan, as shown, for a double batch.

Add water to about half to three quarters the height of the grape leaves. Salt the water and add the juice of 1-2 lemons. Leave the rinds in the pan to infuse even more lemon flavor. Cover with foil.

 

Stages of stuffed grape leaves preparation
Stages of preparation – Always keep an extra jar of leaves on hand in the event you get a bad jar. This batch of leaves was particularly challenging, but I managed.

 

Bake for 30-40 minutes.

When done, drain water and immediately drizzle with olive oil and more lemon juice. The hot grape leaves will absorb the added lemon. Add salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with lemon pepper seasoning. Serve hot or cold – yummy either way. If you’re not devouring these immediately, I like to add more oil, lemon juice and seasoning again just before serving.

I hope you enjoy this stuffed grape leaves recipe!

 

Optional, but I like the added flavor.
Optional, but I like the added flavor.

 

 

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Buono Bistro Italian Eatery: Great Food and Better Service

Buono Bistro Chicken Picatta
Chicken Piccata – so tender,  knife not needed.

 

~Before I begin today’s post – I would like to express my deepest sadness for those touched by the tragic events in Orlando, FL. As the mother of two daughters, I can only pray for a more peaceful and compassionate world for their future.~

 

What makes a good restaurant? Sure, the food; but more than that, for me, is the service. By this I don’t just mean the server got my order right and in a timely manner, but the kind of service that makes you feel genuinely welcome.

Date Night at Buono Bistro

I get this feeling every time I go to one of my new favorite spots in North Andover – Buono Bistro. This Italian eatery has impressed me on several occasions and, typically, I’m not one to dine out on Italian. I guess my Italian heritage has me spoiled by my own family’s Italian food. However, the fine Italian cuisine and atmosphere at Buono Bistro has me coming back for more.

 

Buono Bistro Veal Parmesan
Tony’s all-time favorite: Veal Parmesan

 

The Vibe

My first time in, the place was buzzing. A full house, live piano music and an elegant crystal chandelier all caught my attention at Buono Bistro. As did the owner and executive chef, Faisal Bazarto, whom I noticed walking about the restaurant engaging guests in conversation. Dressed in kitchen attire, it was clear that Bazarto was working both the back and front of the house. I love the idea of a hands-on owner who is so clearly invested a complete dining experience.

The Chef

When Chef Bazarto approached Tony and me, we were just about done and ready for the bill.  He asked how we’d enjoyed our meal and offered us dessert. We were so full, we declined, but somehow the personable chef saw through our facade and hand delivered us a small cannoli sampling, on the house, anyway.

 

Buono Bistro Cannoli
The filling of this cannoli is to die for.

 

The Review

I couldn’t get over how charming Chef Bazarto was, and how wonderful it was for him to take the time to speak with us and ensure that we left with the sweetest impression. There was a real sense that everyone from the hostess to the waitress to the owner was authentically happy to serve us. The exceptional treatment made all the difference.

We’ve been back several times since and just this past Saturday we enjoyed yet another delightful meal. This time, Danielle served us and she was perfectly attentive, helpful and efficient. She made eye contact, was smiling and was just the right amount of chatty – Lovely on all counts!

It’s not often I enjoy a restaurant enough to want to return on a regular basis, but I’m happy to say I’ve found such a place in Buono Bistro.

No matter where you live, finding that special spot to return to again and again is like discovering a gold mine.

Do you have a favorite restaurant?

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