Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Blistered Olives

When someone comes by for a drink, it’s important to have nibbles on hand to offset the effects of the alcohol. That’s why I always keep cans of green olives in the pantry. Yes, cans, not jars. Jarred olives are packaged in brine, giving them an entirely different, salty taste, in comparison with those in cans. The latter have a mild, buttery flavor that is very hard to resist.

Making these blistered olives is a snap. Have your company make his or her own drink from your stocked bar cart (there will be a blog post about this in the future), while you make the olives. They are wonderful warm right from the pan, or cold the following day. They make a special addition to a cheese or charcuterie tray, and are a welcome change of pace on a salad bar. Even if you’re serving a tossed side salad, it’s nice to add a garnish or two, and these olives are perfect for that. You’re going to love the taste and simplicity.
Blistered Olives
Slightly adapted from Instrupix.com

1 15-oz. can green olives, drained and patted dry
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon minced Melissa’s organic garlic
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, more or less to taste

In a 10” sauté pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat until it shimmers. Add the drained olives to the pan, and toss them with the oil. Sauté for 3-5 minutes or until they start to brown and “blister.” Stir in the minced garlic; toss to coat. Continue to sauté the olives and garlic, stirring frequently for 1-2 minutes. Do not allow the garlic to burn. Add the red pepper flakes and sauté and stir about 1 minute more. Pour into a heatproof serving dish and enjoy!

These can be enjoyed either hot or cold. Personally, I think they benefit from a night spent in the fridge. The flavors meld so beautifully that the next day they are exceptionally good (read: impossible to stop eating). They will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.

If you love olives like I do, then you will want to try this Olive Cheese Spread. It is delicious, versatile, and one of the most popular recipes on the blog.

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Monday, April 29, 2019

Crunchy Melon Salad

The first of May is just days away, and with its arrival thoughts turn to fresh, crunchy summer salads and sweet summer fruits. Lighter meals are the order of the day, and this light, fresh salad is going to be a welcome addition to any meal. It goes together in a flash, and can be made the night before you’re ready to serve it. I used a sweet, delicious Charentais melon from Melissa’s Produce, but you can feel free to experiment with your own personal favorite. Just make sure it is orange, yellow, and very sweet to offset the light colors of the celery and cucumber, and provide a pleasing contrast of taste. As you can see from the photos, this salad lends itself quite well to molding. I used this food molding set. It holds its shape better if you chill it beforehand, but as you can see, I didn’t have any issues with it collapsing. It makes a most appreciated presentation when served in this manner.
Crunchy Melon Salad

½ English cucumber, cubed
2 ribs of celery, diced
Melissa’s Charentais Melon
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1/8 teaspoon
red pepper flakes, more or less to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon
rice vinegar
2 tablespoons Mirin, or to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
1 tablespoon toasted
black sesame seeds or poppy seeds

Cut the melon into cubes or small rounds and place into a bowl with the celery, cucumber, and parsley. Season with the pepper flakes, oil, rice vinegar, salt, and Mirin.*

Toss and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds to serve.

*I realize that some of these ingredients are not pantry staples. You can achieve similar results by adding a teaspoon of sugar to your favorite light vinaigrette and using it instead. I like this vinaigrette dressing.

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Friday, April 26, 2019

Lemony Salmon and Spiced Chickpeas

A salad for supper, particularly where heartier appetites are concerned, is not always satisfying, unless it is full of calorie-laden additions, and that defeats the purpose.

This easy and beautiful salad is an exception and it’s a breeze to make. I baked my salmon early in the day, allowed it to cool, broke it into pieces, and stored it in the fridge. Then, all I had to do around dinner time, was prepare the chickpeas, slice radishes that I always keep cleaned in the fridge, and toss everything together with pre-washed spinach, topping it all with a bit of crumbled hard-boiled egg (another refrigerator staple). It is hearty, satisfying, tasty, and so good for you.

This recipe is adapted from Epicurious’s new cookbook, COOK90: The 30-Day Plan for Faster, Healthier, Happier Meal. You can grab your copy here. 
Lemony Salmon and Spiced Chickpeas

1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 (¾ - 1-lb.) salmon fillet
½ tsp. kosher salt, plus more
Onion powder
Freshly ground black pepper
1 9-oz. pkg. Melissa’s Peeled & Steamed Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas), rinsed, patted dry
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1½ tsp. za’atar
2 T. fresh lemon juice
4 cups baby spinach
4 radishes, trimmed, thinly sliced
Flaky sea salt
Crumbled hard boiled egg (optional)
Thinly sliced red onion (optional)

Place a rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 300°F. Toss lemon slices in a large bowl with a drizzle of oil. Arrange slices in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Set salmon on lemons. Season salmon all over with kosher salt, pepper, onion powder, and paprika, and then drizzle and rub with some oil (about ¼ cup). Roast until salmon is just barely opaque in the middle, 12–17 minutes, depending on thickness. If you like your salmon well-done, cook it a few minutes longer. Let salmon cool, and then flake into medium-size pieces with a fork.

Meanwhile, bring chickpeas, garlic, za’atar, and remaining ¼ cup oil to a bare simmer in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally and reducing heat if needed, 8-10 minutes. Stir in ½ tsp. kosher salt and remove skillet from heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer chickpeas to a medium bowl, leaving oil behind. Whisk lemon juice into oil; taste dressing and season with more kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper if needed.

Toss spinach in a large bowl with 1 tsp. dressing. Divide among bowls along with radishes, chickpeas, and salmon (and lemons if desired); drizzle with more dressing. Sprinkle with sea salt and more pepper. 

Makes 2 main dish servings.

A lighter salad using chickpeas is this delicious and refreshing Chickpea, Avocado, and Feta Salad. I could eat this stuff every day.

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Monday, April 22, 2019

Apple-Bacon Relish from The Bacon Bible

Those of you who follow me on Facebook and Instagram were the first ones to see pictures of this incredibly delicious Apple-Bacon Relish from Abrams’ new cookbook, The Bacon Bible, More than 200 Recipes for Bacon You Never Knew You Needed by Peter Sherman. Wow! What a cookbook this is, and what fabulous relish!

This is the first time I’ve ever made anything of this nature, although I am well aware from reading restaurant menus, that bacon relishes and jams are all the rage these days; I can see why. This is delicious! Seriously, I could have eaten it right out of the pan. Instead, I used it in a variety of ways, each more delicious than the other. You might try it, as I did, spooned on top of a baked potato, dolloped into the cavity of an avocado, or as you see here, gracing the top of a juicy cheeseburger. 

However you choose to use it, you must make it!

Apple-Bacon Relish
from The Bacon Bible

2 teaspoons canola or oil
4 oz. thin-sliced bacon, diced
½ small red onion, finely diced
1 large Gala or Granny Smith apple, diced
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

In a
large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat until it begins to shimmer. Add the bacon and cook until golden brown and crisp, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels.

Add the onion and apple to the pan and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and vinegar and cook until thickened, about 4 minutes. Return the bacon to the pan and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, transfer to a medium bowl, and stir in the pepper and parsley. Let cool to room temperature before serving. The relish will keep, tightly covered in the refrigerator, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. Makes about 1½ cups.

For a heavenly vegan relish, try this Roasted Red Pepper Relish.

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Sunday, April 21, 2019

Brunching with Bunnies

I hadn’t planned on doing an Easter table this year because truth be told, I am not celebrating. Still, having excavated so many wonderful Easter decorations that my mother had used over the years, I simply couldn’t resist.
Everything in the centerpiece was hers. The cute basket actually had a rather bedraggled bunch of artificial greenery in it that was unbelievably difficult to extricate. After prying it loose I filled it with a rather industrious looking bunny from her collection, overseeing some painted eggs.
I didn’t put much candy in the basket because there’s no one else here to eat it except me, but I could not resist these chocolate carrots from Lindt. They make a tasty crop for this farmer bunny.
The newly discovered tea set had to be a part of the centerpiece, along with this whimsical bunny on a bicycle.
The pink cups that I found earlier seemed right at home despite the lack of a saucer. Napkins and flatware are from Pottery Barn.
The pink custard cups I’ve had for ages; the glassware is Villeroy and Boch. The chargers from Pier One you’ve seen many times. They are as versatile as the macramé runner from Anthropologie.
The bunny plates -- so adorable – are from Williams-Sonoma. 

Happy Easter to all who celebrate!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Banana Crunch Cake with Praline Topping

Don’t ask me why (really, I mean it, don’t ask) I think of banana cake at Easter time. I know, I know, the Easter bunny eats carrots (Well, who knows? He may eat bananas as well.), and carrot cake seems to be the norm, but today I made a banana cake, and it is sensational! Seriously, I think this kicks carrot cake to the curb (Except for my Secret Ingredient Carrot Cake, of course!). It would work equally well at your Easter brunch or dinner, and the beauty of this cake is that it needs to be made the day ahead of serving. It tastes just fine and is certainly serve-worthy shortly after baking, but the flavors have a chance to meld if left to set at least eight hours.

While it needs to be made ahead, it also doesn’t keep well, so if it isn’t completely consumed the following day, put it in the freezer. It will last, frozen, for up to three months.
Obviously, this isn’t your normal banana cake if you take a look at the spices and flavorings, but the topping is what truly makes it out of this world! The secret ingredient is Melissa’s Clean Snax. Not only does it pack a nutritional wallop, but the delightful flavor and intense crunch make this praline topping incredibly good. Melissa’s has a wide variety of flavors of Clean Snax, including banana and cacao, but I did not want a trace of chocolate flavor in this cake, so went with almond. If you want to kick up the spice a bit, try their Hatch Chile Clean Snax (it’s impossible to stop eating, be warned.)
Banana Crunch Cake with Praline Topping

3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 large bananas, mashed
¼ cup peanut butter
1½ tablespoons
rum extract
1 large egg
1¼ cups of flour
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cloves
¼ cup pecans, chopped

Praline Topping

¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
¼ cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 tablespoons milk
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
½ cup
Melissa’s Almond Clean Snax, chopped
¼ cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour (or spray with Baker’s Joy) a 9” x 9” pan.

Cream sugar, butter, and bananas until smooth. Beat in rum extract and egg.

Blend dry ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl; add to wet mixture alternately with buttermilk.

Pour mixture into prepared pan, smoothing top, and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until top is golden brown, cake has pulled away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick tests clean. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

Praline Topping

Bring butter and sugar to a boil in a medium/large sauce pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for one minute or until slightly thickened. Allow to cool 10 minutes. Whisk in milk, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Fold in Clean Snax and pecans, and pour over the top of cooled cake.

Allow cake to set, uncovered, at room temperature for eight hours or overnight before serving. This cake does not keep well, so it if it isn’t consumed the following day, freeze for up to three months.

A not-as-sweet banana loaf is my grandmother’s Banana Date Nut Bread, a delicious family tradition.

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Jicama Spinach Dip with Hearts of Palm

If, like me, you are unfamiliar with jicama, let me educate you. This root vegetable with its yellow and papery skin is creamy white on the inside with a crisp texture similar to that of an apple or raw potato. The flavor is slightly sweet, and the jicama is surprisingly juicy. It can be cooked, but is largely eaten raw, and, unlike apple or potato, will not turn dark if stored after slicing. It is high in dietary fiber, composed of 86-90% water, is low in saturated fat, and a good source of vitamin C. It’s also quite tasty!
Use a knife when you slice it — a vegetable peeler does not work well at all.
Slice it into cubes to toss in a salad, strips for dipping, or mince for including in this delicious dip/sandwich spread.
A word of warning, it makes A LOT (as Jed Clampet used to say “a heapin helpin’”), so be mindful of that. If you want to cut this recipe in half, you certainly can, in which case cut back on the soup mix(es) to 1/8 cup (2 Tablespoons). I served mine in these darling 5 oz. ramekins for which I never seem to run out of uses.
Jicama Spinach Dip with Hearts of Palm

1 c. mayonnaise
1 16-oz. container sour cream
1 1.8-oz. pkg. dry Leek OR Vegetable Soup Mix*
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 c. peeled and minced Melissa's jicama
½ cup diced red pepper
3 green onions, chopped
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

Mix all ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl. Chill at least 3 hours or overnight. Keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days.

*I used half a pack of both (¼ cup of each)

If you like Hearts of Palm like I do but prefer a warm dip, you will love this Baked Hearts of Palm Dip.

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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Cheeseburger Soup

Spring is here, and that means rain. It also means gloomy, chilly days. When days like this are upon me, I tend to make soup. It just seems to be the right thing to do, and the right thing to eat in order to take the chill off.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that my favorite food is a cheeseburger. Recently I saw a number of recipes for cheeseburger soup and figured this was right up my alley. One thing I did find puzzling about these recipes is that many of them called for vegetables -- carrots, celery, and potatoes to name a few. How many of you have eaten cheeseburgers topped with carrots, celery, or potatoes? Okay, maybe potatoes in the form of french fries, but still this all seemed weird to me. Then I stumbled across this recipe I knew it was the one. Believe it or not, this actually does taste like a cheeseburger! It’s very easy to make, requires relatively few ingredients, is an absolute winner, and you can go crazy with the toppings. The kids will love this as well.
Cheeseburger Soup
Slightly adapted from Cookies and Cups

1 T. olive oil
2 large
Melissa’s shallots, chopped
1 pound ground chuck
1/3 cup flour
2 tsp.
Montreal Steak Seasoning
2½ c. beef broth
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
1½ c. grated cheddar cheese

Heat the olive oil in a large pot (I used
this one) over medium heat. Stir in the shallots and sauté for 5 minutes, until translucent. Add the ground chuck, and cook until no longer pink, 8-10 minutes; drain fat.

Sprinkle flour and steak seasoning over meat and stir until coated. Stir in beef broth, Worcestershire, and evaporated milk until combined. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently.  Reduce heat to low and simmer 30 minutes.

Stir in cheese until melted. Serve warm and topped with desired garnish.

Garnish suggestions:
Chopped tomato
Chopped red onion
Shredded lettuce
Crumbled bacon
Chopped pickles
Drizzles of mustard or ketchup

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Bunny Tea Set - This Week's Find!

I have little by way of Easter tableware and decorations with the exception of some wonderful bunny dinner plates that I have used here. I was debating upon whether or not to bother with an Easter table considering I won’t be doing much by way of celebrating this year, when I stumbled upon this lovely Fitz & Floyd bunny tea set (from 1989) while clearing out the hutch in the breakfast room at my parents' house. 
My mother was like me in that she found it very difficult to resist the offerings of Fitz & Floyd. “Oh, that Fitz! Oh, that Floyd! They know what we like!” we used to say as we carried our finds up to the cash register.
She always hosted Easter brunch, but I don’t recall her ever serving tea, or even using the sugar and creamer when she served coffee.
Now that it's in my home, I guarantee it will be put to good use, more than likely with the pink cups that I found a week or so ago.
I love the detail in this set. The spout on the teapot is actually a bunny. Isn’t it adorable? After giving everything a good washing, my only decision now is to decide what type of tea to brew.

Come back next week to see what other treasures I have uncovered.

To see my previous find, click here.

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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Warm Almond Cakes with Cognac Grapes

It seems almost sinful that something this easy should be so good, but trust me when I tell you that it is. This luscious dessert -- that I contend would be equally good at breakfast or brunch as it is at dinner (Yes, I did have it for breakfast, if you must know.) -- simply must be added to your recipe repertoire. It’s like a cross between a rich almond cake and a chewy almond cookie. The grapes have a wonderful sweetness that adds an additional component to both taste and texture of this dessert to make it absolutely wonderful.
Warm Almond Cakes with Cognac Grapes
Adapted from epicurious.com

¼ cup Cognac
¾ cup whole blanched almonds*
½ cup sugar, divided
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened
¾ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

The day before you plan to make this dish, cut the grapes in half and soak them in the cognac. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 400°F.

In the work bowl of a food processor, pulse almonds and 2 tablespoons of the sugar until finely ground. Pulse in flour and salt; set aside.

Beat together butter and remaining 6 tablespoons sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in extracts. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and beat in ground almonds, flour, and salt mixture until just combined.

Divide batter among 4 shallow 1/3-cup (1/2" deep) gratin dishes (I used these), and press grapes lightly into batter (discard Cognac). Bake in dishes on a baking sheet until cake is firm and pale golden with slightly darker edges, about 20 minutes. Transfer cakes to a rack and cool slightly in dishes before serving.

*I used what I had on hand -- Blue Diamond Low Sodium Lightly Salted Almonds that I buy in 16-oz. bags and keep in the freezer. In this case, I did not add the additional salt. I like the speckled look the whole almonds with their skins gave this dessert. Really, you can use whatever you have, just measure it out, and grind it up.

If you love almond like I do, then you will enjoy this Almond Yogurt Pound Cake.

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