Wagamama Ginger Salad Dressing

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Yum, yum, yum….I daydream about ways to use this dressing.  It will turn your basic rabbit food into a plate that you can’t put down. Pick up a roasted chicken, shred the meat and toss with a bit of this dressing for an awesome asian chicken salad. (I’m going to try it with Jumbo Lump Crab next!) The possibilities are endless. It will keep for at least 3 days in the refrigerator. Straight out of the Wagamama Cookbook, by Hugo Arnold. Makes 3/4 to 1 cup dressing.

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2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot

1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and grated

1 small garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon tomato ketchup

1 tablespoon water

1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 tablespoons light soy sauce

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.  Done.

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Slow Roasted Salmon with Shallots, Dill, Tarragon and Parsley

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I first made this salmon as part of a recipe for Wild Salmon Salad with beets, potato, egg and mustard vinaigrette from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin.  Excellent dish, and I’ll post that whole recipe soon.  But her method of roasting salmon in a slow oven over a pan of water became one of my favorites. It’s quite foolproof and great straight out of the oven but also at room temperature or even cold.

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2 pounds wild salmon, skin on, bones removed

1 lemon

1/2 cup finely diced shallots

2 tablespoons minced fresh dill

2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon

1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the salmon from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking to bring it to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees and place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack.

Finely grate the zest of the lemon until you have 1 teaspoon.  Combine the lemon zest, shallots, dill, tarragon, and parsley in a small bowl, and stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Place the salmon, skin side down, on a baking sheet and season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper.  Smear about a third of the herb mixture on the fish and turn it over.  Slather the skin side of the fish with the remaining herb mixture and season with a little more salt and pepper.

Place the salmon on a wire rack set on a baking sheet, or in a roasting pan.  Bake the salmon about 25 minutes, until medium rare, or medium. To check if the salmon is done, peek between the flakes.  If it doesn’t separate into flakes, it’s not ready yet.

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Roasted New Potato Salad with Arugula and Goat Cheese

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There are two secrets to this excellent potato salad.  One is to roast the potatoes very slowly so that they become meltingly tender and waxy (as opposed to the crispy/fluffy texture of my favorite Butter Roasted Potatoes).  And the second is to add the vinaigrette while the potatoes are hot, so that they soak in the flavors of the mustard and balsamic. This recipe is adapted from The Vineyard Cookbook, by Barbara Scott-Goodman.   I was planning on presenting this as the perfect winter potato salad but have decided that it will actually be a year-round favorite for me.

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3 pounds small red new potatoes, halved or quartered.

8 unpeeled garlic cloves

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (for roasting potatoes)

kosher salt

2 teaspoons whole grain mustard

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (for vinaigrette)

2 handfuls stemmed baby arugula

4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled

freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  In a roasting pan (large enough so that potatoes can be spread out in a single layer)  toss the potatoes with the garlic cloves, salt to taste, and the 1/4 cup olive oil.  Bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until potatoes are tender and light brown.  Lower the heat to 250 degrees if the potatoes are cooking too quickly.

To make the vinaigrette, whisk the mustard and vinegar together in a small bowl, Slowly add the olive oil, whisking constantly until the vinaigrette thickens.

Take the potatoes from the oven.  Remove the garlic cloves and squeeze them over a large bowl to remove the peel then scrape the potatoes into the bowl as well.  Pour the vinaigrette over the hot potatoes and gently toss.  Let cool slightly then add the arugula and toss again.

Heap the potato salad into a large shallow bowl or platter.  Sprinkle the crumbled goat cheese over the top and season to taste with pepper.

Serve warm or at room temperature.  Serves 6.

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Just One Perfect Spinach Cheddar Omelette

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Eggs tend to go from runny to rubbery in the blink of an eye so I have been working on a simple but foolproof omelette.   I heard on PBS radio one day….it was probably The Splendid Table….. how eggs need to be cooked slowly, over very low heat… which meant that I was going to need a good non-stick pan if I didn’t want to use half a stick of butter.  So here is the method and as you can imagine, the possibilities are endless for adapting this with your favorite ingredients. (fresh herbs and goat cheese?)  Don’t be turned off by the lengthy instructions;  it is so quick and easy that I make one just for myself quite often. I’m just trying to be helpful with details but the whole process takes only a few minutes. The key here is that the pan should never get hot enough to color the eggs at all….gentle, slow and steady is the name of the game.

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an 8 inch good quality, non-stick skillet or omelette pan

plastic or rubber spatula

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons butter or olive oil

1 handful fresh baby spinach leaves, stemmed

2 tablespoons finely shredded cheddar cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Begin heating your skillet over low heat.  Crack the eggs into a small bowl and beat well with a whisk or a fork. Have the spinach leaves ready and sitting nearby.

Add the butter or oil to the skillet and swirl it around to lightly coat the surface.   Pour the eggs into the skillet and gently tilt it to all sides to spread the eggs out evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  The eggs should be cooking very slowly; it will take a minute or two for the bottom to set but when it does, lay the spinach leaves over the top of the omelette (which will still be runny at this point) in a single layer.

Now you are going to flip the omelette over.  Begin by loosening the edges of the omelette with the spatula while gently shaking the skillet to see if the whole omelette will slip around in the pan, signaling that the underside is cooked though enough to hold the whole thing together.  When this happens, it will be quite easy to slip the spatula under the eggs and simultaneously shake the handle of the skillet and flip the omelette to the other side.  ( Imagine someone flipping pancakes in the air to get the idea of shaking the skillet…but of course we are going for a gentle flip here, one that will not send ingredients airborn and is controlled mostly by the spatula)

As soon as the omelette is turned, sprinkle with a light layer of cheese.  The second side will be cooked in less than a minute, at which point you can roll up the omelette, slide it onto a plate and enjoy!

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Salted Caramel Shortbreads with Pecans

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A buttery, melt in your mouth shortbread base with a dollop of real caramel, a pinch of flakey sea salt and you have before you the Ultimate Caramel Cookie!  You will need a candy thermometer and several mini muffin tins for this but it’s actually a very simple recipe that yields extraordinary results.  Enjoy!

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For the shortbread:

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup finely chopped pecans (see Note # 1 below)

For the caramel:

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

4 tablespoons heavy cream

2 tablespoons evaporated milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Flakey Sea Salt

Make the shortbread:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light, about 2 minutes.  Beat in the vanilla, flour, and salt, then add pecans and mix until just combined. Do not over mix; mixture will be crumbly.

Press a heaping teaspoon of shortbread batter into each well of a mini muffin tin to form a flat base about 1/4 inch in thickness. (see Note #2 below)  Bake for 25 minutes, until the cookies are just firm to the touch.  Cool slightly then remove cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Make the Caramel:

Combine the sugars and the corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over med-high heat and attach a candy thermometer to the side of your pan.  Once the mixture reaches 240 degrees, remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, cream and evaporated milk…this will make the mixture bubble violently for a few seconds so be careful.  Stir in the vanilla and let cool a bit.  At this point, you are waiting for the caramel to reach a consistency that will be thin enough to spoon onto the cookies, yet thick enough so that it doesn’t  run off the sides.  This will take approximately 10 minutes.

When the caramel is ready, drop a teaspoon onto each shortbread base and let set for at least 15 minutes before you sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of sea salt.  Cookies keep 3 days covered at room temperature.  Makes about 5 dozen.

Note #1:  Here is my favorite gadget to use when I want nuts chopped finely, but not ground.( Nut Chopper)

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Note #2:  An inexpensive wooden  Tart Tamper,  will make very quick work of pressing the batter into the mini muffin tins to form the bases for these cookies.

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new coffee cup

Heart Beet Salad with Walnuts and White Cheddar

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Here’s a sweet idea for a tasty St Valentine’s Day lunch.  Tuck a few Roasted Beet hearts into your salad.

To roast whole beets, preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Wash several whole beets, rub them with olive oil and wrap them in one big piece of aluminum foil.  Place foil packet on baking sheet and roast for about an hour.  Roasting time will vary depending on the size of your beets.  I forgot about mine and went out for a walk and they were still just fine after about 2 1/2 hours in the oven.  When the beets are tender, let cool and peel.  Cut beets into 1/3 inch slices and use a cookie cutter to make hearts.  Toss them into a salad with field greens, roasted chopped nuts, shredded or crumbled cheese and your favorite vinaigrette.  Here is a nice recipe for inspiration.

Vietnamese Pork Stirfry with Garlic, Chilies and Lime

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Don’t let the lack of a syrupy sauce fool you….this quick stir-fry is bursting with flavor!    Try it over rice or noodles, wrap it up in lettuce leaves or rice paper, or use as a topping for an Asian salad with fresh greens and cucumbers. I love the pork tenderloin here but you can substitute chicken as well.

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3 tablespoons peanut oil

1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed then cut into fine strips

4 scallions, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2 red or green chilies, seeded and finely chopped

1/2 cup shelled, unsalted peanuts (note: if you only have salted peanuts, just rinse under water to remove the salt.  Fish sauce is quite salty so salted peanuts might overwhelm the dish)

grated rind and juice of 2 limes

2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves

1/2 cups chopped fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

 

Heat a wok or heavy pan and add 2 tablespoons of the oil.  Add the pork and sear over high heat until browned. (do not crowd pan…can do in two batches if necessary)  Remove the meat and juices to plate and set aside.

Wipe the work clean and return to the heat.  Pour in the remaining oil and add the onions garlic, ginger and chilies.   When the aromas begin to rise from the pan, add the peanuts and stir-fry for 1 minute.

Return the meat and its juices back to the wok, then stir in the lime rind and juice, followed by the fish sauce.  Add the fresh herbs and serve.

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Little Roasts of Boneless Chicken with Rosemary, Garlic and Lemon

more chicken to postThis technique, adapted from Fine Cooking September 2008, for roasting boneless chicken breasts produces wonderfully tender, well seasoned meat.  You’ll need an even number of boneless breasts with the skin on.  Since I rarely see this combination prepackaged, I  buy split breasts and cut the meat off the bone (as directed in recipe) reserving the tenderloins to make chicken fingers.  Of course, the butcher at your local grocery store can do that for you… which would make this a very simple dish to prep. This is a great dinner party main course because it needs to be prepped a whole day ahead.  And to dress it up, serve with this excellent Apple and Fig compote.

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4 Tbs. fresh rosemary leaves, minced
6 medium cloves garlic, minced

zest of one large lemon

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts
2 Tbs. olive oil

Salt and coarse-ground pepper

In a small bowl combine the rosemary, garlic, lemon zest, 2 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper.

Cut the chicken breasts away from the bones, leaving the skin intact. With a paring knife, cut out the white tendon on the underside of each breast and reserve for another use. Rub the rosemary-garlic mixture all over the chicken, including under the skin, taking care to keep the skin attached to the meat. Stack two breasts so that the skin faces outward and each breast’s thicker rounded end is on top of the thinner tapered end of the other. Tie the breasts together with butcher’s twine, forming a little roast. Repeat with the remaining 2 breasts. Reposition any skin that may have bunched up while tying and season the roasts all over with 1 tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper. Put the roasts on a rack over a small baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.

Let the chicken sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 450°F.

Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Sear the chicken until dark golden brown on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes total. Return the chicken to the rack over the baking sheet. Roast until a thermometer inserted in the center of each roast reads 165°F, 20 to 30 minutes. Let rest for 15 minutes. Remove the strings from the chicken and carefully slice each roast on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick medallions. Serves 6-8

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Double Crumb Cinnamon Cupcakes

new cupcake to postCrumbs on top, crumbs on the bottom, and a tender, moist yellow cake between.   Call it a muffin so you can have it for breakfast!

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Crumbs for top and bottom

1 cup flour

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter, cold  and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

In a large bowl, stir together all ingredients for the crumb mixture and then work it with your fingers until it is thoroughly combined and forms large moist crumbs.  Cover and place in refrigerator while you prepare the cake batter.

For the cake batter

1 stick unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking power

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup whole milk

Line a 12 cup muffin tin with with paper liners.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the sugar and continue to beat then gradually add the eggs one at a time.  Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the milk, and ending with the dry ingredients.

To fill the muffin tins

Spoon one heaping tablespoon of the crumb mixture into the bottom of each paper liner.  Then add enough cake batter to come almost to the top edge of the liner.  Then cover the batter with the remaining crumbs.

Bake until the tops feel firm to the touch and the edges are just beginning to turn golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes then remove from pan.  Serve or may be kept covered at room temperature for 2-3 days.

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Waffle Potatoes with Goat Cheese and Ancho Pepper Jelly

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Much more exciting than the average cheese and cracker tray yet not much harder to throw together…here is an idea for a tasty nibble for your next party.

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High quality frozen waffle fries (I use Alexia brand)

Fresh goat cheese, at room temperature

Your favorite pepper jelly (I found a lovely red ancho pepper jelly)

Cook waffle fries according to the package directions until golden and crispy.  Use kitchen shears to trim them slightly into similarly sized, two bite, squarish shapes.  Stir the goat cheese until it is fluffy and spoonable and place a nice dollop on each trimmed waffle fry.  Top with a teaspoon of pepper jelly, sprinkle with coarse ground black pepper and serve.

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Glazed Chocolate Chip Cream Biscuits with Sprinkles

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It’s what happens when you cross a scone and a donut.  Quick and easy, light and fluffy, softly sweet, in short… a lovely treat for a cold January afternoon (or morning or night!)

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2 cups all purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 cup sifted confectioners sugar

2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

chocolate sprinkles

 

Prepare baking sheet with parchment paper.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.   Using a pastry knife (or your fingers) cut butter into the flour mixture until there are no pieces larger than a pea. Stir in the mini chocolate chips then make a well in the center.  Pour the 1 cup of heavy cream into this well and, using a table fork, gently stir the dry mixture into the cream until it is just moistened.  It will still be a crumbly mixture, but will be just moist enough to barely hold together.  Avoid the temptation to add more cream.

Gather the dough, place it on a lightly floured clean surface and gently pat it into a circle 1-inch thick.  Using a 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut as many rounds as you can, placing each on the parchment lined baking sheet.  Gently pull the remaining dough together to create another 1-inch thick circle and continue cutting  biscuits until all of the dough has been used.  Important note here….you want to touch this dough as little as possible during the shaping.  It does not need to be kneaded at all and will be tough if you overwork it.  Just gently pull the dough together and press lightly.  There will be cracks and crevices in the tops of the biscuits that come from the second and third batch that you cut but that will just give the glaze a lovely place to seep into.

Bake the biscuits 12-14 minutes,or until they have risen and are just beginning to turn golden around the edges.  Let cool completely on a wire rack.

For the icing, simply stir together the confectioners sugar with a bit of cream, one tablespoon at a time until you get the consistency that you desire.  In the photo above, I left the icing quite thick and dipped the biscuits to just coat the tops.  You can also make a thinner glaze that can be drizzled over the tops and will drip down the sides.  Add the chocolate sprinkles and let sit until the glaze dries.

These biscuits are best the day they are made but still quite nice on day 2 if you keep them in an airtight container.

Makes 15

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Two Cabbage Slaw with Avocado, Red Onion and a Grapefruit Vinaigrette

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This salad has a lot going on…texture, flavor and color…. yet it is quite simple to throw together. The creaminess of the avocado, the crunchiness of the slaw and the juicy grapefruit segments make for a memorable side dish.  You could also add grilled chicken and turn it into the main course.   The grapefruits and avocados in The Fresh Market right now are excellent, by the way. I’ve adapted this recipe from The Culinary Institute of America Vegetables Cookbook.  

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2 pink grapefruits (one juiced, one sectioned)

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons honey

1 cup light olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups finely shredded leaf spinach

1 cup finely shredded red cabbage

1 cup finely shredded green cabbage

1/2 cup red onion julienne

1 avocado

coarse ground black pepper

For the vinaigrette, whisk together 1/3 cup of the grapefruit juice, vinegar, honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper.  Gradually whisk in the oil until it is smooth and thick. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.  Set aside.

Toss together the spinach, cabbages, red onion and toss with some of the vinaigrette in a salad bowl.

Peel the avocado, cut into cubes and toss gently with a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette.

Arrange the slaw down the middle of a large serving platter.  Surround with fresh grapefruit sections and top with the cubed avocado.

Serves 4-6

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Buttermilk Crisped Vidalia Onion Rings

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Incomparable to frozen onion rings and infinitely easier than homemade french fries…you must make these if you and your family are onion ring lovers.  Keep some buttermilk in the frig and you’ll be ready to turn superhero. “Hey, would you guys like onion rings instead of plain old potato chips with those burgers?? No problem!”

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3 or 4 nice big Vidalia onions, peeled and   sliced 1/2 inch thick and separated into rings (tiny inner rings should be reserved for another use)

2-3 cups buttermilk, shake well before using

salt and pepper

2-3 cups all purpose flour

peanut oil for frying

Place onion rings in a large bowl and cover with buttermilk.  Let sit at least 10 minutes, stirring a couple of times to make sure all the onions are well coated.

Meanwhile, stir flour together with a couple of teaspoons of salt and pepper each.  Taste to make sure flour is nicely seasoned.  Prepare a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Remove a couple of onion rings at a time from the buttermilk, shake a bit to drain off excess then dredge quickly in the seasoned flour.  Place coated rings on waxed paper and let rest for about 15 minutes to give the batter a chance to set.  Repeat with remaining onions.

Heat oil in a large heavy skillet (a wok works really well here) over high heat until hot. (350-375 degrees or test with an onion ring…it should sizzle immediately).  Fry onion rings in batches of 6 or so at a times, being careful not to crowd the pan too much, and turning the rings a couple of times to brown evenly.  It will only take a few minutes per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain, season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.  May be kept warm and crispy in a 200 degree oven while you cook the remaining rings.  (They stay crispy at room temperature as well…another reason I love this recipe)

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Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Chickpeas, Red Onion, Arugula and a Tahini Dressing

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Here is a nice hearty salad with a great combination of flavors.  It is best warm or at room temperature.  I like to cut the cauliflower into flat florets so that each piece will make the most possible contact with the baking sheet. To do this, simple place a whole head of cauliflower upright on a cutting board and slice from top to bottom into large 1/2 inch thick slices.  Most florets will fall free naturally and those that don’t can be quickly snipped away from the thick inner stem.  Another note, make sure that your oven is nice and hot before you roast vegetables.  This is important because you want them to caramelize quickly….overcooked means mushy!

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1 head cauliflower, cut into 1/2 inch flat florets (see note above)

1 large red onion, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch wedges

14-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup tahini

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

water

salt and pepper

Several large handfuls of fresh Arugula (or Spinach)

 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place the cauliflower, red onion and chickpeas in a large bowl.  Drizzle with the olive oil, season lightly with salt and pepper and toss gently to coat.  Spread the vegetables out onto a rimmed baking sheet, making sure that the cauliflower and onions are in a single layer.  It is ok if the chickpeas pile up a bit.  You may need two baking sheets (I used one full and one half sheet in this recipe…you need to give the vegetables enough room to roast or they will simply steam and not caramelize).  Roast vegetables until crisp-tender and until the cauliflower if nicely browned on one side, about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile whisk together the Tahini, lemon juice and cumin and add enough water to make a dressing that is thin enough to drizzle.  (approximately 1/4 cup water, depending on the thickness of the tahini)

To serve, place the fresh arugula or spinach in a large salad bowl, add all of the warm, roasted vegetables and toss gently with the Tahini Dressing.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Serves 4-6

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The Best Ever Salt and Pepper Roasted Chicken with Herbs

 

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The good news is that my Best Ever Salt and Pepper Roasted Chicken with Herbs is also about the easiest ever roasted chicken!  The bad news is that you can’t have this for dinner tonight.  The secret to a super moist and flavorful bird is to season generously and let it sit in the refrigerator for 48 hours.  Another key factor is to buy the best, small, free range chicken you can find. (I found these at Whole Foods) My technique is based on the recipe for the roasted chicken from Zuni Cafe in San Francisco.

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Two 3-31/2 pound free range chickens

Kosher Salt

Course ground black pepper

8 sprigs of fresh rosemary or thyme

Rinse chickens and pat dry inside and out.  (remove the fatty lump in the cavity as well as the packet of innards if present) Gently loosen the skin from the breasts and thighs so that you can tuck an herb sprig between the skin and the meat…being careful not to tear the skin.  Season all over with salt and pepper (around 3 teaspoons salt per bird) being sure to season the meatier parts more thoroughly than the boney parts. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine, cover loosely and refrigerate for 48 hours (and up to 3 days).

Remove chickens from refrigerator 1 hour before roasting.  Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Place a 10 inch cast iron skillet in oven for 10 minutes to get hot.  Wipe the chickens to dry thoroughly with paper towels.  Nestle the chickens into the hot skillet and roast for 40 minutes or until breast meat is between 150-160 degrees.  Let rest for 15 minutes then cut into halves or quarters with a heavy knife and serve on the bone.

Serves 4-6

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Cabernet Chicken Stew with Mushrooms and Tarragon

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Another lovely recipe from the Bob and Melinda Blanchard (Cook What You Love),  this comforting stew is based on a traditional recipe for coq au vin.  When you add the red wine to the chicken it will turn a ghastly shade of pink but fear not, this will mellow into a warm rosy hue as it cooks.  This stew is wonderful served with pasta, rice or couscous.

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2 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds boneless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces and patted dry

1 large yellow onion, cut in half and thinly sliced

1/2 pound carrots, cut into 1/2 inch slices

1 pound mushrooms, stemmed and quartered

1 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup Cabernet Sauvignon

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Heat the oil in a  large oven proof casserole over medium high heat.  Add the chicken and cook until golden brown on both sides, 5 to 6 minutes.  If the size of your pot does not allow the chicken to cook in a single layer, it would be better to do this in two batches, combining them with the second batch is done.

Add the onion and mix it around with the chicken,  Cook until the onion is almost soft and lightly browned, about 4 minutes.  Add the carrots and cook another 2 minutes,  Then add the mushrooms and cook 2 minutes longer.  Add the chicken broth, wine, cream, lemon juice, mustard, tarragon, salt and pepper and mix well.  Cover and bake for 45 minutes,  Season with more salt and pepper to taste.  Serves 4-5

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Mama’s All-Bran Cloverleaf Rolls

bran roll to post 2These rolls were a fixture of our holiday meals growing up in Mississippi.  The warm, sweet smell of this bread in the oven brings back lots of wonderful memories. I reconfigured them as cloverleaf rolls, which makes a simple recipe even easier.  And who doesn’t love pulling apart cloverleaf rolls and slathering the thirds with butter! This recipe will make 20-24 rolls, depending on the size of your muffin tins.

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2 1/4 cups whole milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup Kellogg’s All-Bran cereal

1 package yeast

4 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter (for brushing tops)

flakey salt, such as Maldon Sea Salt (for sprinkling tops)

In a medium saucepan, bring milk, sugar and shortening to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Set aside to cool a bit.  When it is no longer hot, but still warm, sprinkle the yeast over the milk and let sit a few minutes until it begins to foam.  Stir in All-Bran and 2 cups of the flour. Cover with a clean towel and let sit in a warm spot until mixture has doubled in size.  This will take 45 minutes or so.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 cups of flour with the salt, baking soda and baking powder.  And get your pans ready by lightly greasing two 12-count muffin tins.

When yeast mixture has risen, use a large wooden spoon to stir in the remaining flour mixture.  To form the cloverleafs, roll the dough into balls, about the size of whole walnuts and place three in each muffin cup.  Cover the pans lightly with a clean towel, let rise until doubled in size (about an hour). Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly and gently brush the risen rolls with melted unsalted butter (a silicone brush is best for this because you don’t want to delate the rolls) and sprinkle very lightly with flakey salt.  Bake 10-12 minutes until rolls are golden.  Serve immediately.

Make ahead option:  After you have placed the dough balls into the muffin tins, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to overnight.  Before baking, remove from refrigerator, remove plastic wrap and cover lightly with a clean towel and let rise.  Brush with butter, sprinkle lightly with salt and bake as directed above.

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Zesty Black-Eyed Pea Salsa

This is the best version of marinated black eyed peas, better known as Southern Caviar, that I have ever had.  Simplified slightly from The New Southern Garden Cookbook by Sheri Castle.

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2 cups canned black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup sherry vinegar

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon hot sauce

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 cup canned fire roasted diced tomatoes, drained

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 cup corn kernels

1 or 2 finely chopped pickled jalapeños

1 tablespoon canned chopped mild green chiles

1/2 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl.  Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours and preferably overnight.  Stir and season with salt and pepper if necessary to taste.  Serve as an appetizer with crackers, or as a salsa with chips, on tacos, fajitas, etc.  This is also a great side dish with fried or grilled chicken.

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Cornucopia

crunchy corn to post

Here is a little something for your next get-together.  Instead of setting out a bowl of nuts or chips, serve Cornucopia!  (only 3 ingredients…corn, grape seed oil and salt)  They are wonderfully crunchy, but they are slow-roasted tender so they won’t break your teeth like those unpopped kernels at the  bottom of the popcorn bowl.  These nibbles are quite addictive  and to be honest, I don’t know how to make them….  I order them from Whole Food Farmacy and they ship them out overnight.  Even those of us who love to cook need a few shortcuts now and then…expecially this time of year!

Bibb Lettuce with Tarragon Vinaigrette and Toasted Walnuts

 This salad works well with big holiday meals as well as casual steak/frites suppers.  It’s nice to have this simple yet elegant item on the buffet table.  This is from Tyler Florence’s book, Dinner at My Place.  The lightly toasted walnuts in the photo are my addition.
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1 small shallot, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 lemon, juice only
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 head Bibb lettuce
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves
lightly toasted walnuts
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Combine shallot, mustard, and lemon juice in a large salad bowl.  Slowly drizzle in oil as you constantly whisk to emulsify the dressing.  Once all of the oil has been incorporated, stir in honey and fold in the 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon.  Season with salt and pepper.
Wash the lettuce and separate the leaves.  Smear the dressing up around the insides of the salad bowl and toss the leaves in the bowl.  (By doing this the leaves pick up a light,even coating of the dressing.)  Fold in the 1 tablespoon tarragon leaves and serve.
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Balsamic Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

One of my favorite ways to fancy-up Brussels Sprouts….This recipe is adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin.
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2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound small Brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed
1/4 pound bacon, finely diced
2 tablespoons finely diced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup lower sodium chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
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Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes.  Swirl in the olive oil and butter and wait another minute.  Add the Brussels sprouts, and season them with 1 teaspoon salt and some pepper.  Shake the pan, rolling the Brussels sprouts around to help them brown evenly.  After a few minutes, turn the heat to medium and cook another 3-4 minutes until the sprouts soften slightly.
     Add the diced bacon to the pan and cook a minute or two, until it starts to crisp.  Stir in the shallots and garlic and cook another minute or so, until they are translucent.  Pour in the balsamic vinegar and reduce by half.  Add the chicken stock and reduce to about 1/4 cup, stirring and shaking the pan often to glaze the sprouts.  If you start to run low on liquid before the sprouts are cooked, add a little water to the pan.  You want the Brussels sprouts to be tender yet still have a bit of a crunch to them.  Overcooked Brussels sprouts are the reason that a lot of folks think that they don’t like the vegetable. Serve immediately or transfer to a baking sheet to cool.
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Pureed Sweet Potatoes with Sour Cream and Nutmeg

I love sweet potatoes but I don’t want them to taste like dessert,  which is why I love this recipe. (Adapted from Emeril Lagasse ) These are warmly spiced and the texture is pure velvet.

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1.  Bake 4 large sweet potatoes in a 350 degree oven until soft, about an hour.
2.  Carefully peel potatoes while hot and put them a large bowl with 4 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons sour cream, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
3. Beat with a hand mixer until light and fluffy. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
4.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream and an extra sprinkle of nutmeg.
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Roasted and Caramelized Whole Shallots

I’ve served them with grilled chicken, tonight they are waiting for the Fennel Spiced Pork Loin to come out of the oven, and next week I’ll quadruple the recipe to serve alongside our turkey.  Roasted Shallots have more flavor and are sweeter than pearl onions…AND they are infinitely easier to prepare.  The recipe is from Ina Garten, published in Barefoot in Paris.  (note:  stick with medium to small sized shallots if you want the roasting time to be 15-20 minutes)

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6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 pounds fresh shallots, peeled, with roots intact

3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons good red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Melt the butter in a 12-inch ovenproof saute pan, add the shallots and sugar and toss to coat.  Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the shallots start to brown.  Add the vinegar, salt, and pepper and toss well.

Place the saute pan in the oven and roast for 15-30 minutes, depending on the size of the shallots, until they are tender.  Season to taste, sprinkle with parsley and serve hot.

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Becky McKinney’s Chili

This is the chili that I grew up with and I’ve never even attempted to replace it because in spite of it’s simplicity, everyone loves it.  The secret lies in buying the best quality ground sirloin and the long and slow cooking time.  You will know when it is done….it starts off loose and watery but transforms into a beautiful thick and rich dish.  This is not a spicy chili so feel free to add cayenne pepper if you like.  I like to serve it mild and let everyone season it to suit their own tastes.  My frayed, splattered and yellowed recipe card attributes this recipe to Becky Mckinney so thanks to her wherever she may be.

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For Chili:

3 lbs freshly ground sirloin

3 cans Campbells Tomato Soup

3 cans diced tomatoes with the juice

3 cups chopped onions

3 cups chopped celery

2 cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

3 cloves garlic, minced

3-4 tablespoons chili powder

To Serve:

Chopped fresh tomatoes

Chopped scallions

Grated cheddar cheese

Sour cream

Hot Sauce

Saltine Crackers

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Brown the meat lightly in a large, heavy ovenproof casserole…such as Le Creuset.  Stir in next 4 ingredients and cook for 5 minutes.  Add kidney beans, garlic and chili powder and stir.  Cover and bake in oven for 3 hours, stirring once or twice.  Serve with toppings.

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Glazed Apricot-Dijon Pork Tenderloin Roasted with Caramelized Onions

 

Easy enough for a weeknight family supper but elegant enough for an Autumn dinner party, here is my new favorite recipe for pork tenderloin.  Go ahead and roast 2 tenderloins even if you don’t need that much because the leftovers are scrumptious. Recipe idea from Pure Flavor, by Kurt Beecher Dammeier, but I’ve adapted it for fool-proof results.

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2/3 cup Smucker’s All-Fruit Apricot Preserves

2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard

2 tablespoons whole grain mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

extra virgin olive oil

2 pork tenderloins, trimmed

2 teaspoons salt

coarsely ground black pepper

In a small bowl, combine the preserves, Dijon mustard, Whole-grain mustard, salt, black pepper and cayenne.  Set aside. (may be made up to one week ahead)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat  2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the sliced onions and sauté until they have softened and are beginning to show some color.  Meanwhile, season the pork tenderloins with salt and pepper. Transfer the onions to a baking dish just large enough to hold the two pork tenderloins.  Return the skillet to the heat and add a bit more olive oil if necessary.  Add the tenderloins, brown then on all sides, then remove them from the skillet and set them on top of the sauted onions.  Spoon the reserved apricot glaze over the pork and roast in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes or until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees.  (instant read thermometer is the way to go here…a very small yet worthwhile investment to make if you don’t have one already) Let the pork rest for 10 minutes before serving.  Cut tenderloins into 1/2 to 1 inch slices and serve with the caramelized onions. Serves 4-6

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Peanut Butter Petal Cookies

Don’t know why I usually wait until the holidays to pull out my cookie press.  Its such a quick and easy way to fill up the cookie jar and everyone loves the tender little bite-sized treats.  So here is a version that needs no holiday sprinkles.  Delicate peanut butter flowers with chocolate centers adapted from Sweet Miniatures, The Art of Making Bite-sized Desserts, by Flo Braker.  My shortcut is the upside down chocolate chip for the center… eliminating the need for making a ganache and piping in the center with a paper cone or pastry bag.

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2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unsifted all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate chips for centers (semisweet, milk, or white)

 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Mix the flour and the salt together in a small bowl and set aside.  Beat the butter, peanut butter and both sugars in a large bowl until very creamy and well blended.  Beat in the egg yolk and the vanilla.  Gradually add in the flour mixture.

While the dough is at room temperature, follow the directions on your cookie press to insert the 5 petal design plate.  Fill the cylinder with dough, packing it firmly.  Holding the press perpendicular to a cool, un-greased baking sheet, press out the cookies, spacing them about 1 inch apart.  If you lose a petal, just gently set it back in place.  Place one upside down chocolate chip  in the center of each flower.

Bake 9-11 minutes until the edges of the cookies are just barely starting to show color.  Immediately remove cookies to a cooling rack.  If they are left to cool on the baking sheet, they tend to break when removed. Cool completely before filling up your cookie jar! (Makes about 5 dozen)

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Brussels Sprouts Roasted on the Stalk with Maple Butter Dijon Glaze

Here’s a great “Farm to Table” idea for your holiday buffet.  Roasting brussels sprouts right on the stalk couldn’t be easier.  The kids will certainly think it’s fun to clip them from the stalk and when they taste them, slightly crispy, with a warm sweet tart glaze, they will be brussels spouts lovers for life.

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One stalk fresh Brussels Sprouts

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons pure maple syrup

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Prepare stalk by removing the sprouts from one side so that it will lay relatively flat on a baking tray.  Trim any outer leaves that are torn or discolored from all the sprouts and rinse with water.  Place stalk on a large baking tray and lay the loose sprouts along side.  Melt butter over low heat then stir in mustard and maple syrup.  Brush the brussels sprouts with about half of the butter mixture and set the rest aside for later.  Roast stalk for 15 minutes or until sprouts are beginning to caramelize on the outside and the insides are crisp/tender.  Remove from oven and brush with remaining glaze.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

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“When Life Gives you Avocados” Guacamole

When avocados turn up at 10 for $10.00, there’s only one thing to do.  You don’t really need a recipe for guacamole, I know.  It’s one of those dishes thats all about the quality of the ingredients rather than the actual measurements.  But an idea that I read about in Ree Drummond’s, The Pioneer Woman Cooks worked really well for me since I was trying to prepare in advance for a lunch for 25.  She suggests that if you have homemade pico de gallo around, all you have to do if mash a few avocados and stir in a few spoonfuls for the perfect guacamole stat.  You can serve any remaining pico de gallo alongside as well, of course. Here’s the general idea:

You need equal amounts of :

1.  Finely chopped tomatoes

2.  Finely chopped red onion

3.  Coarsely chopped cilantro

4.  One or two fresh jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced

Toss this together in a small bowl and squeeze in half a lime a bit of salt and toss again.  Taste and adjust lime and salt if needed.  Set aside.  You can make this a few hours in advance.

When you are ready to serve, slice open several ripe avocados and scoop out the flesh.  Sprinkle with salt and mash it all around a bit with a fork.  Then stir in a few spoonfuls of the pico de gallo that you made earlier.  Taste and adjust with additional lime juice and salt…keeping in mind that if you are serving with chips, that will add salt too.  Or serve with my  Make Ahead Chicken Fajitas.

And here is a link to Ree’s step by step tutorial if you want more direction.  Pioneer Woman Pico de Gallo and Guacamole

Make Ahead Chicken Fajitas for a Crowd

When I make chicken fajitas for the family, I cook the vegetables and chicken at the very last minute.  Maybe it’s not the sizzling skillet served table side but close enough. When I have a crowd to feed, I really want to have the dirty work finished way, way in advance.  Here’s how I do it and still have super-moist yummy chicken.

1.  Day before (early):  Make marinade, Cut up onions and peppers, Marinate chicken for 3 hours.

2. Day before (later):  Cook vegetables, Cook Chicken Breasts, Cool then refrigerate together, in a large pan, covered tightly overnight.

3.  Day of party early:  Slice chicken, mix with vegetables in large Pyrex dish or roasting pan and cover tightly with foil. Wrap flour tortillas with foil and set aside. Get condiments ready.

4.  Party time:  One hour before serving place pyrex dish with chicken (still covered tightly) in 325 degree oven for 45 minutes then put the foil wrapped flour tortillas in the over as well to warm through…about 15 minutes.

Fajita Marinade 

5 cloves of garlic, minced

3 tablespoons Lowry’s Seasoning Salt

3 tablespoons ground cumin

2  1/2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

5 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 6 limes)

Combine all ingredients and whisk well.

For the Fajitas

8-10 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of any fat and pounded gently to create an even thickness.

4 large sweet onions, sliced

4 large red bell peppers, sliced

Olive oil

Flour Tortillas (or corn tortillas for gluten-free option)

Sour Cream

Salsa

Lettuce

Shredded cheddar cheese

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in your largest, heaviest skillet, cast iron is best, over medium high heat.  Saute onions and peppers, together or separately depending on the size of your skillet, until they are softened and just beginning to caramelize.  Remove to a large pan or pyrex dish and let cool while you cook the chicken.  Add a bit more oil to the pan and cook the chicken in batches, until golden brown on both sides and just cooked through.  I like to use an instant read meat thermometer to eliminate the guess work and I pull them off the heat between 150 and 160 degrees.  Pile the chicken breasts, as they are cooked, on top of the vegetables and when they are all finished, let cool then cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Early on the day you plan to serve the fajitas, slice the chicken into pieces, 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick then return them to the vegetables and toss to combine all, making sure to coat the chicken with the wonderful juices that will have settled to the bottom of the vegetables overnight.  Cover tightly with foil and return to the refrigerator until you are about an hour away from service.  It will take 45 minutes to an hour to warm the chicken mixture slowly, and tightly covered, in a 325 degree oven. Serve with warm flour tortillas, sour cream, salsa, lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese, avocados and any other condiments you might like to add.  Serves 25

Fresh Herb and Feta Omelette with Warm Avocado, Asparagus and Cherry Tomato Salsa

Breakfast, brunch, lunch or supper….you can’t go wrong with this amazing omelette adapted from A Paridiso Year by Denis Cotter.  The amounts given below will make one large omelette that will easily feed 2.

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6 spears asparagus, trimmed and cut into pieces

8 cherry tomatoes, halved

1 green onion, sliced

half a fresh red chile, seeded and sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

4-5 eggs

2 tablespoons water

salt and pepper to taste

handful of fresh herbs (of 2 or 3 types, such as chives, parsley, thyme, tarragon, marjoram)

small handful of crumbled feta cheese

butter or olive oil to coat pan

half an avocado, cubed

In a small pan, over medium heat, warm olive oil.  Saute asparagus, tomatoes, green onion and chile until asparagus is crisp tender.  Set aside while you prepare the omelette.

Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk in the water.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Chop the herbs and crumble the feta and have them at the ready before you begin cooking the omelette.

Heat your omelette pan (med-high heat if it is non-stick and high heat otherwise) and brush with a bit of butter or olive oil.  Pour in the beaten egg and tilt the pan to cover the surface.  As the bottom cooks, lift up the edges and let the raw egg slide underneath the cooked.  Scatter the herbs and the feta over the length of the center of the omelette then fold 1/3 of the omelette towards the middle and repeat on the other side.

Just as the omelette is finishing cooking, toss the diced avocado to the vegetable mixture and return it to the heat just to warm through.

Remove the omelette to a plate and top with the warm salsa and serve immediately.  Serves 2.

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Sesame Chicken Tenders with Ginger Soy Dipping Sauce

This recipe just might keep you out of that Chick-fil-A drive thru line for good.  At the very least, you’ll never buy frozen chicken tenders again.  When I ask my family to pitch ideas for dinner, this is what they ask for 8 out of 10 times.  It can also be a wonderful Sesame Chicken Salad when you use the sauce as a dressing…. the chicken stays crunchy and tastes great at room temperature.

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1/4 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon toasted Asian sesame oil

3/4 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated finely

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 package chicken tenders (about 16)

1/4 cup white sesame seeds

1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs

salt and pepper

Oil (canola or peanut)

In a small bowl, whisk together first 6 ingredients and set aside.  Place chicken tenders in second small bowl,toss with 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce mixture, and let marinate for 10-15 minutes.  Reserve remaining soy sauce mixture to use as the dipping sauce. On a large plate, mix together sesame seeds and panko bread crumbs and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Coat each chicken tender with the panko mixture, patting gently to help the crumbs adhere.  Set tenders in a single layer on waxed paper until ready to fry.  (this can be done hours in advance…just keep the tenders in a single layer and put in the frig)

Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in large skillet (non stick works well here) over medium high heat.   Test temperature by dropping in a tiny piece of the panko….it should sizzle immediately.  Fry chicken tenders (in batches unless your skillet is enormous) until golden brown on both sides and cooked through.  This will only take 2-3 minutes per side then remove to a wire rack. (This will keep them crunchy.  When you drain things on paper towels, they tend to soak the oil back in and get soggy on the bottom)  You can stick them in a warm oven if you are not quite ready to serve.  Serve hot with reserved soy ginger sauce.

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Chocolate Chip White Buttermilk Snack Cake


Not every cake needs an inch of icing.  There’s a lot to be said for a nice little snack cake like this one.  It’s light and moist with a fine crumb and it’s just perfect for snacks, coffees, lunch boxes, picnics, bake sales, etc.  As a matter of fact, the recipe comes from The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook, by Barbara Grunes.  She presents it as a layer cake with white chocolate frosting. Nice to know that it can stand on it’s own as well.

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3 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 egg whites

2 cups sugar

3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven t 350 degrees.  Spray or grease lightly 2 loaf pans.  Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the sugar and the cream of tartar and beat until stiff, glossy peaks form,  Set aside.

In another large bowl, cream the butter and the remaining sugar (1 1/2 cups) until light, about  2-3 minutes.  Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.  Beat in the vanilla,  Gently fold in the egg whites and the mini chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Baking time will depend upon the pans that you use.  Approximately 40 minutes for the pans pictured here.  Cool 15 minutes in the pans then remove to wire rack to cool completely.  Will keep wrapped tightly for 3-4 days.

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The Perfect (and perfectly simple) All Purpose Marinade for Chicken


 

Here is my go-to, all purpose marinade for boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  Just a quick whisk of a few pantry staples, a few hours to marinate, a quick turn on the grill or under the broiler, and you will have tender, perfectly seasoned chicken ready to serve or to add to pasta, sandwiches or salads.  I like to mince it up finely for chicken salad sandwiches, cut bigger pieces for a stand alone chicken salad, or slice into thin strips for pasta dishes or an easy kid and adult friendly dinner. Feel free to switch out the dried spices to fit your mood and/or the needs of your final dish.

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1/2 cup plain yogurt

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

 

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.  Marinate chicken at least 3 hours…and up to overnight.  Makes enough to marinate 4 large or 6 small chicken breasts.

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Grilled Chicken Salad with Red Grapes, Pecans and Mustard Vinaigrette

 

 

Wild Blueberry Muffins with Oats and Brown Sugar

I don’t often make Blueberry Muffins.  I tend to make my Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze or if I have time, my Blueberry Buckle Coffee Cake.  But this recipe from Beat This, by Ann Hodgman, caught my eye and since I had some Wymans fresh frozen Wild Blueberries in the freezer I decided to give it a try.  Sure glad I did.  They are moist and sweet, with just a hint of a warm oatmeal cookie goodness.  Reason enough to make sure I keep those wild blueberries in the freezer all winter long.

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1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 cup sour cream

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup frozen wild blueberries

2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line a 12-cup muffin tim with liners.  This recipe does not work without them.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk the eggs with the sour cream until thoroughly combined.

In a medium saucepan, over medium beat, melt together  the butter and the brown sugar.  Beat this mixture into the egg mixture.  Stir in the oats.

Fold in the flour mixture and then the blueberries.  Fill the muffin cups 2/3 full.  Sprinkle each muffin with a generous pinch of sugar.

Bake for 25 minutes or until light brown around the edges and set in the middle.

Cool for 5 minutes in  pan then remove to rack to finish cooling.

Makes 1 dozen.

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Quick Saute of Asparagus in Butter and Mustard

This lovely little recipe is from Kitchen of Light, New Scandinavian cooking with Andreas Viestad.  I’m always so happy to find new ways to brighten up a simple vegetable side.  And when a recipe is this easy and this good….it immediately becomes a keeper!

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1 pound fresh asparagus

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large skillet over hight heat.  Add the asparagus and cook for one minute.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the butter,  When the butter has started to brown, add the mustard and lemon juice.  Season generously with pepper.  Cook gently for 5-7 minutes, turning the asparagus every now and then.  The asparagus should be tender but still firm inside.  Serves 4.

 

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Bruschetta with Caramelized Tomatoes and Ricotta

No need to stop serving Bruschetta just because vine-ripened tomatoes are going out of season.  These slow roasted cherry tomatoes are a burst of concentrated sweetness that, when combined with creamy ricotta and a slice of crispy/chewy bread, make for a memorable cocktail hour.  (or pair with a nice salad for a light lunch) Adapted from Rustic Italian, by Domenica Marchetti

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1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fennel seeds, crushed

freshly ground black pepper and fine sea salt

1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes, halved

12 slices crusty country bread cut in to 1/2 inch slices (I used ciabatta)

extra virgin olive oil for brushing

8 ounces fresh sheep’s milk ricotta or well-drained cows milk ricotta (at room temperature for serving)

In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, garlic, fennel seeds, and a generous grinding of pepper.  Set aside and let stand for a bout 30 minutes.

Preheat the over to 300 degrees.  Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet.  Spoon the olive oil mixture over the tomatoes and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Bake until tomatoes are partially shriveled and browned in spots but still juicy, could take up to 1 1/2 hours (depending on size of tomatoes).  Transfer to a bowl, tkaing care to scrape any juices and browned bits from the baking sheet into the bowl.

To make the bruschetta, position a broiler pan 4 inches below the heat source and preheat the broiler.  Arrange the bread slices on a large baking sheet and brush the tops with olive oil.  Slip under the broiler and broil until the edges are lightly browned and the tops are golden, just 1-2 minutes.

Spread with a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta on each slice and top each with caramelized tomatoes.  Taste and sprinkle with additional black pepper and/or salt if necessary.  Serves 6

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Straw Mat Potatoes

You may want to be careful with this recipe.  Once your family realizes that it is an option, either for breakfast or supper, they will request it all the time.

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4 large baking potatoes

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 black pepper

4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Peel the potatoes, cut into 1/8 inch slices lengthwise, then again lengthwise, into 1/8 inch straws.  DO NOT RINSE, you need the starch in the potatoes to make the straw mat stick together.  Place potato straws in a large bowl and toss with the cornstarch, salt and pepper.

Heat the butter and the oil in a 12-inch well seasoned cast iron skillet over medium high heat. (if you don’t have a cast iron skillet, the next best option is a heavy non-stick skillet)  Spread the potato straws evenly in the skillet and press down gently with a spatula.  Cook until the underside is golden brown, pressing down on the potatoes occasionally.  I also like to gently pull the potatoes in around the sides to create a taller and neater edge.  This will also make it easier to flip.  Turn down the heat a bit and cover the potatoes for 5 minutes or so, to make sure the center of the potatoes cooks.  Uncover, press down on the potatoes once more and neaten the sides, give the skillet a few shakes to make sure that all the potatoes are moving as one, then flip it (see below)

There are a couple of ways to do this;  If you are using a non-stick skillet, you may want to air flip the potatoes.  It’s easier than it sounds but may take a bit of practice.  However, since I prefer to use my cast iron skillet, which is far too heavy to use for flipping, I flip the potatoes with two large metal spatulas.  Or, the safest way to flip is to slide the potatoes onto a large plate, cover with a second plate and flip upside down.  Then slide the potatoes back into the skillet raw side down. 

Turn the heat back up to medium high to brown the other side on the potatoes, occasionally pressing down on the  top and pulling in the sides as before.  When that side is crispy and brown, I usually flip the mat once more to re-crisp the first side.  Serve immediately.  Serves 6

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Black Kale with Grape Tomatoes, Garlic, and Chillies

Black Kale is also known as Tuscan Kale (or cavolo nero).  It has long, dark green leaves and is flat… compared to the more common curly kale variety.   I usually saute it simply with red onions.  But I love, love, love this spicy version adapted from A Paradiso Year, by Denid Cotter.

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2 small bunches black kale

1/2 pint grape tomatoes

2-4 cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes, or more to taste

olive oil

a splash of chicken stock

salt

Pull the leaves of kale off the stalks and tear them coarsely.  Cut the tomatoes in halves or quarters depending on the size.  In a large skillet, over high heat, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until it is quite hot then drop in the kale.  Use tongs to toss the kale and keep it from burning. add a splash of chicken stock after a minute or two to help steam the kale.  Sprinkle lightly with salt.  When the kale begins to wilt and take on a glossy sheen, add the tomatoes, garlic and crushed red chili flakes. Keep tossing and stirring over high heat, adding splashes of stock if the pan seems too dry, although the juice from the tomatoes will help.  Taste the kale.  It will be softly chewy and sweet when it is done.  Adjust seasonings if necessary.  Serves 4.

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Red and Golden Raspberry Sour Cream Tart

Here is just the right recipe for when you are asked to bring dessert, want to show up with something homemade and beautiful, but don’t have the time or inclination to spend hours in the kitchen.  You’ll need the 4 hours to chill the tart but the rest of it is quick and easy.  Note: I used apricot jam in the glaze (see photo below) instead of raspberry so I would discolor the gorgeous golden raspberries that I found at the market.  This recipe was published in Bon Appetit, July 2001.

Crust:
8 whole graham crackers, coarsely broken

1/4 cup packed golden sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

Filling:

6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2  half-pint basket raspberries

1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam

For crust:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grind crackers and sugar in processor until coarse crumbs form.  Add butter and process until crumbs are evenly moistened.  Press crumb mixture up sides of a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom.  Bake until crust is firm to touch, about 8 minutes.  Cool crust on rack.

For filling and topping:  Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar in medium bowl until smooth.  Beat in sour cream, lemon juice and vanilla.  Spread fill in in cooled crust.  Chill until firm, at least 4 hours. ( Can be made to this point one day ahead, cover; keep chilled.)  Arrange berries over filling.  Warm jam slightly and whisk in a couple of teaspoons of water if necessary to get a consistency that you can drizzle or brush lightly over the berries.  Serve immediately or chill up to three hours.

Seared Steak Salad with Arugula and Red Onions

With just a few simple high quality ingredients, you can throw together this beautiful and flavorful meal in 15 minutes flat.  The recipe is adapted from The New Cook, by Donna Hay.

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1 tablespoon olive oil

2 red onions, thickly sliced

4 small beef filets

cracked black pepper

5 ounces baby arugula, trimmed

1/2 cup parmesan cheese shavings

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, slivered

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Heat olive oil in a frying pan over media heat.  Add onions and cook for 5 minutes on each side or until will browned and set aside.  Slice each beef filet horizontally, creating 2-3 steaks (depending on the thickness of your steaks) each about 1/2 inch thick.  Season steaks lightly with salt and more generously with pepper.  Increase heat to high and cook the steaks for 30-60 seconds on each side or until they are seared and done to your liking.  To serve, toss together arugula, parmesan, basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil  Place 1 piece of steak on a serving plate.  Top steak with a little of the arugula mixture and another steak.  Add more salad and finish with a couple of the fried onions.  Serves 4.

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Deep South Chocolate Bourbon Chess Pie


The saying “easy as pie” must surely be referring to a Chess Pie.  There are hundreds of variations but as far as I can tell, they all involve a bowl, a whisk, and ingredients that you probably have in your pantry and refrigerator right now.  This particular one comes from  Charleston Cooks!  a charming cooking shop and school on East Bay Street in Charleston, SC.

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Pie Crust

1 stick cold butter

1 1/2 cups flour

one pinch salt

whole milk, about 2/3 cup

1.  Stir together the butter, flour, and salt in a mixing bowl.  Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the butter is the size of peas.

2.  Add milk, one splash at a time to the flour and stir. Continue adding the milk until the mixture forms a  ball.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and flatten into a disk shape.

3.  Chill dough about 15 minutes.

4. Roll dough, place in a pie place and trim and crimp the edges.

5.  Chill dough while you make the filling.

Filling

1/2 cup butter

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

2 tablespoons flour

1-2 tablespoons Bourbon

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees

2.  Place butter and chocolate in a small glass bowl or Pyrex measuring cup and microwave for 45-60 seconds.  Stir and let sit to finish melting the chocolate and then to let it cool a bit.

3.  Place sugar, eggs, flour, bourbon, salt and vanilla in a large bowl.  Whisk well to combine.

4.  Add chocolate mixture to the sugar mixture and whisk until smooth.

5.  Pour filling into pie crust and bake in preheated oven until edges are browned and filling is puffed and set (but still wiggly in the center), about 30 minutes.

Let cool and serve alone, with whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.

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Minced Chicken Lettuce Wraps

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A family favorite.  I like the texture of hand minced chicken much better than that of ground chicken.  It’s very quick and easy to do if you have a good sharp knife.  It is important not to overcook chicken breast meat or it will be dry and tough.  My method of letting the minced chicken sit undisturbed in a single layer until almost cooked through will keep it moist and tender….our home cooktops just don’t get hot enough to stir-fry effectively most of the time.
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4 large boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons peanut oil
salt
1 can bamboo shoots, diced
1 can water chestnuts, diced
1/2 cup scallions, sliced
3/4 cup celery, diced
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
salt and pepper to taste
lettuce leaves for wrapping
Sauce:
1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Trim chicken of all visible fat and, using a large knife, slice lengthwise and then crosswise to get 1/4 inch minced pieces.  Season with 1 tablespoon soy sauce, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and set aside.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in wok or large skillet until very hot.  Sprinkle the oil with a pinch of salt and add 1/2 of the minced chicken and quickly spread it out to cook evenly.  Let cook undisturbed for about 2-3 minutes or until the the chicken is golden brown on the bottom.  Then toss the minced chicken around a for a few seconds (at which point the chicken will be almost cooked through)  then remove to a platter while you repeat with the remaining chicken.  After the last of the chicken has been cooked and set aside, stir fry the bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, scallions and celery for 2 minutes, adding a bit more oil only if necessary.  Return chicken to the pan. Add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, red pepper flakes, and cornstarch mixture and cook, tossing constantly, until chicken is cooked through and all ingredients are nicely glazed.  Remove from heat and drizzle with sesame oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Taste and season with salt and black pepper if necessary.   Mix sauce ingredients together in small serving bowl.  Arrange serving platter with lettuce leaves, minced chicken and sauce.
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White Cheddar Cheese Straws

On top of being light, crispy, and spicy, these are also extremely quick and easy to make.  This recipe is based on one published in Southern Living in 2007.
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6 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, cut into cubes
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper ( I use 1/2 tsp. for spicy straws)
1 tablespoon half and half
Combine the first 4 ingredients in a food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add red pepper flakes and half and half and process until dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.
On a well floured surface, roll into a rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick.  Using a pizza wheel or a big knife, trim the edges a bit to even them up and then cut the dough into straws about 1/4 inch wide.  Place on an ungreased baking sheet (I like to use parchment paper).
Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes until ends are just slightly browned.  Cool on baking sheet on a wire rack.
Makes about 2 dozen
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Cucumber Goat-Teas

Hands down the best cucumber sandwich I’ve ever had.  No need to throw a ladies tea to have an excuse to make these as they would also be a great hors d’oeuvre for a summer evening.  This platter did not make it to the cocktail hour however.  It was empty within minutes of these photos. Recipe by MaryCorpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford, in their book, Cocktail Food.
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3/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar.
2 cups very thinly sliced red onion
2/3 cup goat cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
12 slices white bread, crusts removed, cut into 3 inch squares (They suggest buttermilk bread.  I used Pepperidge Farms Original White.)
1 English cucumber, cut into 1/16 inch slices, cut in half
Pour the vinegar over the onions and let marinate in a small bowl until the onions are soft and malleable, at least 30 minutes.  Strain and refrigerate until chilled.
Mix the goat cheese and cream cheese together in a small bowl.  Season with white pepper.
Spread about 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture on each piece of bread.  Cut each piece into 4 triangles. Arrange 2-3 slices of the cucumber on each triangle.  Top with 1 or two slices of red onion.
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Chopped Greek Salad

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I love chopped salads and the classic Greek salad lends itself well to this style.  Each bite can have the perfect balance of flavor…the boldness of the feta and olives with the mild freshness of the cucumber, lettuce and tomato.  To make this a whole meal just add a side of grilled chicken, salmon, or shrimp. This recipe was inspired by one published in Food and Wine magazine in September 2003.
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2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 of a small shallot
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons canola oil
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups mixed greens, I used red leaf lettuce and arugula, coarsely chopped
1 English cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and diced
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, diced
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
In a blender, combine vinegar, shallot, sugar and olive oil and puree.  Taste and season with salt and pepper. (Since these ingredients can vary so much, always taste a vinaigrette and be prepared to add a touch more oil or vinegar as necessary)
In a large bowl, toss together the chopped mixed greens, cucumber, tomatoes, dill and olives.  Add half of the dressing and taste for seasonings.  Then add the remaining dressing as needed.  Sprinkle with feta before serving.  Serve 4-5.

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Mom’s Chocolate Cake???

Must be the festive holiday spirit in the air that compelled me to make this special dessert from Laurent Tourondel.  I’m no pastry chef so many of the spectacular holiday cakes that I see in cookbooks and magazines intimidate me…. but I had a feeling that I could pull this one off.This is definitely a chef’s recipe, and by that I mean it is a recipe that was written from a professional’s prospective instead of being geared to the average home cook like me.  But it is actually very doable and I am going to try and be a bit more precise as I rewrite the directions.  I will warn you that I used a lot of mixing bowls in this process.  But you can make this dessert and run the dishwasher a good 36 hours before your guests walk in the door.

It cracks me up that this is called “Mom’s Chocolate Cake”!  No wonder this guy became a chef….growing up with a mom who whips up cakes like this!

I am so happy to finally know how to make beautiful chocolate curls.  Of course I had to do a little online research to find a technique.  See what I mean about “chef’s recipes”?  They say things like, “decorate with chocolate curls” just assuming that we all know how to do that.  But now I do know how to do that so thank you Chef Tourondel for inspiring me to figure it out.

Mom’s Chocolate Cake
 (chocolate mousse cake with creme anglaise) 

Adapted from Bistro Laurent Tourondel: New American Bistro Cooking by Laurent Tourondel and Michele Scicolone. Here is the basic idea:  you make a yummy chocolate mousse, layer it with lady fingers dipped in syrup then let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.  Then you make a vanilla creme anglaise, let it chill a couple of hours, pour it on top of the cake and chill again for a bit.  Decorate with chocolate curls and serve.  I’ve made the cake a little less boozy cause I like my liquor on the side rather than in my dessert.  In my version the liquor just heightens the flavor but it won’t come through on its own. As for the chocolate curls,  I turned to  The Pioneer Woman to get a photo demonstration to show me the way. (I used chocolate chips)  Here’s a link:  Chocolate Curls
Chocolate mousse
 
7 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 tablespoons rum
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup heavy cream
5 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons sugar, divided
1. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place it in the top half of a double boiler set over simmering water. Add the espresso powder and rum and let stand uncovered until the chocolate is softened. Stir until blended. Transfer the chocolate to a large bowl to cool.
2. In a large, chilled bowl, whip the cream on high speed for 4 minutes, or until soft peaks form.  In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of the sugar until pale, about 3 minutes. In yet another bowl, beat the whites with an electric mixer on medium speed until frothy. Gradually add the remaining 4 tablespoons of the sugar and increase the speed to high. Whip until soft peaks form.

3. Add the egg mixture to the melted chocolate and stir to combine. Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the whites.

Cake Assembly
 
Chocolate mousse
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons  rum
20 to 25 ladyfingers, cut in half horizontally
1. Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and ¾ cup water in a small pot and bring to a simmer. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool completely.
2. Mix together the simple syrup (you should have ¾ cup) and the rum. Dip half of each ladyfinger in the syrup until slightly softened.
3. In a 2-quart glass serving bowl, alternate layers of 1/3 of the mousse followed by 1/3 of the ladyfingers, finishing with the mousse. Alternatively, you may make individual servings by layering the mousse and ladyfingers in large wine glasses. Cover and chill at least 8 hours or up to 2 days.
 
Creme Anglaise
 
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup sugar
5 egg yolks
Chocolate curls or shavings, if desired
1. Bring the milk, vanilla bean scrapings and pod, and 1/2 cup of the sugar to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and discard the vanilla bean.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks until thickened slightly and well combined. Very slowly,  add about 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the yolks and whisk until well incorporated. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture, stirring constantly.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened slightly and the mixture lightly coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Alternatively, dip a spatula in the sauce and run your finger through it. If your finger makes a trail rather than causes all of the custard to run off, the sauce is ready.
3. Remove the sauce from the heat and strain into a clean bowl. Place the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
4. Pour the creme anglaise over the chocolate mousse cake and chill until ready to serve.  Decorate with chocolate curls just before serving.

 

Banana Bars

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 Here’s a wonderfully easy and extraordinarily tasty little bar recipe that I tried this week.  I needed to use up some over-ripe bananas and was in the mood to try something different.  Since I am traveling right now and not in possession of my collection of cookbooks, I moseyed on over to Tastespotting and searched for photos with the keyword “banana”.  So… this recipe is comes courtesy of Cooking Classy and it is definitely a keeper!  Enjoy!
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For the base:
1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons applesauce
1 egg
1 cup over-ripe mashed bananas (about 2 large bananas)
For the frosting:
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup pecans, lightly toasted and chopped
Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all ingredients for the base in a large mixing bowl.  Mix with an electric mixer for 2 minutes.  Pour mixture in to a buttered 13×9 inch baking pan and spread evenly.  Bake about 20-25 minutes…until edges are just beginning to turn golden and center is puffed and set.  Cool completely.
Mix the 5 frosting ingredients together in a medium bowl.  Whip until fluffy.  Spread evenly over cooled banana base and sprinkle with chopped pecans.
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Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze

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This is basically Tyler Florence’s recipe from his book Real Kitchen. I’ve made these so many times that I have just tweaked the mixing and shaping method a little bit and simplified the glaze. Once you get the hang of it, you can whip these up in just 15 minutes or so.

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2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into chunks
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
a couple of tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Using 2 forks, or a pastry knife, or even your fingers, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it looks like coarse crumbs.
Add the blueberries and toss gently distribute them. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the cream. Now gently fold everything together to incorporate. This is important: don’t overwork the dough or crush the blueberries. You are just trying to moisten the flour mixture so that it will hold together a bit. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Gently press dough into an 8-inch square. Don’t be concerned if the dough is barely holding together. Use a large knife to cut the square into four smaller squares. Cut each of these on the diagonal, either once or twice, depending on whether you want 8 large or 16 small scones. Transfer to a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Let cool for a bit before you apply the glaze…otherwise it will just melt off.

For the glaze: sift confectioners sugar into medium bowl and whisk in lemon juice a bit at a time until you get a nice consistency that you can use to drizzle over the scones. (A fork works nicely for glazing.) Let the glaze dry for a few minutes before serving.

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Banana Muffins

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I’ve made countless batches of banana muffins over the years and this one is my current favorite.  It is adapted from Sara Foster’s Banana Nut Muffin recipe in her book Fresh Every Day.  I like to put the pecans on top because they get nice and toasty and keep their crunch.  And, this also makes it easier if you want to make a batch of muffins, half with nuts and half without.
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2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3 over ripe bananas
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pecans, broken into pieces
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with paper liners and lightly grease the top of the pan.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, nutmeg and salt.  In a separate bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, bananas, sour cream and vanilla and stir until the flour is just incorporated…do not over mix.  Fill the muffin tins until batter is just below the top of the paper liner.  Cover batter with broken pecan pieces and bake 25-30 minutes.  To test for doneness, I gently touch the top center of a muffin…it should spring back lightly.
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Individual Vanilla Bean Banana Puddings

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As much as I love banana pudding, I never served it to guests until I figured out how to make it a bit more elegant.  Real vanilla beans and brown sugar take it to a new level and serving it in individual portions is key.  This is the perfect make-ahead dessert.
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2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold, unsalted butter
3 bananas (2 diced and 1 sliced)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
mini Nilla Wafers
Heat milk and vanilla bean in small saucepan.  As soon as it reaches a boil, remove from heat and set aside to let the vanilla bean infuse the milk.
     Whisk egg yolks and brown sugar together until fluffy.  Add cornstarch and whisk until smooth.  Remove vanilla bean from warm milk and discard.  Whisk 1/4 of the hot milk into egg mixture until incorporated.  Then whisk in the remaining milk.  Strain this mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until pudding is thick and starting to boil slowly.  Remove from heat and stir in the butter.
Dice 2 of the bananas (about 1/4 inch) and stir into the pudding.  Fill individual ramekins about half full then add a layer of mini Nilla Wafers.  Add pudding to reach the rim of the ramekin.  Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap, pressing wrap to make contact with pudding and refrigerate until cold.  Whip the cream with the confectioner’s sugar.  To serve, garnish puddings with banana slices, a dollop of whipped cream and a mini Nilla Wafer, if desired.
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