Easy Christmas Appetizer – Red Grapes and Red Onions

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This friend of mine she gave to me,
A fabulous new recipe.
Sweet onions, grapes, vinegar, cheese,
Together make an hors d’ oeuvres tease.
Like tasty ornaments they’ll please,
Your Christmas Eve will be a breeze!

This fantastic recipe can be found in my very good friend, Gina Von Esmarch’s, first cook book, Taste This! Her second cook book is amazing too! Taste This! The Delicious Sequel has many delectable and easy recipes that will save the day for any event or gathering. Check out Gina’s blog, Bowl Licker, for posts that will get you out of the kitchen and into the dining room. Thank you, Gina! :)

RED GRAPES  & RED ONIONS

1 Bag Red Seedless Grapes (if big, cut in half)
2 Medium-sized Onions, sliced thin
Extra Virgin Olive OIl – a few TBS to coat the pan
Balsamic Vinegar – a few shakes
1 Log of Goat Cheese
Baguette or Crackers
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place grapes and onions on foil-lined baking sheet. Pour olive oil and balsamic vinegar over onions grapes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix and coat well.
Roast mid-oven for about 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes until done.
The grapes should be mushy and the red onions caramelized. Let cool.
Slice and toast a baguette or use a cracker. Slather with goat cheese and top with grape and onion mixture. Serve it up!

Musakhan – My Sumac Love Affair Continues

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Sumac is a tangy spice, my culinary drug-like vice.
Sprinkle it on salad and rice, you don’t have to ask me twice.
The key to this amazing meal, and caramelized onions seal the deal.
Sweet and sour in one dish, my greatest gastronomical wish.
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Musakhan is a Middle Eastern dish made with flat bread, chicken, onions, olive oil, and sumac. The best flatbread to use is lavash but pita bread will do in a pinch. Musakhan can be made a number of ways. It is not usually made with potatoes because the bread is so starchy but I love the combination of chicken, onions, and potatoes. The chicken can be shredded or served whole on top of the bread. Most recipes call for thighs. In a perfect world I would have shredded three bone-in half breasts but I used what I had on hand, thighs and legs. This is an excellent meal for company and it is best served with salad as the acid is necessary to counter the richness of the dish.

6 Chicken Thighs
6 Large Sweet Onions (red or yellow) – chopped
3 Yukon Gold Potatoes (optional) – cut into medium pieces
2 T Sumac (found at any mediterranean market)
Lavash or Pita Bread (enough to cover the bottom of a deep, oven-friendly serving dish 2-3 times)
Salt and Pepper to Taste
3 Cups Water
1 1/2 Cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil plus 2 T

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place potatoes on a pan and coat with 2 T of olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Place in oven on middle rack for 20 minutes.

Place chicken in a large pot and fill with water just to cover the chicken. Make sure there is enough water to make 3 cups for later use. Bring water to a boil and then simmer on medium low until chicken is cooked through. Take chicken out of the pot and save the chicken and the water for later.

While chicken is cooking, place the chopped onions in a deep pan with the sumac and salt. Sauté in 1 1/2 cups of olive oil. Yes, that is a lot of oil but it is necessary for the right texture. Cook on medium low until the onions are caramelized. When done, take three-quarters of the onions and olive oil out of the pan and set aside. 

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When the chicken is done, add three cups of the water / broth from the pot to the onions in the pan. Add 2 tsp. of salt as well.
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Place the chicken on the pan with the potatoes and coat with half of the onions and sumac set aside. Broil in the oven on high until golden brown.

When chicken and potatoes are done, take the first piece of pita or lavash and dunk it in the pot with the water and onions. Be careful not to saturate too much or bread will fall apart.
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Place on the bottom of the oven-safe serving dish and top with some of the sautéed onions left over. Place in the oven on broil (middle rack) for three minutes. Take it out and put another layer of soaked bread with onions on top of the other. Place back in the oven for three minutes, Repeat one more time.

When done, place the chicken and potatoes on top of the bread making sure to use all of the onions / olive oil from the pan as well. If you like the bread really soaked, drizzle a bit more onion water on top of the chicken.

Serves 4

Apple Persimmon Autumn Salad

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For this tasty autumn salad,
I could almost write a ballad.

My love for sweet is no surprise,
This one won’t go to my thighs.

Persimmons, apples, nuts and greens,
I’ll still fit inside my jeans.

So what if sugar hugs the nut?
I’ll burn it ‘fore it hits my butt.

Just chewing has to count for some,
So fork it up and just say, “Yum!”

Time to put the shovel down,
Feeling stuffed and kinda’ round.

Staying slim a crazy dream,
Now I have a busted seam! :(

Apple-Persimmon Autumn Salad

I am re-posting my favorite salad in time for the holidays. This is another one of my mother’s fantastic recipes.  The great thing about this salad is that you can change up the fruit, nuts and cheese to make it a year-round or seasonal salad. There really is no perfect recipe. Add whatever you like. In fact, pomegranate seeds make a great substitute, or addition, to the dried cranberries this time of year.

3 Hearts of Romaine – chopped

2 Celery Stalks – diced

2 Green Onions – no whites

2 Fuji Apples – peeled and sliced into thin squares

2 Fuyu Persimmons – peeled and sliced into thin squares

1 Cup Dried Cranberries or Pomegranate Seeds (or 1/2 and 1/2)

1 Cup Pecans or Walnuts – chopped

1 Cup Gorgonzola or Bleu Cheese – crumbled

2 Tbsp. Sugar

Dressing

1/2 Cup Light Olive Oil

1/4 Cup White Balsamic Vinegar

1 Tbsp. Lime Juice

1 Tbsp.  Sugar

1/2 tsp. Salt

In a pan, roast the nuts with the sugar until they become caramelized.  Set aside to cool. Wash all of the vegetables.  Chop the romaine into bite-size pieces. Add the celery, green onions, apples and persimmons.  Pour on the dressing and gently toss. Add the cheese and nuts last and give the salad a few gentle tosses.  Serves 6.

The Beautiful Edible Flower

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This one is for all you folk
Who like to eat the artichoke.

We eat the buds and not the beard
Cuz that stuff is really weird.

Clip and clean and quarter cut
Boil, dry, and scoop the gut.

Lay them flat upon the grill
No need for any special skill.

Brush them with some pesto sauce
Make them shiny, you’re the boss.

Utensils are not needed here,
Fingers are our only gear.

6 Artichokes, cleaned and quartered
1 Cup Pesto Sauce
1 T coarse salt, plus 1 tsp.
Drizzle of Fine Olive Oil

To clean artichokes, start by cutting the stem off the bottom. Remove all small or dry leaves at the base of the artichoke that may be too tough to eat. To remove the sharp thorns, snip off the tips of the leaves with a pair of scissors. Use a serrated knife to cut and flatten out the top of the artichoke. Wash and dry artichokes. To be certain that the water does not remain trapped in the leaves it is best to dry the artichoke upside down on a towel.

When dry, cut the artichoke into fourths. Place the artichokes in a large pot of boiling water. Add 1 T of salt. Turn to medium low and cook for 12 minutes, or until leaves are tender. Take out and let drain. When cool, scoop out the purple leaves and beard below them.

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Brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place them on the grill on medium heat for 5 minutes on each side. 

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When done, brush them liberally with pesto sauce, drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil and add another pinch of salt. Serve hot off the grill, room temperature, or even cold. Serves 6-8.

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S’Mores Cake

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S'mores Cake

S’Mores Cake

Missing summer on the shore
Roasting mallows for my s’more

Leaves are falling, getting cool
Homes adorned with gourds and ghoul

Stores filled up with chocolate bags
My longing for s’mores steadily nags

I grab my cart and fill it up
With mallows, grahams, and Karo’s syrup

Determined, I go home to bake
My very own s’mores-like cake

Gooey, creamy, rich, and sweet
No longer just a summertime treat.

This really does taste just like a s’more. One small piece goes a long way.  :)

For the Cake:
I always use Bobby Flay’s chocolate cake recipe as it is rich and moist. Here is a link to his German Chocolate cake recipe so be sure to just use the chocolate cake portion. Bobby Flay’s Chocolate Cake Recipe.

For the Filling:
2 bags large marshmallows (reserve 10 for decorating)
5 T butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 packages honey graham crackers, crushed well

For the Ganache:
8 ounces heavy cream
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 T Karo’s light corn syrup

Directions:
1. When the cakes are cool, melt the butter in a pot and add the marshmallows. Cook on low until melted. Add the vanilla and mix well.
2. For the ganache, heat the cream in a saucepan over low heat until it gently simmers. Place the chocolate in a bowl and pour the simmering cream on top. Add the Karo’s syrup and let sit for 30 seconds. Gently stir. It should look creamy and glossy.
3. When the cakes have completely cooled, use a knife or thread to slice each cake in half horizontally. Place the first half down on a cake platter and cover with a layer of marshmallow. Drizzle with ganache and sprinkle heavily with graham crackers. Repeat this process for the next two layers. For the top layer, pour the ganache on top of the cake and gently push it over the sides. It does not have to cover the sides of the cake completely. Sprinkle with graham crackers.
4. Broil the 10 marshmallows in the oven on high. Stay close by to make sure they do not burn. When cool,  place one in the center and the rest around the bottom of the cake.
Serves 12. Enjoy!

Pickled Beet Risotto

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The beet is like a gem to me,
Or an ornament on a Christmas tree.

I’d hang it up with loving care,
Or around my neck with delicious flair.

Ruby red it shines so bright.
Stains my fingers with every bite.

But I don’t mind the crimson mess,
Even on my bestest dress.

This menu makes for a beautiful and flavorful Fall dinner.  The combination of flavors meld perfectly. The risotto is tangy with vinegar, the lamb is smoky from the grill, and the carrots are sweetened with brown sugar.  You can always buy pickled beets at any any Mediterranean market but they won’t be like Ghada’s beets. Try her recipe below!

Pickled Beets – Recipe Courtesy of Ghada Zumout (sister-in-law extraordinaire and best beet pickler in the world!!)

Look! There’s cauliflower in there too.

3 bunches of beets ( cleaned, peeled and sliced thin)

4 cups white vinegar

1/4 cup sea salt dissolved in 2 cups water

5 cloves garlic (make a small cut in each of them)

1 jalapeño pepper

Add the salted water, the vinegar, and the garlic together and boil them in a stainless steel pot for 4 minutes then let cool down. Make a small cut in the jalapeño pepper and put it in the empty jar and then add the beets first and then try to place the garlic between them so they don’t rise to the top for better flavor during the pickling process, once you placed the beets and the garlic pour the brine in to cover everything. Close the jar very tightly and leave it out for a week or 10 days depending on the weather and then put it in the fridge. The warmer the weather the faster the process is finished.

Pickled Beet Risotto

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

5 T butter

3 T sugar

1/2 tsp. coarse salt

1 1/2 cups beet brine

3-4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat the vegetable or chicken stock and set aside.

In a saute pan, melt butter, add beet brine and sugar. Stir to combine and add rice. Cook on medium and gently stir the rice until the brine has almost been absorbed. Add one ladle-ful of stock and continue to stir. When the liquid has almost been absorbed, add another ladle-ful of stock. Continue this process until approximately 3 cups of stock have been used. Add the heavy cream. The rice should be “al dente” and creamy, not mushy. If the rice is too firm, add more stock until you reach the desired firmness. Taste for salt and serve immediately. Serves 6.

Coconut Curry Rice Noodle Soup

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Coconut Curry Noodle Soup

Cruising around in County Cook,
Passing land The Fire took.

Back on foot to walk The Loop,
Cold and tired. Need some soup.

So many places on The Mile,
Magnificent! Adorned in style.

But I don’t need a big “to-do”,
Just a seat and spoon and loo. :)

I find it at a Noodle House,
So good it was I must espouse.

Go there for some curry soup,
Your energy you will recoup.

I liked this soup so much that I came home and re-created it the very next day.  It has just the right amount of heat from the chili pepper flakes and it’s not too creamy as I use mostly chicken broth and coconut milk instead of heavy cream.

Coconut Curry Rice Noodle Soup

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium yellow onion

2 pkgs baby bella mushrooms, sliced

3 T yellow curry powder

2 tsp. turmeric

1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt

1/2 – 1 tsp. chili pepper flakes (to taste)

2 large chicken breasts, sliced into thin bite-sized pieces

1 48 oz container chicken broth

1 can coconut milk

3 cups baby spinach

1/4 cup cilantro (optional)

1 small pkg flat rice noodles

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

In a pot, saute the onions and mushrooms in olive oil.  Immediately add the curry, turmeric and chili pepper flakes so the flavors release and there is no gritty residual from the powder.  Let the vegetables tenderize for about 10-15 minutes on low.

Increase the heat to medium high and add the chicken. Cook for about 8 minutes or until cooked through. Add the spinach and give it a quick stir before adding the chicken broth and coconut milk. Bring to a soft boil with lid off and then turn heat off.

Add uncooked rice noodles to pot and gently stir once. Let sit for 5 minutes or until al dente. Add tomatoes. Serves 6.

For Jennifer – In Honor of Mikey, Her Loving Husband

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So sad I am you lost your love,
Your other half, your turtle dove.

With heavy heart I’ll cook for you,
And wish some things we could undo.

At your request I’ll bake his pie,
And slice it with a weighted sigh.

I’ll serve it with a fork and hug,
And hold them to me warm and snug.

And though there now may just be three,
In your daughters’ eyes he will always be.

Read Jennie’s Post, For Mikey.

I am amazed at the showing of love and support by the food blogging community. There are for sure 400 and potentially 1000 people baking in honor of Mikey and Jennifer today. The number just seems to keep growing. It is such a special way to show your love and concern. There are some really wonderful people out there. :)

Jennifer’s Creamy Peanut Butter Pie, Mikey’s Favorite.

Serves 10 to 12

8 ounces chocolate cookies (I used chocolate covered graham crackers)

4 tablespoons butter, melted

4 ounces finely chopped chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup chopped peanuts

1 cup heavy cream

8 ounces cream cheese

1 cup creamy-style peanut butter

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 – 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Add the cookies to the bowl of a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs.  Combine melted butter and cookie crumbs in a small bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well.  Press mixture into the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave.  Pour over bottom of cookie crust and spread to the edges using an off-set spatula.  Sprinkle chopped peanuts over the melted chocolate. Place pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Pour the heavy cream into a bowl and beat using a stand mixer or hand mixer until stiff peaks form.  Transfer to a small bowl and store in refrigerator until ready to use.  Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a deep bowl.  Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Reduce speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioner’s sugar.  Add the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Increase speed to medium and beat until all the ingredients are combined and filling is smooth.

Stir in 1/3 of the whipped cream into the filling mixture (helps lighten the batter, making it easier to fold in the remaining whipped cream).  Fold in the remaining whipped cream.  Pour the filling into the prepared springform pan.  Drizzle the melted chocolate on top, if using, and refrigerate for three hours or overnight before serving.

Peach & Blueberry Pie

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Fruity, flaky peachy pie,
Best to eat in sunny July.

Add a little berry blue,
Grab a knife and slice it through.

Top it with some icy cream,
So happy that it’s not a dream.

This pie is simple to make. I’m sure the purists out there are having a fit but time is a commodity that’s hard to come by around here. If I can find a quality ingredient that’s ready-made, I’m all for it, guilt-free. That’s how I feel about this dough. It can be found in any grocery store’s refrigerated section.

Peach & Blueberry Pie

10 ripe peaches

1 1/4 cups baker’s sugar (fine) + 1 T

2 T cornstarch

1 cup blueberries

2 T butter

1 T sugar

1 egg white, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  After the peaches are peeled and sliced, add them to a pot with 1 1/4 cups sugar. Add more or less sugar depending on the sweetness of the fruit.  Cook on low for 5 minutes and add cornstarch.  After the fruit has been slightly softened and the juice has thickened a bit, take the pot off the heat.  Add the blueberries and gently stir.

Use 1 T of butter to grease the pie plate. Lay the roll of dough over the plate and smooth the bottom and up the sides so there are no air pockets. With your fingers, gently pinch or crimp the dough around the edges of the pie plate.  Using the tines of a fork, lightly poke holes all around the bottom and sides.

To ensure that the fruit filling is not too juicy, layer the fruit on top of the dough with a slotted spoon.  If more juice is necessary after all the fruit has been added, then feel free to pour a bit on top.   Place the last tablespoon of butter on top of the fruit in small pats.

Unwrap your second roll of dough and lay out on a clean surface. With a small pairing knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough in 9-10 strips. Use the following link as a helpful guide to lattice the dough.  Once in place, crimp the dough around the pie plate and brush the strips with egg wash.  Finally, sprinkle the dough with 1 tablespoon of sugar.

Place a pan on the bottom rack of the oven.  The pie should go on the rack directly above to catch any drippings. Bake for 14 minutes at 450 degrees and then lower the heat to 375 degrees for the remaining 40-45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.  Let cool before serving.  Serves 10.

Watermelon with Za’atar

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A summer treat that’s cold and sweet.

Some will like it, some will not
But do, at least,  just give it a shot.

Lemony, salty, nutty too,
And really, really good to chew. :)

For those who are adventurous, this combination of flavors is really delicious!  The sweet watermelon goes perfectly with the salty and tangy flavor of za’atar. You can find za’atar at any mediterranean market or you can always make your own.

Za’atar Recipe

1/4 cup sumac

2 tablespoons thyme

1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds

2 tablespoons marjoram

1 teaspoon coarse salt

In a pan, lightly roast sesame seeds until they are light brown. To a mortar, add all spices including sesame seeds and salt and grind them down with a pestle. The consistency should be slightly grainy, not powdery.  Sprinkle on the watermelon and serve.