Sunday, December 27, 2015

{Christmas Party Favorites} Pomegrante and Cranberry Bellini Mocktail

There are usually a few people at every party who chose not to drink alcohol at all. There are also your responsible drinkers, people who will have one or two alcoholic beverages then switch over to something non-alcoholic. For these reasons it's always nice to have a well thought out drink menu that includes a mocktail or two. Just a little something to let the "non-drinkers" or "responsible drinkers" feel special. Now I will be the first to say that I don't fall into either of the above categories.  I always prefer a cocktail over a mocktail, especially at a party.

So there I am at my party, cocktail in hand as I pour my very responsible friend a glass of this Pomegranate and Cranberry Bellini Mocktail. I watch nervously as she takes a sip, scolding myself for not taking the time to taste it before the party, and am so relieved when she squeals in delight saying "This is the best mocktail ever." I thank her and feel convinced she is just being polite. There is no way it is THAT good, I think to myself.

As the evening goes on, my friend revisits the pitcher full of this mocktail several times, each time complimenting the drink. Ladies, who by now have grown curious, decide to taste the mocktail. I watch, mostly in shock, as people put their cocktail aside and pour themselves a mocktail. That's it, I decide, pouring a taste for myself. And...

I'll be darned if the ladies weren't right. This mocktail is total perfection! It's not only pretty as can be, but it succeeds in having that perfect balance of sweet and tart, and the sparkling water gives it that bubbly effervescence that makes it light and refreshing. Garnished with lime slices, mint, and/or pomegranate seeds, this is such a special drink for the holidays, or really any occasion. It was certainly the hit of my holiday party and I guarantee it would be a hit at your party as well!

Not having a party anytime soon? No worries. Make a pitcher to enjoy at home!

Pomegranate and Cranberry Bellini Mocktail
Serves 8

1 cup ice
1-1/2 cups simple syrup, chilled *recipe follows
1-1/4 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice, chilled
1 cup unsweetened cranberry juice,chilled
1 (25.3 fluid ounces) bottle sparkling water, chilled
2 limes, thinly sliced
Optional garnish: 1/2 cups pomegranate seeds or fresh mint

For The Simple Syrup: Combine 1 cup water 1 cup sugar in a saucepan, over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Take the pan off the heat and allow the syrup to cool. (Yields 1-1/2 cups)

For the Bellini: Place the ice in a pitcher. Add the simple syrup, pomegrante juice, and cranberry juice. Stir well. Slowly pour in the sparkling water. Add garnishes, if using, and serve!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

{Christmas Party Favorites} Cozy and Delicious Vanilla Hot Cocoa

It's always nice to serve a hot drink at your Christmas party, even if the weather is unseasonably warm. A hot drink always helps to make things feel a bit festive. So turn on the fireplace and grab a mug.  We are going to give it our all to make it feel like Christmas!

Whether you're wearing your flip flops, or your boots, you are sure to love this delicious Vanilla Hot Cocoa.  The addition of cinnamon and vanilla are subtle, yet help to bring out the rich chocolate flavor of the cocoa.  Whether you top your cocoa with marshmallows, chocolate shavings, or whipped cream this is sure to make you feel cozy, relaxed, and ready to celebrate the season!

Vanilla Hot Cocoa
Adapted from The Food You Crave
by Ellie Krieger
Makes 1 cup 

1 cup nonfat milk
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon shaved dark chocolate, optional*

In a small saucepan, heat the milk and cinnamon stick over medium-low heat until scalding hot (little bubbles will start forming around the edge of the pan), about 4 minutes. While the milk is warming, put the cocoa and sugar in a mug. Add the water to the mug and stir until it has the consistency of a paste. Remove the cinnamon stick from the milk, add the cocoa mixture and vanilla to the milk, and whisk until slightly frothy.  Pour into the mug, top with chocolate shavings (if desired), and enjoy!

Theme: Cinnamon & Sugar

Sunday, December 13, 2015

{Christmas Party Favorites} Giada's Festive and Fun Bellini Bar

It's been my experience that you need three things to throw a good party: a well thought out guest list, good music, and at least one good drink. With that in mind, I hosted a Christmas Paint Party Friday night. I invited eight ladies from the neighborhood. Some introductions had to be made, but since all the ladies had several things in common, it was a good mix. The music was a no brainer. Christmas parties need Christmas music. Now for the biggie. The drink. Christmas time is a special time so I wanted something bubbly and festive. Giada's Bellini Bar fit the bill perfectly.

A bellini is a mixture of sparkling Prosecco wine and fruit puree, peach being the most common. Giada's Bellini Bar features three flavors: homemade peach, strawberry, and blueberry puree. I wasn't sure how popular a blueberry puree would be so I elected to make peach, strawberry, and cherry purees.  Now for the Prosecco. The fella at the liquor store recommended  Riondo brand. I bought four bottles and immediately put them in the fridge to chill while I made the purees.
This is indeed a gorgeous and festive drink, but it IS NOT a drink you can put together quickly so be sure to allow enough time to make all the components. First you'll need to make a simple syrup and allow it to chill. Then you'll need to let your frozen fruit thaw before you proceed to make all three purees. Between the thawing, chilling, blending, and cleaning you will need at least an hour, if not more.  It will be worth your time! I promise.
To serve the bellini, have your guest choose which puree they'd like, spoon the desired amount in the bottom of each wine glass or champagne flute, pour the Prosecco, and stir. Garnish each glass with fruit, orange slices, etc. Drink and Be Merry! This drink is sure to be a hit at your party as it was at mine!  One bellini will likely loosen up the crowd and create a fun party atmosphere. Enjoy!

 Giada's Bellini Bar
Recipe from Food Network
by Giada DeLaurentiis
Serves 12

2 cups sugar 
1 cup water 
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen peaches, thawed 
1 teaspoon grated orange peel 
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen strawberries, thawed 
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen blueberries or blackberries, thawed 
4 to 6 (750-ml) bottles Prosecco or other sparkling wine, 
*For garnish: chilled fresh fruit, such as pomegranate arils,berries, citrus slices, etc.

Note: I replaced the blueberries with a 16 oz. bag of sweet cherries

For The Simple Syrup: Stir the sugar and water in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Cool completely.

For The Peach Puree:  Puree the peaches and orange peel in a blender with 1/2 cup of the sugar syrup until smooth. Strain through a fine-meshed strainer and into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate. 

For the Strawberry Puree: In a clean blender puree the strawberries with 1/3 cup of the sugar syrup until smooth. Strain through a clean fine-meshed strainer and into another bowl. Discard the seeds. 

For The Blueberry Puree: Puree the blueberries in a clean blender with 1/3 cup of the sugar syrup until smooth. Strain through a clean fine-meshed strainer and into a third bowl. Discard the seeds and solids. 

To Serve: Pour each of the purees into clear glass bowls or small pitchers. For each serving, pour 2 to 4 tablespoons of the desired fruit puree into a Champagne flute. Slowly pour enough Prosecco into the flute to fill. Gently stir to blend. Garnish with the whole berries, as desired, and serve. 

 Do-Ahead Tip: The fruit purees can each be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately and refrigerate. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

{Christmas Party Favorites} Italian Sausage Skewers

Turn on those Christmas carols. It's time to deck the halls, string the lights, and shop till you drop. It's time for Christmas and all that it brings. While this is a joyous season, it is also a busy season. There's decorating, shopping, wrapping, recitals, concerts, parades, and it definitely wouldn't be Christmas without all the Christmas parties. Odds are you are either hosting a Christmas party or attending one and it is crucial to have a few good, and EASY, recipes up our sleeve.

That's where these Italian Sausage Skewers come in. They are TASTY and DELICIOUS. They are also QUICK, EASY, PRETTY, and FESTIVE with their RED AND GREEN color. As if that's not enough they are also HEALTHY and can be MADE AHEAD! Can I go on...they are also on skewers, which everyone loves so they are therefore EASY TO EAT and perfect for serving with cocktails or mocktails.

The only cooking required is cooking a few links of Italian sausage in a skillet. The rest is a matter of assembling. For ease I bought my grape tomatoes and Kalamata olives from the antipasto section of my local supermarket. This way I was able to buy marinated grape tomatoes and marinated olives to amp up the flavor. I was also able buy the exact quantity needed, which is always helpful to reduce waste. While there I also picked up some marinated bocconcini (small balls of mozzarella cheese). You could take this opportunity to see what your local deli has to offer. This is a great, and easy way, to round out your appetizer and offer a few different options.

These sausage skewers are so good! The sausage is savory and flavorful, the tomatoes are juicy, the basil gives it a fresh pop, and the olives provide a briny saltiness that bring it all together.  One or two of these is a very satisfying and hearty little snack. These are great served warm, but are also just as good served room temperature, which is fabulous since you want your party to go on for hours.

Italian Sausage Skewers
Adapted from The Food You Crave
by Ellie Krieger
Makes 24 skewers

8 ounces Italian-style poultry sausage
8 large fresh basil leaves
12 pitted kalamata olives, cut in half
24 grape tomatoes
Twenty-four 6-inch wooden skewers
 Optional: Any greens to garnish the plate

Cook the sausage according to package directions and cut into 1-inch-thick rounds. (I got 8 slices from each sausage link). Cut the basil leaves lengthwise into thirds.  (Of course, size of your basil will matter here. My suggestion is to use however much you like. My store was out of basil so I used mini arugula leaves.)

Work an olive half about one-third of the way down onto a skewer. Then add one strip of basil, folding so it fits nicely on the skewer. Follow with one tomato and a round of sausage. Position everything on the end of the skewer so the skewer can stand up on its sausage end. Repeat with the remaining skewers and ingredients. These skewers may be prepared several hours in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Allow them to come to room temperature before serving.

Theme: Nibbles & Noshes

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Giada's Comforting Pastina Soup

When you've had your fill of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and pie; when you've lazed about for days; and when your stretchy pants are starting to get's time to get up!  Put that Fitbit back on, turn off the TV, and get back to leading an active lifestyle!

But...the weather? Yes, the weather doesn't help. It's cold and rainy, and let's face one likes cold, rainy weather.  It's ultimately unpleasant. So, we still need comfort food, but we need comfort food that satisfies without weighing us down. After all, it's Christmas time and we have way too many things on our "to-do" list. 

A quick look through Giada's newest cookbook, Happy Cooking, and I noticed this recipe for Pastina Soup. A very comforting and kid-friendly soup made of chicken broth, tiny pasta shapes, peas, carrots, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. The perfect recipe.

The best news is you probably already have everything you need to make this! I will say, with a simple soup like this I do think it's best to use a homemade chicken, or even turkey broth. However, even if you only have store-bought broth this is still a great go-to recipe. We all agreed this is a great family-friendly soup. Children, and adults, love the fun little pasta shapes. The veggies add great color, and flavor, and the sprinkling of Parmesan cheese adds that little touch of indulgence. A feel-good favorite that warms you up without weighing you down.

Pastina Soup
Adapted from Happy Cooking
by Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 shallots, minced
3 fresh thyme sprigs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 (2-inch) piece of Parmesan rind 
4 cups chicken broth
1-1/4 cups little star pasta*
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)

Notes: Use any small-shaped pasta you like. Giada uses stelline (star-shaped pasta). I used alphabet letter pasta to make it fun for the kids.

Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil, celery, carrot, and shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the thyme, salt, Parmesan rind, chicken broth, and 1 cup of water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. 

Add the pasta and stir with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking to the pan. Return to a simmer and continue to cook for 8 to 10 minutes more, or until the pasta is cooked and the liquid is slightly thickened.

Remove the thyme sprigs and Parmesan rind. Stir in the peas. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the grated cheese and lemon zest, if desired.

Theme: November Potluck

Sunday, November 22, 2015

{Celebrating Thanksgiving} Corn Spoonbread with Goat Cheese and Chives

Spoonbread...have you ever tried it? If you have, then you know it's really nothing like cornbread. If you haven't, think of it as a savory pudding or cornmeal souffle. It cannot be cut into slices like cornbread, but instead is scooped out with a spoon. The bites closest to the edge have a firmer texture while the bites closest to the center are moist and light in texture. Spoonbread can be flavored as you would any souffle, with different cheeses and herbs. Ellie's recipe features goat cheese and chives, which pairs perfectly with my Thanksgiving dinner, but feel free to change it up as you like. 

Here the goat cheese is mixed into the warm cornmeal and melts into the base of the mixture, leaving behind a wonderful tangy flavor. That tangy flavor is balanced by the burst of sweet flavor from the fresh corn kernels. Finally, the chives (quite possibly my favorite herb) are magical. Not only are the chives pretty, but they kick the spoonbread up a notch with their subtle oniony flavor. Give this a try in place of your corn or cornbread this Thanksgiving. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!

 Corn Spoonbread with Goat Cheese & Chives
Adapted from The Washington Post
Serves 6

2 cups low-fat milk (1 percent) 
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (from 2 ears) 
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal 
3 ounces soft goat cheese (chevre; 1/2 cup
 1/4 teaspoon salt 
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives 
2 large eggs, separated into whites and yolks 
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Use cooking oil spray to grease a 2-quart souffle dish or high-sided baking dish.  Combine the milk and corn in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring just to a boil, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat to medium and gradually stir in the cornmeal. Cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes or until the mixture thickens to a dough-like consistency. Remove from the heat.

Stir in the cheese and salt until evenly distributed (the white should disappear). Transfer to a mixing bowl; let cool for 15 minutes, then whisk in the chives and egg yolks until well incorporated.
Combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium-low speed until foamy, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat for about 2 minutes, until soft peaks form.

Fold a third of the beaten egg whites into the cornmeal mixture to loosen it a bit, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites just until no trace of white is left. Transfer to the baking dish; bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until slightly puffed, golden brown on top and just set.
Theme: Scentsational Sides!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

{Celebrating Thanksgiving} Brussels Sprouts with Juicy Bits of Pork

Nothing against bacon, but these juicy chunks of pork compliment Brussels sprouts WAY better than bacon ever could. In fact, I dare say this Brussels sprout dish could turn any I-don't-like-Brussels-Sprouts person into a fan. A perfect proportion of succulent juicy pork bits to sprouts ratio makes for one satisfying dish.  I could hardly wait for my fork to spear each bite. Small slice of turkey for me, please. My Thanksgiving dinner will be all about this dish.

Do yourself a favor and save the bacon for breakfast.  

Brussels Sprouts with Juicy Bits of Pork
Adapted from How To Cook Everything Fast
by Mark Bittman
Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons butter
about 1/2 pound ground pork*
1-1/2 pound Brussels sprouts
1/2 cup water, chicken broth or wine
salt and pepper, to taste

*Note: The recipe says you can use chorizo, sausage, or bacon in place of pork, but I opted for the succulent juicy flavor of ground pork because I thought it would compliment the traditional Thanksgiving sides like cornbread and potatoes best. It ended up being the most incredible combination of flavors.

Trim the Brussels sprouts and cut them in half. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the pork and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3-5 minutes.  Add the Brussels sprouts to the skillet, followed by the 1/2 cup of water, chicken broth or wine to deglaze, scraping up any browned bits. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, or until just tender. Check on them a time or two and add a bit more of your liquid (water, broth, or wine), if necessary.  

When the sprouts are just about done, remove the cover and raise the heat to medium high. Cook, stirring just once or twice, for a couple of more minutes. The liquid should evaporate and the sprouts should be starting to get brown. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve hot.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

{Celebrating Thanksgiving} Sweet Potato Casserole with Meringue Topping


Let's talk about Thanksgiving real quick. I think we can all agree that it's A LOT of work. In fact, if you're hosting Thanksgiving then odds are you will be preparing for over a week. After you've hosted years upon years of Thanksgiving dinners you may very well start to feel burned out. Burned out on the work, the cleaning, and quite frankly, the same typical ingredients and recipes. You may even have years where you refuse to cook a turkey with all the fixings and opt for other dishes, such as prime rib, ham, and spaghetti and meatballs. I've been there. In fact, I've opted out of traditional Thanksgiving for the past 5 years.

Perhaps the break was just what I needed because I have a renewed interest in all things Thanksgiving this year! I have a few fun and unique ways to serve up those traditional ingredients and I'm excited to be sharing them in the weeks to come.

This week I have a very pretty and fun take on the old sweet potato casserole. Gone is the heavy casserole dish packed with butter, sugar, nuts, and marshmallows. Say hello to the new sweet potato casserole with simple ingredients: sweet potato, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, eggs, and a tiny bit of sugar need to make the meringue topping. The sweet potato is definitely the star of this new and healthy casserole. The addition of egg makes the sweet potato layer quite fluffy and the meringue topping adds a beautiful texture and touch of sweetness. I think this casserole would be a welcome addition to any Thanksgiving table. 

Sweet Potato Casserole with Meringue Topping
Adapted from Comfort Food Fix
by Ellie Krieger
Serves 8 sevings

3-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (5 medium) peeled, and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/3 cup honey
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg white
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup superfine sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter an 8x8 casserole dish (or an 10" cast iron skillet as I've used).

Place the sweet potatoes in a large steamer basket fitted over a pot of boiling water.  Cover and steam until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a large bowl and allow to cool slightly. Add the honey, egg, cinnamon, nutmeg,and salt and whip using an electric mixer. Spread the sweet potato mixture into the prepared dish.

In a small bowl, using the electric mixer, beat together the egg white and cream of tartar until foamy. Add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating for about 10 seconds between each addition. Then continue to whip until stiff peaks are formed and the mixture is glossy and smooth, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a pastry bag or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off, pipe 1-inch dollops on top of the casserole. Bake until the meringue is browned on top and the casserole is warmed through, 40 to 45 minutes.
Theme: Anyway You Slice It!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Jamie Oliver's Bacon Sarnie

Isn't it funny how we evolve as cooks? We start off simple, then move on to try more complex dishes, new cuisines, and before you know it we are trying our hands at elaborate recipes with mile long ingredient lists. I've been there and I've done the dishes.  Nowadays, I feel like I've come full circle in a way. My thirst for elaborate dishes is fairly quenched and lean more towards simple food with quality ingredients.

That's what makes this post for Jamie Oliver's Bacon Sarnie so ironic. It's one of those full circle kind of moments. You see, for years I've laughed at Jamie's Bacon Sarnie recipes. He has a recipe for a bacon sarnie in nearly ALL of his cookbooks so it always caught my attention, but not always in a good way.  In my more elaborate cooking stages I scoffed about why anyone would want to eat ONLY a bacon sandwich. I can remember being totally perplexed why he wouldn't want to add egg and cheese, or tomato and lettuce, etc. I was so busy wanting to add more, more, more. I just didn't get it!

Wouldn't you know day last week I was home alone indulging in my guilty pleasure, an episode of Nashville, and I started thinking about nothing other than a Bacon Sarnie. I had some fresh sourdough bread from the farmer's market and way too much bacon hanging around the house.  I let out a little chuckle and set about making one.

Surprisingly, there are lots of techniques for making a Bacon Sarnie. Toasted bread, untoasted bread, types of bacon, size of bacon, placement of bacon, things to dip the sarnie in, and on and on. One could literally try a bacon sarnie a different way for weeks. Either way, you could certainly have fun finding your favorite version. Of course, it tastes way better home alone on the couch, in your pajamas, watching you favorite guilty pleasure. Turns out Jamie was right all along. Happiness is a Bacon Sarnie.

Bacon Sarnie
Adapted from Comfort Food 
by Jamie Oliver 
Serves 1
15 minutes

 Jamie's version: Jamie says he prefers two 1/3-inch thick slices of a simple standard white crusty loaf. Then he likes to use back-bacon for his sarnie, cooking 3 pieces of back-bacon under the broiler on full whack. Jamie rubs a little olive oil on a baking sheet and the bacon, then blasts it in the oven under the broiler until golden and crispy, which encourages the fat end of the bacon to curl up, creating a little pond of delicious bacon juice in the middle. Jamie removes the baking sheet from the oven, pushes the bacon aside and lays the bread in the fat for a few seconds before assembling, letting the bacon slices sit on the bed of bread like spooning lovers. Then Jamie assembles his sandwich, cutting it diagonally from corner to corner and serves a bit of HP sauce for dipping.

Pete's version: Pete is Jamie's long-time friend and he makes his sarnie a little different. Pete's  version uses the same size bread but the 3 pieces of bacon are cooked in a frying pan, starting out from cold with a little drizzle of olive oil and gradually bringing the temperature up to medium-high so the fat renders out, placing something flat and heavy on top to ensure super-even crispy bacon. Then the bread is buttered and the bacon is laid side by side, like floorboards (north to south) on the bottom bread before topping with the second slice.  Once sandwiched, Pete likes to cut his sandwich into thirds (east to west) to get 3 perfect bites.  Pete likes to serve his bacon sarnie with an artist's palette of dipping sauces - (60% ketchup, 30% English mustard, and 10% green chili sauce, feathered together with a knife).

My version: I borrowed ideas from both Jamie and his friend, Pete. I used slices of sourdough bread and cooked 3 slices of bacon in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet over medium-low heat until crisp (I don't like fatty ends). I wanted my bread to be lightly toasted so it would hold up to a little bacon drippings so I toasted it in my toaster. Once toasted I piled the 3 slices of crisp bacon, and some of the drippings, onto the bottom slice of bread.  The top half of bread went straight into the drippings in the cast iron skillet to soak up some of that bacony goodness before being placed on top. I cut my sandwich straight down the middle and served it with Dijon mustard (my fave condiment) and some baby cherry tomatoes to make myself feel better about my indulgence.

Theme: October Potluck

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Roasted Sweet Potato and Arugula Salad with Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette

Last weekend I was cursed with the most awful allergies. My eyes were red, watery, and inflamed, my throat was raw and scratchy, and my nose...well, it just wasn't working. I was doing a lot of mouth breathing and it wasn't pretty. Hot tea with lots of honey was the only thing that provided me any relief whatsoever and after lots and lots of tea that honey pot was getting empty. 

First thing on my list at the farmer's market was local honey, and lots of it! No way was I going to run out of the only thing that was providing me relief. Next up, something orange to celebrate the colors of fall. The petite veggie farmer had the cutest little baby sweet potatoes. Anything mini always catches my eye and I was inspired to buy them. When I glanced at the bin of baby arugula an idea for a fall-inspired salad came to mind. One bag of baby arugula and I was good to go.

Once home I laid my eyes on a recipe for Ellie Krieger's Honey-Roasted Sweet Potatoes and it was a perfect way to use my bounty from the farmer's market. I peeled and diced the baby sweet potatoes and mixed them with an oil and honey mixture. After roasting them for about an hour I added in a handful of dried cranberries and placed it back in the oven, just to warm through and allow the flavors to meld.

The roasted sweet potatoes were so pretty with the jewel-toned cranberries and the bed of arugula served as the perfect background for the sweet potatoes. I sprinkled some honey-roasted pecan halves on top of the salad, drizzled on a tasty maple-balsamic vinaigrette I made, and finished it all off with some Parmesan shavings.  It was incredibly delicious and satisfying! My husband doesn't even care for sweet potatoes, but the salad was so gorgeous he had to taste it. Once he tasted it he fell in love and ended up sharing it with me. I can't wait to make this salad again and I'm seriously hoping the farmers has more mini sweet potatoes. This salad is a wonderful combination of textures and flavors and a perfect celebration of autumn. It would make a good addition to any fall-inspired menu.
Honey-Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Recipe via Food Network
by Ellie Krieger

1 pound sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
spritz of lemon
salt and pepper, to taste 

Preheat oven to 350F. Peel and dice sweet potatoes into 1 inch pieces.  Whisk olive oil, honey, lemon, and salt and pepper in a small bowl. Place sweet potatoes in an ovenproof baking dish and pour olive oil and honey mixture over the potatoes, tossing well. Bake for about 1 hour until potatoes are caramelized and tender, stirring occasionally.  Optional: Add in a couple tablespoons dried cranberries during the last few minutes of roasting so the cranberries can warm through and the two flavors have a chance to meld.

Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette
Recipe found on Diethood
Makes about 1/3 cup

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons golden balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
salt and pepper, to taste 

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, whisking together until incorporated.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve over salad. Dressing will keep for up to 2 weeks.

To Make The Salad
4 cups arugula leaves
1/2 cup honey roasted pecan halves
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 recipe honey-roasted sweet potatoes with cranberries added
1 recipe maple-balsamic vinaigrette

Place arugula on a salad platter. Top arugula with sweet potatoes and cranberry mixture. Place honey roasted pecan halves and Parmesan cheese on top of salad and drizzle with maple-balsamic vinaigrette. Salad will serve 4 people as a side or 2 people as a main dish.

Theme: Think Orange!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Nigella's Spanish Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes

Nigella Lawson is a breath of fresh air. If you watch her cooking show, then you know what I mean. Her passion for food and cooking is so refreshing and energizing. It's almost as if that passion is contagious and you catch a little bit of it every time you watch her. I especially love the poetic way that she talks about food, in the most passionate and flirty prose, and yet...while Nigella's words are fancy, her approach to cooking is anything but. Nigella's recipes are always simple, fun, family-friendly, and pleasing. If there could be only one Domestic Goddess, then it is Nigella.

Nigella's Spanish Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes has been on my "to-make" list ever since her book Nigella Kitchen came out. I decided this was going to be THE DISH when I found some gorgeous pastured Berkshire pork chorizo links at the farmer's market and voilà was meant to be!  Who doesn't absolutely love chorizo and all the orange goodness that chorizo shares with everything it touches? A truly inspired one-pan meal that can be put together in no time and then placed in the oven for an hour while you attend to other things? A beautifully hued and family-pleasing meal with loads of flavor and barely any cleanup? If your answer is me, me, and me then this is the dish for you! A quick and easy simple salad on the side and we happily gobbled this one up!

Nigella's Spanish Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes
Adapted from Nigella Kitchen
by Nigella Lawson
Serves 4

Nigella says, "Much as I love to have a pan bubbling away on the stove, I often feel that the most carefree way to feed people is by taking the oven route. When I'm frazzled, I firmly believe that a "tray-bake" is the safest way to go. Enjoy the easefulness of the oven: you just throw everything in, and you're done. I think I'd go to the supreme effort of laying on a green salad as well but, other than that, you may kick up your flamenco heels and enjoy the fiesta."

1- 2 tablespoons olive oil
6 chicken legs or thighs, with skin and bone still on
1 pound of chorizo links, cut into 1-1/2" chunks
1 pound baby red potatoes, halved
1 red or yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon oregano
grated zest of half an orange
salt and pepper, to taste 

Note: I chose to halve Nigella's recipe so I could fit everything into my cast iron skillet. Originally this recipe was doubled and placed onto two sheet trays. Either method would work fine, depending on how many you needed to serve, and/or which cooking vessel you preferred.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Put the oil in the bottom of a large cast iron skillet or baking sheet. Rub the skin of the chicken with oil, then turn skin-side up. Place the chopped chorizo and halved potatoes in the skillet with the chicken. Sprinkle the onion in and the oregano over. Grate the orange zest on top.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste. You can bake it this way or you can toss the mixture to combine. I tossed the mixture to combine. Cook at 425F for 1 hour, basting the contents with the orange-hued juices. Serve in the skillet and enjoy!
*If you happen to be local to central Kentucky, I highly recommend looking up Goldfinch Farm and/or visiting them at the Franklin County Farmer's Market. They are doing a great job with their sustainable farm and have the highest quality and most delectable pasture raised Berkshire pork you will ever put in your mouth!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Ellie Krieger's Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Every Saturday morning my mom, my daughter, and I wake up early and head to a little neighboring town so we can shop at the most precious little farmer's market. This cute little market is a food lover's paradise. There are about 15 little stands arranged underneath a pavilion that sits right next to the Kentucky River. Each farmer's stand is total perfection and offers something fresh and delicious that no other does. Together, these 15 stands manage to cover almost each and every food group in a truly unparalleled way.

There is a squash stand, specializing in pumpkins and every other fall gourd you can imagine; a very happy orchard farmer selling the most beautiful apples, pies, and jams; two bakers, one selling sweets and one selling all kinds of specialty breads. Then there is a sweet and very hard-working lady who sells all cuts of grass-fed beef from her cattle farm; a lady who sells the most beautiful (and rather petite) versions of vegetables and herbs I've ever seen; a chicken farmer who raises organic chickens and eggs; a flower farmer selling all sorts of colorful flower bouquets; a soap maker who makes all-natural soaps using essential oils; someone selling homemade jewelry; and my new favorite, a pig farmer specializing in the best Berkshire pork of the highest quality. It's the most wonderful farmer's market with truly amazing treasures. It's quite simply my favorite place to be these days.
This time around I wanted to buy lots of veggies to dip into Ellie's Spinach and Artichoke Dip.  My daughter fell in love with these teeny tiny baby tomatoes and I thought they would look really cute served atop the dip and placed in the middle of the veggie platter. The veggie farmer also gave me some precious little carrots with the stems and leaves still attached, some tiny baby celery, little colorful sweet peppers, and the freshest snap peas I've ever bit into. I bought a loaf of some really soft Asiago & Basil bread from the bread maker, cut it into strips, brushed it with a little butter, and broiled it until lightly browned. It was definitely an ode to the farmer's market!

Ellie's Spinach and Artichoke Dip is creamy and cheesy without being too heavy, as most dips tend to be. As I do with most of Ellie's recipes, I found it to be perfectly balanced and very pleasing. This is a blended dip that is rather smooth and therefore, easy to eat. We found this lighter version perfectly satisfying. I imagine leftover dip would be great spread onto toast, or served in an omelet or sandwich. We found this lighter version perfectly satisfying and really enjoyed it. I thought it was a tasty and colorful way to welcome Ellie! I'm excited for a healthy and delicious six months.

Spinach & Artichoke Dip
Recipe found on Food Network
Written by Ellie Krieger
Makes 12 servings

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14 ounce) can artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained
1 (10-ounce) pkg frozen chopped spinach, defrosted, excess liquid squeezed out
1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup (4 ounces) reduced fat cream cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

To serve: Pita wedges, veggies, crackers, chips, etc. 
 Preheat oven to 375F. Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook stirring occasionally, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 3 to 4 minutes, or until onions are light golden but not browned. Remove from heat and cool.

In the bowl of a food processor combine artichoke hearts, spinach, sour cream, mayonnaise, cream cheese, mozzarella, salt and pepper.  Process until smooth.  Add cooled onion-garlic mixture to the food processor and pulse a few times to combine.

Transfer mixture to a baking dish (recipe calls for an 8-inch glass baking dish or a 9-inch pie plate) that has been lightly buttered. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until heated through (mine dip was finished baking but not piping hot like I want my dips to be when served, so I actually microwaved my portion a little bit before serving). Serve with pita wedges, crackers, chips, or veggies.

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