Strawberry, Arugula and Feta Salad Drizzled with a Balsamic Vinegar Syrup

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I’ve got another Girl’s Weekend coming up the end of July so while I was in TJMaxx this morning doing errands, (I was. I was at the cobbler’s next door dropping off an alligator bag and some Lily sandals. Truth!), I thought maybe I would look for a cute, black bathing suit, one that might cover up a multitude of sins.  Big, BIG mistake.  I am a barrel.  A great, big, snowy-white barrel.  You know, you think you hit rock bottom but you really haven’t.  Not when you’re still thinking about that outrageous cupcake you so delicately scarfed down last night.  It was bad, people.  The only reason I didn’t throw myself down on the dust-bunny covered linoleum dressing room floor was that my legs still look pretty good.  Small consolation but I’ll take it.  And I thought, “That’s it.  No more.  You’re done.  You know what you have to do.”  And I do.  I was raised in an almost completely vegetarian household.  I’m perfectly aware of what I should and should not be eating.  I’ve just not been paying heed to my “little voice”.  The “little voice” that continually reminds me that I weigh AT LEAST 20 POUNDS more than MY FATHER.  Ugh.  It’s all so unfair.  So back to loads of salads and vegetables, raw and grilled fruits and lean, mean proteins.  Clean, boneless, brainless chicken breasts, preferably organic, need to be at hand at all times; either grilled or poached.  That always makes a salad better.  I’ll even make wraps with it using  romaine or leaf lettuce instead of a tortilla.  Grilled shrimp and wild salmon, none of that fatty farm raised stuff.  I told myself driving home that it was GOOD I didn’t find a bathing suit this morning.  I have two beautiful, sexy La Biancas at home and there’s not one damn thing wrong with them.  It’s me that’s got the problem.  I have to tell you after I yanked and pulled and tugged to get the TJMaxx bathing suit on I was exhausted.  I turned and looked sideways at myself in the full length mirror.  How did I get here?  My shoulders slumped down, I let my spine curve and allowed my stomach to become COMPLETELY distended.  Oh, sweet Jesus.  I looked like Fred Mertz from the “I Love Lucy” show.  Well, Fred Mertz in drag.  Not a pretty picture and no one’s fault but my own.  So.  Taking the bull by the horns I came home to a kale salad and watermelon for lunch.  This afternoon my snack will be all the Greek mountain tea my heart desires.  Right now I’m on cup number two.  Sweetened with Stevia and completely caffeine free this will jump-start my weight loss.  And dinner will be this salad –  strawberry, arugula and feta with a drizzle of a balsamic vinegar reduction, a LIGHT scattering of toasted almond slices, a few chunks of good, Greek Feta tucked in, all topped with a piece of roasted chicken.  And yes, I will rip that luscious, crispy piece of heaven off, known as the skin of roasted chicken, and lickety-split  deposit it in the garbage can underneath, I don’t know…coffee grounds or something.  I’m able to do that because this salad will satisfy me.  Aesthetically and physically.  Every girl loves shiny, scarlet berries sitting atop arugula, toasted almond slices and the rich purple of reduced balsamic vinegar.  Crown it with blackened or grilled chicken, fish or shrimp and most ladies will be quite happy especially if accompanied by a glass of wine in one hand and an enormous Tory Burch or Michael Kors shopping bag at their feet. When I finish writing today I’ll go to the market for my salad ingredients and a whole watermelon.  Tomorrow, hell, TONIGHT, when I want to tuck into another of those smokin’ cupcakes I made I’ll have sweet, cold watermelon already cut up, protecting me from the evils of Fudgy Cupcakes with Orange Cardamom Cream Cheese Icing.  The photos have already been taken for the next post so I don’t even have to look at them.  And although I’ve succumbed to the temptation of those little cakes I’m stronger now.  Nudity will do that to you.  But in two weeks?  Look out, girls, ‘cuz I’m ‘a crunch those bathing suits!

 

Strawberry, Arugula and Feta Salad Drizzled  with a Balsamic Vinegar Syrup

yield: 2 dinner servings

  • 1 5-ounce box baby arugula
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced, each in 4 slices
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese, PLEASE don’t buy that already crumbled stuff!  Buy a chunk of good quality feta and crumble it yourself.  Makes a world of difference.
  • 1 handful almond slices, lightly toasted
  • 4-5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar syrup, recipe follows, dress salad to your taste
  • shrimp, chicken or fish served along side is optional, a warm, crunchy whole grain roll is great with this also.
  1. Place arugula in a large bowl and drizzle olive oil over it.  Toss so all the leaves are coated with the olive oil.
  2. Mound arugula on two dinner plates.  Divide berries in half and place them evenly through out the greens.
  3. Divide the cheese as well between the two plates of salad.
  4. Scatter half the almonds over each salad.
  5. Lightly drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of the balsamic vinegar syrup over each salad and serve.

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Balsamic Vinegar Syrup

yield: approximately 1/3 cup depending on how thick you make it

  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  1. Pour vinegar and honey into a small saucepan and mix until honey is completely incorporated into the vinegar.
  2. Simmer over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, but keep your eye on it so it doesn’t cook down too far and burn.
  3. Remove from heat and set aside.  Syrup will thicken further as it cools.
  4. When completely cool, store in a clean glass jar and refrigerate.
  5. You can change up the dressing by adding a few fresh bay leaves, smashed garlic cloves or cinnamon sticks to the saucepan while you’re simmering it.  Strain the dressing before serving or storing.

 

 

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes, tall and fluffy!

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Girls like pretty.  Boys want flavor.  When the two meet it is a glorious blending, a union, an alliance of shared contentedness.  In our house there are three boys and one girl.  Jimmy, James and Pericles, the dog, represent the males of the house.  I am the solitary female.  As a result most of the cooking I do pleases and teases their taste buds but I enjoy a good-looking dish.  Though I have to add they appreciate a gorgeous plate and I, in turn, have pretty high standards when it comes to tastiness.  James’ high school and college years brought many an overnight houseguest which thrilled me to no end.  I fussed over those boys taking special orders for cafe con leche, biscuit and gravy and this breakfast, the cake-like whole wheat buttermilk pancakes with masses of fresh blueberries jumbled in.  Those darling boys would come home sometimes at 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning usually stopping to cool off in the pool before coming in.  They’d get a running start from the driveway, propel themselves through the air and execute flawless cannon balls.  Although we pretty much always woke up from those distinctive “thumps” of a 185 pound boy hitting the water, I savored every single moment.  I’d snuggle deep into the covers of our bed delighted knowing they were happy and safely back home.  I knew those days were numbered and, sure enough, all those boys have graduated and moved on to their new professional lives and careers.  This is one of those breakfasts that we all took great pleasure in sharing.  The nutty flavor of the whole wheat plays off the tang of the buttermilk and the berries give that pleasing “pop” of color and flavor while cutting through the richness of each mouthful.  This recipe calls for a large amount of berries because I feel EVERY bite should be loaded with them.  These pancakes cook up tall, light and fluffy belying the fact that they are 100% whole wheat.  I ALWAYS use a large teflon coated griddle or pan otherwise I find the whole process turns into a disaster. For the first few pancakes I give the griddle a very light spray of non-stick spray and after that the butter in the batter is sufficient.  But definitely use a non-stick pan.  And remember, buttermilk is your friend.  It’s lower in fat and calories because the fat from the buttermilk has already been removed in order to make butter.  Buttermilk is what’s left after it’s been churned and made into butter.  A fermented product, it’s loaded with good bacteria vital for a well-functioning digestive system.  Low-fat buttermilk is carried in most grocery stores, is fabulous for cooking and baking and keeps forever in your refrigerator.  If you’re ever at a market or farmstand and they offer fresh buttermilk SNAP IT UP.  Mass produced buttermilk pales in comparison, fresh is tart and cool, rich and smooth.  I’ve been making these pancakes for years and quite some time ago changed the recipe a bit to fit our needs.  I remember making these for James when he was in Pre-K.  He would pick them up whole as though they were slices of toast.  I add a trace more sugar to the batter than traditional pancakes thus making syrup optional, almost unnecessary.  Really, they’re almost like cake.  Okay.  They’re cake.  Whole wheat cakes from a pan.  So good.  So satisfying.  And you”ll be the most loved mom on the planet for a good half hour!

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Whole Wheat Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes

yield: serves 4-6

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 pints fresh blueberries
  • 2 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
  • 2 large eggs, well mixed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  2. In a separate bowl mix buttermilk, butter, eggs and vanilla extract.  When well combined add blueberries.  Mix well.
  3. Bring non-stick griddle or skillet up to medium heat.
  4. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour the blueberry buttermilk into it.  Mix well.
  5. Use an ice cream scoop or measuring cup to ladle out batter for small pancakes.  I use 2 serving spoons, one to scoop and the other to scrape the batter off the bowl of the spoon.  I find small pancakes are easier to flip.
  6. When you see a few bubbles rising in the pancakes turn them over with the thinnest spatula you have.  For a 3″ or 4″ pancake it’s a few minutes.  Depends on the size of the cake and the heat of the stove top.  I also go by the cooking smell.  If it starts smelling a little too toasty in the kitchen I drop what I’m doing and flip those bad boys over.
  7. After turning, cook for 1 minute, transfer to serving platter and continue cooking pancakes until batter is gone.
  8. If serving pancakes with syrup use good Vermont maple and warm it up first.

Killer Summer Kale Salad with Miso, Pepitas and Peaches

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Sometimes the salad gods look down upon you and give you cool, crisp inspiration.  Recently I had an exceptionally good kale salad at a restaurant in Boston which made me fall in love with kale all over again.  Crispy, dried edamame topped the dish while tender bits of poached chicken breast added heft.  The sweet miso dressing lightly tossed with crunchy kale was welcome on a hot day spent walking through the city.  Everyday after I queued up outside that restaurant with downtown workers, young mom’s with their babies in strollers, millennial women in tank tops and yoga pants their colorful mats rolled up tightly under their arms waiting patiently to place their order for salads.  Apparently this place was the best.  Some days, shoot MOST DAYS, that line snaked down Boylston Street but it moved quickly, all the salads were phenomenal and the bowls were huge.  Well, now we’re back in Fort Lauderdale and I still crave my salads.  I set about finding a recipe for miso dressing.  Unfortunately every recipe I found featured strong flavors such as sesame or peanut that completely overshadowed the sweet, sweet flavor of white miso.  And all the recipes which PROMISED snappy, crumbly roasted edamame were recipes for mushy, mealy pellets…all had to be thrown out.  I took a deep breath and accepted I could only tackle one portion of the dish at a time.  I focused on the dressing.  I broke down the components of what makes a great creamy dressing.  I’m fully aware that there is no such thing as yoghurt in Japan but that’s how I make many dressings smooth and velvety and I’m not about to change that right now.  Greek yoghurt is like a blank slate in that it adds a touch of tartness but no other flavor and enhances texture.  I always go with 0% fat-free and I’m sticking with it.  I hadn’t really ever worked with miso except to sometimes throw it on top of baked potatoes with some added sprouts so I didn’t know…I didn’t know.  My little brother, Tommy, loves to cook Asian so I gave him a call as I stood in front of the refrigerated case at Whole Foods completely mystified.  He hadn’t had his coffee yet, in fact it was so early I woke him up.  In a gravelly voice he repeatedly asked me to read off the selection.  “Okay.  There’s yellow miso, red miso, brown rice miso..” He interrupted, “That’s it.  That’s what you want.  The brown rice.  It’s what I use for all my stir fries.  That’s what you want.”  “You sure?” I asked, “I don’t want to drive back here.”  “Yeah, yeah!”, he replied “That’s what you want.  I’m tellin’ ya.”  Well, I’m here to tell YOU it DIDN’T work.  The brown rice miso was way too salty. I wanted it to “bloom” in my mouth; I wanted sweet and creamy.  That wasn’t it.  So back to Whole Foods.  I just guessed and decided on sweet white.  For all I knew it could be too sweet; for desserts and sweets.  But no…it was perfect.  I was thrilled!  I added a little rice vinegar for some bite and a tiny bit of low-sodium soy sauce just to give it another layer of flavor.  A quick drizzle of honey softened the dressing and some chopped ginger was added because it marries so well with miso.  I nixed fresh garlic completely as it was altogether too strong for the dressing and overpowered it.  My final step was to thin it out a bit.  Miso dressing is traditionally smooth and creamy but surprisingly runny.  I looked about my kitchen to see what I could use; water would be my last resort.  The dressing still needed something to round it out.  I had some tamarind pulp in the freezer leftover from a marathon frozen drink binge in the pool.  That made it too sharp, too tart.  I take almond milk in my coffee in the morning.  Let’s try that.  Bleah!  Too dull.  Jeez.  There’s GOT to be something around here.  I spied two navel oranges on the counter I needed for a cream cheese icing I was playing around with.  Quickly juicing one I added 1/4 cup to the dressing.  Wow.  It was good. Another quarter cup made it even better.  The juice played beautifully with the dressing and I’m thinking carrot juice could easily be another way to go.  With the dressing finished I moved on to the actual salad.  All my attempt with roasting edamame were disappointments.  I still haven’t figured that out but in the meantime I had some store-bought, dried edamame and some roasted pepitas, the seeds of the Spanish pumpkin, calabaza.  You get them at the grocery store.  Anyway, the edamame were fine but the salad then became a little too earthy and had a musty taste.  The pepitas, on the other hand, were perfection!  Crunchy and salty, I was happy.  Next on my list of demands was the cool-sweet-wet factor.  I LOVE mixing savory with sweet.  Back to the grocery store for a quick chat with Anthony, my produce man.  We talked pears and I’ll admit I bought one but I knew I wasn’t going to use it.  All because of peaches.  I thought, “Could it work?  Will peaches give me the sweetness I want AND the pop of juicy?”  I think you know the answer.  And I grabbed a handful of corn on the cob on my way out.  You never know.  Corn’s sweet.  Maybe it’ll work.  And it did.  Heaven on earth!  Even Jimmy liked the combination and he is NOT a salad man.  Anyway, this salad is wonderful for lunch or dinner with a glass of wine or even a cold lemonade.  Summer’s here.  Hope you like it!

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In working towards the end result of this salad I discovered a few tips that help make it even better.  Lacinato kale, that’s the flat leaf kale, is a slightly more tender than curly kale.  If all you have is curly then by all means use it with good faith.  But if you have a choice I suggest Lacinato.  I strongly suggest “working” the kale before dressing and serving it.  Sprinkle a few drops of olive oil and a quick grind of salt over the washed, drained and cut greens then, with both hands, toss and squeeze the greens using a large bowl.  I do this for two or three minutes and I time myself because I really want to skip this step and move on.  You’ll see almost immediately a huge difference in the texture.  The kale doesn’t wilt but is tenderized and kale can sometimes be a little tough.  Trust me.  The two-minute investment is well worth it.  Obviously you want to use the ripest peaches you can get your hands on.  I use one small peach or 1/2 large one per person.  I might take an extra one, chopped up, and scatter it on top just to gild the lily.  On those nights you’re having corn on the cob for dinner throw a couple of extra ears on the grill or in the pot.  Wrap the extras individually in plastic wrap and use them through the week for salads, cornbread, soup or even a snack.  Just slice the kernels off the cobs as needed.  This salad can be served with or without chicken so what I do is once a week poach three or four boneless, skinless, halved chicken breasts and have them on hand for salads, sandwiches, chicken parm…whatever.  I slice or chop them as called for.  And don’t throw out that poaching liquid!  Strain it and freeze it for soups or any other later use.

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Sweet Miso Dressing

yield: 1 1/2 cups

  • 1/2 cup sweet white miso paste
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice or carrot juice
  • 1/4 cup plain greek yoghurt, I use 0% fat
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce, I use low sodium
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, on the international aisle at the grocery store
  • 2 rounded teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
  1. Drop all ingredients in mini food processor or blender.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Chill until serving.

Summer Kale Salad with Pepitas and Peaches

yield: 2 large dinner servings or 4 side salads

  • 2 bunches Lacinato kale, washed, drained and cut into chiffonade (roll the leaves tightly like a cigar and cut thin strips 1/4″ wide)
  • 1 drizzle olive oil
  • sprinkle of salt
  • 1 ear cooked corn, kernels sliced off of the cob
  • 2 small or 1 large peach, chopped
  • 1/4 cup roasted pepitas, (pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 cup chopped chicken breast, optional
  • 3/4 to 1 cup Sweet Miso Dressing
  1. Combine cut kale with olive oil and salt in a large bowl.
  2. With clean hands mix and squeeze greens for two to three minutes to tenderize.
  3. Add all other ingredients and 3/4 cup dressing.  Toss well until all is combined.
  4. Taste and add more dressing if necessary.
  5. Serve immediately.

 

A Slightly Sweet Summer Shortcake

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When I saw table after table stacked high with gorgeous strawberries at our farmer’s market I figured out it must be the season here in New England.  Berries so deep red they were almost purple sparkled from every table and the perfume…well!  The sun was shining, there was a soft breeze and everyone was outside on the square.  For someone who likes to bang around the kitchen it was quite a heady combination.  We don’t get this at home in Florida.  Nope.  Organic or conventional our berries are without flavor and dry.  Pretty much suffice it to say when I saw these I was happier than a dead pig in sunshine.

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And there aren’t all that many farmer’s markets or stands because it’s so darned hot.  So I bought as much as Jimmy could carry back to the apartment and set about to baking a shortcake with the ingredients we had on hand.

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I didn’t have any eggs, buttermilk, butter or baking soda.  But I DID have baking powder, whipping cream, vanilla extract, a little sugar and all-purpose flour.  I found a recipe by Mary Nolan and based this one on her’s.  I’m fully aware my recipe lacks butter but whipping cream has a good amount of fat so if prepared correctly this shortcake will not let you down.  I also made it again when I did have the baking soda and I have to admit, it WAS better.  I found the cake and fruit together to be so sweet and perfect that more cream on top just wasn’t needed.  The key, and I cannot stress this enough, is NOT TO OVERWORK THE DOUGH.  I mean it.  After assembling the cake you should have some crumbles and dry spots.  It’s okay.  If you attempt to bake a smooth, perfect shortcake you’re guaranteed to end up with a tough, hockey-puck fail.  Just sayin’.  Also, if you’re looking for a sweet cake-like product this ain’t it.  This is a heavy, dense shortcake but it is rich, has a tender crumb and is the perfect foil for the sweetest of summer’s strawberries.  Ditch that grocery store, nasty, yellow, cake cup thing and make your own shortcake.

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While your shortcake bakes and cools hull and slice your strawberries.  Or if you’re using fresh peaches slice them as well.   Scatter a generous tablespoon of sugar over the fruit, stir it a bit so all the fruit is covered with the sugar and let it sit to release the fruit juices.  Drizzle the sliced shortbread halves with that exquisite syrup.  You’ll be sitting as pretty as those summer berries!

And then we walk home.:)

And then we walk home.:)

Slightly Sweet Summer Shortcake

yield: 8 servings

Preheat oven to 400°, if your pan is dark metal preheat to 375°

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups whipping cream, all I had on hand was heavy cream and it turned out  fine
  1. Mix dry ingredients well.
  2. Combine vanilla extract with cream, pour cream into flour mixture and mix to BARELY COMBINE.
  3. Cover baking dish with non-stick spray.  All I had on hand was a 1 1/2 quart ceramic, oval casserole dish.  I think an 8X8 2-quart pan would be fine.
  4. Gently pat dough into baking dish and bake for 20-25 minutes or until edges pull away and turn golden.
  5. Cool in dish on cooling rack.
  6. Slice into wedges or squares.  Cut each serving in half horizontally to stuff with macerated fruit.
  7. Cover bottom half of shortcake with fruit and a little of the juice. Cover with other half of shortcake and serve.

 

 

Lemon Lavender Biscotti dipped in White Chocolate

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How many times is a kindness extended to you and a grateful “thank you!” just isn’t quite enough?  I don’t know about you but it happens to me quite often.  From your manicurist who graciously fits you in for that emergency mani when she CLEARLY doesn’t have the time to the seamstress at your dry cleaner who will have your LBD back to you altered and pressed in time for the funeral your weight gain didn’t take into consideration.  These acts of generosity are evident time and again in my day-to-day life and in the lives of my loved ones.  My 93-year-old father has a whole support group who work at Publix and make the quality of his life much better from engaging him in conversation to helping him choose the most nutritious almond milk.  Kesha and David can’t replace my mother but their attentions make him feel valued and respected.  I can certainly tip the skycap who didn’t charge me when my suitcase was four pounds over last week but I don’t have the money to do that for someone I deal with on a weekly basis.  That’s when I put together a pretty bag of goodies.  Here in Boston a certain dental office bent over backwards to take care of us during a little “cosmetic” emergency.  I wanted to say thank you not only to the dentist who saved the day BUT ALSO TO HIS STAFF who got us in ASAP and treated us with the utmost warmth and concern.  I thought most definitely wine for the kind doctor and how about a sweet treat for the wonderful ladies at the front desk?  Our apartment is fabulous but I am really limited as to cooking and baking tools.  I brought my knives and sharpener from home and picked up a few essentials on Newbury Street…bowls, spatulas etc.  I always set aside an empty wine bottle in the kitchen in the event I need a rolling-pin.  But I don’t have a food processor or hand mixer.  I decided on biscotti since I don’t need any special equipment, they’re easy to prepare and travel well.  Dunk them in coffee or vin santo.  Grab one for breakfast or a snack on the fly.  This recipe produces a firm biscotti but not one that will break a tooth.  They seem a bit soft when taken out of the oven for the final cooling but will harden sufficiently by the time they’re completely cool.  Enjoy them and thank you!

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Lemon Lavender Biscotti dipped in White Chocolate

yield:  approx. 20

  • 2 lemons, zest both and juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons lemon extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon dried EDIBLE lavender flowers, rough chop optional
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 8 ounces white chocolate
  1. In a large bowl combine lemon zest and juice, sugar, butter, lemon and vanilla extracts and eggs.  Mix until all ingredients are well combined.
  2. In a separate bowl mix flour, lavender, baking powder and salt.
  3. Add flour mixture to lemon-egg mixture and mix until all ingredients are combined.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  6. Cut dough into equal halves and spray a little non-stick pan spray on hands to keep dough from sticking.
  7. Form dough into rectangular logs measuring roughly 11 X 4 X 1.  Smooth tops and sides.
  8. Bake 25 minutes and cool on racks for 10-15 minutes.
  9. With a bread knife or serrated knife cut logs on the diagonal about 1 1/2″ thick.
  10. Reduce heat to 325°, place cookies cut side up back on parchment lined baking sheets and bake 5 minutes.
  11. Turn over cookies baking the other cut side 5 more minutes.
  12. Cool on wire racks.  Cookies will seem soft when just out of oven but will firm up as they cool.
  13. Melt white chocolate over double boiler.  When chocolate has melted completely drizzle over cookies or dip in one end of each cookie.  Or dip one cut side.  Place on parchment paper to set.  If white chocolate cools and thickens while working with it place back in double boiler and stir until warm and easy to work with.

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Spicy, Fresh Salmon Burgers

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Here in Boston it seems that spring has sprung.  Everybody’s out walking, with dogs or pushing baby strollers.  Young girls are out sporting tank tops, sandals and legs so lily-white that I have to remind myself that staring is impolite.  I find myself quickening my pace as I walk to see if the girl in front of me is wearing white hose.  I catch myself thinking, “Can there possibly be any blood in those limbs?”.  And go back to my original thought, “That’s not very nice, Alicia.” to which the other side of my brain responds, “Well, I’M not very nice”.  Flowers have bloomed everywhere; the Public Garden and the Common are a riot of color with purple globes of allium, banks of roses and borders of pansies.

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Toddlers run every which way on soft beds of grass as the sunlight bounces brilliantly off the emerald-green leaves of massive elm trees.  This is the weather that begs for clean food, light food, tasty, healthful food.

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I started craving fresh salmon burgers for dinner a few days ago and set about to fulfill that desire.  Here in Boston at the beginning of summer finds me without a fully equipped kitchen.  At home I would pulse fresh salmon through the food processor a few times and not give it a second thought.  Luckily for me salmon is soft and delicate and with the aid of two dinner forks I easily scraped the fish off of the skin leaving a lovely coral mound with the same texture as that of ground beef.  In fact, I much preferred the fish I flaked by hand as it’s just too easy to over-process it in the food processor.  I added panko crumbs to lighten the dish; I didn’t want a heavy, dense burger plus I knew that addition would help the burgers keep their shape.  I mixed the bread crumbs with all the herbs and seasonings so I could taste it and check for seasoning adjustments before adding the salmon.  That done I shaped four large patties, covered them with plastic wrap and set them in the refrigerator to chill for a few hours.  That, too, would help them retain their shape while cooking.

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After a workout on Commonwealth Mall and catching up with all my SoFlo peeps it was time to prepare dinner.  I put together a quick Asian style slaw to serve with the open face burgers so we wouldn’t miss the buns.  Totally fooled my stomach!  And they came out great.  I’ve since discovered salmon burgers freeze extremely well so keep that in mind when salmon goes on sale.  Make some for dinner and throw a few in the freezer for the nights you come home too tired to cook.  Life is good.

Spicy, Fresh Salmon Burgers

yield: four large burgers

  • 1 1/4 pounds salmon filet, SKIN ON!
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 3-4 thinly sliced scallions, all of the white and 3/4 of the green
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger root
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, finely grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil

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  1. Combine all ingredients except salmon in a medium-sized bowl and mix well to combine all flavors.  Taste for adjustments and set aside.
  2. Place salmon filet skin side down on a non-skid surface such as a wooden cutting board.
  3. Use a dinner fork in one hand to hold fish in place and holding a dinner fork in your other hand gently scrape fish off skin working from one end to the other.
  4. Without overworking fish, combine salmon with panko mixture until all ingredients are evenly combined.
  5. Gently form into four patties, cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to chill for at least one hour.
  6. Heat a non-stick pan over medium high heat.  Cook salmon burgers for three to four minutes per side for medium rare.
  7. Serve immediately open face or on toasted buns.  If you go with the buns, drop a little heat or sesame oil into some mayonnaise and slather that!

 

North Meets South in a Mango Blueberry Cobbler

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I’ll be heading north for Boston soon.  Jimmy will be teaching and I’m going to try and get my writing going.  I don’t know when I’ll be posting on the blog so I thought today’s post should reflect this girl’s upcoming adventure.  I haven’t even thought about what I’m taking.  It’s such a challenge for me to pack appropriately.  I always take way too much and usually the wrong things.  Having spent last fall in Boston I’m hoping I learned my lesson do a better job of it.  This time I won’t need six pairs of boots not including my gorgeous booties with the stacked heels.  Nor will I need my darling purple coat. Or my 400 pound Burberry raincoat with the wool liner THAT I NEVER WORE.  No.  I’m going casual this time.  Well accessorized but casual.  Everything will match and blend.  Just like this recipe.  Jimmy came home the other  evening with an enormous bag filled with beautiful, smooth mangoes.  I promised him I would use them, in fact I promised I would make him chutney but it doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen!  As the days passed by I realized I had to hurry and do something with  them while they were still ripe and perfect.  There are two schools of thought for mangoes, those who love them and those who hate them.  Not much in between.  But in this house we LOVE them.  It’s not often that you see them baked in a dish.  So today I decided to create a dish with a Northern ingredient, blueberries, and a Southern ingredient, mangoes.  A satisfying, rich cobbler to be served alone or with ice cream or whipped cream.  Another quick and easy dessert, this cobbler is a hit with the topping I’ve included or your favorite.  This dish is a real flavor blast, the topping is faintly salty with a lingering sweetness.  And the warm, runny fruit…ohmygoodness! Easily you could add a tablespoon or two of rum if the spirit moves you.   Mangoes have an exotic, peachy, perfumy taste that really comes out when cooked.  I added a bit of ground cardamom to give it that little “roll your eyes” goodness.  It doesn’t bake long so your house won’t heat up either.  I hope y’all try this and like it as much as we do.  And I promise to keep y’all posted on the Boston gig!

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Ripe Mango and Blueberry Cobbler

yield: serves 6-8

Preheat oven to 400°

Filling:

  • 4 cups thickly sliced ripe mangoes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 lemon juiced
  • 1 cup washed, dried and stemmed blueberries
  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) cold butter

Topping:

  • 2 1/3 cups biscuit mix
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup cream or whole milk
  1. In a large pot combine mangoes, lemon zest and cup of sugar.  Allow to macerate for 20 minutes or so until you see juices that have come out of the mangoes.  You want some syrup.
  2. Whisk the cornstarch in the cold water until dissolved. Mix in the cardamom.
  3. Over medium high heat bring the mango mixture up to a boil and add cornstarch mixture.
  4. Stir continuously for several minutes until you see the mixture thicken.
  5. Pour mixture into a greased 2-quart baking dish.
  6. Scatter blueberries evenly over the mangoes and dot with butter.
  7. Mix all the topping ingredients to form a soft dough.  With your hands knead it 10-12 times.
  8. Pinch off pieces of dough to cover entire surface of cobbler.
  9. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is golden and the fruit is bubbly.
  10. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.
Note the chewed up mango pits.  That's the baker's treat.  Lean over the sink and eat the fruit left on the pits.  Be careful.  Mango stains!

Note the chewed up mango pits. That’s the baker’s treat. Lean over the sink and eat the fruit left on the pits. Be careful. Mango stains!

 

 

 

 

Bread Pudding with a Warm, Boozy Hard Sauce

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I am a bread and butter girl through and through.  I’ve mentioned many a time how hungry my brother and sisters were growing up.  There was nothing to eat..well, nothing that we wanted except things like sour, little apples and equally sour oranges.  Taking control of my situation I made countless sandwiches for myself consisting of “brown bread”, meaning whole grain….no white in our house, cold margarine which tore the bread and thick, crisp wedges of iceberg lettuce.  Romaine was unheard of in those dark days.  I scarfed down those sandwiches like there was no tomorrow.  Recently I asked Cynthia what she did.  She couldn’t remember.  Hunger will do that to you.  Tommy crawled out of bed in the middle of the night and stuffed whole pieces of bread in his mouth to stave off hunger pangs and Pamela…well, Pamela simply accepted the state of household affairs and went to any number of friends houses and ate absolutely everything that was EVER offered to her.  In junior high and high school I spent many a night at my friends’ Dana and Ann’s house and it never ceased to amaze me how much food they had and the variety.  The variety!  Ann’s parents were South Carolinians and, as Mama did, set a rather formal table every night.  White linen and lit candles were everyday details.  They always had exotic condiments like real butter and never an evening went by without homemade gravy in a gravy boat.  Vegetables were cooked down until soft and unthreatening, laden with ham and fat and swimming in a salty pool of broth or pot likker.  Good luck at my house.  Mama was never that interested in food so, I don’t know, maybe she forgot that we might hungry.  Maybe she forgot that children need food to grow.  Don’t get me wrong.  They didn’t starve us.  But since Mama didn’t know HOW to cook and didn’t particularly care to learn, we ended up with just about the same dinner every night.  Ground sirloin patties the size of a 50¢ piece, gray all the way through, an iceberg lettuce leaf with a few slices of grocery store tomatoes and a scant serving of white, boiled rice.  And that was when she didn’t burn anything.  That’s just the way dinner was.  We didn’t rock the boat and protest.  That’s the way it was in our house.  And you were expected to contribute to a lively conversation at the table.  Manners were paramount.  When we were called to the table faces had been washed, hair had been brushed and you’d better have shoes on.  Candlesticks were always polished, linen placemats in front of each seat.  And pretty much always fresh flowers.  Just no food!  Or very little anyway.  So we girls spent weekend nights at friend’s houses and tried to watch our manners while filling the bottomless holes in our tummies.   Back at the house I inhaled peanut butter sandwiches, we didn’t have jelly, and a plethora of margarine and lettuce sandwiches.  But at Dana’s house I could count on a warm, gooey grilled cheese sandwich, something my mother had never even heard of.  In her defense, Mama came from a culture that did not include sandwiches.  In her day lunch was a formal, proper meal at the table prepared by invisible hands in the kitchen.  What did she know of chicken salad or cream cheese and olive sandwiches?  Nothing. Nada.  So today I’m still a bread and butter girl.  Or bread and pate.  Bread and a bloody rare hamburger.  And Bread Pudding!  Bread pudding that melts in your mouth.  Cold or warm.  With or without hard sauce.  With or without whipped cream.  For breakfast with cafe con leche.  For lunch with a slice of extra sharp cheddar.  Off a plate or out of the baking dish.  Just give it to me.  I’m starving!  And this is a supreme bread pudding…a glorious bread pudding.  The hard sauce is over the top.  One could easily sneak spoonfuls of the stuff on the sly and claim there was never any made when the sauce pan comes up empty.  Hell.  Throw your head back and shoot it.  Just drink it all.  It’s that good.

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I find bread pudding simply grand.  You can’t go wrong with it.  You can’t.  This recipe serves 10-12 people and, really, the big buy part would be the eggs and cream.  It’s quite the luxurious bang you get out of your buck.  The ultimate bread pudding is made with bread that has a good crust with a soft, light interior.  One day old French bread or brioche is perfect.  For this particular pudding

I used a sweet brioche-like bread, King’s Hawaiian Round Loaf, which worked perfectly.  You don’t want to use any bread that’s too heavy or dense nor would you want seeds but other than that you can mix and match your loaves.  A stale, half loaf of soft whole wheat with five or six left-over dinner rolls would be fine.  You know what to do.  I used blueberries, pears and pomegranate seeds for this pudding but feel free to use the fruits of your choice.  The pomegranate seeds added a welcome tartness but not everyone will appreciate their crisp, chewiness.  Throw in raspberries if you like.  Or white chocolate shards.  Candied pecans would be positively sublime as would naked, toasted, chopped pecans.  The combinations are limitless.  But the basic tenets of bread, eggs, cream, cinnamon and nutmeg are a heady mix when combined and slid into a hot oven.  The perfume of a baking bread pudding will make you feel as though you’ve done your family a good turn.  I got hugs and kisses from my boy James and I’m pretty sure they’ll be lining up in your house to give you thanks, too!

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Bread Pudding

yield: serves 10-12

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 11 eggs, well beaten
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, often found in the produce section at your grocery store
  • 1/2 pint blueberries, cleaned and stemmed
  • 1 15-ounce can pear halves, rinsed and drained, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 cups (approximately 1 pound) brioche or French bread, one day old, cut into 1″ to 1 1/2″ cubes
  1. Butter 3-quart baking dish.
  2. Place bread cubes in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl combine sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt.  Mix well.
  4. In another bowl combine eggs and cream.  Add sugar mixture from small bowl and mix well.
  5. Add fruit and vanilla extract to egg mixture, stir well to distribute evenly and pour over bread cubes.
  6. Using a large mixing spoon, gently mix and turn over the bread to make certain all surfaces of the cubes are covered with the egg mixture.  Use the back of the spoon to softly push down the pieces of bread.
  7. Pour into the baking dish.
  8. Cover the surface of the bread pudding with plastic wrap and weight down pudding with a small plate or two.
  9. Set aside for at least one hour or up to no more than overnight for the bread to soak up all the custard.
  10. Preheat oven to 325°F.  Remove plastic wrap from pudding and cover with tin foil.
  11. Place baking dish in a roasting pan or larger baking pan that will allow a water bath half way up the sides of the bread pudding dish.  For the water bath, pour hot or boiling water into the larger baking pan until the water reaches half way up the bread pudding taking care not to splash.
  12. Place the roasting pan with pudding into the oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
  13. Remove foil and raise the oven temperature to 350°F.  Continue baking for 45 minutes.
  14. Test the bread pudding to check if it is done keeping in mind the pudding should be a bit firm but moist.  The custard should not be runny.
  15. Remove from oven and EVER SO CAREFULLY remove pudding dish from larger pan and place pudding on a heatproof surface to cool.  Cover loosely with tin foil.

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Boozy Hard Sauce

yield: not quite 2 cups

  • 8 tablespoons, (1 stick), butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons fine rum, bourbon or brandy of your choice.  Taste and add more if you wish.
  1. In the top bowl of a double boiler whisk butter and sugar until well incorporated.
  2. Add both eggs, whisk well and place bowl on double boiler over med high heat.
  3. Continue whisking until you see mixture thickening, about 10-15 minutes.  Mixture will continue to thicken as it cools.
  4. Take off heat, and still whisking, add rum and vanilla.
  5. Serve on dessert plates or any pretty bowl or glass.  Trickle hard sauce over each portion when serving.

Sweet Poached Blood Oranges over Greek Yoghurt Cake

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IMG_8922 Blood oranges.  Succulent, fleshy and juicy blood oranges are such an indulgence that when I saw them I knew in my heart of hearts I had to take them home.  I was at the market Dad and I go to every Saturday morning when I saw them on display front and center.  Although we’re in Florida, blood oranges are not easily found.  Grocery stores never carry them and even farmer’s markets are not wont to make them readily available.  So when I stumbled upon them I doubled bagged and loaded up.  I would figure out what I wanted to do with them later.  Back at the house I let my wander on the different dishes I’d had that included citrus.  Topping the list were two; sweet, poached blood oranges over a Greek cake with yoghurt and homemade rice pudding with nuggets of the fruit in a glossy syrup of blood orange juice.  First I went for the cake.  I have a basic cake recipe that I use often from Susanna Hoffman’s cookbook “The Olive and Caper” which is perfect for showcasing citrus.  It is a simple, dense and satisfying cake which can easily be served by itself in wedges, eaten out of hand and always delights those who share it.  Or it can be topped with fruits, syrup or icing.  Either way it’s a great workhorse in your stable of desserts.  It is one of those cakes which is better the following day.  Later I decided to also candy some smaller pieces of oranges in lots of glistening syrup, make some individual Greek rice puddings and share them with my Greek school classmates.  Next week is our last class of the year and we always bring treats to celebrate the upcoming summer break.  So let’s get to it! IMG_8951 Candied Oranges in Syrup yield: 2-3 cups depending on size of fruit

  • 2 blood or navel oranges, cut into 1/8″ slices, discard end pieces
  • 1 lemon, cut into 1/8″ slices, discard end pieces
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup cool water

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  1. Over medium heat put sugar and water in a medium pot.  Stir until the sugar just dissolves then do NOT stir again or the syrup will form crystals and not turn out right.
  2. Gently slide in orange and lemon slices and softly press down so the fruit is completely covered by the syrup.  If the fruit keeps floating back to the top place a small, heat-proof plate on top as a weight.
  3. Simmer softly for 20 minutes of until the edges of the fruit are becoming translucent.
  4. With a slotted spoon remove fruit and place on a tray lined with parchment paper to cool.  Discard cinnamon stick and set syrup aside to use later.
  5. Line 10″ cake pan with parchment paper making certain to line the entire pan including sides.  Very important so the cake comes out of the pan clean.
  6. Arrange the fruit slices on the parchment paper in the pan slightly overlapping until the entire bottom of the pan is covered.  Remember, this is going to be the top of your cake so make it as pretty as you like.
  7. Set aside until cake batter is ready.

Yoghurt Cake yield: 12-16 servings

  • 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup plain Greek yoghurt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch of salt

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  1. Preheat oven of 350°F.
  2. Combine the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until creamy.
  3. Beat in the egg yolks all at once, then the yoghurt and zest.
  4. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt together, then sift them into the bowl with yoghurt mixture.  Beat to mix well.
  5. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
  6. Whisk half the whites into the batter mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the edges of the cake are pulling away from the edges of the pan, about 45 minutes.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool.
  8. When the cake is cool, place your serving platter over the cake, invert and unmold it.  Gently peel off parchment paper.
  9. Brush or spoon fruit syrup over orange slices.  If you wish, reserve a bit of syrup to drizzle over individual slices or whipped cream when serving.
  10. Set aside for at least one hour before serving.
  11. The cake will keep for several days, covered and stored at room temperature.

Mother’s Day…celebrate with a pretty Lilly cocktail

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There are several thing we moms enjoy receiving on Mother’s Day.  Massages, facials, manis and pedis are consistent winners.  Jewelry is ALWAYS exciting especially when handmade out of macaroni and string.  I have a necklace I treasure made of string and beer can tabs.  A summer bag or cute, strappy sandals are always appreciated.  I think what we all want is the perfect day…you know…the one where everyone is home and getting along.  Dad is happy and sweet to everyone and the kids are cheerful and act as though they’re thrilled to spend the day with Mom and not with their friends at the beach.  It’s the day when moms want to feel a little like a girl again.  Yes, we LOVE, L.O.V.E., opening homemade cards from our children and seeing how excited they get when preparing us breakfast in bed.  But part of the day is the girly thing and that’s where the husbands come into play.  I realize I’m not my husband’s mother; he is quick to point that out as we get closer to Mother’s Day.  But if Mom is running behind the children getting them ready for church, brunch and the beach she’s not relaxed.  Mama doesn’t want to man the grill or mix the cocktails.  Nor does she want to think about what she’ll pack for lunches the following week while standing in line at the grocery store Sunday night.  No.  What she’d really like is to be pampered a bit and not have to lift a finger.  For just one day.  Just one.  Bottles of champagne will bring big smiles as will pretty cocktails.  Even better in the pool.  On a float.  With James Taylor, Jack Johnson or John Mayer singing away in the background on the outdoor speakers.  Those are my thoughts.  So to all my moms, Happy Mother’s Day.  You bring us joy!

How I miss my mom!  Look at her tiny waist, rockin' that one-piece.  She was one phenomenal lady!

How I miss my mom! Look at her tiny waist, rockin’ that one-piece. She was one phenomenal lady.

 

This drink is a marvelous concoction from the book “Essentially Lilly” published by Harper Collins.  It’s a great book on entertaining by our wonderful Lilly Pulitzer, replete with photos of vibrant, brightly colored Lilly prints and fabrics, Lilly’s family and her legendary Palm Beach pool parties.  It’s a fun, fun read.  As she states in her book, if you wish to make this Bellini alcohol-free substitute the Prosecco with either sparkling apple cider or ginger ale.  Also, leave out the sugar.  The fruit puree can be prepared one day ahead of serving, covered and refrigerated.  It will then be mixed with the sparkling wine just before serving.  Mama will be so happy!

Tropical Fruit Bellinis

yield:  4 drinks

  • 1/2 ripe mango, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 peach, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup guava nectar
  • 1/4 cup apricot nectar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 750-ml bottle Prosecco or other sparkling wine
  1. Combine first 5 ingredients in blender and blend until fruit is pureed.  If making in advance, cover puree and refrigerate.
  2. Measure 1/4 cup fruit mixture into each wineglass.
  3. Add 1/2 cup sparkling wine to each glass, stirring gently to combine.
  4. Serve immediately.
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