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Classic Tiramisu

Tiramisu is the Italian creation which will save your ass when the 3:00 slump hits you at your desk, stove, steering wheel or washing machine.  Tiramisu literally means “pick me up” and with the coffee and sugar called for in the recipe, it will!  I first made this dessert in 1991.  I had decided to have an Italian Thanksgiving as I’ve never been a huge fan of turkey and the traditional “fixin’s”.  Our guests were family plus one of Jimmy’s students from MIT, Laura Duenes, and her boyfriend, Forest McKennie.  When Laura decided to pull up stakes and move to Fort Lauderdale, Jimmy immediately offered her a plum job.  She knew all of us…my entire family.  We loved her and she loved us.  Laura was young, smart, beautiful… the quintessential cheeky, sassy Chicana.   While she flew all over the country standing up to banks, my little sister, Pamela, kind of ran the office… answering the phones, filing, etc.  Nothing made them happier than when they were both in the office together.  One afternoon Jimmy returned to the office from a meeting.  Walking in, he found the office surprisingly quiet.  Turning a corner he found Laura’s and Pamela’s eyes riveted to the television set and his desk had been somewhat reorganized.  They were both doing their nails; his desk was covered with cuticle sticks, base coat, polish, top coat, nail files and all manner of hand creams.  As Jimmy exclaimed, “What’s going on here?   This is a business, ya know!” both girls, without moving a muscle, answered, “SHHHHH! We’re watching our story.  It’s General Hospital.  It’ll be over in a minute.”  Can you imagine saying that to your boss, never mind giving yourself a manicure at work!  Knowing he was outnumbered, Jimmy just shook his head and muttered, “Girls!”.  Laura was family.  We had a superb Thanksgiving that year.  I found the menu and have to say, it was pretty great.

The wine flowed and laughter rang out all afternoon.   The tiramisu was a huge hit, smooth, rich and cool on a hot south Florida day.  Laura and Forest eventually married and accepted positions in D.C., then south Africa and back to D.C..  Those were some good days and every single time I make tiramisu I think of that girl.

Tiramisu is a glorious make-ahead treat.  Granted, there are several steps in making it but, boy, is it worth it!  It can be prepared in a 9X13 inch dish, individual pots or wine glasses.  Some folks make their own ladyfingers but I find store-bought are fine.  Because the bags of cookies in my store are 7 ounces, I try to make a somewhat double layer of ladyfingers on the bottom of the dish.  One bag isn’t enough for this recipe and the extra cookies give the dish added structure.  There’s quite a bit of liquid in the recipe and the cookies soak it up in a most delicious way.  Tiramisu should be served as cold as you can get it, so feel free to chill your dishes if you’re inclined.  The set, chilled texture is not even as firm as Jello although it is not runny either.  If you prepare this dessert in one large dish it’s best to serve it up in the kitchen.  And be assertive with your serving spoon and spatula.  The tiramisu will lose its shape, fall over and slide around making serving a bit of a challenge but it’s not meant to be pretty.  It’s meant to be spectacular!

Classic Tiramisu

  • Servings: 14-16
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 14 ounces ladyfingers
  • 1 cup espresso
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons rum, dark or golden, divided
  • 4 tablespoons Gran Marnier
  • 1 pound mascarpone cheese
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 6 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa, to cover top of dish
  1. Set a 9X13 inch baking dish aside.
  2. In a large shallow bowl mix the espresso, 2 tablespoons of rum and Gran Marnier.
  3. Working quickly, dip each ladyfinger, one at a time, into the espresso mixture, moistening each side then placing on the bottom of the baking dish.  Continue until the bottom of the dish is completely covered.  I make a second layer of cookies, completely optional, with about 1″ in between each ladyfinger.  Reserve enough cookies for a final layer in between the mascarpone mixture.  Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl place the remaining rum and mascarpone and beat until smooth.  Set aside.
  5. In a small double-boiler over medium-low heat, beat the egg yolks with 3 tablespoons of sugar until light and foamy, about 4 minutes.
  6. Pour the hot yolks into the mascarpone mixture, mix well to combine and set aside.
  7. In a separate bowl, whip the cream with the  vanilla extract until soft peaks are formed  when the beaters are lifted.
  8. Add 1/3 of the whipped cream to the mascarpone mixture and gently fold in.  Fold in the remaining cream adding 1/3 at a time.  Set aside.
  9. In a separate bowl and using a hand mixer with clean beaters, whip the egg whites until foamy.  Slowly add the remaining sugar and continue beating the egg whites until the peaks hold their shape.  Do not over beat.
  10. Add the egg whites to the mascarpone mixture and gently fold in until there are no streaks of egg white.
  11. Pour half of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers in the baking dish.
  12. Lightly dip the remaining ladyfingers, one at a time, in the espresso mixture and layer evenly over the poured mascarpone.  Break the cookies to cover any holes.
  13. Pour the remaining mascarpone mixture over the cookies, smooth the top and refrigerate uncovered overnight.
  14. Prior to serving, cover the top of the tiramisu with a thick dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder.
  15. Serve immediately.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

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Mother’s Day Jumbo Crabmeat and Hearts of Palm Salad

Heads up, people.  This Sunday’s Mother’s Day and we have high expectations.  I’m offering some tips…consider it a guideline because if you know your Mama, and you better hope you do, this is almost common sense.  Tip number one, and this is the most important one.  Don’t mess with her.  At all.  She would never say the “F” word but you really wouldn’t want her to think it, would you?  I thought not.  Tip number two.  I’m sure there are some mommies out there who don’t care for champagne but I’ve never met them.  We love champagne, good champagne and lots of it.  Please don’t skimp here.  She’ll be thinking the “F” word and, again, we really want to avoid that.  Tip number three and the final suggestion.  Moms want to be treated to brunch with a presentation which is sumptuous, sensual and stunning.  We don’t want purple daisies from the grocery store, unless they’re pick out by your four-year old who loves them, is so proud and is positively beaming.  No.  Do something nice.  Get her some orchids.  I have to say this old mom has all her string and beer tab necklaces, plaster of paris handprints, special hand-picked rocks and construction paper cards adorned with crayon flowers and stick figures and, people, I love them all.  All!  But we REALLY, REALLY like to be treated super well and pampered.  Jus’ sayin.

This gorgeous salad pairs beautifully with sliced avocado and radishes.  It can also be served on a bed of mixed baby greens.  If it’s to be served over or with a salad of greens, go ahead and mix up another batch of dressing.  There is only enough in one recipe to dress the crabmeat.  Champagne is perfection with this crabmeat salad…the bubbly seems to bring out the sweetness.  The fresh orange sections highlight the tartness of the palm hearts and any avocado slipped on the plate rounds out the luxuriousness of this indulgence.  This salad is best assembled just before serving.

Jumbo Crabmeat and Hearts of Palm Salad

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Dressing:

  • 1 navel orange
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • salt and pepper to taste

Salad:

  • 1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over for shells
  • 1 14-ounce can hearts of palm, salad cut, drained
  • 2 tablespoons red onion, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Over a small bowl or jar, finely zest the navel orange.
  2. Cut the orange in half and juice one half over the orange zest.
  3. Section the remaining orange half and place the sections in a medium bowl.  Include any juices with the other orange juice.
  4. Over the juice jar or bowl, finely grate the garlic.
  5. Add the olive oil then whisk the dressing well, or cover the jar and shake well.
  6. Taste for salt and pepper, adjust seasoning and chill until ready to use.
  7. Place the cleaned crabmeat in the bowl with the sectioned orange.
  8. Cut the palm hearts into wheels 1/4 inch thick and include with crab.
  9. Add the onion, toss gently and taste for salt and pepper.
  10. Stir the dressing well and pour over the crabmeat mixture.
  11. Gently toss and serve.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

Sausage, Tomato and Basil Spaghetti Squash Bake

Did you indulge or party just a tee-tiny bit too much this past weekend?  Or maybe you fell for that lie we all tell ourselves when we’ve eaten half the brownies and, thoroughly disgusted with ourselves, take action to rid the temptation by saying, “I want this out of the house.  I’ll finish it and then it won’t be around anymore to tease me.”  It’s so awful.  And hard, too.  But I’ve found if I can stick to a healthful meal plan for two or three days eating well almost becomes a habit.  All of us have struggled with our weight at one time or another.  College weight, baby weight and old lady weight have all been my personal nightmares.  Here’s a special memory that ought to make you feel better.  When I was pregnant with our son, James, I gained 52 (yes, 52) pounds.  I was enormous; I looked like a walrus…except I had braces and a real tragedy of a haircut.  After I gave birth I was still fat but I had the greatest treasure in the world.  Anyway, one afternoon my father came over…alone.  Normally he and Mom came over together or Mom came alone.  We didn’t really have what one would call a “visit”, as he strode with his long legs into our house and made the following announcement.  “Your mother and I are terribly worried.  So I’m only going to say this once.  Lose the weight.”  With that, he turned around and walked out.  Nice, huh?  Thanks, Daddy.  I can’t say his little pep talk worked, what with a new baby and nursing and all; it took a while after that to “lose the weight”.  But these are the types of meals that make dropping a few pounds somewhat easier.  We can do this.  We’ve all lost weight before and we’ll do it again.  With a little planning we can be healthy about it and keep the weight off.  Fingers crossed.

I love this dish!  It is incredibly satisfying and as filling as a pasta dish but without the sluggish, weighted down feeling one is left with after sitting down to a huge bowl of penne, fettucine or farfalle…not to mention the guilt, smothering like the black cloud we all know it to be.  This casserole doubles extremely well, baked in a 9″ x 13″ dish.  I typically double the recipe as my entire household enjoys it for lunch the following day, along with a good bit set aside for my brother and father.  More fresh basil may be added if you like, as well as more grape tomatoes.  The tomatoes bake-off beautifully, warm and savory, they almost melt in your mouth.  The recipe doesn’t call for much parmesan cheese but if you want to stay Paleo or keep the calories out just leave it off.  Truly, with all the different flavors, this dish doesn’t need it.  Enjoy!

Sausage, Tomato and Basil Spaghetti Squash Bake

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 4 cups roasted spaghetti squash, that’s about one large squash
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/4 pounds Italian style turkey sausage
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated using the large holes of a box grater
  •  1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 2 pints grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn by hand
  • 1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375°.  Cover an 8″ x 11″ baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
  2. With a large spoon scoop the spaghetti squash flesh out of the shell and into a large bowl.  Set aside.
  3. Pour half of the olive oil into a large skillet, heat to medium and swirl the olive oil fully covering the bottom and sides of the pan.
  4. Add the whole sausage links to the pan and cook over medium until browned all over.
  5. Leaving the juices in the pan, transfer the sausage to a bowl and let cool.
  6. Add the remaining olive oil, onion and garlic to the pan, stirring well to get up all the bits of sausage.
  7. When the onion begins to turn clear, add the zucchini and oregano and stir well.
  8. Add the crushed tomatoes, stir well and remove from heat.
  9. Transfer the vegetable mixture to the bowl of spaghetti squash.
  10. To the bowl add the grape tomatoes, basil and parsley and toss well to thoroughly combine.
  11. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasonings if needed.
  12. Transfer mixture to baking dish and, if using parmesan, scatter the cheese evenly over the top of the casserole.
  13. Bake 25-30 minutes or until the grape tomatoes become soft to the touch.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

 

Chicken and Cracked Black Pepper Dumplings

There is nothing like a warm, comforting bowl of chicken and dumplings at the end of a long week.  There’s a saying in the South, “Your mama doesn’t really love you if you come home and she doesn’t make you chicken and dumplings!” It’s a special meal, a Sunday dinner dish served in your best china for friends and family alike.  In this world of the hurry-up-and-eat syndrome, chicken and dumplings makes you want to linger at the table and catch up with your nieces and nephews, finding out whom they’re dating, how that weekend in Charleston was or how the internship is working out.  Summer or winter, it matters not as this dish is held in high regard by all.  The dumplings are drop dumplings, light and fluffy, speckles of freshly cracked black pepper riddled throughout and surrounded by a fragrant and savory chicken broth.  Oh, but this is a most satisfying meal!  And guess what?  There’s also a quick method of preparing it.  Yes.  It’s called rotisserie chicken.  This recipe reheats the following day quite well, however, chicken and dumplings don’t freeze well, at least not any I’ve ever made.  I’ve found the wider the pot the dish cooks in the better the dumplings, as a large surface area gives them room to spread and remain tender.  Stewed green beans, collards, baked or fried okra, broccoli and creamed spinach are all delicious sides to serve.  I hope you prepare this classic.  Your family will think you slaved over a hot stove all day and love you all the more for it!

If you choose to use a store-bought rotisserie chicken make certain you purchase either a plain one or a flavor that marries well with the dish, certainly not BBQ or fried.  Pour half of the chicken broth into the pot, add the vegetables and bring to a gentle boil.  While the vegetables cook, shred the chicken by hand.  Add the shredded chicken to the pot once the vegetables are tender and prior to adding the dumpling batter.

Chicken and Cracked Black Pepper Dumplings

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 3 pounds chicken, whole or cut up. If cut up then both white and dark meat, all bone in.
  • 2 quarts chicken broth, divided. I find Publix brand organic, “Greenwise” is fabulous.
  • 1 large onion, peeled
  • 5 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 4 carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-2 tablespoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  1. To a large pot add the raw chicken, half the broth and onion.  Cover and bring to a gentle boil.
  2. Leaving the broth in the pot, remove the chicken and set aside to shred when cool enough to handle.
  3. Add the celery and carrots to the pot, cover and cook until tender.
  4. While the vegetables cook shred the cooked chicken or rotisserie chicken. Discard bones, skin and any fat.
  5. In a medium size bowl add the flour, pepper, baking powder and salt and mix well so all ingredients are thoroughly combined.
  6. In a separate bowl combine buttermilk, egg and butter mixing well.
  7. Return the shredded chicken to the pot.
  8. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine.  The batter will be thick and very stiff.  Any unmixed flour will be included in the pot.
  9. Using a soup spoon, drop spoonfuls of batter into the pot each roughly 3″ in diameter.  Add any flour bits to the pot as they will thicken the broth.
  10. Gently pour remaining broth over the dumplings, cover and allow to simmer 10-15 minutes.
  11. Remove from heat, uncover and let cool 5-10 minutes prior to serving.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

Deep South Co-Cola Cake

This past weekend was the annual oratorical competition for the regional at Saint Demetrios church here in Fort Lauderdale.  Middle schoolers and high schoolers from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi came for the weekend each hoping to take home the gold, a chance at the national competition to be held this June in Boston.  Although it is voluntary, “the oratorical” was a mandatory exercise for our son James; mean, demanding parents that we are.  But James did well.  Extremely well and, I have to say, the competition certainly honed James’ public speaking skills.  To this day he has no self-doubts, fears or hesitation taking a microphone and making a presentation in front of any one, no matter the number of people gathered.  Representing the southeast region, James competed the last three years of high school traveling to New Orleans, Knoxville and Clearwater.  It was in Clearwater, his senior year, that I met a girl who made such an impression on me.  We were drawn to each other like magnets and the more we talked the more we found in common with each other.  Her name was Harriet, born and raised in Rome, Georgia, a sassy, stunning Southern belle through and through.  At the Saturday night celebratory dinner in Clearwater, I invited the moms at our table for a late night drinking and gab fest in the lobby of the hotel where all of us were staying.  Any mom could join us the only caveat being was you had to wear your pajamas and bring your own hooch, every Southern girl’s dream.  The kids all knew each other, the Greek network is positively astounding, and had planned a midnight pool party.  Sippin’ and sassin’ in the lobby also allowed us to keep one eye on the kids.  It goes without saying, we had a blast!  All of us tried to outdo the others with tales of our husbands and children.  We screamed and cackled with laughter until tears came out of our eyes.  At some ungodly hour the bottles of booze were empty and we all stumbled back to our rooms but not before Harriet and I exchanged emails and cell numbers.  By then we were solid, blood sisters.  Back in our home towns we texted and emailed frequently, learning about each other and liking each other more and more.  She lived in Warren, Georgia, a rural town, with her husband and two hunky sons on a working farm.  They had a lake or stream where the boys brought home tons of freshly caught fish all neatly strung waiting for Harriet to fry ’em up.  Harriet’s role on the farm besides wife and mom was raising baby lambs.  All this was straight up my alley but this was the clincher…she, also, had a blog.  We gave each other shout outs on our posts, commiserated one with the other frustrations we encountered,  encouraged and  supported the habit of daily writing .  We shared intimacies only lifelong friends divulge.  Serious stuff.  And we laughed.  Boy, did we laugh.  Harriet had been published several times in different local publications, her forte being daily life in rural Georgia.  I recall one Thanksgiving article she wrote dealt with the most shameful fact that she, the only living Southern woman, could not, to save her life, make gravy.  She crept into the local Piggly Wiggly, surreptitiously grabbed a couple of jars of ready made gravy and casually ambled up to the check out line.  Her heart was pounding like a rabbit on crack as she looked around to see if anyone she knew had seen her.  Didn’t matter.  She knew she was dead meat…small town like Warren an’ all.  Sure enough, the jars wouldn’t scan.  The sweet check out girl took one look at them and asked, “Miz Jacobs, you shore you wont that gravy stuff in the jar?  Whah don’ chew jes make it?”  In spite of Harriet’s protests the check out girl reassured her saying, “Now don’t chew worry, Miz Jacobs, ah kin git that price fir ya.”  Harriet hissed, “No!  No!  Ah don’t wont it!  Stop!  It’s okay.  Ah don’t wont it.”  Too late.  BobbySue, the check out girl was on the microphone an’ you know what she was sayin’.  “Price check own aisle 4.  Ah don’ know wah, but Miz Jacobs wonts some a that store bought gravy an’ ah don tole ‘er is B-A-D, bad but she wonts it so could somebody puhleeze check the price?”  The manager replied on HIS microphone, “Miz Jacobs wonts that? Joo tell ‘er it ain’t as good as homemade?  Wale, okay…ah guess.  Tell ‘er tuh hang own an’ ahl check.”  Harriet and I howled with laughter.  “Oh, my stars! Whad joo do?”, I asked.  “Ah jes threw some money down, grabbed the gravy and ran.  I had to have gravy fer Thanksgiving!  My boys get hungry an’ wont all the fixin’s!”  Oh, my goodness, but that girl could tell a story.  Tragically, she died in the Fall of 2014 and I miss her terribly, as I would blood.  I still cry for her in the privacy of my bathroom, where I do my best crying.  I wasn’t able to attend the kid’s presentations at the oratorical competition yesterday.  Brings back too many memories.  But I made this cake.  An old-fashioned, Southern, country cake, sinfully sweet made in her honor.  Meanwhile, Harriet, I know you’re in heaven showin’ everybody just how Southern sassy’s done!

This is probably the sweetest cake I’ve EVER tasted!  Consequently, a little goes a long way.  All the recipes I have call for 2 cups of sugar.  I cut it back to 1 1/2 cups.  Also, most of the recipes list 1 1/2 cups of miniature marshmallows to be mixed into the batter.  I’m not a fan of marshmallows so, like Cracker Barrel, I chose to spread Marshmallow Fluff over the still hot out of the oven cake followed by a chocolate coca cola frosting.  Some recipes call for a scattering of toasted, chopped pecans either in the cake batter or on the icing and I happen to embrace this idea.  The savory pecans offset the wallop of sweetness each bite delivers.  It’s best to let the cake cool for a few hours prior to serving so that the icing can set.  Wrapped tightly with tin foil and left in the pan, this cake will keep for a good 3-4 days out of the refrigerator.

Deep South Co-Cola Cake

  • Servings: 15-20
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup Coke
  • 1/2 cup whole buttermilk
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 7-ounce jar Marshmallow Fluff

Second icing:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa
  • 6 tablespoons Coke
  • 4 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Cover a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 350°.
  3. Toast chopped pecans in oven for 7-10 minutes and set aside.
  4. Pour flour and sugar in a medium size bowl and sift together.  Set aside.
  5. In a heavy bottom pot melt the butter then add the cocoa powder and Coke and bring to a boil stirring well.  Take off the heat.
  6. To the pot add the flour sugar mixture and stir well.
  7. Add the buttermilk, eggs, baking soda and vanilla extract mixing thoroughly until all ingredients are combined and the mixture is smooth.
  8. Pour into the prepared baking dish and bake for 30-35 minutes until the middle of the cake springs back when touched.
  9. Remove the cake from the oven and, using all the Marshmallow Fluff, immediately drop four or five dollops (the entire jar) on the top of the hot cake.
  10. With a spatula or the back of a spoon gently spread the Fluff taking cake not to tear the cake.
  11. While the cake and topping cool a bit, prepare the second icing.
  12. In a medium saucepan melt the butter and add the cocoa and Coke.  Stir until completely combined.
  13. Remove from the heat and add the confectioners sugar and vanilla extract to the pot.
  14. Mix until smooth and there are no lumps.
  15. Spoon the icing over the Marshmallow Fluff stirring the icing all the while.
  16. Allow the cake to cool at least 2-3 hours before serving to allow the cake and icings to set.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

Mexican Chopped Salad with a Creamy Cilantro Dressing

Being that we’re having summer weather here in south Florida we’re well into our salads.  All my friends who grew up here are salad people, obsessed with cold, crunchy, live food.  Weekends and summers found us on the beach.  Junior and senior years of high school we spent at the club, that would be Dana, Andrea and me, lounging in the pool, playing tennis or catching rays.  All our plans were created there…whether it be a date, outfit or college.  Someone in our group, never us but somebody, always had a boom box blaring with the 70’s sounds of Doobie Brothers, Earth, Wind and Fire or Stevie Wonder that made us so happy.  We all knew they were good, good days.  We loved the waves rolling in the background.  We loved the ever so slight breeze which cooled the droplets of pool water running down our flat, toned tummies and lean, tanned legs.  We took delight in the smooth coral stone under our feet after burning up on the beach.  The in our dangerously low-cut black maillots, the three of strolled about the pool and beach as though we owned the place.  It was home to us and we were always welcomed.  We charged little dinner salads for lunch and chased them down with enormous iced coffees laced with half and half and who knows how many packets of Sweet’N Low.  Late in the day we moved our lounge chairs into the shade, under clusters palm trees set in islands of grass.  They were easy days.  Pretty and safe days.  Certainly not days that would prepare us for the hard knocks and bumps of life which we’ve all felt!   But I know this trio thoroughly embraced these times.   We each cried over different boys or our parents.  We danced on the beach as though no one was watching, and quite frankly, no one was.  And laugh.  My goodness!  A laugh a minute.  Even if we had to stoop to cheap humor by grabbing one of Dana’s majestic boobs and hollerin’, “Titty!” while leaping into the pool.  None of us remember not knowing one another, that’s how long we’ve been the closest of friends.  In all those years we’ve shared umpteen sleepovers and girl’s weekends and although the iced coffees have been upgraded to tequila we still go crazy over our salads.  Crispy, ambrosial and what we want.

This is the perfect salad if you have a couple of leftover ears of grilled corn.  We throw a few extra ears on the grill so as to have this salad the following day.  The recipe for this salad is just a guideline.  Add more or less of any ingredient depending on your taste.  If you’re not up to making your own tortilla strips, merely crumble a few tortilla chips over the salad right before serving.  I also serve this salad with grilled shrimp or fish on top as well as grilled boneless chicken breasts.  It’s delicious as a wilted salad, too.  Any all ready mixed, leftover salad topped with fresh tortilla strips or chips is fabulous.  Stay cool!

Mexican Chopped Salad with a Creamy Cilantro Dressing

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Dressing:

  • 1 1/2 cups cilantro leaves
  • 1 1/4 cups cream fresca, sour cream or Greek yoghurt
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1-ounce package original Ranch dressing, not buttermilk
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced
  • 2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Salad:

  • 1 large head romaine lettuce, washed, dried and cut into 1/8″ strips
  • 1 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 7.75-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 ears grilled corn on the cob, kernels sliced off
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1/4″ pieces
  • 1 California avocado, cut into 1/2″ chunks
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • tortilla strips for garnish
  1. Place all ingredients for salad dressing in a food processor or blender.
  2. Process until smooth.  You will have small flecks of cilantro in the dressing.
  3. Transfer to a jar and chill until ready to serve.
  4. In a large bowl place all the ingredients for the salad, except the tortilla strips, in a large bowl.
  5. Spoon 3-4 tablespoons of dressing over the salad and toss lightly.  Add more if necessary and gently toss to coat all ingredients.
  6. Taste for salt and pepper.
  7. Garnish with tortilla strips.

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Kickin’ Sweet Vidalia Onion Dip

For someone who tasted flavor only when in friends’ homes, I vividly recall many first tastes.  Butter…Ann Avery’s house.  That was  beyond stellar.  Tuna salad would be at Andrea’s house.  Her mama mixed in a teaspoon of mustard that certainly made it the chicken of MY sea!  Pork chop gravy  at Dana’s house was seared into my flavor bank.  I had never had ANY gravy before and her mama made it from scratch.  Where has this stuff been hiding?!?  I experienced a double first at my neighbor and classmate, Susy Tankard’s, house.  We had come in from playing “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” outside, all hot and sweaty.  Her mama and mine were very close but worlds apart when it came to cooking.  Susy’s mom baked, cooked and liked it.  My mama couldn’t give a fig what went on in the kitchen nor would she have recognized a fig if there had ever been one sitting on the counter.  Anyway, that noteworthy day stands out because it is the day Susy offered me an English muffin with strawberry jam.  I had no idea what either one of those things were.  At first bite I was head over heels in love with both.  But probably my favorite first was a double of potato chips and onion dip, both processed, filled with preservatives and loaded with salt.  Holy smoke.  Talk about a lifelong passion for that kind of bad.  And I’m still a fool for chips and dip but now I prefer the real thing.  Homemade onion dip is from another realm.  Once you make homemade you will never go back to that powdered stuff in an envelope.  After caramelizing naturally sweet onions, you’ll end up with a skillet brimming with the flavors of a savory jam, all thick and gooey.  I add fresh thyme leaves and that brings out the earthiness and allows the dip to “pop”.  The addition of cayenne pepper lightens each bite and keeps the onion dip from becoming too heavy.  It’s always one of the first dishes to fly at a party; in fact, you’ll be hard pressed to stay out of it before you leave your house.  Perfect for a beach or pool party, whether it’s game day or not, this kickin’ onion dip will become a life long favorite!

This recipe makes quite a bit which is great for a party but if you don’t need that much, it’s easily halved.  It’s an incredibly flavorful appetizer so if you’re not a fan of heat, rest assured the cayenne pepper may be omitted and you’ll still have a fantastic dip.  Take your time caramelizing the onions.  You don’t want them to burn but to release their liquids and sugar.  Give them a good stir every now and again, cook them uncovered letting all excess moisture evaporate and you’ll achieve the flavors and consistency you want.  I tried a mess of chips to see which really brought out the flavor of the dip and this is my conclusion.  The best potato chip turned out to be Kettle Chips.  They were sturdy enough to stand up to the stiff dip both in structure and potato taste.  But my number one chip pick wasn’t a potato chip but a plantain chip.  Holy smoke!  They really complemented each other, not to mention, the plantains were much better looking.  In closing, I hope you’ll take the time to search out Vidalia onions as their sweetness truly stands out and makes a huge difference in this dish.  Enjoy!

Kickin' Sweet Vidalia Onion Dip

  • Servings: 6 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 3 pounds Vidalia onions, about 3 large Vidalia onions
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 1 heaping tablespoon fresh thyme leaves plus additional to garnish
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  1. In a large, heavy bottom skillet melt the butter over medium heat.
  2. Add the olive oil, chopped onions, one tablespoon of salt and stir well until the onions are thoroughly coated with the olive oil and butter.
  3. Lower the heat to medium low and cook the onions uncovered until they are golden brown in color and all liquid from them has evaporated, anywhere from 45 minutes to one hour.  Stir often to keep onions from browning or sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  4. Remove onions from heat and allow to cool.
  5. In a large bowl mix the cream cheese to loosen.  Add the mayonnaise and whisk until completely smooth.
  6. Add the sour cream, thyme, cayenne pepper and remaining teaspoon of salt.  Mix until smooth.
  7. Add cooled onions to cream cheese mixture and mix until thoroughly combined.
  8. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.
  9. Serve chilled with chips and crudite.

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