Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Salad: w/ Apples, Candied Walnuts & Cider Vinaigrette

I am always asked to bring the Caesar salad to my sister-in-law's for Christmas.
Everyone loves it and it is the perfect salad for 25 people.

But this year I may surprise everyone!

What makes this nice winter salad so special are the candied walnuts.
They are delicious and addictive, and SOOOOO easy to make (I promise, you won't buy them pre-made, ever again).

You can use any variety apple, most people love Honey Crisp.

Slice the apples, or cut them into matchsticks, whatever you like.

Here, I used chicory mixed with the arugula, which is a nice bitter, hardy green that can stand up to sweet apples and candied nuts. Frisee lettuce is also a good pairing.

If you don't make this recipe for Christmas, then make it next week, when you are craving a salad.
You can make the nuts in advance, they only take a few minutes.

Salad w/ Frisee, Arugula, Apples & Candied Walnuts: serves 6

a big bunch of frisee lettuce, or chicory, washed and dried
a big bunch of arugula
2 apples, sliced or cut into matchsticks (I leave the peels on for color)
1 cup of candied walnuts

Apple Cider Vinaigrette:

2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar
1 tsp of grainy French mustard (the kind w/ seeds)
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp good olive oil
sea salt & black pepper

Candied Walnuts:

1 cup walnut halves (not pieces)
1/3 cup good quality maple syrup
pinch of sea salt
pinch of cumin
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of cayenne pepper

Swirl a little olive oil in a heavy skillet on high heat.

Add in the nuts, syrup and spices.

Swirl around with a wooden spoon for about 4 minutes. The mixture will bubble up, then almost disappear.
Your nuts are done when they look coated and golden and most of the liquid is adhered to the nuts.

Transfer immediately to a sheet of parchment paper to harden and cool. (*see my note below about NOT having the caramel stick to you pan!).

*A note about the candied walnuts: make sure you submerge the skillet in hot water IMMEDIATELY after transferring the caramelized nuts to the parchment paper, or the sugar will dry and stick to the pan (which is impossible to clean!).

Assemble the salad.
Whisk the dressing with a fork.

Drizzle the dressing over the apples and greens in a big bowl and add in the candied nuts.

A big hunk of good stinky blue cheese on each plate would be a welcome first course to go along with this salad.

Happy Holidays.
Merry Christmas and enjoy.


Friday, December 19, 2014

December Random Bites

The holidays are upon us (in case you didn't notice!).

I am way behind in my wrapping, shopping and cooking.

Henry & I have both been down with a miserable flu this week. Aches, chills, fever, coughs, the works.
At least we have each other to share the misery with.
I had better get my act together, I have already had to cancel 2 holiday parties.

Bah humbug. :(

Here are some December highlights.......detox begins in January (maybe).

How cute are these custom cookie cutters? I love them! I have the whole alphabet!

I made a Sicilian relish for swordfish (recipe here).

The next day, tossed that same delicious relish made w/ olives, capers, raisins, and other good stuff with roasted cauliflower and served it on the best toasted bread topped with an anchovy on top.

Delicious stuff.

More good stuff:

I recently had the opportunity to try and review Kyocera products. Their fabulous chef's knives and ceramic coated frying pans.

If you want the sharpest chef's knife you will ever use, light on the wrist and can slice thru a cardboard box (why would you ever need to do that?), then this is the knife for you. It never needs sharpening and no rusting like some knives after washing.

FYI: I have swapped all of my German knives for Japanese knives..

The Kyocera ceramic coated deep skillet is the best non-stick pan I have ever used.

You can use metal utensils without scratching, and you couldn't make something stick in these pans even if you tried.
I made a tortilla Espanola and flipped it effortlessly in this pan.

These are my personal opinions, I do not get paid to promote these items.

Miami Bites:

I snuck out for a little fun in the sun in Miami last week.
The weather was perfect and there is nothing like being on a beach in December when it's snowing and grey here in NJ.

This is not my grandmother's Miami Beach that I once knew.

We didn't do much in South Beach, but instead, went to the hip, new, cool gentrified areas during Art Basel Week.

Midtown, aka The Design District on the Mainland is where it is all happening.

A very Meat Packing District feel with chefs doing all "farm to table" stuff, in a once warehouse only neighborhood.

We had a delicious dinner at Michael's Genuine, a farm to table restaurant that is all the rage. Their concept is to use what is local and in season to create beautiful, simple food (wow, who da thunk it?).

Michael was a pioneer in this once wasteland of a neighborhood, and started Michael's back in 2006.
It's packed every night of the week in now the hippest area in Miami.

Highlights were the pork belly w/ kimchi & peanuts, and the octopus (huge tentacle) with potatoes.

We also ate at The Cypress Room in the Design District (literally, underneath I-195).
A very Brooklyn feel to the place, with an elegant dining room, extraordinary food, hip vibe and a price tag to match $$$$ (warning).

We started dinner with frogs legs lollipops and an amazing red shrimp crudo with coconut (wow to both dishes!).
Pork belly and a smoked beet salad w/ Robiola cheese and bacon dust (yeah, I know what you're thinking, Henry thought the same thing, just say "crushed bacon"). Ridiculously good, no matter what it was called.

I laughed at the server (who was so fabulous) when he brought out the fancy slice of cake and said it was decorated with "pomegranate jewels". I said "you mean seeds?".

The food was off the charts (and the bill was too). :)
This is a place for the true "foodie" in you.

My favorite meal in Miami was at Yardbird, Southern Table & Bar, voted Bon Appetit's top 50 restaurants in the country.

I usually don't eat fried food, but this place made me crave biscuits forever.

A Southern farm to table restaurant, where everything is in-house made, including the honey butter and all other ingredients are locally sourced.

Warning: If you are a diet, don't bother. Most everything is fried and so delicious you will want to eat the whole thing.

Best thing we ate in Miami were these Fried Green Tomato BLT's. Topped w/ pork belly, homemade onion jam and in-house made pimento cheese.
OMG. Yes, really.

Husband had delicious fried chicken, and I had biscuits for dessert, because I wanted to.
TO DIE FOR. Who knew I liked biscuits?

The second visit we had a plate of fried chicken on biscuits w/ pickled onions.

Bloody Mary's w/ pickled okra and bacon, and bacon buttermilk cake, the best thing in the universe.

Loved this place so much, we went twice!

Here's a recipe that never made the cut, the photos didn't come out well, but it was delicious.

I roasted fennel slices and carrots, sprinkled w/ cumin, dill and kosher salt.

Dab on some plain yogurt mixed with honey and harissa.
A really good winter side.

One last note:

I am turning 50 in a few days.
Yes, I said it.

It's hard to believe that I will no longer be middle-aged (I think 40 classifies you as "middle-aged"? shhhh).

For my birthday, I would like world peace, but that ain't happening.

So, I am requesting this Lady Baltimore Cake instead.

Made with layers of meringue frosting studded with pecans, raisins, dried figs, and candied orange peel, I want this.
But I will not bake it, simply because it's a major production and I don't really need it.

However, if my favorite birthday cake baker is reading this, feel free to bake it for me, I will gladly eat it!!!!!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Deviled Eggs w/ Smoked Trout & Dill

I am obsessed with deviled eggs.
I love eggs any which way, but there is something aesthetically pleasing about a platter of stuffed eggs.

I even have a pinterest page devoted to these little savory treats.

This particular recipe is also good for breakfast as well as a party appetizer.

Don't buy the smoked trout in a can, here you want the real stuff in the vacuum package.

If you don't have a star piping tip and bag, don't stress, I never did either (I do now).
Just fill a freezer bag w/ the filling and cut a small hole in the corner of the bag.

Squeeze away.

Deviled Eggs w/ Smoked Trout & Dill:

6 hardboiled eggs (I boil mine 10 minutes)
big tablespoon of Hellmann's mayonnaise
a tsp of Dijon mustard
1 tbsp of fresh dill, chopped & some for garnish
a tsp of fresh lemon juice
salt & pepper
capers for garnish
smoked trout, flaked

Cut the eggs in half and scoop out the yolks into a bowl.

Mash the yolks w/ the mayo, mustard and lemon juice.
Season to taste w/ salt & pepper.

Pipe or spoon into the cooked whites and top with a slice of smoked trout and a piece of dill.
Garnish each egg w/ a caper.

Can be made 2 hours ahead (keep covered in the fridge).


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

GREAT Roasted Carrot Hummus

I crave big fat spicy carrots in the fall and winter.

My crop was a bit off this year in the garden. So many of the carrots were rotted when we pulled them, not sure why.
We will try again next season.

Luckily, I can buy delicious ones at the farmers' markets, so I can stay in business.

This dip is the BEST version of hummus you will ever try.
Trust me.

I decided recently that I don't love tahini paste.

I think mine went rancid in the freezer, and I was turned off by the smell and texture.
Who needs all that extra fat in hummus anyway? So, I omitted it from this "hummus" recipe.

One site recommends peanut butter in place of the tahini, but I didn't feel it was needed.

This stays well in the fridge for a week, and freezes well too with some olive oil on the top of the container before sealing.

Make this healthy dip! I loved it with celery sticks.

Roasted Carrot Hummus (adapted from the Kitchn):

1 pound fresh carrots, chopped into 1-inch chunks
4 whole cloves of garlic, peels left on
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
can of chickpeas (I use Goya), rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup water + more to thin if necessary
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne (or less, I like a bit of heat)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
fresh cilantro, minced, to serve

Roast the garlic cloves (leave peels on) with the carrots, drizzled w/ 2 tbsp. of the olive oil and kosher salt on a baking sheet at 400F for about 20 minutes.

Pop off the garlic peels and puree the roasted carrots, rinsed chickpeas, remaining olive oil and the spices in a food processor.

If the mixture seems too thick, add in some water.

Taste for seasonings and serve w/ chopped cilantro as a garnish.

Serve with veggies or pita chips.

This is good stuff!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holiday Cakes: Cranberry Orange Loaves w/ Pecans

This is my annual give-away cake since I don't bake Christmas cookies.

I double the recipe then make them in these fabulous paper loaf pans.

It is an easy cake and so delicious.

This year, I added Trader's Joe's dried cranberry raisin mixture to the fresh cranberries and pecans.

These can be made 2 days in advance, they actually get better the next day after baking.
They freeze beautifully too.

Cranberry Orange Loaf w/ Pecans (makes 2 small loaves or 1 big loaf)

1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons of softened butter
1/8 tsp almond extract
2 eggs
juice and zest of an orange
1/4 cup of sour cream or creme fraiche
2 cups of flour
2 tsp of baking powder
pinch of kosher salt
handful of pecans
1/3 cup of fresh cranberries (I don't like too many, or it will be too tart)
1/4 golden raisins


1 cup of confectioner's sugar
1 tbsp of heavy cream

Mix sugar with butter, eggs, zest, extract and sour cream until nice and creamy.

Add in the dry ingredients slowly, adding in cranberries, nuts and raisins w/ the flour mixture.
Batter will be heavy and sticky.

Using a rubber spatula (or ice cream scoop, my trick), place the batter into greased loaf pan or 2 separate paper loaf pans.

Bake for 40-45 minutes at 350 until tops are golden.

Let cool on a rack while you make the icing.

Whisk the powdered sugar and cream with a fork and decoratively drizzle icing over warm cakes.

This is the perfect cake with coffee. Not too sweet and tart from the cranberries.

The perfect Christmas morning snack before opening the presents.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Hanukkah Latkes w/ Smoked Salmon & Dill

For Hanukkah my grandmother always made delicious, lacy potato pancakes with lots of chopped onion, also called "latkes".

We loved them with applesauce or sour cream, same as her blintzes. They were delicious.

I serve mine with smoked salmon, creme fraiche and dill, a bit fancier than my grandmother's version from Queens, NY.

Here is Ina's recipe for latkes, which are the best.

You can add some scallions and carrots to the mixture, but then they are not really potato pancakes anymore, but vegetables pancakes!

Pile on some lox or good quality Scottish smoked salmon, light the menorah and open your presents for 8 nights.

Sounds good to me!

Have a Happy Hanukkah!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Chocolate Dipped Clementines

It's almost clementine season here.

You will start seeing those net bags of winter produce from Spain, Chile and Israel (I have seen them from Morocco too).

I am always happy to see them because I hate peeling oranges.

Clementines are a joy to peel, the skins come right off with a single peel and there's no pits!

Such little treasures.

Here, I melted 4 oz. of Trader Joe's dark chocolate in the microwave and dipped in the clementine slices.

Then I sprinkled some chopped pistachios on top. You could also sprinkle a bit of sea salt instead.

Let harden on a paper lined cookie sheet for an hour in the fridge, and voila! you have these yummy little guilt free snacks.

I am putting them out all thru the holiday season.

They take no time to make and are delicious!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

How to Poach an Egg?

Don't ask me the best method to poach an egg, because I stink at it.

I have tried the white vinegar and create a whirlpool, stirring and stirring with no success.
My egg always falls apart.

I have tried the plastic wrap method (click here, it's weird), and it works well enough, but it freaks me out to heat plastic in boiling water.

This dish was just dumb luck.

My friend Sarah sent me this link on how to poach the perfect egg.
It's all in the straining, my friends.
It really works.

Here is the link from Serious Eats.

So, after 4 tries, and 4 failed attempts, my 5th egg finally turned out poached.

I paired it with smoked salmon, fresh spinach and a mustard vinaigrette. Delicious.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

White Bean Tapenade Toasts

This is the perfect winter crostini, when tomatoes and herbs are long gone from my garden.

I always have a surplus of canned beans and good quality olives await me in my fridge.

If you are having last minute guests (or planned guests for that matter!), make this delicious tapenade and spread it on good toasted bread slices.

It can be made well in advance and is a healthy lunch the next day with some tuna from the can piled on.

White Bean Tapenade Toasts: (adapted from Bon Appetit)

15 oz. can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup of mixed olives, pitted and chopped
2 tbsp of fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tsp of thinly sliced lemon zest
shake of hot red pepper flakes
1 tbsp or more of fresh lemon juice
sea salt & black pepper
baguette, cut into slices and toasted

I like to rub a halved garlic clove on my toasted baguette , but not everyone loves the flavor of garlic at a party, so enter at your own risk.

Toss all the ingredients together and taste for seasoning.

Leave on the counter (unrefrigerated) until you are ready to serve on top of warm toasts.