Sunday, March 25, 2012

Foodbuzz 24x24: A Spring Fare Lunch

I love the changing of seasons because it brings on a fresh array of ingredients to use with recipes that I have been jotting down through out winter and, it is all I can do not to buy everything at once and indulge in a smorgasbord of what the new season has to offer.  

I consider spring to be the in between season in the way of produce, offering of a mixture of lighter flavors perfect for crossing over from rich winter comfort recipes.    

When it was time to submit proposals for Foodbuzz 24x24 I knew right away the perfect menu to submit.  One showcasing the flavors of spring in a variety of healthy and flavorful ways.  Here is what I have in mind;

Citrus Fennel Salad
A fresh salad of fennel and segmented citrus drizzled with a simple
dressing of the fruits juices and extra virgin olive oil

Slow Roosted Tomato Soup with Grilled Lemon
Slow roasted tomatoes blended into a light soup enhanced with griled lemon

Herbed Gnocchi with Pesto
Classic gnocchi flavored pack with fresh thyme, basil, and parsley
served in a lemony pesto

Caramelized Pear Tarts with Brie
Diced Asian pears caramelized and served in delicate puff pastry
shells with fresh brie

Fennel Citrus Salad

Light, fresh and crisp with bursts of sweet tart citrus flavor, this is what I consider to be a great way to start off a spring meal.  The key to making this salad is keeping the components roughly the same size.  Thinly slicing the fennel, topping it with fresh citrus segments enhances the natural sweetness and balances the flavors perfectly.

Serves four

2 fennel bulbs
1 honey tangerine
1 pink grapefruit
Extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tbsp grapeseed oil

To prepare the fennel; remove the top leaving about an inch of green, as well as the outer layer [this part tends to be fibrous] and then slice the fennel into 1/4 inch pieces.  Next, segment the citrus, and slice the Asian pear arranging onto a platter with the grilled fennel slices.   This salad is best served with a mix of arugula, mint leaves and fennel fronds, lightly dressed with a good squeeze of the juices left in the citrus after it has been segmented, salt, pepper and olive oil.

Slow Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Lemon

For this recipe, I like using vine ripened tomatoes , and in this case the riper the better.  Slow roasting maximizes the intensity in flavor adding an amazing richness and eliminating the need to finish with heavy cream.  Served over homemade gnocchi speckled with fresh herbs, and then finished with a bright squeeze of grilled lemon makes for a wonderful twist on a comforting home style classic.

** The slow roasting takes six to seven hours.  This is important to keep in mind if planning to serve at a lunch or dinner party.

Serves four

For the soup;

Two pounds of vine ripened tomatoes
1 carrot
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 stalks lemon grass
4 cups vegetable stock, low sodium is best
2 lemons, halved
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Remove the tomatoes from their stems, lightly pierce the skin in three or four places to prevent them from bursting, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper then slow roast until concentrated and chewy, about 6 to 7 hours.  This step is best completed the night before, and make extra which can be kept in the freezer for later use. 

In a separate pot; sauté the onion and carrot until tender, and then add the garlic continuing to cook until fragrant.  Next, add the thyme, tomatoes and stock, bring to a boil then reduce heat and let simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove thyme sprigs, check the seasoning and using an emulsion blender, pulse until smooth.  

As an accompaniment, I like to serve this soup with a wedge of grilled lemon.  The heat loosens the juices, and also mellows the flavor which compliments this recipe beautifully.  Simply halve the lemons and put them on a hot grill for a couple of minutes before serving.

Whole Wheat Herbed Gnocchi with Pecorino

Light, fluffy potato dumplings flavored with fresh herbs and served with pecorino in a lemony pesto, what’s not to love?

Michael Chiarello’s recipe for gnocchi is a beautifully simple yet and extremely flavorful.   The only changes I have made are in the preparation, and with the addition of fresh herbs.  If this is your first time making gnocchi, don’t be intimidated, you will be surprised at how easily they come together, and while practice makes perfect in the way of shaping them there is really no right or wrong.   

Gnocchi Ingredients
Serves four

One pound russet potatoes
3 large egg yolks lightly beaten plus, one extra on reserve if needed
1 tbsp fresh thyme
1 tbsp fresh parsley
1 tbsp fresh basil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 cup all purpose flour

Peel and boil the potatoes until tender, let cool slightly then mash using a whisk or fork.  On your counter or in a bowl using the potatoes create a mound with a well in the center, just as you would when making pasta dough.  Start by adding the egg yolks, cheese, herbs salt and pepper, then using a fork mix until evenly combined, then start adding flour about a quarter cup at a time folding [not kneading] it into the dough just until it holds together.  If the mixture ends up becoming too dry add another egg yolk.  When ready, the dough should be firm but, give under light pressure and should hold together when rolled into a half inch tube.  If your dough hasn’t reached this consistency it is easily fixed by folding in a little more flour until the dough yields as described above.

Next, divide the dough into four equal parts, roll each into a rope 1/2 inch in thickness, then cut it into 1/2 inch long pieces and toss in lightly flour to keep them from sticking.  To make the signature grooves; take each piece and push on it lightly with your thump against the tines of a large fork while pushing it away from you.  The gnocchi should take on a cupped shape.  Another method is to shape each gnocchi into ovals then indent with your thumb and roll them on your palm.  The grooves not only hold in the sauce but, also allow for more even cooking.  [Side note: It took several practice runs to get the hang of shaping them and I still by no means make perfectly shaped gnocchi but, I think that adds a rustic character to the dish that I love.]  Dust lightly with flour; spread the gnocchi in a single layer onto a cookie sheet and allow them to dry (preferably in front of or under a fan) for half an hour.  At this stage the gnocchi can be frozen for use up to one month later. 

When ready to cook, bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with salt, drop the gnocchi into the water and once they float to the top cook for about 90 seconds, remove and drain.  At this point, I like to toss them in a little extra virgin olive oil to prevent them stick to each other. 

Pesto Ingredients

1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 cup arugula
1/2 cup Italian flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh mint
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup pecorino
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

In a food processor; toss in the arugula with the basil, mint, parsley, garlic clove, lemon zest and juice, then pulse until blended, add the pecorino and while processing, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto comes together.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, toss with the gnocchi and serve with a sprinkling of pecorino.  This dish is best served at room temperature.

Caramelized Pear Tarts with Brie

Originally, the plan was to make dessert style flat breads with fresh apricots or nectarines but, after not being able to find ripe produce, the plan quickly changed.  Asian pears, while pricey, are in season and offer a crisp bite to rich, creamy brie.  I already had a package of puff pastry shells on hand so instantly I know the perfect replacement would be these Caramelized Pear Tarts.  


6 puff pastry shells
2 Asian pears, peeled and diced
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
4 ounces fresh brie
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, and cook the puff pastry shells until golden.  

In a pan, melt the butter, brown sugar, spices, salt and butter.  When bubbling add the diced pear and lightly toss to coat.  Allow the pears and caramel to simmer until tender but, not mushy, about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool.

While the oven is still warm, warm the brie until sightly melted.  Then spread about 2 teaspoons onto the bottom of each shell, cover with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the pear mixture and then top each, evenly with the remaining brie.  Serve immediately.

Friday, March 23, 2012

SRC-Style Recipe Swap - Spicy Yogurt Marinated Chicken

With so many amazing blogs out there, it seems like I have an ever growing list of recipes I want to try but, getting through the list can seem unattainable.  After several months, I recently visited the What’s Cooking board on The Nest and was excited to see a new recipe swap SRC-Style.  Hosted by Sarah with A Taste of Home Cooking this isn’t your ordinary recipe swap, organized as a blog swap giving foodies an opportunity to prepare any recipe off a randomly picked fellow blogger’s website. 

For my assigned blog, I was fortunate enough to receive Carrie’s Sweet Life.  Simplistic in nature, Carrie’s website is packed full of amazing full flavor, “down home” recipes.  In fact, there are so many to choose from that I couldn’t resist and had to make two! 

To start, a Spicy Yogurt Marinated Chicken which I prepared tandoori style in a 425 degree oven, this and the addition of turmeric were the only tweaks I made.  I chose low-fat yogurt over full fat, and would recommend against using non-fat as you need a little to retain moisture and achieve the silky texture to the chicken.


One whole chicken divided into pieces
1 cup plain, low-fat yogurt
3 tbsp fresh lime juice
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
¼ cup fresh chopped mint
2 garlic cloves
Two 2-inch pieces of lime zest
1 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp hot paprika
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger

In a food processor; blend all of the ingredients (less the chicken) until smooth, then marinate the chicken pieces in the mixture overnight making the pieces are evenly coated, and turning once or twice during.

To cook the chicken; preheat your oven to 425 degrees, and bake on a sheet tray lined with cookie racks for 30 minutes, then turn and bake until cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes for the smaller pieces and 15 to 20 minutes for the larger pieces.  [Cooking on racks will allow the heat to circulate on both sides resulting in quicker, more even cooking.]  If the chicken appears charred don’t panic!  This is exactly what you are looking for.  Let the chicken rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. 

Thanks Carrie for having such a great blog to work off of!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pomegranate Craisin Orange Scented Muffins

I hear it’s always good to stock up on healthy snacks, that way you reach for those in place of unhealthy ones.  So, with that in mind I’ve made it my mission to create health conscious recipes not only for snacking but, also quick breakfast grabs and lunch treats. 

This is a basic whole grain muffin recipe that can easily be transformed into whatever creative flavor combination you can like.  Unfortunately, I cannot remember the source of the original recipe.  I found it several years ago and have since made a few changes tailoring it to my taste.  This batter works great with pretty much any combination you can think of, and for this batch I went Pomegranate Craisins and orange.  Tangy and sweet, it’s a classic combination you can’t go wrong with. 


3/4 cup whole grain flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup oats, plus 2 tbsp to top
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup 1% milk
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp canola oil
2 egg whites
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp pure orange extract
Zest of an orange
1 1/4 cup Pomegranate Juice Infused Craisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the dry (reserving 1/4 cup) and wet ingredients, in separate bowls, and lightly whisk to combine.  In two batches, gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet until just incorporated.  Toss the Craisins with the reserved quarter cup of dry ingredients, then fold into the batter.  Line the muffin tin, then fill each cup three quarters of the way full, topping off each with any left over batter.  Sprinkle the tops with the reserved oats, and then back for 17 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  If the muffins need more cooking time check them every minute to ensure they do not over cook and become dry.  This recipe yields twelve muffins.

Calories              124.4
Fat                     2.7 g
Cholesterol         .5 mg
Sodium              155.4 mg
Sugar                 21.4 g
Protein               1.8 g
Potassium          102 mg
Total Carb           29 mg

Nutritional calculations courtesy of SparkPeople

Monday, March 5, 2012

Saturday Night Dinner

Prosciutto Wrapped Cod, Roasted Asparagus with Black Eyed Peas 
in Lemon Parsley Vinaigrette

Black eyed peas were a must have side dish for every New Years dinner at my house growing up, and  it was said that eating them would bring luck with the New Year.  When I was a kid, black eyed peas weren't my favorite so, as long as I ate at least a spoonful I wouldn't miss out on any of the good fortune.  As I have gotten older, I've come to really love their hearty flavor and make them often with a simple lemon vinaigrette that makes for a fantastic warm black eyed pea side dish to just about any protein.  

For the fish, I was fortunate enough to come across fresh Alaskan Cod which I don't find around here very often unless I take the time to head down town to the fish market.  I had a dish of bacon wrapped halibut a few years ago that was amazing, and because I wanted something a little leaner than bacon chose prosciutto.  A simple seasoning of salt and pepper, a light drizzle of oil then baked in the oven until cooked through and crisp.  Along side, I roasted asparagus with a simple seasoning of salt and pepper.  Absolutely delicious.  

Recipe based on a serving for one

One 5 ounce Alaskan Cod fillet
Two thinly sliced pieces of prosciutto
6 asparagus spears
1/2 cup black eyed peas
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
One lemon
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Rinse and pick through the black eyed peas, cover with water, bring to a boil and cook until tender, about half an hour.  In a bowl, squeeze the juice of a lemon, season with salt and pepper and then whisk in the olive oil until combined.  Drain off the liquid from the black eyed peas, pour into the bowl, top with the chopped parsley then toss until evenly coated in the vinaigrette.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the woody base of the asparagus spears, toss them with about two teaspoons of light oil such as grapeseed or canola, and then put them onto a roasting tray and into the oven.  Lightly drizzle the cod on each side with oil, season with salt and pepper, then wrap with the slices of prosciutto.  Put onto a baking tray and in the oven with the asaparagus.  Bake until cooked through, about 20 minutes.  By this time the asparagus will be tender and the prosciutto crispy.  

That's it.  Super simple, healthy and very tasty.  Enjoy

Thursday, March 1, 2012

REVIEW: Vibrant Flavors Pretzels & Oregon Dukkah

I was recently give the opportunity to review a range of all natural pretzels and regon Dukkah and am excited to share the experience with you.  Vibrant Flavors is an Oregon based company creating new standards in the way of nutritional snacking.  Their mix of non-greasy, flavor packed pretzels and hearty Oregon Dukkah offer a variety of flavors to suit every snacking taste. 

Creator, Donna Dockins, comprised her amazing Pretzels and Oregon Dukkah from all natural, locally sourced ingredients.  It’s not hard to see that quality is top priority from the ingredients, and everything down to the packaging which is produced locally, made from recycled and biodegradable materials, shows care.

There are six flavors of Vibrant Flavors Pretzels chose from Sweet Onion, Italian Herb, Barbeque, Roasted Garlic, Maple Bacon and Beertzel.  Not only are they super crisp, and perfectly toasted but, they are completely fat free which makes them a no brainer for guilt free snacking.  The flavors are deliciously intense and taste just like you're eating the ingredients fresh and as promised they weren’t at all greasy to the touch!  I can definitely see myself snacking on these during work, while out running errands or even just while hanging out at home.

Oregon Dukkah is unlike anything I have ever tried in the way of dips.  Derived from Egypt this combination of nuts and spices is known as a robust dry dip which can also be used in cooking, savory and sweet.  Oregon Dukkah can be enjoyed in so many ways in fact, I am still thinking of ways to incorporate these flavors into everyday recipes.  Keep it traditional and “Do the Dukkah” by dipping bits of bread into extra virgin olive oil and then into the Dukkah for a flavor explosion.  This incredible blend of spices also tastes great mixed into Greek yogurt or sour cream for a tangy dip that works perfectly with Vibrant Flavors pretzels or as the center of a veggie tray, and the sweet flavors makes the perfect dry dips for fruit or toppers for parfaits.

You can order Vibrant Flavor Pretzels & Oregon Dukkah by visiting  The pretzels range in price from $5.99 each for a 2 ounce pouch to $30.59 for a pack of five pouches and the Oregon Dukkah from $7.29 for a two pack to $28.69 for a case of twelve.

Of course I couldn't complete this review without cooking up something tasty so, here is the recipe for a cast iron baked apple crisp I made using the Coconut Oregon Dukkah.

Dukkah Apple Crisp


One packet Coconut Oregon Dukkah
Six granny smith apples
1 tbsp black strap molasses
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup oats
1/4 cup flour
4 tbsp butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel and quarter the granny smith apples.  I prefer mine to have a little bite left over after baking which simply quartering the apples allows but, if you prefer them softer by all means slice them into eigths.  In a bowl, toss the apples with half of the Oregon Dukkah, cinnamon, molasses and vanilla to evenly coat.  Set aside while making the topping.  In a separate bowl, rub the flour and butter together until it resemembles pea sized crumbs just as you would if making a short crust pastry.  Next, add the oats, pecans and the rest of the Oregon Dukkah tossing to evenly mix.  In a cast iron skillet; pour in the apples then evenly distribute the topping to cover, place in the oven and bake until bubby and golden, about 15 minutes.  Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.