Almond Olive Oil Cake With Brown Butter Glaze

Think of this Almond Olive Oil Cake like you would that little black dress in your closet. Dress it up or dress it down and it can go anywhere. Who needs  to serve a many layered cake thick with icing after a big meal, your guests will probably say “just give me a sliver”. This almond cake, on the over hand, is perfect to serve your guests even after a big Italian meal. I know because not one of my guests has turned down a big slice. They even say “yes, please” to a scoop of vanilla bean gelato on the side.

This moist and delicious cake with its touch of citrus is terrific without the toasted almonds and the brown butter glaze topping but don’t skip it. The topping adds a wonderful texture and flavor to the cake just as your favorite necklace is the finishing touch on your little black dress. The cake is not complicated to make and is a real crowd pleaser. To me, it makes the perfect ending to any meal you serve to family or friends…not too fancy but memorable.

Almond Olive Oil Cake With A Brown Butter Glaze

Almond Olive Oil Cake With Brown Butter Glaze

Almond Olive Oil Cake

Preheat the over to 350 degrees

  • 1 c. all purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. almond flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c. plus 1 Tbsp. olive oil (extra virgin but not one that is too peppery)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon or from 1/4 of an orange
  • 1/2 c. orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or other orange liquor (optional)

Grease and flour a 9 inch springform pan and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt until thoroughly combined. Crack the eggs into another mixing bowl and whisk lightly to break the yolks. Add the sugar to the bowl and whisk it in thoroughly for about 30 seconds. Add the olive oil and whisk until the mixture is a little lighter in color and has thickened slightly, about 30 – 45 seconds. Whisk in the extracts, zest, orange juice and Grand Marnier, if using. Add the dry ingredients and whisk until the batter is smooth and emulsified, about 30 seconds. Pour the batter into the pan and bake 30 – 45 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through to make sure it browns evenly. The cake is done when it begins to pull away from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove and cool completely on a rack. In the meantime, make the glaze.

Almond Brown Butter Glaze

  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 c. confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. milk
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh lemon juice or to taste
  • 1/2 c. sliced, blanched almonds, toasted and cooled

Melt the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. When the bubbles subside, lower heat and watch the butter carefully, swirling occasionally. When the butter begins to turn a light tan color and smells slightly nutty, remove from the heat and let sit. The butter will continue to darken as it sits. While the butter cools, sift the confectioner’s sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk until completely smooth then slowly whisk in the butter. Taste the glaze and add a few drops of lemon juice at a time to adjust the sweetness to your taste. Stir in the toasted almonds. While still on the cooling rack, spread the glaze over the top and let it drip down the sides. Let it sit until dry and completely set before slicing.

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This cake was inspired by the wonderful pastry chef, Gina DePalma. She left our world much too young but not before sharing many of her wonderful Italian dessert recipes. You will see lots of adaptions of her wonderful recipes on the internet. I decided to share my version of her olive oil cake as I start my sixth year of blogging as a “thank you” to all of you who have been such faithful and loyal friends here at Back Road Journal. Once you try this tasty Italian dessert, you too may think of it as the “little black dress” among your dessert recipes. Take it to a picnic, a backyard BBQ, a pot luck supper, serve it to your friends at a Sunday brunch or even at a romantic dinner party. If you would like to dress it up a little, add a dollop of whipped cream, a scoop of gelato or with some macerated fruit along side. It is a simple Italian dessert and yet it is oh so very delicious.

“Thank you” and come back to visit soon.

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The Best Of Buckhead, Atlanta

Traveling to Atlanta recently for a wedding, my husband and I stayed in the uptown neighborhood of Buckhead, an area of wonderful hotels, top rated restaurants and upscale shopping centers, for a long weekend. The Best Of Buckhead is what I found to be some of best this area has to offer…from where to stay as well as restaurants that should not be missed if you are traveling to the southern city of Atlanta, Georgia.

Located just a thirty minute ride from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport, we chose to stay at the St. Regis Atlanta, a beautiful French Beaux Art designed hotel, as it is within walking distance to restaurants and shopping as well as being convenient for visiting the Governor’s Mansion, the Atlanta History Center and the Swan House. The hotel has a private courtesy car and, when available, can be requested for driving you to other destinations within a two mile radius of the hotel.

The elegantly designed two-story lobby with huge limestone columns, an impressive crystal chandelier, four large fireplaces, and two curved staircases that lead to the Astor Court on the mezzanine level gives you the feel of a grand southern mansion. Only one word comes to mind when describing the St. Regis Atlanta…opulent. It is no wonder that so many movie stars and other famous celebrities have been spotted staying here.

You enter your hotel room through a large entrance foyer that has two closets, a sit-down vanity and a marble topped Nespresso coffee bar. The rooms are beautifully decorated in restful colors with dark wood furnishings and have a large flat screen TV. The marble and tile bathroom is large enough for two people to comfortably use at the same time with its two sink marble topped vanity, a large soaking tub and separate walk in shower.

St. Regis Pool Piazza (Photo: St. Regis)

After a full day of walking around the Buckhead area to shop and have lunch, the colorful resort-style pool is a great place to come back to and relax for a while with a book and enjoy the sun. You can go for a refreshing swim, soak in the jacuzzi or have a snack or enjoy cocktail at the pool side bar. With its outdoor fireplace, the “pool piazza” as it is called, should be a very nice spot to relax almost any season of the year.

The St. Regis Bar With A Large Mural Of Phoenix Rising From The Ashes (Photo: St. Regis)

Friday evening, as we walked into the hotel’s St. Regis Bar and saw the well dressed crowd gathered at the bar, it made us feel that this is “the place” for locals as well as the hotel’s guests to enjoy an evening cocktail in Buckhead. The room has a warm and inviting club like feel with its dark wood paneling, rich colors, comfortable leather seats placed around tables and a large bar that features a striking mural, “Resurgens,” Claude Perreault’s painting depicting Phoenix rising from the ashes of Atlanta.

Large Bronze Sculpture Outside Atlas Restaurant

In the hallways outside the bar and restaurants, the hotel is decorated with beautiful antique pieces of furniture as well as outstanding sculptures, artwork and accessories.

The hotel’s restaurant Atlas is considered by restaurant critics to be one of the best places in Atlanta for upscale American dining and has received many well-earned awards. Whether you are in jeans or dressed to the nines, the servers make you feel welcomed as they show you into this comfortable restaurant with its plastered arched ceilings, high gloss walls and artwork by Picasso, Matisse, van Gogh, Lucian Freud, and Francis Bacon among others set into dining niches that create an ambiance similar to a European supper club. If you haven’t had a drink in the St. Regis Bar before dinner, the restaurant has its own with a display case of fine cognacs and brandies that serves as a divider between the bar and the dining tables.

 

Chef Christopher Grossman, formerly from the famous French Laundry restaurant in Napa, California has created a classic à la carte menu of beautifully prepared dishes featuring seasonal and  locally sourced ingredients. You can dine on such offerings as truffle potato pierogi dumplings or crispy gulf oysters as starters and pan seared rabbit loin or sweet potato agnolotti with Italian sausage as your main course. If you are more inclined to something simpler, there is a freshly ground Wagyu beef burger with fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese served with fries.

Bangkok Station Starter Menu

The best lunch we that we experience while visiting Buckhead was at a Thai restaurant called Bangkok Station where we had the best Thai food we have had in years. Since it was lunch, we ordered the Pearls of Bangkok which included Chicken Satay, Thoong-Thong (crisp rice paper bags filled with yellow curry chicken, peas and corn), Fresh Basil Roll (avocado, basil, purple cabbage and cucumber) and Ka-Nom Jeeb (steamed shrimp and chicken dumplings) from their starter menu. We also ordered Larb Tob (crispy spicy pork meatballs with red onion, chili, scallion, cilantro, lime and roasted jasmine rice powder). Each of the starters came with their own special sauces to complement each dish.  I only wish that the Bangkok Station was in my area of Florida as my husband and I could eat there at least once a week, it is that good.

King + Duke Dining Room (Photo: King + Duke)

Duke + King is just around the corner from the St. Regis and is one of the trendy new  restaurants owned by Ford Fry. It serves lunch and dinner with menu items like a double stacked burger with all the trimmings, a grilled cheese with tomato soup, coal roasted onion soup, roasted chicken with corn muffins and grilled flatiron steaks served with tomato chimichurri and fries. We went there late on a Sunday morning to try out their brunch menu. Everyone seems to start with their donuts but we went with a southern inspired pork theme for starters. We tried  their house made biscuits with country ham and honey, deviled eggs with Mangalitsa ham and chives and pimento cheese with crispy ham and pepper jelly on crostini. We also had a special of the day which was a lamb Benedict and salads with shaved vegetables.

For our last evening in Buckhead, we had dinner at another of Ford Fry’s restaurants called St. Cecilia, that has received accolades from all over the country for its design and wonderful coastal Italian menu of handmade pastas, roasted seafood as well as a seafood raw bar. It’s a large open space that is decorated with recycled wood, white and black tile and a large white marble crudo bar as its centerpiece. Floor to ceiling glass windows, leather banquettes, brass accents and large dome lighting give it a clean, modern feel. I had made reservations weeks in advance because of one particular item on the menu…the wood grilled octopus with pickled spring vegetables, citrus, baby mizuna and spring peas. It was a dish I knew my husband would have to order. He did and  enjoyed it saying that the dish certainly did live up to its wonderful reviews.

Wood Grill Octopus, Pickled Spring Vegetables, Citrus, Baby Mizuna And Spring Peas (Photo: St. Cecilia)

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Buckhead Neighborhood Of Atlanta (Photo: St. Regis)

Whether you are visiting Atlanta on business or pleasure, I believe that you would enjoy staying in Buckhead with its many wonderful hotels and restaurants. If you are looking for gracious southern charm and hospitality along with good food, I believe that Buckhead offers some of the best options for dining and accommodations in Atlanta. Even though my visit was short, it made for a memorable trip. I hope that you get a chance to experience all that it has to offer as well.

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Roasted Corn And Caramelized Onion Quesadilla

Who can resist an oozy, gooey cheese quesadilla? This simple Mexican creation is the ultimate finger food that makes a great snack but it is also is perfect for quick and tasty lunch or dinner. My roasted corn and caramelized onion quesadilla…crispy golden brown tortillas with a filling of melted pepper jack cheese, roasted corn and caramelized sweet onions, may take a little longer to put together but I believe the result is worth it. The sweet flavor of roasted corn and caramelized onions in this quesadilla will put a smile on your face after the first bite.

Caramelized Onion And Roasted Corn Quesadillas

Roasted Corn And Caramelized Onion Quesadillas

Cooking a quesadilla (think about a grilled cheese sandwich) is about as simple as it gets and you don’t really require a recipe. All you need are some flour tortillas, a couple of handfuls of your favorite soft grated cheese and oil for brushing. If you would like to be more creative, you are only limited by your imagination. The possibilities are endless on what kinds of cheese, veggies or proteins you add to the quesadilla.

Roasted Corn And Caramelized Onion Quesadilla

Serves 1 or 2, adjust the recipe accordingly

  • 1/2 c. corn kernels
  • 1 tsp. oil plus more for brushing tortillas
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/8 tsp. cumin
  • 1 c. shredded cheese, such as a sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack
  • 2 (9 inch) flour tortillas (I like to use Chi Chi’s flour and corn tortillas)
  • a handful of chopped cilantro, optional
  • pico de gallo and guacamole, optional

Heat a skillet over medium high heat and add the corn. Cook stirring frequently until the corn is slightly charred. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the oil to the pan and when hot, add the onion, season with salt, pepper and cumin. Cook, stirring occasionally over medium heat until soft and golden brown. Remove from the pan and add to the corn and mix until combined.

Brush one side of a tortilla with oil and place in a skillet. Sprinkle with half the cheese, add the corn and caramelized onion mixture and then add the remaining cheese. Brush the remaining tortilla with a little oil and place oiled side up on top of the cheese. Cook until the bottom tortilla is brown, about five minutes, then carefully turn the quesadilla over using a large spatula and cook until the bottom tortilla is brown. Remove to a cutting board and cut into quarters. Serve with pico de gallo, guacamole and chopped cilantro as a garnish.

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Roasted Corn And Caramelized Onion Quesadilla Served With Guacamole And Pico de Gallo

When you have a busy day and want something simple, this is a Mexican treat I think you would enjoy. If you are planning a Cinco de Mayo celebration, this flavorful meatless dish would be perfect as part of a large Mexican buffet as well. Served with a rich, creamy guacamole and pico de gallo, it will have your thinking about sunny Mexico. Add a chilled Margherita and you are ready for a Mexican fiesta. Olé!

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Korean Barbecue Beef

A night out at a Korean restaurant with friends usually means that someone is going to order bulgogi. It is Korean Barbecue Beef, cooked on a small charcoal hibachi grill right at the table and shared with the entire group. This dish can easily be prepared at home if you don’t happen to have a Korean restaurant in your neighborhood.

Thinly sliced rib eye steak is marinated for a short period of time in a sweet and spicy sauce then quickly cooked on an outdoor grill over high heat. The end result is tender pieces of beef that are a little charred and caramelized on their edges, with the same amazing flavors you would get at a Korean restaurant.

Korean Barbecue Beef

The one ingredient you must have for this dish is gochujang. Gochujang is a dark red, spicy and slightly sweet Korean condiment based on hot chili peppers and fermented soybeans that is used in soups, sauces and marinades. I found it at my local grocery store alongside other hot sauces but you may also find it on the international aisle, in most Asian markets and on Amazon. The brand I used (Annie Chun’s) is a sauce but I’ve also seen it sold as a paste. If you have several brands to choose from, read the ingredients as some have cane sugar as one of the first ingredients and they can be very sweet. Always taste and adjust amounts called for in any recipe according to how hot and sweet the particular brand of gochujang you might be using.

Korean Barbecue Beef

Serves 2, adjust the recipe accordingly

  • 1/2 – 3/4 lb. thinly sliced, well marbled rib eye steak or other tender beef (ask your butcher to slice it about 1/4 inch thick)
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. gochujang, depending on taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 2 Tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. white wine
  • 1 Tbsp. peanut oil
  • 2 Tbsp. sesame oil

Place beef in a baking dish and sprinkle both sides with the brown sugar and let sit for 10 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the Korean BBQ sauce by placing all the remaining ingredients in a processor or blender and pulse a few times until smooth (makes 2/3 cup). Pour half of the sauce over the beef, turning to coat both sides well, refrigerate and let marinate 30 minutes to an hour. (Since the beef is very thin, it doesn’t take long for the flavor to penetrate but it can be marinated overnight for additional flavor).

Prepare your grill for direct cooking over high heat (450° to 550°F). When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Drain the marinade from the beef and discard the marinade. Place the beef on the hot grate with the lid open and cook until they are nicely brown, about 1 to 2 minutes a side. I have an infra-red sizzle side burner and it only took 30 seconds on each side to have perfectly cooked meat. Since the meat is so thin, I suggest cutting one piece of the beef in half and cooking to see how your particular grill cooks the beef before cooking the rest. You want to make sure you don’t over cook the meat.

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I served the Korean barbecue beef with rice, sautéed baby bok choy, and a pickled carrot salad. The remainder of the BBQ sauce with served at the table  along with kimchi. I have also prepared another version of the barbecue beef, this time topped with sliced scallions, cilantro rice and sautéed sesame snow peas. Both dinners were delicious.

Korean BBQ Beef

If you like and use sriracha sauce, I think you should search out the Korean condiment gochujang and try the Korean BBQ sauce. I’ve prepared it several times for grilling both beef and chicken…the sugar gives a slight sweetness that caramelizes during the time over the fire and it has just the right amount of saltiness and heat that we all enjoy when eating barbecue.

Happy grilling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tiny Tropical Paradise

Tropical blue, lime green, sunny yellow, sizzling orange, hot pink, bright red, and vivid purple are all colors found in my tiny corner of a tropical paradise. Florida can give you a feeling that you are living in a bright, Technicolor movie. It is all about bold colors along with various shades and textures of green everywhere you look.

My little corner of paradise has evolved over the last year and a half so let me start at the beginning of this story.  My husband and I decided to sell our thirteen acre farm with three hundred apple trees and a large antique colonial home and retire to Florida where there would be no more snow to shovel, no trees to prune, apples to pick, or mowing for days on end…I think you can get the picture.

We flew down to Florida and after much looking found the last lot available in a gated community in Vero Beach on which to build our new home and we were delighted. Looking at it from the street, it looked perfect. The builder gave us the option of several models that could be built on the lot, just not the one we loved as it was too wide and too long. We were downsizing, after all, so we picked a new model, signed a contract and things were put in motion.

Click on any photo to enlarge.

Once the surveyors sited where our house would sit on the property, the lot didn’t look nearly as big. After the house was under construction we found that we would have almost no backyard at all. The Areca palms that lined the back of the property were now almost touching the house so they had to be removed. This made the area behind the house look a little bigger but there still wouldn’t be much of a yard. After the removal of the back row of palms, a drainage swale became visible so as the saying goes, “you win some, you lose some.” The builder would be doing some landscaping and that should help or so we thought. Actually he only planted grass in the tiny backyard.

We bought furniture, moved in and started our new life in sunny, warm Florida. Perfect or so you would think. No more snow and cold and someone else was taking care of our yard but when you walked into our open concept home, the first thing you noticed was the large sliding glass doors in our great room and the ugly view of our backyard.

Click on  any photo to enlarge.

It has been a challenge trying to make the most of the little outdoor space but with the help of landscaper Jennifer Bevins of Construction Landscape we have created a tiny backyard oasis. Over the course of eight months since we started our landscaping project, the plantings have had to handle hurricane Matthew and a very dry and warmer than normal winter. Some of the plants struggled from wind damage and some didn’t do well because of too much or not enough sun, so plantings were moved and new ones have been recently added.

Click on any photo to enlarge.

While Vero Beach is considered the beginning of the tropics in Florida, we still get winters where temperatures go down into the low thirties with an occasional threat of frost so the tropical plants that we decided on had to be hardy. The gardens are now filled with beautiful tropical plantings in a wide range of colors and texture.

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

Varying shades of lush greens and unique foliage are punctuated with bold pops of color from bougainvillea and hibiscus blossoms. With the coming summer rains and another mild winter, by next year we should soon have a beautiful but tiny tropical oasis.

A Large Triangle Palm Is Now The Focal Point From The Great Room And Lanai

Have you ever taken on a landscape project that transformed your yard? If you are thinking of creating a backyard oasis, I hope this will give you some ideas.

View Of The Gardens From The Lanai

Just remember to plant lush layers of interesting green foliage and bright colors that you enjoy. I know our gardens will continue to evolve over the years and I’ll be sure to share any updates. We are very  happy that we did this major landscaping project and we now love the view from both the great room and from out on the lanai.

Happy Gardening

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Moroccan Tagine of Lamb With Prunes

Moroccan Tagine of Lamb With Prunes is a dish of tender chunks of lamb that are braised with a blend of spices, along with dried prunes and orange peel, that create an aromatic stew that’s packed with both sweet and savory flavors. Traditionally, it is slowly braised in a heavy cone-shaped, earthenware vessel called a tagine in a bed of coals but my dish is gently simmered in an ordinary pot on the stove top until the meat is so tender that it falls apart with a touch of a fork.

Lamb Stew With Prunes, A Traditional Moroccan Tagine

Lamb Stew With Prunes, A Traditional Moroccan Tagine

Lamb Stew With Prunes, A Traditional Moroccan Tagine

Serves 4, adjust the recipe accordingly

  • 2 – 3 lb. of well trimmed boneless shoulder or leg of lamb cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 – 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • peel from 1 orange, cut into bite size pieces
  • about 5 sprigs of fresh cilantro (coriander), tied into a bundle with kitchen string
  • 3 tsp. ras el hanout*
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 c. beef broth
  • a pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp. ginger
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper or to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt to taste
  • 12 soft dried pitted prunes, cut into halves

If you can’t find the spice ras el hanout and would like to make your own, my friend Victoria, at Flavors of the Sun has a recipe for her version which is a good one.

Place the lamb in a bowl along with the olive oil, garlic, orange peel, cilantro and the ras el hanout and mix well. Marinate the lamb in the refrigerator for several hours then bring to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

Place the lamb into a heavy bottomed pot (retain the garlic, orange peel and cilantro for later) and brown on all sides, do not overcrowd and cook in several batches, if necessary, then set aside. Add the onion to the pot and cook until translucent, stirring up all the brown bits. Add the lamb back to the pot along with the retained garlic, orange peel and cilantro and cook for a minute. Add broth to just cover the meat and stir well. Bring to a boil then immediately reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook until the lamb is tender, about 2 to 3 hours. Check from time to time, adding a little more broth or water, if needed. Once the lamb is tender, remove the meat to a bowl, cover and keep warm. Discard the cilantro, taste the sauce and see if you need to adjust the seasoning. Add the prunes to the sauce, return the pot to the stove and cook until they are very soft and the sauce has thicken slightly. Return the lamb to the pot and heat until warm.

If you are lucky enough to own a tagine, you could cook your meal in it or transfer the stew into it for a lovely presentation. Serve toasted sliced almonds, chopped apricots, dates or raisins as condiments. If you prefer a spicy stew, you could also serve this dish with a small bowl of harissa (a spicy Moroccan hot sauce)  for added heat and flavor.

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Tagines are traditionally served with couscous or pieces of warm flatbread used to scoop up the meat and juices. I served mine with a Vegetable Couscous.

Couscous, A Savory Side Dish

This slow simmered stew is loaded with flavors typical of North African cooking. Braised at a low temperature, the lamb cooks in a rich, flavorful sauce until it becomes tender and succulent. The wonderful spices are also soaked up by the prunes and they in turn add a delicious sweetness to the stew.

If you lived in Morocco, you could buy your spices in the morning at one of the colorful markets, then go home and prepare your favorite version of this stew in your tagine. While my recipe may not be considered traditional, as it is not prepared in that famous piece of cookware, it is nonetheless delicious and my kitchen was filled with wonderful aromas while it cooked. This is a great dish that is perfect for entertaining. When it was served to our dinner guests recently, there wasn’t a mouthful left over.

 

 

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Couscous, A Savory Side Dish

Couscous, a savory dish made with tiny pasta like grains originating in North Africa, has now become a popular side dish throughout much of the world. Here in America, you can usually find boxes of instant couscous on the shelves at most local grocery stores. It can be simply prepared in a pot of water with a little oil and be on the table in five minutes.

A Savory Side Dish Of Vegetable Couscous With Chick Peas, Raisins And Almonds

The easy recipe that I am sharing with you is more flavorful than the recipe that appears on the box and takes a little longer to prepare but it is worth it. The couscous is steamed in a savory spiced chicken stock, then fluffed with cooked vegetables, chick peas, raisins and almonds…delicious alone or topped with a stew of vegetables, chicken or meat. I served this couscous topped with a Moroccan lamb stew (recipe to be shared soon).

If you serve the couscous as a side dish with a simple rotisserie chicken, you might want to enhance the flavors by adding additional spices such as garlic, ginger, turmeric, paprika or a little harissa if you want something spicy. You could also add figs, apricots, olives, or preserved lemons to the couscous.

The recipe can easily be made into a vegetarian meal by simply replacing the chicken stock with a vegetable broth, the butter with olive oil and adding additional vegetables such as sweet potato, carrot, turnip or eggplant. As you can see, it is a very versatile dish that can be adapted to the meal you are serving.

Moroccan Style Couscous, A Savory Side Dish

Vegetable Couscous With Chick Peas, Raisins And Almonds

Serves 4 to 6

  • 4 c. chicken stock (vegetable broth may be substituted)
  • a pinch of saffron, crumbled (if saffron is not available, a 1/4 tsp. of turmeric can be used to give the couscous a nice color)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil, more as needed
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 c. butternut squash, cubed
  • 2 c. yellow or green zucchini, cubed
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 1 8 oz. can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 10 oz. box plain couscous (I used Near East)
  • 1/4 c. golden raisins (plumped in 1 Tbsp. water)
  • 1/4 c. toasted sliced almonds
  • a sprig or two of fresh mint, chopped for garnish (optional)

In a medium pot, bring the chicken stock, saffron, cumin, cinnamon, salt, pepper, oil and butter to a boil. Reduce heat, add the butternut squash and simmer until almost tender. Add the onion, zucchini, and chickpeas and simmer until all the vegetables are tender.  Remove the vegetables with a strainer and place in a bowl. Measure out two cups of stock, reserve the remaining stock for later. Place the two cups of stock back into the pot, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary then bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover and remove from the heat. Let sit covered for 10 minutes until all the stock has been absorbed.

Take a fork and scrape the couscous onto a large baking pan, breaking up any clumps. When the couscous is cool enough to handle, fluff (I like to use my hands as you can separate the grains better). Add the reserved vegetables, raisins, and almonds then mix and fluff the couscous once more. Moisten the couscous with up to a cup of the reserved stock. To serve, heap the couscous onto a platter or into large bowl and garnish with the chopped mint.

Bring to the table and serve with any remaining stock alongside the couscous. If serving with a stew, you can create a hole in the center of the couscous and place some of the meat and vegetables in the middle and serve the remainder of the stew on the side with additional accompaniments such as harissa, dried fruits or nuts.

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While this recipe for couscous takes more than five minutes compared to the recipe on a box of instant couscous, the flavor is definitely worth the extra time. If you would like another easy couscous recipe to serve as a side dish, you might want to try my recipe for couscous with dried fruits, raisins and pistachios.

Couscous With Dried Fruit And Pistachios

Tell me dear readers, do you have a box of couscous in your pantry and what is your favorite way of preparing it? If not, you should buy a box of instant couscous and try it soon. You will then find out why it is such a versatile and popular side dish.

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Spinach And Cheese Stuffed Shells With Two Sauces

Spinach And Three Cheese Stuffed Shells are baked with two sauces, both a marinara as well as a light Alfredo sauce, until hot and bubbly. It’s the perfect dish to serve at a large gathering as the shells can to assembled ahead of time and baked right before serving. However, the stuffed pasta shells are so tasty that you might not want to wait for a party and instead, serve them to your family over the weekend.

Spinach And Ricotta Stuffed Shells With Two Sauces

Spinach And Cheese Stuffed Shells With Two Sauces

What makes this stuffed pasta recipe so good? Fresh baby spinach sautéed in olive oil and garlic gives a real flavor boost to the creamy three cheese filling. It is then baked with both a homemade marinara sauce as well as a light Alfredo sauce, then garnished with diced fresh tomatoes and fresh basil just before going to the table.

Spinach And Cheese Stuffed Shells With Two Sauces

Serves 4, allowing 3 shells per person so adjust the recipe accordingly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Marinara Sauce

  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 oz. can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

Heat oil in a sauté pan and cook the garlic until it becomes fragrant and just starts to turn golden. Add the crushed tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Let the sauce simmer for 10 minutes. Keep warm.

Light Alfredo Sauce

  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  • 4 Tbsp. Wondra flour (quick dissolving finely milled flour) or all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 c. milk, warmed (more if needed)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 c. Locatelli Romano cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a saucepan then whisk in the flour, stirring constantly for about two minutes. Slowly add the warmed milk and continue to stir until the sauce is thickened and smooth. Add the cheese, salt and pepper and cook for about three minutes more. If sauce is too thick, thin with a little extra milk. Keep warm, with a piece of plastic wrap over the sauce so a skin doesn’t form.

Spinach And Ricotta Stuffed Shells

  • Jumbo pasta shells (allow about 3 per person plus a couple extra for breakage)
  • 1 bag (10 – 16 oz.) fresh baby spinach, chopped OR 1 c. frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and with all the moisture squeezed out
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 lb. ricotta cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 c. shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 3 Tbsp. grated Locatelli Romano cheese or Parmesan
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 plum tomatoes, skinned, seeded and cut into dice (optional)
  • fresh basil leaves, torn and a couple of whole leaves for presentation (optional)

Cook the shells according to package directions, drain and toss with a drizzle of olive oil to keep from sticking. Sauté the garlic until soft then add the spinach and cook until wilted. Let cool, then place in a bowl and mix in the three cheeses, nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary then add the beaten egg and mix well. Pour about a 1/2 to 3/4 cup (depending on size of dish) of marinara sauce into the bottom of a 8 x 8 or 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Stuff each shell carefully with a heaping tablespoon or so of the cheese mixture (try not to overfill the shells as the pasta might tear) then line up in the baking dish. Pour over half of the Alfredo sauce, cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and bake for about 10 minutes more until bubbly and just starting to brown. Remove from the oven and let rest for five minutes before serving.

Serve this meal family style right out of the baking dish or plate it as I did with a little extra tomato sauce on the bottom of each plate, top with the shells, add an extra spoon of  the Alfredo sauce and then garnish with chopped tomatoes and fresh basil. Serve any remaining sauces at the table.

*Can be prepared in stages ahead of time and then baked right before serving. Prepare up to the point of it going into the oven then top with parchment paper and wrap in foil and place in the refrigerator until you are ready to put it into the oven, just add a little extra cooking time. The shells can also be stuffed, placed loosely on a baking sheet and placed in the freezer until frozen. Then pack the frozen shells into freezer bags and freeze until you are ready to prepare a meal. If you are only making this for a few people, you can use individual gratin dishes for a pretty presentation. *Note: If you are freezing this dish, do not freeze the assembled recipe in aluminum foil containers as the acid in the tomatoes will react with the aluminum and can eat holes in the foil.

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Whether making the spinach and ricotta stuffed shells for just two or a large gathering of friends, I believe you will all agree that the two sauces and the topping of fresh tomatoes and basil make this one of the best stuffed pasta recipes you’ve eaten…at least I hope so. All that is needed to complete the meal is a crisp green salad, crusty bread and your favorite bottle of wine and you will have a happy group of people at your dinner table. Buon Appetito!

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Mini Baklava Cups

We all know bite size desserts are irresistibly good and I believe you are going to love these crispy little two bite Mini Baklava Cups. With their crisp, tissue thin layers of pastry topped with chopped mixed nuts coated in a lemony honey syrup, it will be hard for you to eat just one of these delicious mini nut cups.

Mini Baklava Cups

Mini Baklava Cups

If you are like me and invite friends over for a spur of the moment dinner, you more than likely will want to serve something sweet at the end of the meal. Fruit, ice cream or a store bought cake or pie are an easy option but they don’t offer much in the way of imagination. These tasty mini baklava cups are simple to prepare and serve, making them perfect for the your last minute meal yet they are pretty enough to serve at your fanciest of dinner parties. Your family and guests are going to love these little bite size morsels of crunchy sweetness…so much so, that you might want to double or even triple the recipe.

Mini Ballava Cups Are So Delicious That You Will Want To Double Or Triple The Recipe

Mini Baklava Cups Are So Delicious That You Will Want To Double Or Triple The Recipe

Mini Baklava Cups

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Makes 15 cups, adjust the recipe according

  • 1 pkg. mini fillo shells (I used Athens)
  • 1 c. chopped nuts (I used pistachio, pecan and almond)
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Syrup

  • 3 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice

In a small sauce pan, heat honey, butter, zest and cinnamon over low heat just until butter melts. Add the nuts and mix well. Spoon the nut mixture into each shell. Place on a foil lined baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes until nuts are lightly toasted.

Combine syrup ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until the mixture becomes syrupy. Cool slightly and pour a spoonful of warm syrup over each shell, let soak in a minute and then repeat. Refrigerate the filled shells for about an hour for the syrup to thicken. Remove the shells at least 15 minutes before serving.

Stored in an airtight container, they stay crunchy for a few days if they last that long.

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While true baklava only has a few ingredients, it is time consuming and it can be tedious working with the delicate phyllo (also spelled fillo) dough . Instead of making a large tray of baklava, why don’t you try these yummy bite size treats that even a novice cook can put together quickly. Delicate cups of flaky pastry filled with chopped nuts and warm honey, they are simply irresistable. I believe that you will enjoy the lemon component in this dessert as it nicely offsets the sweetness of the honey, giving them a tantalizing flavor that is found in many Mediterranean desserts.

 

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Salmon With Sorrel Sauce

Salmon With Sorrel Sauce is a legendary French dish that pairs a citrusy, creamy sauce with salmon. Sorrel, a tender acidic green herb, has a bright and slightly tart flavor, similar to a lemon or a sour green apple. It cuts both the richness of the sauce and the salmon just the way a white wine like a Sancerre goes so nicely served with the meal.

Salmon With Sorrel Sauce, A True Classic

Salmon With Sorrel Sauce, A True Classic

Salmon With Sorrel Sauce

Serves two, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 c. dry white wine
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 1 bunch sorrel leaves, washed, dried and stemmed
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 2 salmon filets 4 – 6 oz. each, skinned
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. oil, just enough to coat the pan
  • salt and white pepper to taste

Combine the shallots and wine in a saucepan and cook over medium high heat until the wine has become syrupy. Add the cream and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain the sauce and return to the pan. Tear the sorrel into small pieces and add to the cream. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, then simmer briefly just a minute or two (sorrel starts to turn dark if cooked too long). Remove from the heat and keep warm.

Season the salmon with salt and pepper just on the presentation side (skinned side). Heat a nonstick sauté pan over medium hight heat, when hot add the oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, place the salmon presentation side (skinned side) down in the hot oil and sauté for about 4 minutes until the fish is well browned. Turn the salmon over and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, until just cooked through. Plate the salmon and top with some of the sorrel sauce.

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When I came across some young, tender sorrel at our local farmer’s market, I knew exactly what I wanted to cook with it…the legendary Saumon à l’oseille that was made popular by the three star Michelin French chef Pierre Troigros. Chef Troigros served his salmon sliced very thin and presented on top of the sorrel sauce. My recipe is much less elegant and more typical of what you would find at a French bistro.

A few tips to share if you are going to prepare this recipe. It took longer to cook the sides of boiled baby Yukon gold potatoes and a stuffed tomato than it did to prepare the salmon and sauce so keep that in mind if preparing this recipe.  If you like creamed spinach, think of sorrel sauce as its very refined cousin. However, if sorrel is not available, you could substitute a bunch of fresh spinach leaves and add a little extra lemon juice for something with a similar flavor, just not quite as complex. This lemony flavored sauce pairs well with most fish but salmon is the most popular. The sauce is so good that you could easily enjoy spoonfuls by itself but save enough for this salmon dish or perhaps to top some sliced roast chicken and you will be rewarded for your restraint.

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