Thursday, November 29, 2012

Poached Pear and Tapenade Sandwiches

We are now one week past Thanksgiving. All of my leftovers have been consumed (or never will be), and I’m happy to have them gone. As much as I love the Thanksgiving meal, I don’t usually want to eat any leftovers past the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. By Sunday, I’m ready for something completely different. I want something light and fresh. This Poached Pear and Tapenade Sandwich satisfied my craving for something different.

I had a similar sandwich when I attended a meeting up in San Francisco, except the sandwich there had fresh figs in it. By the time I went to recreate the sandwich, there were no fresh figs in the market. I wasn’t going to let a missing ingredient stop me, so I substituted poached pears for the figs, and I’m glad I did. I actually liked the poached pears better than the figs.

The sandwich is the perfect combination of salty and sweet with the fresh mozzarella adding a delicious creaminess. The arugula was my addition. I added it not only for color, but also for its peppery depth.

To make this sandwich for a crowd, you can slice the baguette open and fill it up, or you can cut the baguette into slices and layer the toppings on the bread for a great appetizer.

Poached Pear and Tapenade Sandwiches
Printable Recipe
1 baguette, sliced in half lengthwise
Tapenade (recipe follows)
Poached pears (recipe follows)
16 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
1 ½ cups arugula

To assemble the sandwiches, spread a generous amount of the tapenade on the bottom half of the sliced baguette. Add the sliced mozzarella, poached pears and arugula. Place the top of the baguette over the sandwich filling and slice crosswise into single serving sized sandwiches.

2 cups kalamata olives, pitted
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper

In the bowl of a food processor, add the olives, thyme, garlic and process until the olives are finely chopped. Add the olive oil and process until smooth.

Poached Pears
adapted from
4 pears, peeled, cored and sliced ½ thick
1 ½ cups red wine
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a medium saucepan, bring the wine, sugar, honey, lemon juice, vanilla and cinnamon to a boil, add the pears and cook until softened, about 20-25 minutes. Cool completely.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m going to have to wish you a happy Thanksgiving quickly this year.  I’m actually hosting Thanksgiving. I think this will be only the second time I have ever hosted Thanksgiving. Lynn likes to host, and I like being a guest for this particular holiday, so it’s always worked out. We are struggling with a couple empty chairs this year, so we decided to change things up a bit. My daughter is having Thanksgiving in Montana with a lovely family. I’m sure she is going to enjoy herself, but I’m going to miss her! And, we will all miss having my dad at the table.

Lynn will be over in a couple of hours, and I’m going to put the turkey in the oven shortly. Last night, while I was doing some prep work, I wanted to bake something (part of my baking therapy I'm sure).  Lynn is bringing a couple of pies, so I didn’t want to add another dessert. Les suggested I bake something for breakfast.

I decided to bake this Pumpkin-Pecan Coffee Cake. I love the original coffee cake recipe, but I wanted experiment with adding pumpkin to it. I love this Pumpkin-Pecan Coffee Cake even more than the original. The coffee cake is sweet, moist and flavorful! I especially like the crumb crust this coffee cake has. Happy Thanksgiving!  

Pumpkin-Pecan Coffee Cake 
Adapted from Southern Living’s Our Best-Ever Cakes & Pies
Printable Recipe
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
pinch of salt
¾ cup butter, cubed
1 cup pumpkin puree
¼ cup sour cream
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
dash of freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a 9x13-baking pan with cooking spray.

Stir together the flour, brown sugar and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry blender or two forks until the mixture is crumbly. Remove 2 ¼ cups of the butter and flour mixture, and press it evenly into the bottom of the prepared baking pan.

In a small bowl, stir together the pumpkin, sour cream, egg and baking soda. Add pumpkin mixture to the remaining crumb mixture and stir until just moistened. Pour the pumpkin mixture on top of the crumb crust in the baking pan.

Stir together the granulated sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture and pecans on top of the pumpkin mixture.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Serve.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cherry-Lime Cream Mini Scones


I read an article about scones in Slate’s You’re Doing It Wrong column. How are we doing it wrong you ask? I think it’s, as always with food, a matter of taste. English scones, the article says, are more like a baking powder biscuit, while our Americanized version of scones are much too sweet and full of excesses (my wording). The scones I’ve had in English teahouses are light and flakey, and I think they are delicious (though I’m really more fond of cucumber sandwiches). I’m not sure I’m ready to weigh in as to which is better, but I found the article interesting since I had just made a couple batches of these Cherry-Lime Scones.

The only thing these Cherry-Lime Scones have in common with traditional English scones (besides the name) is the texture. These scones are light and fluffy and remind me of the English scones I’ve had in the past, but once you get past the texture everything changes. Cherry-Lime Cream Scones are very flavorful with the sweet dried cherries, tart lime zest and lime glaze. You won’t need jam or clotted cream with these scones, since they are tasty in their own right. So, sit down, grab a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy a couple of these Cherry-Lime Cream Mini Scones.  

Cherry-Lime Cream Mini Scones
Printable Recipe
Adapted from Baking At Home from The Culinary Institute of America
½ cup granulated sugar
3 ¾ cups bread flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons table salt
2 tablespoons grated lime zest, separated
1 ½ cups dried cherries, chopped
2 ½ cups chilled heavy cream, plus 2 tablespoons
1 large egg
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice

Combine the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, and mix until combined, about 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon of lime zest and the cherries, and blend until combined. Mix in the 2 ½ cups of cream at medium speed until just combined. Don’t over mix.

Divide the mixture into two equal portions and pat out on a lightly floured surface into two 10x4 inch rectangles. Cut the dough rectangle in half lengthwise, and then cut the dough crosswise into four equal portions. Cut each of the eight rectangles diagonally into triangles. Repeat with other portion of dough. You should have 32 mini scones

Place the dough rectangles on a baking sheet and cover tightly with plastic wrap and freeze until solid, at least 4 hours. Once solid, scones can be place in a freezer bag, and can be kept in the freezer for up to 4 weeks.

Preheat the oven to 350°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the frozen scones on a baking sheet at least 2 inches apart.

Whisk the egg and 2 tablespoons of heavy cream, and brush the mixture on the frozen scones. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Let the scones cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, and then remove them to a wire rack on top of a baking sheet. Let the scones cool completely, about 1 hour. Mix powder sugar, 1 tablespoon of lime zest and limejuice. Dip the top of the scones in the glaze and place back on the wire rack. Let the glaze set and serve.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mushroom Casserole

I’m in denial that it’s November already. My daughter has been sending me snow pictures from Montana, so I’m having a hard time staying in my happy place where it is still summer, my daughter is home, and we are swimming and eating outside. And, to make matters worse for my state of denial, we set our clocks back last week. A sure sign of the changing season.
I’ve always had a hard time when we change the clocks back. While I do like the extra light in the mornings, I don’t like it getting dark so early, and I really don’t like feeling I’m late for everything. My body clock must be really tuned into the sun.

To counteract the panic I always feel trying to get dinner on the table the first week of the time change, I decided to make a couple of meals on Sunday (when I had an extra hour) to get a jump start on the weeknights ahead.

One of the dinner’s I made on Sunday was adapted from Rachel Ray’s Week in a Day. I’ve made other recipes from her show, and they were successful with my family. I saw Rachel make this mushroom casserole while I was visiting my daughter in Montana. It looked so delicious; I wanted to try it when I got home.

I made a couple of changes to the recipe, but the main change was to take out the milk from the polenta. I like this polenta recipe, and if you want to make the casserole vegan, you can easily do it by omitting the cheese.

Les and I loved this casserole. My son ate it, but it wasn’t his favorite. The mushrooms were rich and meaty, and with the polenta and cheese topping it, the casserole was a filling and satisfying meal. Mushroom Casserole would be a good dish to make during the holidays for your vegetarian friends.

Mushroom Casserole
Adapted from Rachael Ray’s Week in a Day
Printable Recipe
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
1 package dried porcini mushrooms, about 2/3 cup
24 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 carrot, finely diced
1 onion, chopped
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup Marsala wine
1 cup stone ground whole grain polenta (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
½ cup parmesan cheese, optional
1 cup shredded smoked mozzarella, optional

In a small pot, add the porcini mushrooms and 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer to reconstitute the mushrooms, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and set the mushrooms and water aside.

While the dried mushrooms are cooking, heat the ¼ cup olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the crimini mushrooms, and cook until browned and tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme, carrots and onions, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook for 7 to 8 minutes, stirring often. Add the Marsala to deglaze the pan. Add the reconstituted dried mushroom and the mushroom cooking liquid, making sure not to pour in the grit from the bottom of the pot. Transfer the mushroom mixture to a 10-12 inch casserole dish.

While the mushrooms are cooking, whisk the polenta into 2 cups of water in a small bowl. In a large saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add the soaked polenta whisking to combine, and add 1½ teaspoons of salt. Stir the polenta often, and cook until the polenta is thickened, smooth and fully cooked, about 20 to 25 minutes. Add warm water if the polenta thickens too quickly. Stir in the olive oil, parmesan cheese (if using) and ½ teaspoon pepper.

Spoon the polenta over the mushrooms in the casserole dish. Top with the smoked mozzarella (if using). Cover the casserole with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese is brown and the casserole is bubbly, 10 to 15 minutes more.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Black Bean and Corn Tacos

As you know, back in February, my family gave up meat and dairy during Lent. And, for the most part, we did well. Okay, I’m not counting the trip my daughter and I took to Montana for a college visit. We had a difficult time staying vegan (we could manage vegetarian, but vegan was hard).

It felt good going without meat and dairy. I had more energy and I lost weight! My family rose to the vegan challenge. We tried new food, ate more fruits and vegetable and opened ourselves up to a new way of eating, and I’m glad we did it!

We did not remain vegan after Lent, but going without meat and dairy for six weeks allowed us to lose our cravings for meat. We are still eating vegetarian 60 to 75 percent of the time.  We have had a harder time giving up dairy.

Black Bean and Corn Tacos are one of the holdouts from our vegan days, and my family loves them. You can serve these tacos with typical taco toppings, or you can keep them vegan by serving them with thinly sliced cabbage, cilantro, sliced avocado and a wedge of lime. Try these tacos next time you want a meatless meal.  

Black Bean and Corn Tacos
Printable Recipe
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced (2/3 cup)
4 garlic cloves, diced
2 Tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup vegetable broth
2 14 ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
Juice from one lime

Corn or flour tortillas
thinly sliced cabbage
chopped cilantro
sliced avocado
sliced jalapenos

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large skillet. Add the onion, and cook until softened. Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute, and then add the chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, cayenne pepper and kosher salt and cook until the spices are fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato sauce, broth, black beans and corn and cook until thickened 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the limejuice and serve in tortillas with assorted toppings.


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