Friday, December 30, 2011

Chanterelle and Shitake Mushroom Crostini


With New Years Eve right around the corner, thought it would be great to share a wonderful appetizer with all of you. As many of you know, I have a certain love affair with appetizers. Since I enjoy so many flavors, appetizers are a wonderful way to not over-indulge, by having an array of different flavors along with abundance, especially if you are entertaining with appetizers.


Speaking of entertaining, that is exactly what I am doing tomorrow for New Years Eve. I am hosting a small cocktail party for eight. I think it will be the perfect number of guests – enough to be festive along with the ability to really mingle, eat and enjoy each others company.




I did not want to over do the whole New Years Eve thing, but rather keep it a bit understated with a subtle casual elegance. Guests are encouraged to come dressed comfortable with a bit of stylishness. My goal is for everyone to feel as comfortable as possible in our house and enjoy themselves along with having great conversation and food. It will be a great way to ring in the New Year.

Early this morning before the crowds swooped up all the good New Years Eve goodies, I ran into Party City. I found great top hats for the guys and tiaras for the gals, along with poppers and horns to ring in 2012!

Just in case you might be curious, here is my menu for tomorrow night:

  • Brown Butter Nuts with Rosemary and Thyme
  • Truffle and Parmesan Popcorn
  • Gourgeres
  • Prosciutto Wrapped Prawns with Chimichurri
  • Deviled Eggs with Crab and Srirachi Aioli
  • Crab Cocktails
  • Burrata with Wild Mushroom Pate and Crostini
  • Mini Baked Potatoes with Sour Cream, Chives and Bacon



I am featuring the Chanterelle and Shitake Mushroom Crostini which was an appetizer I made a few weeks ago for a small get together. Thought it would be great to share with all of you and perhaps it might make it onto your New Years Eve appetizer menu.

May all of you have a festive, safe and wonderful New Years! All the best to you in 2012! Cheers!!

Chanterelle and Shitake Mushroom Crostini

4 T. Butter
2 T. Olive Oil
2 Shallots, minced
2 C. Chanterelle Mushrooms, small dice
2 C. Shitake Mushrooms, small dice
1 T. Fresh Thyme leaves, slightly minced
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1 C. Gruyere Cheese, grated
24 Crostini (baguette sliced ½ inch thick and toasted lightly both sides)

In a large skillet, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the shallots and sauté for about 3 to 4 minutes on medium. Add the mushrooms and turn the heat to high. Cook for about 4 to 5 minutes and stir frequently until they are golden brown. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper until desired taste is achieved. Add the fresh thyme and stir. Set aside.

Prepare the Crostini by adding about a tablespoon of the mushroom mixture onto each one. Place onto a cookie sheet and top with about a small pinch of the grated gruyere cheese. Place under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly. Remove and place onto your favorite platter and serve. Enjoy!!






Monday, December 26, 2011

Brown Butter Nuts with Rosemary and Thyme


With Christmas now a recent memory, it is time to think about New Years Eve. Wait – let’s reflect back to Christmas for a few moments. First, it is one of my favorite times of the year. The air is crisp along with a certain happiness running in harmony with the husltle and bustle of the season. Yes, the shopping malls are crowded but that is half the fun. It is the time to gather with family and friends to celebrate the season and be thankful.


Not to break with any tradition, we gathered at my parents house to celebrate Christmas. My hubby and I joined my parents, my sister and her hubby plus my two nephews and her hubby’s twin brother along with my brother and his wife and my other two nephews to celebrate this very special day. With the spotlight on my four adorable nephews, it was all about Mater from the Cars movie, the longstrike from Nerf, xbox 360 games and everything legos.



We enjoyed many laughs, silly jokes, great stories and newly created memories that we can all reflect on for years to come. Unfortunately due to a “spare the air day”, we were unable to enjoy a roaring fire that my Dad traditionally tenders continuously, so instead we had the infamous “yule log” playing on the big screen television. Not quite the same, but none the less, we had our time-honored Christmas fire.



Since I am on vacation, I have been catching up on my recorded Martha Stewart episodes and I was intrigued by a simple spiced nut recipe from chef Thomas Joseph. I have made several spiced nut recipes over the years, but the idea of adding brown butter was simply brilliant. I altered the recipe a bit and thought I would share with all of you to enjoy. This would be a terrific starter for your New Years Eve cocktail party. Happy Holidays!!

Brown Butter Nuts with Rosemary and Thyme

4 C. Pecans
4 C. Cashews
5 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
10 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only, chopped fine
6 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves only, chopped fine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until brown and fragrant, 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat until melted. Continue cooking until butter becomes fragrant and golden brown, taking care not to burn. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together sugar, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, thyme, and rosemary; mix in brown butter. Add nuts and toss to combine. Return nuts to baking sheet and transfer to oven. Bake until nuts are semidry, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

Can be stored for about 2 weeks in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Roasted Beet, Avocado and Grapefruit Salad


If you are looking for a wonderfully refreshing winter salad, then you do not have to look any further.  The Roasted Beet, Avocado and Grapefruit salad will satisfy all of your cravings and be healthy too.  Hubby and I enjoying dining at Ruths Chris every once in while as a treat.  Among our favorite dishes there, is the Ruths Chris Jumbo Chopped Salad that is made of: Julienne iceberg lettuce, baby spinach and radicchio are tossed with red onions, mushrooms, green olives, bacon, eggs, hearts of palm, croutons, bleu cheese, lemon basil dressing and then topped with crispy onions.



Hubby calls it the "canned" salad whenever we go there, since they make it in a mold that resembles a can.  Above is a photo of this delightful salad that is from the Ruths Chris website.  If you have not been to a Ruths Chris, you are in for a super treat.



Devon from Deli-cute-essen who I was paired with a couple months ago for Secret Recipe Club gave me inspiration for this salad. Her Pickled Beet and Grapefruit Salad caught my eye. I made quite a few modifications but wanted to share that my inspiration was from Devon.  I adore the stacked salad and the combination of flavors she put together is amazing. I thought that I would make it with the avocado, grapefruit and beets along with Arugula for a bit of natural spiciness.



Stacked salads are always an impressive dish to serve at a dinner party and will make your guests mouths drop. The possibilities are endless with the ingredients and combinations. You could put a theme spin on each one whether it be Italian, Mexican or Asian.




Roasted Beet, Avocado and Grapefruit Salad

Makes 4 individual salads

4 Large Beets, roasted, peeled and cubed
1 ½ C Grapefruit sections, cut into cubes
2 Avocados, cut in half, pit removed and cubed
2 C. Arugula leaves
½ C. Pine nuts

Dressing

2 T. Grapefruit Juice
2 T. Maple Syrup
¼ t. Cumin
1 T. Olive oil
pinch of salt

Add all ingredients into a small jar and shake well.

To prepare the beets, cut off the hard ends and rub olive oil all over them. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for about 60 minutes at 350 degrees until fork tender. Remove from the oven and let cool. Peel and cube.

To assemble, lay out four rings onto individual plates. Lay the Arugula leaves on the bottom of each of the 4 plates. Using a 3 inch ring, place it on top of the Arugula leaves. Layer each one with the beets then the avocado and finally the grapefruit. Remove the ring and drizzle each one with the dressing. Sprinkle with the pine nuts and top with a few micro greens on top of each one. Enjoy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fig, Feta and Watermelon Salad | Secret Recipe Club


If you have not heard about the Secret Recipe Club, then you are missing out on a fun online cooking club. The idea is that you are paired with a food blogger that you do not know; you select a recipe from their blog, make it and then post it on the reveal day. It is so much fun sees the person who picked a recipe from your blog and how they interpreted it to be their own. To learn more about how to get involved, check out the Secret Recipe Club.

I want to give special kudos to Angela, who is our hostess for Group C - she really helped me out this month!  Thank you Angela!  If you have not visited her site, Big Bears Wife, check it out - you are in for a treat!!




This month I was assigned to Allison from Alli n Son. Allison has a two year old son and is a self proclaimed OCD momma. I can certainly identify with the OCD part, but the only child I have is my four legged furry child named Max. She is an aspiring photographer, gourmet home chef and super creative. This certainly holds true when you browse through her blog.



{ Max who is our 12 year Lhasa Apso }

Quite a few of the recipe looked mouth watering, but one was quite appealing – Watermelon, Feta, Red Onion and Olive Salad. Surprizing enough, small watermelons are still available in one of my markets along with fresh figs. The season should well be over, but living in California, I guess we are blessed with wonderful produce.




















The combination of sweet, spicy and tangy cheese is a party for your mouth. I love the colors and textures of this salad. This is a perfect salad for your next dinner party or just sitting in front of the television watching your favorite movie.

Fig, Feta and Watermelon Salad

6 C. Arugula
4 to 6 figs cut into quarters
1 C. Watermelon, one inch cubes
¼ C. Red onion, sliced thin
1/3 C. Feta cheese, crumbled
6 mint leaves, chiffonade

Balsamic Dressing

2 T. Balsamic vinegar
6 T. Olive oil
2 t. Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to a small glass jar with lid and shake well until combined

To assemble, add all of the salad ingredients and toss lightly with the dressing. I put the ingredients onto separate plates and then drizzled the dressing for a beautiful presentation. Enjoy!!






















Saturday, December 17, 2011

{ Brussels Sprouts with Pear and Hazelnuts }


As I look out my home office window this morning while writing this post, it is extremely foggy. The fog is rather soothing for an early Saturday morning. Today is the first day of my seventeen day vacation. It had been a tradition for the last seventeen years to take vacation during the last two weeks of December. It is the time of year that I most cherish.

This time of year is a special time to spend with my family and friends. It is the time to relax, go out and brave the crowds at the mall, see a holiday play at our local regional arts center, clean out my closet, reflect on 2011 and plan for 2012. It is a time of year to simply enjoy and relish in the joy of the season.


Both hubby and I traditionally take the same time off every year. In fact for the last three weeks, when we are getting ready in the morning, we do the countdown. When we started, it was 15 more days of work; then quickly yesterday had finally arrived – our last day of work and first day of vacation was reality. Yippee!

We have planned many events, but also to have complete relaxation days of simply watching movies all day. Do you have any fun plans for the last two weeks of 2011?


My book club recently had our annual holiday dinner and we ventured out to a wonderful restaurant, Postino. All of the dishes are inspired by the Italian countryside. Quite frankly, I am never disappointed by the innovative dishes on the menu. Postino’s chef, Stewart Beatty consistently adds a creative spin to Brussels sprouts and this last visit to Postino inspired make my version of Brussels Sprouts with Pear and Hazelnuts.


If you love to read or belong to a book club, thought I would pass along a recommendation. We just finished “Next to Love” which was a easy read, quite enjoyable and would recommend if you like love stories based in the WW2 era. Our next selection is by Stephen King – “11/22/63” about a man who goes back in time to prevent the JFK assignation. I am not typically a Stephen King reader, but this book intrigued everyone in our book club. Let the reading of the 849 page novel begin!

Brussels Sprouts with Pear and Hazelnuts

4 C. Brussels Sprouts, cut in half
2 Bosc Pears, peeled and diced
1 T. Dijon mustard
½ C. Sauvignon Blanc
½ C. Hazelnuts, slightly roasted and cut in half
2/3 C. Pecorino Cheese, grated
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

In a skillet, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Let hear on medium high, add the diced pears and cook until lightly browned. Remove from pan.

Add about 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil to pan and let heat on medium high. Add the Brussels and let cook until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and then add the pears back into the pan and let heat through. Taste for the correct seasoning and adjust if needed. Mix the Dijon and Sauvignon Blanc together in a small bowl until combined. Add to the Brussels mixture and let cook until all absorbed.

Spoon the Brussels mixture into a large bowl and sprinkle the hazelnuts on top and then the pecorino cheese. Serve immediately.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Chocolate Dipped Gingerbread Biscotti | The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2011


What says it is the holiday season more than the traditional cookie swap? It is an age old tradition of making your favorite cookie and trading with friends. With social media in full swing, why not take the traditional cookie swap and take it to new heights. That is just what Lindsay of Love and Olive Oil and Julie of The Little Kitchen did by creating the first annual – “The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2011”.



I love to bake cookies and what better way to kick off the holiday season than to participate along with 625 other fabulous food bloggers. The idea is based upon receiving the addresses of 3 other food bloggers and to send them each a dozen of your delicious homemade cookies. In return, your name will be given to 3 other food bloggers and during the week of December 5th packages of cookies magically appear on your doorstep from your secret matches. What could be better?


Now the question was – What wonderful cookie do I make that will ship well, taste divine and still be fresh a few days later? The answer came to me while browsing through the special baking issue of Fine Cooking. There they were in their glory – gingerbread biscotti. They sounded so unique and perfect for the holidays. What could make them even better – dipping in chocolate of course.


Creating an eye catching package takes a bit of thought and creativity, so that is leaves the recipient wondering what is inside. Adding embellishments, gorgeous ribbon and unique boxes are all things to think about when putting together a stunning package. Something that screams eye candy and sets it aside from all other packages. It can be as simple as brown butcher paper with the person’s name stamped on the outside and a simple plaid ribbon OR stunning foil paper with raised designs, fresh holly and a burlap ribbon with a pretty name tag. Whatever your style is, the thought that you put into giving a gift is what counts and seeing the smile on the recipients face.


My hope is that my three wonderful matches enjoyed their chocolate dipped biscotti’s and they arrived unbroken. My matches were Lizzie of Corkscrews & Curls, Kate of Food Lust and Lacy of New York City Eats. Happy Holidays to all of my new blogger friends.


I first received these most delicious Nuthorns from Kelly of Eat at Kelly’s. I can hardly wait to see her post, since I want to make these ASAP. They are her Grandmother’s secret recipe and I can certainly see why these have stayed in her family for years. Thank you Kelly!


A few days later, my second package arrived at my office from Mary from Passionate Perseverance. Mary sent her Grandma Stuecken’s Speculatius Cookies that are filled with ground almonds, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. They are thin holiday shaped cookies that are quite addictive and hard to eat just one. Thank you Mary!



As of today, I received 2 of my 3 matches – perhaps the 3rd is simply stuck in transit. I am sending out positive thoughts that the UPS or FED EX driver stops at my office. UPDATE:  Well the Fed Ex driver did arrive at my office and delivered some yummy Cinnamon Spice Brown Sugar Cookies from Julie at The Semi-Reformed Nerd.  I have to say they were well worth the wait.  Thank you Julie!



Thank you Lindsay and Julie for such a wonderful event - I look forward to next year!  I wish you both a wonderful Holiday Season and all the best in 2012!

Chocolate Dipped Gingerbread Biscotti

Makes 24 cookies
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp. ground ginger
1-1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup lightly packed Madjool dates, chopped
1/4 cup molasses
2 large eggs
2 tsp. Dried orange peel

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, ginger, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and baking soda on medium-low speed until well blended. On low speed, briefly mix in the pecans and apricots. In a measuring cup, lightly whisk the molasses, eggs, and orange zest. With the mixer on low, slowly pour in the egg mixture. Continue mixing until the dough is well blended and comes together in large, moist clumps, 1 to 2 minutes.

Dump the dough onto an unfloured work surface. Divide into two equal piles (about 1 lb. each). Shape each pile into a log that's 10 inches long and about 1-1/2 inches in diameter; lightly flouring your hands as needed (the dough is a bit sticky).

Position the logs on the lined cookie sheet about 4 inches apart. Bake until the tops are cracked and spring back slightly when gently pressed, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the sheet to a rack and let cool until the logs are cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes.

Carefully peel the biscotti logs from the parchment and transfer to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife saw each log into diagonal slices 3/4 inch wide. Return the slices to the cookie sheet (no need for fresh parchment) and arrange them cut side down. It's all right if they touch because they won't spread.

Bake until the biscotti are dried to your taste, about 10 minutes (for slightly moist and chewy) to 20 minutes (for super-dry and crunchy). Transfer the cookie sheet to a rack and let the biscotti cool completely. The biscotti will still give slightly when pressed, but will harden as they cool. When cool, store in airtight containers.

Chocolate Ganache

1 (12 oz) package semi sweet chocolate chips
½ C. Heavy Cream

After your biscotti’s are completely cooled, prepare the ganache for dipping. Over a double boiler, gently over medium heat melt the chocolate chips and cream until smooth. Set aside until ready to dip. (Can keep over the warm water to keep smooth.) Dip each biscotti into the chocolate and place onto a cookie sheet. Can put into the refrigerator to speed the hardening process.

*Slightly altered from Fine Cooking – December 2005 Issue, Page 46

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Entertaining Tips | Individual Cheese Plates


Do you ever channel your inner Martha? Do you get excited about planning your next entertaining extravaganza, whether it is an intimate dinner for four or a cocktail party for fifty? Do you thrive on creativity and perfection? If you answered YES to any of the questions above, then you are probably an entertaining guru or at a minimum someone who loves a reason to bring people together.

I happen to be one of those people. Any reason to entertain makes me smile from ear to ear. The idea of preparing a get together to make people happy brings me much joy. It is an opportunity for me to try a new recipe, decorate with a new idea and let my creative inner Martha out. I am very excited to bring a new feature to my blog, titled – “Entertaining Tips”. This feature will highlight ideas for easy, unique and fun suggestions to make your next party or get together special.


{ Idea: share your sketch with your guests during the cheese course, so they could refer to it while enjoying the different cheeses and combinations of flavors } 
.
Last evening, my hubby invited a new co-worker and his wife over for wine and appetizers. They have recently relocated to the Bay Area and we thought it would be a wonderful idea to welcome them by inviting them over to celebrate the holidays. One of my favorite ways to entertain is to serve wine and appetizers. Last evening a served several course of small plates that we enjoyed while sitting by the fire in the family room with holiday music playing softly in the background.

Instead of serving the traditional cheese platter, I opted to create individual cheese plates for each person. This gave everyone the option to taste everything at their own pace along with having the suggested pairings available at one quick glance. I had stopped by whole foods in the morning to the cheese department. I adore the selection of cheeses and it an adventure each time with a new selection in my shopping basket to try.


For our intimate wine and appetizer party last night, I selected a Manchego cheese from the La Mancha region of Spain from the milk of sheet of the Manchega breed, which is typically aged for between 60 days and two years. A classic pairing is to add a touch of quince paste and marcona almonds. The next cheese going clockwise on the plate was the Cave Aged Gruyere with my Balsamic Fig Jam along with a dried apricot. The Gruyere is aged for about one year in secluded caves in Switzerland. It has a dense texture with a nutty, richness to the flavor profile. The fig jam compliments the richness of the cheese for a perfect pairing.

My third selection for the cheese plate was a French blue cheese, Blue Fourme d’ambert with a drizzle of clover honey. The sweet honey perfectly compliments the salty and earthy blue cheese. The French blue cheese is one of France’s oldest cheeses and is made from cow’s milk and is inoculated with penicillium roqueforti spores and aged for at least 28 days. If you love blue cheese, this is the king of them all. Our last tasting was one of my favorites that I buy from whole foods each time I visit. It is an Reserved Dutch Gouda, an orange cheese made from cow’s milk and originates from the Netherlands. It is had a slight earthiness with a hint of smoky, cedar flavor that pair beautifully with a cabernet sauvignon. I added a nib of panforte, which is a traditional Italian dessert containing fruits and nuts.

















Creating your own individual cheese plates gives you the opportunity to learn about new cheeses, create themes and share something unique with your friends. A few suggestions:
  • Different Types - select one cheese from each milk family – cow, sheep and goat.
  • Around the World – select a cheese from France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands – the possibilities are endless
  • Go Local – select cheeses made local to where you live
  • Vertical Tasting – select all one type of cheese but vary where it is from – for example – do a blue cheese tasting
To learn more about cheeses, ask questions when you go to the cheese counter. Ask to try samples and pick what you like. Invest in a few cheese specific books to expand your knowledge. Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials is a perfect selection. She is a cheese expert who explains this fascinating world of cheese in a manner that anyone can understand.



Sunday, December 4, 2011

Lemony Slice and Bake Cookies


With the chilly and windy weather outside in the Bay Area, along with the festive holiday season, it is a perfect time to make cookies. Our fireplace is in full swing, along with a bit of heat from pre-heating the oven and holiday music is playing in the background. Baking cookies during the holiday season is one of my favorite things.


The scent of fresh baked cookies lofts throughout the house and certainly puts a smile on my hubby's face. I think it is a favorite thing for him during the holiday season. While I was browsing through the December issue of Bon Appetite, the Lemony Slice and Bakes resonated with me right away. First, I adore anything with lemon and second the silver shimmering sugar with the drizzle of white frosting just screamed holiday. These were on the list to make immediately.  Williams-Sonoma has a wonderful selection of decorating items for cookies and cakes.


The wonderful benefit of these cookies is that you make the dough a day ahead, form into a round log and let chill. The next day, you simple slice and bake and decorate. I must warn you – these are highly addictive. It is almost impossible to eat just one.




Lemony Slice and Bake Cookie

Cookies:

2 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1 C. (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
3/4 C.sugar
3 T finely grated lemon zest
1 t. vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks

Icing:

1 1/4 C. powdered sugar
3 T (or more) fresh lemon juice
Sanding sugar (optional)

Cookies:

Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla in a large bowl, occasionally scraping down sides, until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg yolks; beat just to blend. Reduce speed to low; add flour and salt and beat, occasionally scraping down sides, just to blend. Divide dough in half; roll each half into a 10"-long log about 1 3/4" in diameter. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Arrange racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap 1 dough log. Using a sharp, lightly floured knife, cut log into 1/4"-thick rounds. Transfer to prepared sheets, spacing 1" apart. In the middle of each cookie, add a bit of the silver shimmer sugar. Best to put on when baking to ensure it sticks to the cookie.

Bake until cookies are firm and golden brown around edges, 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool for 1 minute, then transfer to wire racks and let cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough log, using cooled baking sheets and new parchment paper.

Icing:

Whisk sugar and 2 tablespoons juice in a small bowl, adding more juice by 1/2-teaspoonfuls if too thick. Use a piping bag and drizzle icing over cookies. Let stand until icing sets, about 10 minutes

Makes about 50 cookies

* Slightly adapted from Bon Appetite

 
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