Sunday, December 30, 2012

Blue Cheese Shortbread Bites + New Years Eve 2012



Three, two, one, party!  With 2013 around the corner, do you have your New Year’s Eve celebration plans set?  Are you painting the town red?  Hosting a soirée at your house? Attending a friend’s bash? Relaxing in front of television with a glass of champagne and ringing in the New Year with Ryan Seacrest? No matter what plans you have, as long as you are authentic in your celebratory plans and do what makes you happy, then that is the best way to ring in the New Year.

Last year at this time I was preparing for an intimate New Years Eve soiree that I was hosting at our house.  Entertaining for me is an opportunity to let my creative juices flow, gather good friends together and share in great conversation and many laughs.  One of my long time friends Denise came to the Bay Area for the holidays, so it was a perfect reason to host a wine and appetizer party at our house for her and about a dozen plus other friends.  A good time was had by all with good friends, great conversations, tasty food, special wines and indelible memories.

This year Hubby and I decided to celebrate with just the two of us by enjoying a wonderful bottle of bubbly and sharing tasty appetizers.  Perhaps to ring in 2014, we will host a bash at our house.  Until then, I am looking forward to having a party for two and ringing in the New Year with my hubby.  We will be feasting on an array of appetizers along with enjoying a few glasses of French bubbly.  I have featured a few of the tasty appetizers we will be enjoying.


Blue Cheese Shortbread Bites, Truffled Popcorn and Caprese Bites


Speaking of bubbly, thought I would share with all of you a Quick Guide to Champagne and Sparkling Wine:

Facts
Authentic champagne, a sparkling wine must come from the Champagne region of France and must be made using the “methode champenoise”, in which secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle.  Other sparkling wines are made using “methode traditionelle”, “bottle fermented” or methode champenoise” on the label.

Alternatives
  • American Sparkling Wines such as Roederer Estates (by Champagne Louis Roederer), Domaine Chandon (by Moet & Chandon) and Domaine Carneros (by Tattinger) are a few French producers in California.
  • Cremant are sparkling wines made outside of the Champagne region in France and still utilize the methode champenoise to produce these sparkling wines.  Brut Rose is a perfect example of Cremant with it’s lovely coral color, berry aromas and a dry finish.
  • Cava is from Spain and is the sparkling wine that is primarily produced in the Penedes region in Catalonia.
  • Prosecco, one of my favorites is made from the Moscato Bianco grape in the Peidmont region in Italy.
  • Blanc de Blancs is made only with chardonnay grapes and goes well with light foods
  • Blanc de Noirs is made solely from pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes and often have a deeper color which pair well with meats and cheeses.
  • Rose can be all pinot noir, pinot noir & pinot meunier or a blend of all three grapes.  The color comes from leaving the skin on during the fermentation process for a period of time and is called “saignee” which means bleeding.  Rose pairs well with food.
Dry versus Sweet

Review the label to determine the level of sweetness:
  • Extra Brut – totally dry
  • Brut – dry
  • Extra Dry – Medium dry
  • Sec – slightly sweet
  • Demi – Sec: Fairly sweet
  • Doux – Sweet
Chilling

According to the French, the correct way to chill a bottle is to use a champagne bucket filled with a combination of water and ice should reach the perfect temperature in 15 to 20 minutes.

Food Pairing

Champagne is a wonderful beverage to pair with many foods.  Here is a quick list of both traditional and non-traditional pairings to try:
  • Hard cheeses – Cheddar, Gouda and Parmesan
  • Breaded and fried mushrooms with a Srirachi dipping sauce
  • Gruyere Gougeres
  • Mac and Cheese
  • Truffled Popcorn
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Handmade Potato Chips with Sea Salt
  • Crab Cakes
  • Butternut Squash Risotto
  • Mini Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwiches
  • Chinese Egg Rolls
  • Classic Cheese Fondue
  • Individual Baked Cheese Soufflés
  • Figs wrapped with Prosciutto
  • Duck Fat Fried French Fries with Rosemary
Opening Champagne


A toast to you!! I want to raise my virtual glass of champagne and toast each of you and wish you all the best in 2013.  May it be a year filled with much happiness, good health and your own personal prosperity.  May you have many new learning experiences, expand your imagination, be grateful for every day, accept new challenges and recognize opportunities.  Of course, may it be filled with delicious food and wine!  Cheers!


Blue Cheese Shortbread Bites

Makes 36 Shortbreads

½ Cup Sharp Blue Cheese, room temperature
3 Tablespoon Butter, room temperature
½ Cup Flour
¼ Cup Cornstarch
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 Cup Walnuts, chopped

Topping

Ricotta Cheese
Mango Chutney
Candied Walnuts

Combine the blue cheese and butter in a food processor; process until creamy.  Add the flour, cornstarch, pepper and salt to the processor and pulse to combine.  Next add the walnut nuts and process until incorporated.  Do not over process.  Remove the dough from the food processor and shape into a ball and then flatten into a disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for one hour until firm.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place the chilled dough on a piece of plastic wrap and cover with another piece of plastic wrap.  Roll the dough out to about ¼ inch thick.  Remove the top plastic wrap and cut into 1-inch circles using a fluted cookie cutter.  Place on a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Repeat until all the dough is used.  Bake until light brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.  Let cool.

To assemble, spread about 1 teaspoon of ricotta cheese on top of each shortbread and place a small dollop of mango chutney on top of ricotta then garnish with a small candied walnut piece.  Enjoy!

Note:  Blue Cheese Shortbread recipe from Cocktail Food by Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford



Thursday, December 27, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Bacon Parmesan Crackers



Christmas came and went in a blink of an eye this year.  I guess I say that every year, but it seems to speed up each year.  I enjoy each and every moment, especially watching the faces of my four nephews opening their gifts and seeing their eyes light up.  This year I was in charge of bringing appetizers for our Christmas celebration at my parent’s house.  Surprise huh?

After debating over several choices, I knew one was for sure.  I had pinned these crackers some time ago and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make these bacon and cheese delights. I spied folks going in for seconds, thirds and fourths – then I stopped paying attention.  The multiple times to the plate were the only validation I needed to certify that these were a winner.

It was a magical day just spending time with my family.  We shared many laughs and lively conversation.  We ate really well.  We enjoyed the rainy and chilly day by the roaring fire that never stopped burning.  We opened gifts and saw many small boys get very excited over certain “requested” toys and other toys not requested got rave reviews.  We took cat naps.  We enjoyed my sister’s handmade English crackers during brunch and dinner with wonderful surprises in each.  We saw my Dad moving around extremely well since having his surgery four months ago.  Most of all, we enjoyed the spirit of Christmas and spending time together as a family!

Since the dough freezes beautifully, so I doubled the recipe so hubby and I could enjoy these tasty crackers for our traditional Friday Night Bites with a glass of chilled Sancerre. 


Bacon Parmesan Crackers

Makes 60 to 70 crackers

2 Cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
10 Grinds of fresh pepper
2 Tablespoons, chopped chives
1 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) butter
½ Cup Heavy cream
8 slices Apple Wood Smoked Bacon, cooked and crumbled

Put the flour, salt, cheese and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the flour and butter are combined. Add about ½ cup cream or half-and-half and let machine run for a bit; continue to add liquid a teaspoon at a time, until the mixture holds together but is not sticky.  Add the bacon and pulse a few times to incorporate. 

Transfer the dough to a large square of parchment or wax paper.  Shape the dough into a long rectangle with a 1-inch square cross-section. Wrap tightly in the paper and freeze for at least 3 hours. 


Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Slice the dough ¼-inch thick, arranging the cookies ½-inch apart on the baking sheet.  Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack; serve warm or at room temperature or store in a tin for a few days



Sunday, December 23, 2012

Kale and Sausage Soup



Today in the Bay Area it was chilly with consistent rain pounding the pavement.  The trees were whipping and shaking with the substantial wind.  Winter is here.  The sun never peaked out today and it turned out to be a great day to stay indoors.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Brie Cups with Grape Salsa + Cocktail Party Tips



With festive parties abundant this time of year, it the perfect reason to celebrate the season and throw a fun cocktail party.  The party can scale from half a dozen friends to an extravagant bash for fifty. Honesty by preference is the more intimate affair with 6 to 12 people in attendance.  It gives me the opportunity to really socialize, converse and enjoy my guests. The idea of simply serving a signature cocktail as a starter then a variety of new and old world wines along with tasty bite sized delights is pure perfection in my book.


At the moment, I am in the final stages of planning such an event for next week.  A long time friend is visiting over the holidays so why not host a celebratory cocktail party in her honor.  The invitations have been sent, RSVP’s completed and the menu is nearly complete and now I just need to settle on the signature cocktail.  I can hardly wait for next week.  Quite frankly, one of my favorite parts of throwing a party is the planning and of course the actual event is the piece de resistance.


Among my favorite appetizer recipes to share with my guests is the Brie Cups with Grape Salsa, which pairs perfectly with the Grgich Hills Chardonnay.  With the grape being the common denominator, the compliment of the wine and tartlet was a match made in heaven.  These appetizers are super simple to make and pack a lot of flavor.  I highly recommend that you make the grape salsa ahead of time, so the flavors have time to marry together.  For the tart cups, I purchased Athens brand Mini Fillo Shells since they are simply perfect each time.  If you are feeling creative, you could use store bought wonton skins. Simply brush with a bit of olive oil and place into a mini muffin tin.  Cook at 350 for 5 to 10 minutes or until crispy golden brown. 

If you are hosting a cocktail party soon, would love to hear about it!


Brie Cups with Grape Salsa

1 C. Red seedless grapes, cut in half
1/3 t. Salt
2 T. Green onion, finely chopped
1 T. Balsamic vinegar
2 T. Olive oil
1 t. Rosemary, finely minced
1 Small clove garlic, minced
6 Grinds of fresh ground pepper
30 Pre-made Athens mini phyllo shells
6 oz. Brie, rind removed

Preheat oven to 350.

Place the grapes and salt in to a food processor and pulse until grapes are coarsely chopped. Transfer to a strainer and let sit for about 5 to 10 minutes.  In a bowl, mix the green onions, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic pepper and strained grapes together.  Let sit to marry the flavors together for at least 15 minutes.

To assemble, lay the 30 shells out onto a cookie sheet and place about ½ t. of brie in each cup and then about a half to full teaspoon of the grape salsa.  Bake for about 5 minutes, until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.

Adapted from: Cocktail Food by Mary Corpening Barber & Sara Corpening Whiteford


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Zucchini Soup with Gruyere Croutons + Dinner Party Highlights



I love to entertain!  From the planning of the menus, to designing the table settings and decorations to matching the wine to the various courses – the entire process brings me much joy.  The greatest gift for me is bringing good friends together and sharing an evening together with tasty food, delicious wine and fun conversation.  Once I have a date on the calendar, my creative spirit goes into high gear.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Smoky, Spicy and Sweet Bourbon Peanuts



A vacation day - what a rare opportunity that I take advantage of, but need to more – especially after such a wonderful day that I have had so far today.  It is a day filled with food, friends, laughs, good conversation and great memories.

Patty from Patty’s Food arranged several weeks ago a cookie swap and lunch for a group of food bloggers.  I could hardly wait to attend and finally the day had arrived. From all sides of the bay Area, we made our way into
San Francisco to dine at Tyler Florence's Wayfare Tavern.  It was fantastic to see Patty, Bonnie, Azmina, Gina, Rose, Jean and Liren.  We ate well. I guess that is what food bloggers do. Smile.  From the signature Fried Chicken to Bone Marrow to Deviled Eggs to Cauliflower Soup with Lobster Beignets to Mac & Cheese with Smoked Olive Oil, it was a true feast.



After we finished gorging ourselves, well maybe not quite dramatic of a word, the best part was yet to arrive - the highly anticipated cookie swap.  Patty arranged this swap perfectly.  Each person brought half dozen cookies to share with everyone plus four to cut in half to enjoy at the table with a cup of piping hot coffee.  I wish you all could have dived into the cookies.  These are some talented ladies.  Always fun to catch up with these ladies and today was no exception. Big smile. We even packaged up the shared cookies and gave to our waiter as a special gift.  




I wanted to share these smoky, spicy and sweet bourbon peanuts for my Friday night bites weekly series.  I was instantly inspired by Jean’s Bourbon Pistachios and knew I had to make my own version pronto.  Since I had recently purchased a bag of peanuts; that was my nut of choice.  While searching my pantry I found a bottle of smoked paprika and built the recipe from this delightful spice.  The result was an enjoyable peanut that was smoky first, then sweet with a spicy finish. They were a hit at my office.  Thank you Jean for the inspirational nut recipe.  

Now it is time to head off for our annual holiday dinner with my book club.  Another great restaurant to enjoy tonight, just hope I have some resemblance of an appetite after today’s lunch. I wonder how much discussion will actually happen around this month’s selection - Telegraph Avenue. Smile. Wink.


Smoky, Spicy and Sweet Bourbon Peanuts

8 (oz) Bag of Shelled Peanuts
3 T. Bourbon
2 T. Maple Syrup
3 T. Brown Sugar
1 t. Salt
½ t. Cayenne Pepper
1 t. Smoked Paprika

Preheat oven to 250 degrees

Use a medium sized bowl and add all of the ingredients together except the peanuts.  Mix well.  Next add the peanuts and coat well with the bourbon mixture.  Use a sheet pan with sides and spread the peanuts evenly.

Cook for 25 minutes.  Halfway through, stir the peanuts to ensure they are well coated.  Remove and let cool. Use a spatula to loosen the peanuts and store in an airtight container.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday Checkerboard Cookies | 2nd Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap



What a wonderful time of year!  The holidays are here – a time for spending time with family and friends.  The cheer is flowing along with an abundance of tasty treats.  Speaking of delicious treats, this time of year brings out a plethora of delightful cookies.  It is a time for cookie baking, cookie swaps and trying new recipes, and of course, partaking in eating these one or two bite delights.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Parmesan Pecan Dip



With the holidays now here - festive parties are in full force.  How many events do you already have scheduled or double booked this season? Whether it is for your office, a gathering of friends, spending time with family or other festive gatherings, now is the time to indulge in holiday cookies, a plethora of appetizers and other gourmet delights.  Last night was the start of my social gatherings.  I participate on a local board for Human Resource professionals and the last meeting of the year is a potluck of sorts.  With this being the third year I have been a member of the board, I have now been infamous for a particular appetizer – Parmesan and Pecan Dip.


It is widely requested among people who know me.  When folks taste it for the first time, it is literally addictive and you can’t help but go back for seconds, thirds, fourths and even a tenth one or more. Trust me.  Years ago I brought it to one of my offices and a gentleman who doesn’t really cook was instantly hooked.  He subsequently asked for the recipe and made it for every event he had.  I would get emails from him letting me know that he made the “crack dip” again.  He made it for his football buddies and it was gone super quick.  He is no longer with our company, but every once in a while I will get an email letting me know that he made the dip and it was a hit.  Love that!

This is the dip that you can bring to all of your holiday events and I guarantee that you will be the star at your event.  It is that good.  This dip would be perfect with almost any wine from a dry sparkling wine to a buttery chardonnay to a deep cabernet sauvignon.



Parmesan and Pecan Dip

1 C. finely diced celery
1 C. chopped roasted pecans
1 C. chopped parmesan
½ C. chopped flat leaf parsley

Dressing:

2 small garlic cloves minced and mashed with ½ teaspoon of salt
1 T. Mayo
2 T. Fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 T. Olive oil
3 to 4 grinds of fresh pepper

Endive leaves (3 to 4 whole endives)

Roast the chopped pecans for about 10 minutes in a 375 degree oven. You can skip this step by purchasing the dry roasted pecan pieces at Trader Joes. Blend the dressing ingredients in a small mason jar and shake until well blended. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Chop the first four ingredients and put everything, except the pecans in a bowl into the refrigerator until ready to serve. Set pecans aside. When ready to serve, add the pecans and dressing. Toss well and transfer to a pretty serving bowl. Add to a platter with the endive leaves. Use a small spoon to have guests top each endive leaf.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Beer & Pumpkin Chili + BlueStar Cookware Review



Recently Wendy from Smart Click Advertising reached out to me directly to see if I would be interested in reviewing a new line of cookware from BlueStar.  Prior to accepting Wendy’s offer to send me cookware to review, I did research BlueStar, since I had never heard of them prior. I quickly learned the BlueStar label is part of Prizer-Painter Stove Works, Inc and began handcrafting and manufacturing stoves since 1880.  In 2002, Prizer introduced handcrafted, restaurant quality ranges for the residential market under the BlueStar brand.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pumpkin and Bacon Pasta



The skies over the Bay Area unleashed this morning with pounding rain and hallowing winds.  With ominous weather conditions that are not typical for the Bay Area, hubby and I were fascinated by watching and listening to Mother Nature’s fury. Not sure if she was mad or simply helping us to prevent a draught in the springtime.  I would like to think it is the latter. Smile. We were facinated by the sheer volume of rain that pounded down onto our tiny neighborhood.


It was amazing to see the gutters clogged and mounds of rain gushing down towards the ground.  The end of our court had water piling up and spouting up from the storm drains.  The great news was that we were able to stay inside and not have to drive through the treacherous conditions on the road.


We enjoyed our hot cups of coffee, a bit of Good Morning America weekend and some fresh off the griddle pumpkin pancakes.  Speaking of pumpkin, my affection for anything pumpkin continues with this quick pasta dish I created.  It is hearty, flavorful, textural and ever so satisfying.  Where ever you are in the globe, I hope you are having a Sublime Sunday!


Pumpkin and Bacon Pasta

2 ½ Cups Roasted pumpkin cubes
10 Slices Apple wood Smoked Bacon, coked crispy and crumbled
1 lb. Linguini, cook according to package
2/3 Cup Ricotta Salata Cheese
2/3 Cup Parmesan Cheese
6 Garlic large cloves, minced
10 to 12 Fresh sage leaves, rough chop
½ Cup Olive Oil (more if desired)
½ Cup Flat leaf parsley, rough chop
¼ Cup Pepitas

Preparing the pumpkin:

Take one sugar pumpkin and cut into quarters and remove seeds and pulp.  With a sharp knife, cut away the outside skin.  Then cut into ½ cubes.  Lay onto a sheet pan with sides and toss with olive oil and salt.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until tender.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Preparing the pasta:

Prepare the pasta according to the package until al dente.  Drain into a colander and set aside.  Meanwhile add the garlic and olive oil to a large skillet.  Cook over medium for 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the cooked pasta and toss.  Add more olive oil if too dry.  Heat through for 2 minutes over medium.  Toss in the cooked bacon, sage, parsley and season with salt and pepper.  Taste and add more seasoning and sage or parsley if desired.  Add to a large bowl and toss with the ricotta salata and parmesan cheese.  Sprinkle the pepitas on top and serve.  Have a bowl of parmesan cheese near by to add extra if desired.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Pumpkin Caramelized Onion Pizza



Yesterday we had the first of many storms to hit the Bay Area.  It was filled with heavy down pours and gusty winds.  If you are familiar with the lay of the land in the bay area, you know that we have many counties relatively close together along with unique traffic patterns.  Not too mention, quite a bit of traffic.  I needed to be in multiple locations for various meetings for work.  I actually traveled across different 5 counties during the day and covered quite a bit of distance.  In the midst of my travels I contended with heavy down pours and strong winds along with highways that had built up water.  It was quite a day indeed.  The good news is that I made it home safely.

We are expected to have similar storms through Sunday this week.  With that, it is a perfect time to make comfort food for our Friday Night Bites that we celebrate each Friday evening.  Pizza and beer is a classic pairing and perfect for a casual evening at home. If you know me, I need to add the Authentic Suburban Gourmet spin.  With my slight obsession this year with pumpkin, I created a pizza with roasted pumpkin and caramelized onion.  I felt this combination was a marriage made in heaven.  I tossed in some fresh sage leaves and really good white cheddar cheese.  The result was a combination of savory fall flavors on top of rich crispy yet chewy pizza dough.  Completely satisfying!


We have a tradition in our family that over the holidays, especially during Christmas, my brother brings the latest vintage of the AnchorSteam’s Christmas Ale.  Each year a new recipe is created and varies slightly from the prior year.  As the label at the top states for the 2012 vintage – “This is the thirty eighth “Our Special Ale” from the brewers at Anchor. It is sold only from early November to mid January.  The Ale’s recipe is different every year, as is the tree on the label, but the intent with which we offer it remains the same: joy and celebration of the newness of life. Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew.”


With the rich, dark spiced ale, I felt this was a perfect pairing for the fall pumpkin and caramelized pizza.  I made each pizza more of an individual serving size since it was just hubby and I; however, you could cut into smaller pieces and serve to a small crowd.  The recipe is a bit “loose” so you can increase or decrease the amount of each ingredient you put on top to customize to your preference. Enjoy!


Pumpkin Caramelized Onion Pizza

Pizza dough (handmade or store bought) (I used Trader Joe’s)
1 Cup Roasted Fresh Pumpkin, cut into small cubes
1 Large Onion, peeled, cut in half and sliced thin
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt
Pepper
Olive oil
Fresh sage leaves
Garlic powder
White cheddar cheese

Pumpkin:

Take one sugar pumpkin and cut into quarters and remove seeds and pulp.  With a sharp knife, cut away the outside skin.  Then cut into ½ cubes.  Lay onto a sheet pan with sides and toss with olive oil and salt.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until tender.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Caramelized Onions:

Slice a large onion in half, peel the skin and slice each half into thin slices.  Use a large skillet.  Over medium heat, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter, then add the sliced onions, sugar and season with salt and pepper. Over medium heat, toss everything together to completely coat the onions.  Stir frequently and cook until golden brown.  Should be about 15 to 20 minutes.  Set aside.

Pizza:

Preheat oven to 500 degrees

Shape the dough into mini pizzas or one large, your preference.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle desired amount of garlic powder over dough.  Spread the desired amount of caramelized onions and then put the desired amount of the roasted pumpkin cubes over the onions.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper.  Sprinkle the desired amount of grated white cheddar cheese on top.  Add some of the fresh sage leaves over the cheese.  Bake on a pizza stone for best results. Cook until the edges of the pizza are golden brown – about 15 minutes.  Add a few fresh sage leaves prior to serving.  




Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cardamom Pear Crisps + "Desserts in Jars" Cookbook Giveaway



Desserts in Jars what a perfect concept!  They are easy, compact, simple and easy to serve.  Desserts in Jars is a new cookbook from Shaina Olmanson from the popular blog Food for MyFamily.  Shaina has a pedigree of accolades to her credit – from being ranked in the top ten in Babble.com’s 2011 list of the 100 best food blogs for moms to being named a “Top 10 Family Cooking Blog” by My Life Scoop.  Kudos to Shaina! 


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pecan Thumbprint Cookies with Cranberry Chutney



I love, love this time of year.  The weather just looks and smells like the fall season with winter around the corner.  Here in the Bay Area, we are beggining to experience rain and often chilly nights.  It is the perfect weather for having a fire at night and tons of blankets for watching our favorite television programs.  Hubby and I are currently making our way through the "Countdown to Christmas" which features new holiday movies on the Hallmark channel.  They are "feel good" movies that 9 out 10 times have a romantic story behind them.  Okay, we are saps for a great romantic storyline.  Smile.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Ham and Cheese Palmiers + Thanksgiving Reflections



Happy Thanksgiving to each and everyone!  Thanksgiving is a day to reflect on all of the gifts we have.  Be thankful. Be grateful. Be appreciative. Be with family and friends. Be able to give back in a small or large way to others.

I am personally thankful for so much - my wonderful hubby, terrific family, great friends, health, rewarding career and to work for a special company and my cute doggie Max. I am very thankful for all of YOU, my faithful readers of my blog.  These are at the top of the list, but I could go on for quite sometime, but won’t bore you.  I do work for an outstanding organization that is like a second family.  Our Director of Human Resources sent an email out to the entire company to ask everyone to share what they are grateful for.  The response was overwhelming with high percentage of the company responding – that speaks volumes.

An “All Employee” email was sent out yesterday revealing what everyone was thankful for.  The common theme was family, friends, and the wonderful organization we work for.  A few unique items were thrown in such as being thankful for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers music, but if that is what that person is thankful for – more power to him or her. Smile.  At the top of the email was a quote that sort of says it all…..  Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance”  Eckhart Tolle.


With Thanksgiving Day being the kick off to the holiday season, a big part of the many celebrations is food.  Today we will be celebration the holiday with my parents and my siblings and their family – I can’t wait to see everyone.  Each year we divide and conquer the food duties.  I am in charge of bringing the appetizers. Surprise huh?  Wink. Smile.  I am bringing a quick and tasty appetizer that has been a staple for quite sometime.  It is the perfect appetizer to make when you need a last minute appetizer that will impress your guests.

My Ham and Cheese Palmiers are quick, easy and pack a punch of flavor.  The presentation looks like you slaved for hours in the kitchen.  A perfect pairing for these delights is your favorite Chardonnay.  One of my all time favorite Chardonnays is from Grgich Hills Estate.  They craft their wines from grapes that are organic and biodynamic along with no malolactic fermentation which in turn retains the acidity.  The aromas and flavors found from this wine are tropical fruits, orange blossom honey and toasted almonds.  There is certain richness and butter tones as you sip through this delightful wine. 

Ham and Cheese Palmiers 

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed 
2/3 cup (lightly packed) Jarlsburg cheese, shredded
4 to 6 slices of Black Forest Ham
1/3 cup Pesto (handmade or store bought)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Use a non-stick baking sheet.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out puff pastry to 1/4 inch thick. 

Spread the pesto over the entire pastry leaving 1/3 inch free of pesto along the edges.  Sprinkle the grated Jarlsburg over pastry and then lay the ham over the cheese to cover.

Roll one side tightly to the middle, then roll the other side to middle and press slightly together. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Use a sharp knife, cut into ½ inch slices thick. 

Place on prepared baking sheet spacing the rolls 1 inch apart. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until rolls are puffed and golden. Let cool 10 minutes before serving. 


Monday, November 19, 2012

Fleur de Sel Caramel Carmelita Bars | Secret Recipe Club



It is Secret Recipe Club time again.  Boy how time flies.  Not familiar with secret recipe club, well let me let you in on the secret.  No pun intended.  Wink. Smile.  It is a group of talented food bloggers who are paired monthly with another blogger in the group.  You have time to browse through your assigned blogger’s blog to find the perfect recipe that you want to make.  When reveal day comes along, you can see who was matched with you and what recipe they chose from your blog.  It is so much fun to see what folks select and how they adapt it to their own personal style.


This month I was assigned to Danielle from Hugs & Cookiesxoxo. She is a mom to two wonderful boys named Jaden and Jakey and she calls her husband - "Prince Charming" - that is super cute.  She teaches first grade and loves baking, cooking, blogging and spending time with her beautiful family. She has numerous recipes that are tantalizing and can cure any sweet tooth.  After browsing through her blog several times, I kept coming back to the Carmelita Bars.  They have been on my list for quite sometime and this was the perfect opportunity to make them.

Caramel is one of my favorite things.  After analyzing the recipe, I thought I would create my own caramel squares versus the ones from the store.  The fleur de sel caramels recipe is from InaGarten of the Barefoot Contessa fame and as like the Carmelita bars, that recipe had been a “must make” for quite some time.  If you click here, you can see my post for the fleur de sel and I have also included in this post.  I must warn you, it is highly addictive.  Smile.



I brought these Carmelita Bars to one of my offices the next day and they flew off the plate like wild fire.  In fact one person in the office, who shall remain nameless, ate over 10 of them that day. I am sure they hit the gym after work.  Smile.



Fleur de Sel Caramel Carmelita Bars

2 cups flour 
2 cups quick cooking rolled oats 
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar 
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, melted
16 fleur de sel caramels (see recipe below)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350º. Grease 9 x 13 inch pan.

In large bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, sugar, soda and salt. Stir to blend. Add melted butter and mix till well combined. Reserve half the crumbs, about 3 cups. Press remaining crumbs into bottom of pan. 

Cut the fleur de sel caramels into small pieces and spread over the bottom layer of the crumb mixture. Sprinkle crust with chocolate chips and pecans then top with reserved crumbs, pressing gently to secure.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or till golden brown. Cool at least one hour before cutting.



Fleur de Sel Caramels

Vegetable oil
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 sup heavy cream
5 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon fine fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon vanilla

Line an 8 inch square pan with parchment paper and brush the paper with oil, while allowing the paper to drape over 2 sides.

In a deep saucepan combine ¼ cup water, the sugar and corn syrup and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat.  Boil until the mixture is a warm golden brown.  Don’t stir; just swirl the pan to mix.  Watch carefully, as it will burn quickly towards the end.

In the meantime, in a small pan, bring the cream, butter and 1 teaspoon of fleur de Sel to a simmer over medium heat.  Turn off the heat and set aside.

When the sugar mixture is a warm golden color, turn off the heat and slowly add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture.  Be very careful, it will bubble up violently.  Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes reaches 248 degrees (firm ball) on a candy thermometer.  Very carefully pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate for a few hours, until firm.

When the caramels are cold, pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board.  Cut the sheet in half.  Starting with the long side, roll into one piece of the caramel up tightly into an 8 inch log.  Repeat with the second piece.  Sprinkle both logs with fleur de sel, trim the ends, and cut each log in 8 pieces.  Cut glassine or parchment papers into 4 x 5 inch pieces and wrap each caramel individually, twisting the ends.  Store in the refrigerator and serve the caramels chilled.