Olive Cake

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In the fall of 2015, my husband and I spent a lovely vacation in the Provençal countryside with our friend Stéphane Gabart. If you’re not familiar with him, you should be. He writes the inspirational blog “My French Heaven,” and he’s also a professional culinary guide, chef and photographer.

Before this trip I’d already visited him twice – once with my daughter, and the other time with a girlfriend.

But this trip was different in that we traveled from Bordeaux through Provence, ending up at le Côte d’Azur at the end. So for two full weeks, we really saw Provence, thanks to the itinerary Stéphane customized for us. I wasn’t familiar with many of the villages, like Boulbon, Gordes, Grasse, and Tourrettes. All were awe-inspiring.

Near Aix en Provence, we visited a working olive farm, Bastide du Laval, had a tasting, and walked the trails amongst the olive groves.

This photo shows Niçoise olives ripening.

At every happy hour in Provence, along with our cocktails, we were served olives. Some were whole, some were made into a tapenade, and all were delicious.

At one hotel we were served olives with what I’m sure was olive cake – a savory quick bread.

The olive cake I’m making today is reminiscent of the lovely bread I enjoyed while sipping rosé underneath golden sycamores.

This is the recipe I’m using, although I can’t credit anyone or any publication; I couldn’t even find it online.


I pretty much made the recipe as is, except for increasing the cheese to 7 ounces, all grated, and omitting the ham.



The bread/cake turned out perfectly.

I served it still warm with cheese, olives, salami and oven-roasted tomatoes.

I think the cake would have been fine with just the olive oil and tapenade, but the chopped olives added a nice texture.

Next time I will make this olive cake the same way.

note: I omitted the ham in this specific recipe, but if you want something more fun, check out the raclette quick bread I made a few years ago for the blog, pictured below. It contains sun-dried tomatoes, pancetta, raclette, pine nuts, and herbs. In fact, it just shows how creative you can get with a basic savory quick bread recipe!

A Real Margarita

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Rarely do I order a margarita at a restaurant. Unless it’s a Mexican restaurant with top-shelf margaritas shaken to order by a bartender, they tend to be heavy on the sweet-and-sour-mix.

What that means is the following:
1. You don’t taste the tequila.
2. Your mouth puckers from the sweet-sour.
3. You invariably get a headache.

So typically I make margaritas at home, although I limit myself to two drinks. I don’t have any bad college memories of tequila overindulgence, because I didn’t drink back then. But I’ve probably heard too many scary stories from other folks, that help me maintain a healthy respect for tequila’s powers.

Although I don’t really enjoy the taste of booze, even vodka, I do like tequila. I’d never drink it straight, but I also don’t want to ruin it with disgusting margarita mix. I’ve searched long and hard for a good, reliable margarita recipe.

Lo and behold, enter my friends, man and wife, both great bartenders and hosts.

This post is thanks to them, and their margarita recipe that they’re allowing me to share with the world!!! I have no idea if it’s a common recipe or not, but most all margarita recipes include sweet and sour mix, simple syrup, or sugar. So trust me, if you like a good, strong, but also refreshing margarita, this recipe is perfect!

Just remember: tequila can creep up on you!

The recipe is this simple. Equal parts tequila, orange liqueur, and fresh lime juice. That’s it. The lime juice provides the tartness and freshness, the liqueur adds just enough sweetness, and the tequila, well that’s the booze.

Of course, a margarita isn’t a margarita without the lime and salt rim.

Start by squeezing limes. You may think you have a lot, but you may barely have enough. Trust me on this. (My husband squeezed 32 limes on Cinco de Mayo for our pitcher of margaritas for four people!)

I ended up with 4 ounces of lime juice, so to it I added 4 ounces each of tequila and orange liqueur. I recommend either Cointreau or Grand Marnier. For tequila I stick with Patron.

Have your glasses ready with salted rims, then fill with ice cubes.

Pour in the margarita.

Enjoy.

Of course these margaritas could also be blended with ice, but I prefer mine on the rocks.

On a hot day, there’s no better drink than a margarita, but not if they’re cloyingly sweet.

If you want a special treat, top the margarita off with a Chambord floater! And thank my same friends for this unique twist on a margarita.


Pasta with Sausage and Fennel

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I’ve never been a huge fennel fan, and for just that reason, I planted two fennel plants in my garden. I figured that if I could harvest it personally, I could figure out how to showcase its unique flavor.

Ideally, if one loves the anise/licorice flavor, fennel is eaten raw, shaved in a salad, for example. But I thought that gently sautéed and caramelized in olive oil, with pasta and sausage, would still highlight this unique plant properly.

Harvesting the fennel is just a matter of pulling it out of the ground. I read that the fennel bulb should be the size of a tennis ball.


The recipe is not mine – I found it on Epicurious.com, and adapted it slightly.

Orecchiette with Sweet Italian Sausage and Fennel

1 fennel bulb, about 7 ounces, plus some fronds
12 ounces orecchiette
Salt
Olive oil
16 ounces sweet Italian sausage
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
White wine
Freshly grated Parmesan


Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside, along with 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage until lightly browned and cooked just through.


Remove the sausage to a bowl and set aside.

Add the fennel slices and saute them in the remaining oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel softens, about 5 minutes.

Continue to cook, adding a little wine as necessary to prevent the fennel from sticking to the skillet. You might have to do this a few times. The resulting fennel should be soft and caramelized, about 15 minutes more.

Add the cooked pasta and reserved liquid to the skillet, along with the sausage. Stir well and let cook, until the liquid has reduced to a creamy sauce, about 4 minutes.


Add Parmesan and season again if necessary.


Also sprinkle some of the fronds over the pasta.

The fennel still reminded me of Pernod, which I dislike, but it was better slightly caramelized and cooked in the wine.

The Parmesan wasn’t in the original recipe, but I felt like it needed cheese.

Heavy cream would also be a fabulous addition!

Nigella Kitchen

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I happen to be a fan of Nigella Lawson. She’s so prolific in the cookbook department, but each of her books manages to be different.

My favorite is Nigella Christmas, but probably because I’m a Christmas freak. Feast is also fabulous. But maybe in my top five is Nigella Kitchen, published in 2010.

Nigella describes this book as a comfort chronicle – “the story of my love affair with the kitchen,” which she refers to as the “heart of the home.”

That’s probably one major thing that all food bloggers have in common, that we’re at home in our kitchens. It’s where we’re the most comfortable, where we dish up love in the form of food.

In her introduction, she stresses the fact that she is not a chef. Nigella writes, “I understand why cooking can hold so much terror and the kitchen seem a place of stress, not solace. I’m sure this is partly to do with the contemporary cult of the chef…”.

Well I’ve been saying this for years. If anyone was ever hesitant about getting into the kitchen, I think the intimidating chefs on tv put an end to any attempts at cooking. This is especially sad when home cooking has nothing to do with what chefs do in their restaurant kitchens.

Furthermore, she adds, “I say and can never seem to say enough: if we needed qualifications and expertise before we stepped into the kitchen, human beings would have fallen out of the evolutionary loop a long time ago.”

I love her approach, probably because it was always my goal, especially when I taught cooking classes, and now with this blog, to show how simple home cooking is, and how easy it is to be creative and not stick to an exact recipe.

In another part of the book she writes about having a girlfriend over for supper:

“We were chatting, moaning, jabbering away and generally passing the time, as one does. I was at the stove, pontificating and pottering occasionally pushing and prodding what was in front of me with a pair of tongs; she was facing me, at the kitchen table. After about ten minutes, if that I presented her with her plate and she looked surprised, as she was sure she hadn’t seen me actually cooking. In a way, I can see her point: this wasn’t Cooking-with-a-capital-C, but the lower-case way which is always my starting point, and on busy days, I wouldn’t think of going beyond. You put something on the heat, you take it off the heat.”

Nigella’s writing is so impressive to me (her first career was journalism), and she’s also damn funny. And even though she’s gorgeous model-pretty, she seems so down to earth and shall I say normal?

I also love the passion she has not just for cooking but also eating; the way she embraces her love of indulging is respectable to me. I’d rather live like Nigella and eat chocolate cake in the middle of the night, than doom myself to eat egg white omelets the rest of my life like rail-thin Gwyneth Paltrow.

So what recipe from Nigella Kitchen to pick for this post? I have many recipes bookmarked, some of which are quite simple, but manage also to be unique. One really spoke to me – it was a salmon over sushi rice topped with a spicy Asian sauce. Simple? Definitely. Yet fabulous.

I’ve always mentioned that I use brown rice, or actually when I use any grain I purchase the unprocessed variety for more nutrition, but Nigella’s use of sushi rice in this recipe – with its beautiful white elegance – made me actually go out and buy some.

Plus I finally get to use some sake that I’ve had on hand forever!

Salmon and Sushi Rice
with hot, sweet, and sour Asian Sauce

2 1/2 cups sushi rice
1 – 1 pound slab salmon
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 red or green chile peppers, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced gingerroot
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons water (used used only 1)

Cook the rice following the package instructions.

Sear the salmon on a flat griddle for 4-5 minutes. Turn it over and cook for 1-2 minutes on the other side. The salmon should be just opaque and cooked in the center. Set aside.

Mix the remaining ingredients together, and put in a bowl to serve alongside the salmon and the cooked rice.


Flake the salmon and serve it over the rice, and generously add the sauce.

This would be a fantastic sauce for any leftover salmon you might have. This recipe, as it turns out, is only about the cooked rice, the cooked salmon, and the sauce!

I originally assumed that the salmon was marinated, but no, it’s just a matter of making this fabulous sauce!

Besides reducing the water in the recipe(I didn’t want a watery sauce), I also added chile paste (sambal oelek) to the sauce.

Part of the reason is that I used jalapeños, but I could only find sweet red chile peppers.

I wanted the sauce more spicy!!!

Make sure and serve the sauce with the salmon. You’ll want more of it!

note: You can probably tell that I cooked 2 small salmon fillets, plus I only cooked 1 cup of sushi rice; my husband doesn’t eat salmon. But I made the full recipe of the sauce and will use it up on something else soon. Grilled chicken? Eggs? The next morning after I’d made this dish, I ate the second salmon and rice serving of it cold, for breakfast. It was fantastic.

Golden Cauliflower and Carrot Rice

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I’m pretty sure you all know that I’m not fond of food trends. I’ve probably mentioned this numerous times. So if something becomes popular and trendy, I completely ignore it.

Sure, I’m old(er) and old-fashioned, but it’s just my personality. I never wore white metallic lipstick in the 60’s, either.

The dumb thing is, sometimes when you’re too stubborn, you can really miss out. Like the bowl trend. Is there one on my blog? No! But they do look lovely.

And in the 80’s, when I really started cooking, I looked down my nose at both sun-dried tomatoes and basil pesto because they were everywhere. I have no idea how many years I lost not indulging in those two fabulous foods. I’ll never forgive myself for that.

Which leads me to… cauliflower rice. Nope.

Then, thanks to the lovely Serena from her blog, Domesticate Me, I saw a recipe that I couldn’t ignore. It was a cauliflower and carrot rice with almonds and golden raisins.

If you don’t know Serena, you must check her blog out and her just-published cookbook, The Dude Diet.

She’s a doll, she’s funny, and she swears. Oh, and she’s a professionally-trained chef. What’s not to love?!! But also, and this is important to me, if I comment, she responds to my comment.

Now this may seem a bit silly, but I will stop following blogs if the authors have no time for me. It’s not that I’m so great, it’s because the best thing about blogging in my four-plus years of doing so, is the interaction. It’s like this virtual, giant group of foodie friends that you get to know around the world.

Plus, on some of those fancy blogs, you can tell that the author responds to nobody’s comment. They’re just too important and busy. I just don’t get that.

Serena has been on her book tour around the U.S., but she is still responding to comments. And I know how much time it takes, because I follow many blogs. It’s just part of the dedication one should have to one’s blog. And Serena’s blog is also one of those fancy ones!

I promised Serena that I would make her “rice” dish because it really sounded lovely. She assured me it would not disappoint.

Golden Cauliflower and Carrot Rice
Adapted slightly from Domesticate Me!

1 medium head cauliflower, florets only, about 1 lb. 6 ounces
Baby carrots, 8 ounces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Salt
Juice of 1 lemon
¾ cup chopped parsley leaves
½ cup golden raisins (I used figs)
½ cup chopped raw almonds (I used hazelnuts)
Lemon wedges for serving (optional)

Add about half of the cauliflower florets to a food processor and pulse until a “rice” forms. Place in a large bowl, then process the remaining cauliflower.

Process the carrots the same way, and add the riced carrots to the cauliflower.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the cauliflower and carrot rice, turmeric, cayenne, cumin, and a good pinch of salt.

Cook for 2-3 minutes until the rice is just tender.

Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice.


Fold in the parsley, dried fruits, and toasted nuts. Taste, and add salt if necessary.


I served this “rice” with some grilled chicken that was marinated in a garlic-parsley marinade.

What’s really fun is changing up the dried fruits and nuts according to your taste and the season. Imagine this dish with dried cranberries and pistachios in December!

Dried figs and hazelnuts are really more autumnal, but I had them on hand and I love them.

Okay, so am I glad I finally tried cauliflower rice? Of course! But I really liked what Serena did with the dish, adding carrots, seasoning, and the fruits and nuts. I can also see this as a salad with a vinaigrette, maybe with some orzo, or barley, or just like it is.

Serena’s actual name for this dish is Cauliflower and Carrot Golden “Rice,” and she serves it in a bowl, but it’s okay, cause I like her. I put mine on a plate. Maybe I can start a plate trend?!!

Sorrel Soup

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A girlfriend and I share a love of gardening, although her thumb is a deeper shade of green than mine. Plus she’s way more experimental and scientific.

Every spring, I grab from what is offered locally by nurseries. I get excited just to see a variegated sage, probably because there were years that I couldn’t even find basil plants. Those were some tough years.

Just the other day this girlfriend asked me what to do with sorrel. I had no answer because I’d never grown it. My mother has mentioned sorrel over the years, so I emailed her and she remembers a soup with a roux base, that contained sorrel.

So I had to google sorrel. The description of the taste of sorrel was interesting – it’s not just a spinach or arugula kind of leaf. In fact sorrel and rhubarb are in the same botanical family! It’s got a lemony thing going on; the lemon flavor bursts out of the leaf when you chew it, almost like a squirt of lemon juice.

Some of the leaves had grown quite tall already, and with most leafy plants like lettuces, the baby leaves are good raw, but the older ones should be cooked because they can become bitter. This is especially the case when the weather gets warmer. So I decided to make a soup.

So we harvested it, I gently rinsed the leaves in water, and placed them on a towel to dry.

Before using them in the soup I cut off some of the thicker stems.

Here’s the soup I made, which is a mixture of all the sorrel soups I found online, many of which were called French sorrel soup.

Sorrel Soup

2 ounces unsalted butter
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 leeks, sliced, white and pale green parts
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 white potatoes, chopped
Sorrel leaves, about 8 ounces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 – 1/2 cups good chicken broth
Heavy cream, about 4-6 ounces

Heat the butter over medium heat in a soup pot. Have all of the ingredients prepped.

Add the onion, leeks, and garlic to the butter and saute´for about five minutes.

Stir in the potatoes.

Then add the sorrel leaves and a little salt.

Add enough broth just to cover the potatoes. Bring the soup to a gentle boil, then cover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are fully cooked.

Remove the lid and, if necessary, keep the soup at a gentle simmer to evaporate excess liquid.

When somewhat cooled off, pour the soup into a large blender jar and blend until smooth. Add cream to the mixture and blend until incorporated. Stop at the desired consistency.

Serve hot or warm.
I added a little dollop of sour cream and a few chopped chives.

I didn’t add any other seasoning other than salt because I wanted the sorrel flavor to really shine. But a little white pepper would be good.

Cooking the sorrel subdues the lemony flavor, but the soup is still really tasty.

If you can find sorrel and haven’t had it before, I’d first try it in a salad mixed with other greens. That way you can really taste the unique lemon flavor of it.

note: If you don’t want to use white potatoes to thicken the soup, you can use some silken tofu, or drained, canned beans.

Roasted Carrot Dip

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If you have followed me for any time, you are most likely aware that I prefer a white bean-based dip over one that is garbanzo bean-based, like hummus. The texture is smoother and creamier, in my humble opinion, because of the different bean.

I also don’t think that tahini is the big deal ingredient that most people think it is. (Sorry Elaine and Yotam.) I love it in some things, not in everything.

So if I want a white bean dip or spread, I reach for my favorite – canned Great Northern beans. Then I decide what I’m going to add to it. Hummus eaters make hummus, with tahini and lemon. Same dip, all the time! I like to change things up.

Recently I came across a Roasted Carrot Hummus dip from My Kitchen Witch, and it caught my attention because carrots are one ingredient I haven’t added to white bean dip!

On this blog there are recipes for white bean dip with fresh rosemary, spices, beets, roasted butternut squash, paprika cream, and pumpkin. This just goes to show what can be done to make spectacular and tasty dips. You don’t always have to make hummus!

I’m not using Debi’s recipe, because hers is a hummus. This recipe is a white bean dip. But those roasted carrots got my attention! Thanks, Debi!

Here’s what I did.

Roasted Carrot White Bean Dip

6 small orange and/or yellow carrots
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
2 cans Great Northern beans, drained
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 – 1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt, to taste
Olive oil
Aleppo pepper, optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Scrub the carrots, if necessary, trim the ends, and dry off on a paper towel.

Place the carrots, cut into uniform pieces if necessary, in a jelly roll pan, or baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Roast until the carrots are caramelized but also tender. Sometimes I turn off the oven after the caramelization shows, to let veggies cook all the way through; you don’t want any burnt bits on tender carrots.

Remove the pan from the oven and let cool.

Meanwhile, place the drained white beans in a food processor jar.

Add the cooled carrots, garlic, cumin, and salt. Pulse as much as you can, then slowly add olive oil until there are no pieces of carrot or garlic any longer, and the dip is creamy.

If you like the carrot bits in your dip, process the garlic first, then add the carrots.

Serve immediately with pita bread, pita crisps, crackers, or bread.

You can see in the photo above how creamy and “pourable” this white bean dip is. And it doesn’t thicken and get mealy like garbanzo bean-based dips do.

I sprinkled Aleppo pepper on top of the dip, and for extra color, served it with blue corn chips.

Before I could even wash dishes, my husband had finished the dip! That’s his thumb in the photo.

verdict: Obviously my somewhat picky husband loved this dip, but I concur that it’s outstanding! The carrots add a subtle sweetness.

Note: I’ve never found that Hummus or white bean dips keep in the refrigerator. The garlic gets an off taste from oxidation, I presume, and it never tastes as good as when it’s just made. I recommend only making what you plan on eating on the same day.