Zucchini “Baba Ghanoush”

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“This looks rather like a volcanic eruption, in the best possible sense,” states Yotam Ottolenghi about this zucchini baba ghanoush recipe in his cookbook, Plenty More.

Indeed, it’s not the prettiest dip, but it caught my attention for a few reasons. Firstly, my husband won’t eat eggplant, so I thought that the zucchini substitute could work.

Secondly, I had a hummus years ago that had butter-sautéed pine nuts on it, as does this dip, and it was exquisite.

Thirdly, this “baba ghanoush” so resembled nothing I’ve ever made, that i just had to try it!

I was mostly excited that there are no garbanzo beans or tahini in this dip!

Here’s the recipe from the cookbook.

Zucchini “Baba Ghanoush”

5 large zucchini, about 2 3/4 pounds
1/3 cup goat’s milk yogurt
2 tablespoons grated Roquefort
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon Urfa chile flakes, I used Aleppo flakes
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon za’atar, to finish
Salt
Pepper

Preheat the broiler. Place the zucchini on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and broil for about 45 minutes, turning once or twice during the cooking, until the skin crisps and browns nicely.

Remove from the oven and, once cool enough to handle, peel off the zucchini skin, discard it, and set the flesh aside in a colander to drain; you can also scoop out the flesh with a spoon.

Put the yogurt in a small saucepan with the Roquefort and egg. Heat very gently for about 3 minutes, stirring often. You want the yogurt to heat through but not quite reach the simmering point. Set aside and keep warm.

Melt the butter in a small sauté pan with the pine nuts over low heat and cook, stirring often, for 3 – 4 minutes, until the nuts turn golden brown. Stir in the chile flakes and lemon juice and set aside.

To serve, put the zucchini in a bowl and add the garlic, a scant 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a good grind of black pepper.

Gently mash everything together with a fork and then spread the mixture out on a large serving platter.

Spoon the warm yogurt sauce on top, followed by a drizzle of the warm chile butter and pine nuts.

Finish with a sprinkle of za’atar and serve at once.

This dip is better than incredible.

I served it with flatbread triangles.

The zucchini makes a nice base for the toppings.

It won’t be long until I make this again!

Full disclosure: I used goat cheese in this recipe instead of blue, only because there was blue cheese in another dish I served to friends the evening I served a variety of hors d’oeuvres.

 

 

 

 

Roasted Goat Cheese with Lavender Honey

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For Christmas of 2017, a dear friend who lives in Texas sent me a fabulous gift pack. In it was a jar of lavender honey.

The gifts came from Los Poblanos Farm Foods in New Mexico. The honey is “derived from bees that pollinate a unique blend of regional plants, including our very own Grosso variety of lavender.”

As soon as you open the honey jar, you smell lavender. It is utterly fragrant and delightful.

So how better to showcase this floral honey than to top it on a roasted log of goat cheese?!!

Which is what I did to start off a special meal for my one and only.

Roasted Goat Cheese with Lavender Honey
Slightly adapted NYT Cooking recipe by Sara Dickerman

1 – 8-12 ounce log or slab of a firm goat cheese, chilled
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons lavender honey, or honey of choice
Bread, toasts, crackers

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Select a small oven-to-table earthenware dish or a small ovenproof sauté pan lined with aluminum foil to help transfer the cheese to a plate after roasting.

Place the log in the dish and cover with the olive oil.

Bake until the cheese is soft and springy to the touch but not melted, about 8 minutes.

Preheat the broiler.

Heat the honey in the microwave or over a pan of simmering water until it is fluid enough to be spread with a pastry brush.

Paint the surface of the feta with it. Broil until the top of the cheese browns and just starts to bubble. (As you can tell I opted to dropper the warm honey onto the soft cheese.)

Serve immediately with breads, toasts, or crackers.

You can also include pickled or roasted vegetables, according to the recipe author.

Alternately, add fresh fruits like strawberries and peaches, or dried fruits like dates and figs.

I might do this in the future, but this time, just the crackers with the roasted goat cheese, and the sweetness of the floral honey were just a perfect combination, topped with edible flowers for some prettiness!

note: A pretty oven-to-table gratin dish would have been a better choice than messing with a piece of foil, which did not help with sliding/moving the molten log of goat cheese to the serving platter!

Roasted Beets

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There have been times that, when commenting on recipe posts in which beets are roasted, that the beets aren’t really roasted. We’ve all done it – we place whole, trimmed beets in a foil package with a little olive oil and salt, steam-cook them till tenderness, remove the peels, and voila! But they’re not really roasted, are they?!!

So I set out to actually roast beets, as one would potatoes or broccoli. I know they will be good, like all roasted goodies. My husband claims that roasted broccoli is better than candy!
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So here’s what I did.

Really Roasted Beets

3 beets
Olive oil
Black pepper
Salt

Preheat oven to 375 degree roast setting, or 400 degrees.

Trim tops and bottoms of beets.

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Peel the beets completely.

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Chop the beets into 12ths. Or just make fairly uniform pieces of the beets, any shape you prefer. Place the beets in a baking dish, and drizzle some olive oil over them. Sprinkle them generously with pepper and salt.

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Place the baking dish in the oven. After about 15 minutes, use a spoon and toss them around to brown the pieces on different sides. Continue roasting for 10 or so minutes. They should be nicely browned, but also piece a chunk to test for tenderness.

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If they’re still firm, turn off the oven and let the baking dish sit in the oven for 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.

I used them in a salad so as to let the roasted beets really “shine.”

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For the vinaigrette, I used some beet juice strained from a can of beets, along with an equal part of leftover Riesling and reduced it. I then added red wine vinegar, olive oil, a little heavy cream, and a pinch of salt.

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If you want recipes for other “reduction” vinaigrettes, check out Beet Vinaigrette, or Beet Apple Vinaigrette.

The roasted beets are exactly what roasted beets should be. Tender beets with a lovely roasted exterior!

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Easy Beet Salad

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There are a few canned products that I love, and that can definitely save some time in the kitchen when necessary. For once I won’t mention canned beans, but instead, canned beets! You can also find them jarred. And they’re good.

If you prefer to cook your own beets, that’s fine. But in the case of this salad, I just want to show you how easy it is to create a pretty, delicious, and really fast salad – no cooking involved!

It took me a while to learn to love beets. They tasted like dirt to me initially, but I now embrace that earthiness. And a beet salad, especially with feta added, is to die for in my book.

If you noticed the photos, you can see that I used a spiralizer on the whole beets, and of course the curly cues don’t enhance the flavor of the salad. To really make this a quick salad, just some bite-size cubing of the canned beets would work perfectly. I was just trying to make the salad a little prettier!
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Easy Beet Salad

1 – 16 ounce can whole beets, to make two salads
Vinegar, I used champagne vinegar
Olive oil
Crumbled feta
Chopped parsley, optional

Drain the beets, saving all of the beet liquid* from the can. Then let them dry on paper towels.


Chop or spiralize the beets and set aside.

Pour some vinegar and olive oil in a medium-sized bowl, then add the beets and toss them gently.
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Place in serving dishes and sprinkle with feta and parsley, if using.

Black pepper would also be good, but not salt, because the feta is salty.
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Chives are another possibility instead of the parsley.
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* If you love the flavor of beets, use the leftover beet juice to make a vinaigrette. I made one for the blog in the fall – a beet apple vinaigrette. Today I reduced the beet juice along with some cherry juice, then after it cooled down, added some vinegar, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Beet juice makes a fabulous-tasting vinaigrette!


note: I’ve obviously never had canned whole beets before; I typically buy them sliced. So I was a bit shocked when I discovered how small they were in the can. As a result, they were not easy to spiralize. I suggest that if you want pretty, spiralized beets, buy them raw, cook them, then spiralize them. Larger beets just work better in a spiralizer.

Got Stale Bread?

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Got stale bread? Make panzanella!

Panzanella is an Italian salad made with stale, or at the very least, leftover bread, and you wouldn’t believe how wonderful it is. I’m sure its origins are peasant-based, because the peasant approach to making meals is all about using everything available to you, without any waste. And that means you never throw away old bread. You just turn it into a salad!

Besides bread, other additions include tomatoes, plus oil and vinegar. Some panzanellas get more involved with the inclusion of cucumbers, olives, and capers. I sometimes like to add some spinach leaves as well. And I have added feta cheese, although at that point it almost becomes a Greek-inspired salad. Italian or Greek, it doesn’t matter. It’s all good!

So today my panzanella is made from leftover sourdough bread, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, mozzarella pearls, purple onion, and lots of basil. No recipe is needed!

Panzanella

Leftover bread or stale bread*
Vinegar, I used red wine vinegar
Olive oil
Cherry tomatoes, sliced
Cucumber, de-seeded and sliced
Small purple onion, sliced
Mozzarella pearls, if you want to include cheese
Pitted Kalamata olives, sliced in halves
Salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
Fresh basil

First, break up the bread or slice it into cubes.
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Place the bread in a serving bowl. Sprinkle generously with vinegar to soften up the bread. This is especially important if using stale bread. See * below for more information on this.
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Add the tomatoes, and sprinkle on some salt and more vinegar.
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Then add the cucumbers, which you can season with salt as well.


Add the purple onions, and the mozzarella pearls.

Add the olives. Season well with salt and pepper, and give everything a toss. Add more vinegar and olive oil as necessary. (If you prefer, you can certainly use a pre-made vinaigrette instead of just using oil and vinegar.)

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Before serving, sprinkle with baby basil leaves, or a chiffonade of basil.

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The salad can also sit at room temperature for up to 2 hours for the flavors to combine. Just toss gently once before serving. The salad is prettier if the bread remains somewhat in intact pieces.
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* Typically, actual stale bread is used for this salad. Then it’s dipped in water to soften. I really don’t like that technique, even though it works. I love vinegar, so I just add a lot of vinegar to the bread before completing the salad. Also, my bread was only a couple of days old, and not stale. I could have dried it out in the oven, but I was fine with the bread as is. Some people grill the bread first before slicing it, but I personally don’t like this option because grilled bread can really tear up the roof of my mouth. But as you can see, there are many options

note: If you have leftover bread but don’t want panzanella, make bread crumbs. That way, there’s no waste!

Strawberry Vinegar

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There is one thing that makes me crazy at restaurants, and that is non-seasonal menus. It makes me want to go yell at everyone involved with the food and menu. And I’m not a yelling kind of person. Just ask my kids. Or maybe don’t.

One menu item that infuriates me is a green salad topped with strawberries. In January. And it’s snowing outside.

Why? And where are you getting these strawberries? And what are they costing you? Because they’re certainly not locally harvested in January. Not in the northern hemisphere.

Strawberries are all about spring. Spring. Time. Add roasted butternut squash and warm lentils to your winter salad, maybe with some goat cheese. But save the strawberries for strawberry season.

Speaking of strawberry season, the featured photo is of some of my just-picked strawberries from last year. I especially love the smaller, wild strawberries because of their sweetness and almost perfume-like quality. But you won’t find me putting any of my garden-ripened berries in vinegar or vodka. I like them just picked, warm from the sun, even if there’s still a little dirt on them.

Store-bought berries are good for infusing vinegars and vodkas. As long as you can taste them and you know they’re sweet. A strong aroma is usually a good indication of their ripeness as well.

And just as an aside, the sweet strawberry vodka from last spring is my most favorite infused vodka I’ve ever made. Check it out if you’re interested; there’s still time.

But back to vinegar, I have actually never flavored my own vinegars. I typically add the flavorings when I make vinaigrettes. But in the spring, along with some fresh strawberries on a salad, I decided the layered effect of having a strawberry-infused vinegar was a must this year. Especially when just seasoning a simple salad with only oil and vinegar. No garlic, or mustard or other strong flavors to impede the deliciousness of strawberry.

I bought a quart of good strawberries, gave them a slight rinse, then let them drip dry on a towel. I thought about mashing or even blending the strawberries to a pulp, but since I wanted the resulting vinegar to be clear, I decided to simply slice them.

I placed the slices in a clean bottle with a wide neck, and added no more than 1 teaspoon of white sugar. Then, using a funnel, I poured white balsamic vinegar into the jar. I used 2 – 8.5 ounce bottles for the quart of strawberries.

After giving the closed jar a gentle shake, I placed the jar in my pantry, and decided that one week should be sufficient, but I’ll give the vinegar a taste to see if a week is a substantial amount of time first. Stay tuned if you’re interested!


Just in case you’re wondering, I chose a white balsamic instead of the traditional dark-brown color. I am a huge fan of balsamic vinegar – the aged and the less aged both. But they are brown. And this is just my personal opinion, but I have never liked the look of, for example, a pasta salad tossed with balsamic vinegar. It’s just not pretty. Since I wanted to use the strawberry vinegar for more than just my one salad in this post, I wanted it pink instead of brown.

If you don’t love the sweetness of a white balsamic vinegar, simply use an apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, or a sherry vinegar.