Raclette Quick Bread

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For those of you who don’t know what a quick bread is, well, it’s just that – a quick bread! As opposed to slow bread, you could say, or a yeasted bread, which can take hours to prepare and bake.

A quick bread utilizes baking powder as leavening that lightens the bread as it bakes, as opposed to yeasted breads that utilize yeast.

Besides being quick, quick breads are extremely easy. You mix up ingredients much like you would muffins or pancakes, whether sweet or savory. You just have to respect the ratio of wet to dry ingredients. Think about it. A cookie dough is different from a cake batter for a reason.

Today I decided to make a savory quick bread using some leftover raclette that I had frozen after Christmas, and a few other goodies I gathered together. If you decide to make this bread, you can completely change up the ingredients to make this bread your own.

This kind of bread is also referred to in France as a cake salé, a savory “cake” made in a loaf pan.

Raclette Quick Bread

2 ounces jarred sun-dried tomatoes in oil, slightly drained and chopped
6 ounces pancetta, diced
2 tablespoons butter
16 ounces milk
2 eggs
8 ounces plain Greek yogurt or ricotta
1 teaspoon salt
Leftover pancetta and fat
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh herbs, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
10 ounces grated raclette or other semi-firm cheese
4 ounces of chopped olives

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the pancetta and butter together in a skillet over medium heat. A little browning is good. Let everything cool, and remember to save the fat in the skillet to use in the recipe. I actually discovered diced pancetta at my grocery store!

To a large mixing bowl, add the milk, eggs, yogurt and salt and whisk until smooth.

Add the pancetta and its fat, and the herbs. Stir until smooth. I used fresh parsley, rosemary, and oregano.

Using a spoon, gradually add the flour and baking powder and stir until the flour is almost combine with the wet ingredients.

Add the grated cheese and olives and fold them into the batter gently; do not over stir. And another discovery – pitted Castelvetrano olives! Thank you Amazon.

Divide the batter in between two greased 8 x 4″ loaf pans. Place the pans in the oven for 45 minutes.

To make sure they are cooked through, use a cake tester or long toothpick to check them. No doughy substance should be sticking to the tester. If there is, the breads need to be cooked for maybe five minutes longer. An alternative is to lower your oven to 325 degrees to help the breads cook in the middle. Sometimes it works to turn off the oven and let them sit for 10-15 minutes.

There should be a little rise along the middle of the bread, and it should also be firm to the touch.

Let the breads rest in the pans for about 30 minutes, and then remove them to cool completely.

Serve these breads as part of a buffet, or for an hors d’oeuvres platter.

They’re best warm or at room temperature. When the bread is warm it’s luscious and cheesy and flavorful.

Can you imagine serving this bread with a bowl of tomato soup?!

This bread would be great with smoked cheese, bits of chorizo, and chopped cilantro. Or, roasted red bell peppers, Gorgonzola, and basil. Get creative!

For a similar bread, click on Olive Cake for another delicious cake salé, pictured below.

Crunchy Beans

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This is a dish that I remember from living at home, but I didn’t know its origin. I just knew it wasn’t French! Out of the blue my sister recently asked me about crunchy beans, and I told her I was making them for the blog! With her being four years older, she had the distinct memory of how the very American recipe infiltrated our mother’s kitchen.

In my sister’s words: “In the early 60s, our family visited new friends Larry and Aimée, at their home for dinner. Crunchy Beans, all hot and bubbly from the oven, was served. Our mom was slightly insulted because, being French, she would never have served beans to guests.

She was very formal about those kinds of things and tended to judge accordingly. To her, a leg of lamb, one of several courses, would have been more appropriate. (She would even warm plates before serving food.) But, as it turned out, we loved the Crunchy Beans! It was an interesting and delicious combination of flavors that we were not used to, not to mention the catsup – quelle horreur! We acquired the recipe, and it became a family favorite.”

I found this photo from back then, my mother on the left with her poodle Minouche, Larry and Aimée (The Bean Cookers), and me with the long braids.

These beans are really easy to make, because you use canned pork and beans for the base. My husband, who grew up on such beans, recommends Van Camp’s brand.

Cooking beans from scratch is easy and economical, but there is something about this recipe that’s really fun. It’s also easy and good!

Crunchy Beans

3 – 15 ounce cans Van Camp’s pork and beans
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 carrots, peeled, finely chopped
4 celery ribs, finely chopped
2/3 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/3 cup bacon grease

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place all of the ingredients in a large Le Creuset or similar pot and bake for one hour.

They look like this when they’re done baking.

I served the crunchy beans with hot dogs!

And of course you can cut up the hot dogs and put them in the beans… but I wouldn’t.

But they’re definitely good with burgers and sausages.

Corn-Tomato Salad with Tapenade

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Did I need another French cookbook? A resounding NO, but when I read about this one, Dinner in French by Melissa Clark, published in 2020, I knew I would love it.

I love personal stories, so the introduction in this book was a great read. Ms. Clark tells the story about how her Great-Aunt Martha and Uncle Jack “dragged” her parents to Europe, and they fell in love with France. After she and her sister were born, the annual trips to France continued, sometimes renting houses, other times exchanging houses, which allowed them to stay put for a month AT A TIME, in various regions of France.

Ms. Clark writes about her cooking, “It’s all right there, rooted in my New York-Jewish-Francophile DNA. And my cooking ends up playfully and unmistakably French. At our house, the conversation might be in English, but dinner’s in French.”

According to Ms. Clark, “This salad is all about the contrast between the sugar-sweet corn and the salty olive tapenade. Since many commercial tapenade shamefully neglect to include anchovies along with the olives and capers, I like to make my own.” I do as well.

I did learn a trick from the author. She suggests microwaving whole corn cobs, 5 minutes for four. I simply wrapped them in a towel first. What I didn’t expect was that the husk part came off in basically one piece. No corn silk with which to deal. Fabulous trick.

Fresh Corn and Tomato Salad with Tapenade

For the tapenade dressing:
1 1/2 cups pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed
2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely grated or minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:
4 ears fresh corn, cooked, kernels sliced off and reserved
1 pint red cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
3/4 cup fresh parsley leaves

Flaky sea salt, for serving
Sliced baguette, for serving

Combine the olives, basil, parsley, capers, oil, lemon zest and juice, anchovies, garlic, and pepper in a blender. Pulse to form a coarse paste. Taste, and add more lemon juice if it tastes flat.

Toss the corn kernels, tomatoes, red onions, basil, and parsley together in a large bowl. Fold in just enough tapenade to coat the vegetables.

Sprinkle the salad lightly with flaky sea salt, and serve it with the remaining tapenade and some bread alongside.

There is actually quite of bit of tapenade “dressing” for this salad, so you can always spread it on the bread while enjoying the salad.

I also think white beans would be really good in this salad, along with the corn and tomatoes.

But as it is… fabulous. And a great idea to use tapenade as a base for a dressing. I added a bit more lemon juice.

This salad would be a perfect picnic salad, served alongside grilled chicken, ham sanwiches, or sausages.

Crunchy Pea Salad

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I am American. Born here, bred here. But I’ve never been a big fan of American food. I just wasn’t raised on it. In fact, I can vividly remember the times I was subjected to traditional American dishes after I left home, like beanie weenies, jello salad, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and poppy seed dressing. The list is actually very long, I just don’t want to make anyone feel like they have to defend the kind of food on which he/she was raised. I was just fed differently.

My mother was raised in France, and knew no other way to create meals for my sister and I than the local farm-to-table approach. She shopped often, harvested from the ocean, the forest, and her own garden, made everything from scratch, and nothing went to waste.

When I was growing up, my mother made croissants and éclairs. I never had a donut. She also began learning about various global cuisines when I was a tween, so dinners were everything from Chinese hot pot, to Russian coulibiac, to Ethiopian wats. I had no idea what mac and cheese was. Frozen food, fast food and coke? Never. So I truly come by my food snobbiness naturally.

Years ago I left behind a friend in California when I moved to the Midwest after getting married in 1982. Although only 10 years my senior, she had a young family that I adored, and I was often invited for dinner. Spaghetti was an involved meal for her, even though she bought the sauce in a jar, the Parmesan in the green carton, and the garlic bread in a foil wrapper. But it was wonderful. I loved being at her house with her family, which I learned quickly was way more important than the food on the table.

Jeanne actually inspired me a lot, although I didn’t really realize it back then. I was quite young, and had no immediate plans on marrying and having children, but she was a wonderful mother and unconsciously I learned from her.

One day, she served a salad called crunchy pea salad. She had gotten the recipe out of one of her Junior League cookbooks*.

I am not going to say anything about those cookbooks, with plastic bindings and recipes like Aunt Susan’s Favorite Cake and Velveeta Rotel Dip. I’ve probably already lost followers from my anti-American food comments.

But this salad was great! And really unique!!! And to this day I’ve kept the recipe, and actually made it a few times. I’ve never heard of it elsewhere, or seen it on a blog, but I suspect it’s fairly well known considering the source.

You can’t beat the ingredients: peas, bacon, cashews, celery, green onions, and sour cream, which all go together beautifully. It’s great to serve at a picnic, or garden buffet, or even a brunch.

So thank you Jeanne for this recipe and your lovely family of which I got to be a part for a short time.

Crunchy Pea Salad

1 – 16 ounce package petite peas, thawed
8 ounces diced bacon
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1 cup salted and roasted cashews
1 cup sour cream, divided
Approximately 1/3 cup vinaigrette, see below

Place the thawed peas over paper towels in a bowl and set aside.

Crisply fry the bacon bits and drain well on paper towels; set aside to cool.

Have your celery and green onions prepared and ready.

Since I didn’t have roasted and salted cashews, I actually roasted mine in the leftover bacon grease. I must say, they almost disappeared before I could put the salad together.

For the vinaigrette, I used a basic recipe as follows:

1/2 cup sherry vinegar, but apple cider will work just as well
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 small cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt

Blend everything together well. This recipe makes more than you need for the salad, so keep the leftover vinaigrette in a jar and refrigerate.

Separately, I blended 1/2 cup of sour cream along with only 1/3 cup vinaigrette for the salad. Shake it well in a jar and set aside.

To assemble the salad, remove the damp paper towels from the bowl with the peas. Add the celery and green onions.

Add the remainder 1/2 cup sour cream, and the dressing and stir gently to combine.

I placed the mixture in a serving bowl.

Normally, the bacon and the cashews would be included in the salad, but for the sake of photography, I sprinkled them both on top.

I also sprinkled some salt and coarsely ground pepper.

I served extra dressing, but even as a lover of dressings and vinaigrettes, no more is needed for this salad.

Make sure to add the cashews only at the last minute. The cashews are part of the crunch in the crunchy pea salad.

* Before you even think about writing a comment defending Junior League cookbooks of America, please know that I’ve actually been featured in one, and I’m very proud of that fact. Over the years, the cookbooks have really evolved, and now have normal bindings, gorgeous photos, and creative recipes. Below is a blurb from a write-up about me, in Cooking by the Boot Straps, published in the town where I live.

xx

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Mushroom Arugula Pasta Salad

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Even though I was born in the U.S. I wasn’t raised on a traditional American diet. As a result, I’m not fond of many popular foods. Velveeta, although not really a food, comes to mind. As does Miracle Whip.

A few salads I also find unpalatable. Like the over-mayonnaised macaroni salad, salads with poppyseed dressing, and any salad with jello.

Pasta salads should be lovely, flavorful, not drowning in any kind of dressing, and definitely not sugary.

One day this pasta recipe caught my attention. If you’ve never discovered the blog The Vintage Mixer, you need to hop over there. Becky is a beautiful young woman, cook, traveler, adventurer, living in Utah.

She has even written a cookbook.

Her pasta salad contains roasted mushrooms, a definite improvement over raw mushrooms! The pasta in this salad if pesto-filled tortellini, and who doesn’t love tortellini?!! Also included are fresh arugula leaves, plus a simple lemon dressing. Simple but brilliant.

Because it is wintertime, I served this salad warm, with the warm tortellini and roasted mushrooms, and the arugula slightly wilted from the dressing.

Mushroom Arugula Pasta Salad

12 ounces fresh assorted mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
16 ounces pesto-filled tortellini
5 ounces arugula
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

Dressing:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss mushrooms in olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and fresh thyme. Spread out onto a baking sheet in a single layer and roast for 15 minutes.

While mushrooms are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add the tortellini and cook according to package directions.

Whisk together all of the ingredients for the lemon dressing and set aside.

Once mushrooms are done remove from oven and set aside.

Drain tortellini and toss with a little oil.

Once tortellini has cooled slightly, toss with the arugula and lemon dressing.

Let the arugula warm and “wilt” for a few minutes, then stir in the mushrooms and Parmesan gently.

Top with shaved Parmesan and serve.

As you can tell, I also sprinkled on some pomegranate seeds and microgreens over the salad for the sake of festivity!

note: After visiting 4 stores, I had to finally settle on cheese tortellini. Maybe I have to go to Utah for Becky’s pesto-filled tortellini!

Barbeque Eggplant Sandwiches

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A while back I browsed through sandwiches on Epicurious.com, which is odd for me as they are not something I think about. Nothing against sandwiches, but I have only one sandwich post on this blog, out of 500 posts! So that says something…

However, I was planning food for a get-together where I needed a make-ahead, picnic-type, easy-to-eat food. I thought that a sandwich, perhaps in the barbecue category, wrapped in foil and kept warm, would be the easiest for me; the sides could be made the day ahead.

And there it was, while I was browsing – a barbecue eggplant sandwich. I had to click on it – the name was so intriguing.

Plus, I have Japanese Ichiban eggplants growing in my garden.

What a unique way to use eggplant, besides eggplant parmesan, ratatouille, and baba ganoush.

Barbecue Eggplant Sandwich
Adapted from Epicurious

Eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds total), trimmed and sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick planks
1/2 cup BBQ sauce*, divided
1 teaspoon garlic pepper, or favorite seasoning
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 small red onion, halved and sliced into thin wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 slices provolone cheese
4 soft rolls
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Pepperoncini peppers

Position oven rack six inches from the heat source and preheat broiler.

Brush eggplant slices on both sides with 2 tablespoons BBQ sauce and season with 1/2 teaspoon garlic pepper. Arrange slices on a sheet pan.

Broil eggplant until browned and soft, about 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, toss mushrooms and red onion with oil, remaining garlic pepper and reserve.

Remove broiler pan from oven, flip eggplant slices, and brush with 2 more tablespoons BBQ sauce.

Scatter mushroom mixture around the eggplant on the pan and broil until browned and soft, about 3 minutes more.

To assemble the sandwiches, first toast the rolls using a little butter and a hot skillet.

Then brush the top toasted half of each roll with 1 tablespoon mayonnaise.

Lay the cheese on the rolls. Because provolone are circular, I cut them into narrow slices.

Layer an eggplant slice and some mushroom mixture on the bottom of each roll.


Close the sandwiches and serve immediately. You can drizzle a little more barbeque sauce in the sandwiches if desired.

The original recipe suggests using some thinly sliced pepperoncini inside the sandwiches, but I prefer them on the side.

Once I bit into this sandwich I knew I’d be making it again. Especially with a vegetarian in the family.

An added slice of bacon would please anyone insisting on a non-vegetarian sandwich.

But seriously, with the meaty eggplant and mushrooms, meat will most likely not be missed.

* Typically I make my own barbecue sauce, but there is one jarred product which I sincerely love, and that is Head Country, made right here in Oklahoma. The original is wonderful – not vinegary, not sweet – and now there are other varieties as well. The hot and spicy is incredible. Just use the barbecue sauce that’s your fave!

Also, if you ever need to keep sandwiches warm in an oven or warming drawer, try these foil wrappers. I used them when I was catering large, casual events, and they are a perfect size for a sandwich like this!

A Delightfully Decadent Potato Salad

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For Father’s Day this year I made a deliciously decadent potato and corn salad, as a side dish to barbecued pulled pork.

Typically when I make a potato salad, I use a vinaigrette as a light, zingy binder; I grew up on this more “German” version of potato salads.

But this time I wanted a creamy potato salad, more like the American version, but with delightful goodies added – hence, the name.

This potato-corn salad was so good, it was barely 2 weeks before I made it again, serving it alongside grilled flank steak.

A Delightfully Decadent Potato Salad
serves about 12

1 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream
8 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
12 ounces diced, cooked bacon
10 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon chili powder*
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper, or to taste
6 cobs of corn, cooked
3 pounds baby potatoes
1 Vidalia onion
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

In a medium-sized bowl, add the mayonnaise, the eggs, the bacon, the feta cheese, and the seasoning.

Stir well and set aside.

Slice the corn off of the cooled cobs. Gently break into smaller pieces and set aside.

 

Using the bacon grease from cooking the bacon, roast the potatoes. Let cool.

Place the potatoes and corn in a large bowl. Finely chop the onion and combine.

Then gently stir the mayo-egg-bacon mixture in until it’s evenly distributed.

Now you might have noticed that this isn’t the prettiest salad. I typically never ever serve or eat anything that looks like it could have been regurgitated. But this salad, as messy as it is, is my one exception.

To serve, sprinkle a generous amount of chopped cilantro over the salad.

The saltiness from the feta and bacon is wonderful with the creamy eggs and potatoes.

I served the salad with a flank steak, medium rare, and sliced. With just a minimal of seasoning.

The potato salad is spicy. If you don’t want to use the seasoning, put that on your flank steak instead!

* If you don’t own chili powder, use 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 1/1 teaspoons paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander.

Pissaladière

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My first experience eating pissaladière was exquisite – an experience I knew I’d always remember. It was May of 2002. My older daughter had just graduated from high school, and we took her and her sister on a tour of eastern France, from Nice in the south, ending in Paris two weeks later.

I’d always insisted that we would take the kids to Europe – anywhere in Europe – before they left home, and this was finally that trip. My husband had suggested we start with France because I’d lived there, and spoke some French still.

We booked the tour with Rick Steves – a tour company I highly recommend for many reasons. For one thing, there are only 24 people on these trips. For another, someone else does the driving for you and, the hotel reservations have been made and confirmed. And trust me, we are not “tour” people. Plus, half of the time, you’re on your own.

The name of Rick Steves tour company is Europe Through the Back Door. It’s not a traditional tour in that you get to see Europe as the Europeans do. Unless your specific tour focuses only on cities, you’re taken on back roads into villages and areas that the larger tours don’t and can’t take you. It’s very insightful and the experiences unique.

My husband and I have driven in Europe by ourselves, without a guide, but you miss out on a lot of information. Some friends I know are really good at studying before and during their trips, but my husband and I aren’t like that.

The tour guides for Rick Steves are incredibly knowledgeable people. You don’t work for him if you’re not skilled in the language, and passionate about the arts, the politics, history, and much more. We’ve also used Rick Steves in Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, and Scotland.

So back in 2002, we began our Eastern France tour by visiting Vieux Nice. After two days, we headed out of the city to Èze and had a picnic. And that’s where our guide served us local specialties that included pissaladière, which you can see in the photo on the right.

So that was my first experience. The weather was perfect, the view just stunning, my family was there and happy, and we were finally all in France!

To recreate the pissaladière, I used the recipe in this cookbook.

I’ve seen recipes that use pizza dough and also puff pastry, but whatever kind of crust, caramelized onions, anchovies and Niçoise olives are always on top.

Pissaladière

Pastry
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter
1 large egg
About 2 tablespoons ice water

Topping
Scant 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
2 or 3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cloves
Water
20 – 25 small anchovy fillets
About 15 Niçoise or other small black olives

At least 2 hours before you wish to serve the tart, make the pastry: Place the flour and salt in a bowl. Use the coarse side of a box grater to grate the butter into the bowl, then toss with the flour.

Use a knife or pastry cutter to cut in the butter so that you have small buttery crumbs.

(Or, use a food processor!)

Break the egg into the bowl and mix in lightly with a fork. Add the ice water, starting with 2 tablespoons, tossing and mixing to moisten the flour. If necessary, add more water, just enough so that the dough comes together in a mass when you pull it together.

Transfer to a heavy plastic bag. Press from outside the bag to make a flat disk about 6 inches across. Seal well and refrigerate while you prepare the topping (the dough can be made up to 2 days ahead).

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil a shallow 13-by-9-inch baking pan.

To prepare the topping, heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Add the onions, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and cloves and cook over medium heat, turning frequently, until the onions wilt and soften.

Lower the heat slightly and continue to cook: After they release their liquid, the onions will soften further, but as the liquid evaporates, the onions may start to stick – add a little water as necessary to prevent sticking (1/4 cup, or perhaps a little more).

The whole cooking process will take about an hour.

When done, the onions will be very soft and sweet-tasting. Remove from the heat, and remove and discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

While the onions are cooking, prepare the crust: Lightly flour a work surface and turn out the dough. Flatter the dough by banging on it with a lightly floured rolling pin, then roll it out to a rectangle a little larger than the baking pan, rolling from the center outward.

Transfer the dough to the baking pan and gently ease it into the corners. Trim off extra dough with a sharp knife. If necessary, use scraps of trimmings to patch any holes, pressing down on the edges of the patch to seal well. Prick the dough all over, about ten times, with a fork to prevent puffing, then line it with foil or parchment paper. Weight the foil with dried beans or pastry weights.

Bake the crust for about 10 minutes, until the edges are firm and just touched with color. Remove from the oven and remove the foil and weights.

Spread the cooked onions all over the bottom of the crust, then arrange the anchovies and olives on top.

Place the tart back in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until the edges are touched with brown and pulling away from the sides of the pan.

Let cool for at least 10 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

I served mine with a salad, topped with a basic vinaigrette and finely grated Parmesan.

The sweetness of the onions pairs so well with the salty anchovies and olives.

It’s truly a match made in culinary heaven.


And this crust was total perfection – delicate and flavorful.
Vive la France!

Black Bean Salad

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Last week on the blog I cooked a pound of dried beans to show how easy and inexpensive it is to prepare beans. But I also wanted to show what you can do with a pot of beans, such as use the beans in other dishes.

It’s easy to use the beans in soups and stews and even pastas. I love the idea of stretching dishes, especially those heavy with protein, in order to make them healthier. But there are also so many other ways to use cooked beans.

Today I’m going to make a bean salad. This is not an exceptional or “gourmet” recipe; in fact, you can really change it up to make it your own. But it’s a hearty, healthy, satisfying salad. I must say that whenever I’ve taken a bean salad to parties, people go nuts over them. And they’re so simple!

So hopefully this is a dish that you’ve never thought of making before, and are willing to try it out! It’s definitely wonderful to take to a pot luck, and it can be made ahead of time.

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Plus, you can use many different kinds of vinaigrettes or citrus-based dressing with bean salads. I even posted a bean salad on the blog a while back using a home-made green goddess dressing. So the options are endless!

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Black Bean Salad

Black beans, no liquid included
Raw zucchini, chopped
Fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
Onion, finely chopped
Chile peppers, finely chopped
Fresh cilantro leaves
Dressing (see below)

Begin by placing cooked beans in a medium-sized bowl. Then begin adding what you want to the beans. I’ve listed what I used, but the fun thing about these bean salads, is that you can use what you like.

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Continue to add the ingredients, then pour in the dressing and give everything a toss.

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I served my salad with some pickled jalapenos on the side, but you can offer anything you’d like.

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And that’s it! Think about how you can make this salad your own with your favorite ingredients, like including avocado, corn, and bell peppers, for example. It all works, and it’s all wonderful!

Lemon Garlic Dressing

Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil, about 1/3 cup
1 clove fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon oregano
Salt, to taste

Place everything in a blender jar and puree until smooth. If you don’t want a Southwestern-flavored dressing, omit the cumin and oregano.

Strawberry Vanilla Neufchâtel

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A while back I posted on making your own Chocolate Neufchâtel – a chocolate cream cheese spread. My initial reason for making the chocolate version from scratch many years ago was because the chocolate neufchatel I purchased once was terribly expensive.

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I haven’t seen it around anymore, although I spotted a variety on IGourmet.com this morning. It’s made by Westfield Farm, and it’s purely a chocolate-flavored goat cheese. Pure bliss!

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In any case, chocolate neufchâtel is wonderful to serve for something slightly sweet on a table of hors d’oeuvres, as is this strawberry version. I use the name neufchâtel only because it sounds nicer than cream cheese. They’re both firm and creamy, although American cream cheese also contains cream; the taste difference is negligible.

I had a little leftover jam from when I used my new jam and jelly maker last week, and decided to use it to make the strawberry cream cheese. I could have also added some goat cheese for a little zing, like I did with my chocolate version, but today’s will be only cream cheese.

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Besides being delicious, strawberry cream cheese/neufchâtel is very pretty, especially in the spring and summer for parties and showers. You can make a very similar strawberry cream cheese with sweetened fresh strawberries, but today I’m simply using the jam I made, a strawberry vanilla jam. It’s so simple.

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Strawberry  Vanilla  Neufchâtel

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup strawberry jam

Place the cream cheese and butter in a medium-sized bowl and add the jam.

Blend the ingredients together until they’re smooth.

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Today I’m going to make the cream cheese into a log form, so I let the mixture chill for about 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Place a piece of plastic wrap on a counter, and plop the strawberry cream cheese onto the plastic. Working carefully, with your fingers underneath the plastic wrap, carefully form the cream cheese into a log shape, wrapping it in the plastic at the same time. If it’s not working properly, you probably need to chill the cheese more.

When ready to serve, unwrap the cheese and place on a serving platter. The plastic should come off easily; the butter helps with that step.

Let the log warm to room temperature before actually serving. Serve with water crackers or crisps or bread.

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As you can see, it’s very spreadable.

You could sprinkle a little powdered sugar on top, toasted walnuts, candied pecans, or pearl sugar. Or, if you wish, you could also add a little more of the jam on top.

But I really like it as is, with just the slight sweetness of the strawberries!

note: Taste the cream cheese when you’re making it, because the flavor of the resulting spread, no matter what shape you form it in, will taste the same. If you want more sweetness, add some sieved powdered sugar. Don’t go crazy with adding the jam; in fact, I wouldn’t use any more of the jam to cream cheese and butter ratio than I did. Otherwise you run the risk of the cream cheese not firming up. Jam doesn’t firm up – cream cheese and butter do!