Avocado on Grilled Bread

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In 2012, my husband and I were visiting my daughter in London and we went out for breakfast. This is what my daughter ordered.

I took a photo of it because that’s always what I’ve done, even before blogging. It was just so pretty: mashed avocado spread on grilled bread, topped with oven-roasted tomatoes and feta cheese. My introduction to avocado toast.

So although slow to embrace food trends, like zoodles and cauliflower rice, I decided to (FINALLY) make avocado toast. It’s not like I knew it wouldn’t be wonderful! Avocados are one of my favorite foods.

Too bad I’m not super artistic, or I could jump on another trend and create art from avocados…

Here’s how I made mine.

Avocado on Grilled Bread

4 tablespoons oil, I used walnut oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Few sprigs of thyme
6 slices good bread, like Ciabatta
2 ripe but not over-ripe avocados
Fresh tomato slices
Salt
Pepper
Goat cheese
Fresh thyme leaves, optional

Warm the olive oil in a butter warmer with the garlic and thyme. Do not let the garlic brown or burn.

Heat a large, flat skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly brush the slices of bread with the garlic oil, and grill the bread face-down until browned. Place them on a serving plate and set aside.

Peel and de-pit the avocados. Scoop out the flesh and place in a medium bowl. Mash with a fork. Season with salt and pepper.

Only prepare the avocado right before serving.

To prepare the “toasts,” spread some of the mashed avocado on the grilled breads and smooth the tops.

Add sliced tomatoes, followed by a generous amount of crumbled goat cheese.

Drizzle the remaining garlic and thyme oil over the avocado toasts and serve immediately.

These are not only for breakfast or a snack or lunch. I can see these served as an hors d’oeuvres with some champagne or rosé!

Alternatively, oven roast small tomatoes in a gratin pan.

Or, use sun-dried tomatoes. It’s all wonderful!

If more protein is desired, one can always add an egg, or some smoked salmon. But I like the simplicity of this preparation.

Do not use inferior bread for these toasts. Use a ciabatta, sourdough, or a hearty multigrain.

These avocado toasts were honestly outstanding. If you love avocado, tomatoes, and feta, then you’ll love these too. Of course, you’ve probably made them already because you’re not stubborn! But I have to say that the garlic and thyme-infused walnut oil was a fantastic addition.

Socca

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When I travel, I like to try local specialties. It’s just part of the fun of eating and drinking in other countries. But learning about different foods and experiencing them is also a huge part of becoming a better cook.

I’ve had haggis in Scotland (a bit bland), banana beer in Rwanda (terrible), conch in the Cayman Islands (incredible.) Two foods I’ve refused to try were Casu Marzu in Corsica, a cheese covered in live maggots, and red-sauced, still-moving snails in Spain.

I’ll probably never eat fried spiders, grilled grasshoppers, and definitely not barbecued guinea pigs. So I guess I’m not the most adventurous when in comes to experiencing local food, but I do my best.

In the fall of 2015, my husband and I traveled to France, to begin a magical two-week road trip. Our guide was the incomparable Stéphane Gabart, from the blog My French Heaven. This was my third time visiting him. He knows and loves France, and he has great passion for French food and wine. He’s a professional chef, photographer, he’s really funny, and best of all, he’s my friend.

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On this trip we traveled throughout Provence, stopping in quaint villages. Stéphane planned lunch in Castelnaudary, just so we could experience authentic cassoulet. And when we reached le Côte d’Azur, we enjoyed traditional bouillabaise in Cassis. In Avignon, I ordered pieds paquets, or veal toes, after treating myself to snails (the kind that are not alive).

Before leaving Nice to return home, I wanted to try a local specialty socca. I must have seen it in a cookbook, but had no idea what to expect. I expected socca to look more like cornbread, but it was more crêpe-like.

What makes socca different is that it’s made with garbanzo bean flour and not wheat flour.

The restaurant where we lunched in vieux Nice is at the left of the plaza.

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At our final lunch together, I ordered socca with a Salade Niçoise and this is what it looked like.

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Just for fun, I thought I should recreate socca at home. I am using a recipe from the blog Foodie Underground, written by Anna Brones.

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Mine don’t look quite the same as what I had in Nice, but they were good!

Here’s what I did.

Socca
Makes 8 – 6″ in diameter

1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup garbanzo bean/chick pea flour
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon salt

This is the garbanzo bean flour I used for the socca.

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk well.

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At this point, the batter is watery. Cover with a dish towel and put the bowl in the refrigerator for one hour minimum. The batter will thicken, but still be a “thin” batter.

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Lightly oil a large round flat skillet. I used my Le Creuset crêpe pan that came with a little wooden tool. I’ve never used it for crêpes, just flatbreads!

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Turn the heat to high. When the oil is smoking, gently pour a scant 1/3 cup of the batter onto the skillet, much as you would a crêpe.
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The high heat really grabs the batter. You can see little holes forming around the edges.
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Wait just until the middle of the socca has firmed up, then flip it over. To best assist with flipping the socca, I used a giant spatula that I usually only use for moving pastry. It’s really thin.

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Flip over and cook for just about 30 seconds. This one got a little too browned on the first side.

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While still warm, I folded the socca into quarters. My French socca were definitely more pliable than these.

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To serve with the socca, I put together a green salad with some fun goodies.

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The vinaigrette is a creamy lemon and parsley.

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The socca were fantastic. I really loved the flavor of the Herbes de Provence.

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Other recipes for socca list cumin or rosemary.

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I’ve also seen recipes for socca that are thicker and cooked in the oven, served in wedges. I’m definitely going to experiment more because there is obviously more than one way to make socca. Plus, there are Ligurian recipes for the Italian version, called farinata, which makes sense since Liguria is so close to Nice.

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Notice the lacy look of my socca.
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The taste is really lovely, and there was no bitterness from the garbanzo bean flour. Their look is so-so, but I’d definitely make these unique pancakes again!

If you’re interested, check out highlights of our trip here Je Ne Regrette Rien.

Beet Hummus

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Firstly, I have to clarify that this recipe is not a true hummus. Personally, I don’t really love hummus. I mean, it can be good, but there are a lot of bad ones out there – at restaurants and pre-packaged at stores like Central Market and Whole Foods. Some are too lemony, some are tasteless, and sometimes the hummus is mealy. I prefer a softer, smoother texture that I get from using white beans instead of garbanzos.

So this recipe is actually a white bean dip recipe made with beets. There is no lemon and no tahini and no garbanzos. It’s just sometimes easier to say or write hummus, rather than white bean dip!

I recently made beet ravioli again, and this time I used canned whole beets to see if there was a difference in the beet filling, as compared to using roasted beets. As it turns out, that there wasn’t any difference.

With all of the many different variation of white bean dip I’ve made over the years, I’ve never included beets, and I decided to change that immediately!

For the beet ravioli filling, the cooked beets are finely processed, placed in cheesecloth in a colander over a bowl, and weighted down. This serves two purposes – the juice is collected for a reduction, and the beets dry out to create a denser filling. So keep in mind that these beets have been squeezed “dry.”

So this is what I did today:
white bean and beet dip
White Bean and Beet Dip

1 – 15 ounce can Great Northern white beans
1/4 cup minced cooked beets
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
Pinch of salt
Olive oil, about 1/4 cup
Olive oil for drizzling
Valbreso, or other feta cheese, optional

Drain the white beans well in a colander. I give mine a rinse as well.
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Place the beans in the jar of a food processor. Add the beets*, garlic, cumin, and salt.
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Process, pouring in a little olive oil at a time until the mixture is fairly smooth. Scrape down, and process until the bean dip is smooth.
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Serve immediately, with pita triangles or crackers. If desired, drizzle a little olive oil on top of the dip.

A little crumbled feta cheese on top is also tasty!
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* You don’t have to squeeze the liquid from cooked beets for this recipe, but you may not need as much olive oil if you don’t. Just add the oil slowly, until the proper consistency is reached.

note: The next time I make this, which I will, I will use 1/3 of a cup of beets, instead of the 1/4 cup I used. The beet flavor is surprisingly a bit subdued. I could used less garlic and cumin, but I really was after that beet, garlic, and cumin flavor combo!
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If you’re interested in my other white bean dip recipes on which I’ve posted, check out white bean dip, and another white bean dip!