Friday, November 21, 2014

Jeweled Holiday Salad with California Endive, Roasted Beets and Butternut and a Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Autumn brings color into our lives with not only with falling leaves, but with colorful produce filling the tables at local markets.  Brightly hued butternut squashes contrast beautifully with vibrant bunches of greens and brilliant baskets of pomegranates.

California Endive
Endive Instagram!
But have you thought of California Endive?  For years I'd walked past those little torpedo-like greens simply because I didn't know what to do with them.  Then a few years ago a girlfriend served the leaves with a savory filling at a holiday gathering, and I've been hooked ever since.

A member of the chicory family, endive is related to radicchio, escarole and frissee.  Its crisp texture and sweet nutty flavor bring a mild bitterness to your recipes, and endive is good either cooked or raw.

A California girl through and through, an opportunity landing in my inbox to promote California Endive shines right up my alley.  But the opportunity didn't stop there... A box filled with brilliant, perfectly formed red and green California Endives arrived packaged with a can of Italian Nudo Olive Oil and a Bottle of Rios do Chile Carmenère along with a challenge to create a fall themed side dish suitable for your holiday table.  My kind of challenge!!

I have to admit to using the olive oil for a few days before getting to my fall challenge.  Do you recall the Smashed Avocado Toast topped with Oiled Tomatoes? Yep... that was the Nudo Oil.  We tired the toast with Nudo oil and again with a generic oil from my pantry, and Liv actually noticed the difference without me saying anything.  This Nudo oil is a keeper.

Here's were my food blogger job brings me incredible satisfaction as well as introductions that grow into relationships.  Nudo Italia features a concept that swells my heart... I think it's best said in their own words:

Jason Gibb and Cathy Rogers set up Nudo in 2005 after buying and restoring an abandoned 21 acre olive grove in Italy's Le Marche.

Their love of the Italian countryside inspired their now famous adopt an olive tree programme which allows people all over the world to adopt an Italian olive tree and receive its oil. The programme involves a collaboration between a group of small scale, artisanal olive producers in Le Marche, Abruzzo and Sicily. Each olive farmer keeps responsibility for the care of their grove, and all the olive oil goes into the Nudo adoption programme.

In giving financial security to the olive farmers, the programme makes viable the traditional farming methods which, quite simply,produce the world's best olive oil.

A love of simple natural food is the starting point for all Nudo products. They are all made from 100% natural, high quality, locally sourced ingredients. Why use artificial preservatives when olive oil is one of the best preservatives there is - and the most delicious?

Real oils pressed from trees raised with the love of the land owners keeps the quality high and the oils special.  Most exciting for me is the Il Fico Grove owned by Saverio Adamo.  While I didn't actually visit the grove near Alcamo on the Trapanese Coast of Sicily, my husband and I spent a day in the area, and I believe we drove nearly right by.

Trapanese Coast of Sicily seen from Erice ~ 2010
But back to our challenge... with beautiful California Endives and this fabulous olive oil, a colorful holiday salad seemed to be the proper venue to let the pure flavors of the ingredients shine.

Returning to a favorite of my Mom's, I roasted brightly hued butternut with garnet colored beets and fragrant sweet onions with the Nudo Oil and seasoned it all with a few dashes of dried oregano.  Moments later my kitchen sent aromas into the air that had us all swooning.

California endive and organic greens
Red endive adds holiday flair
Pairing the endive with fresh organic Farmer's Market greens (our mix had frisee, spinach, baby lettuces and arugula), I loved the contrast of the red endive with the emerald greens.  Truly a holiday mix, the roasted vegetables and pomegranate completed our rainbow.

But what about that Chilean wine you may ask??  As I tinkered with the salad, wine in the recipe just didn't seem right.  However, the Rios de Chile in my glass as I chopped, roasted and sliced made for a lovely evening.

Inviting my husband to partake as I prepped the salad (he was just home from a week long business trip), he took a sip and let out a long sigh along with an "Ahhh... that hit's the spot, did you pick this wine yourself?".

I'll admit here that my expertise in wine tasting doesn't go much beyond "Yep... that's a good one!" or "No, this one really isn't for me", but in this case, the Rios de Chile falls into the first category, "Yep... that's a good one!".  I wouldn't hesitate to bring a bottle to a gathering for any holiday this season, and I impressed my husband with my choice.  Here I'll leave you with the more professional tasting notes from the Pacific Wine Group:

"Intense ruby red with violet tints.  In the nose, aromas of dried fruits, red pepper and spice stand out.  In the mouth it is elegant, with soft round tannins, it's a wine with good persistence."

Wine with good persistence... while I'm not exactly sure what that means I like the phrase.  This wine made my salad prep a pleasure, and paired beautifully with our meal as we finished off the bottle.

Using the red endive for more of a holiday feel, this recipe will go beyond the holidays for me.  Filled with goodies like the roasted butternut and beets, the salad is hearty enough for a light lunch as well as and ideal vegetarian side to a holiday gathering.  Bright and jeweled with the colors of fresh California produce, the Italian oil and Chilean wine brought a bit of an international affair to our table.

Thank you to California Endive, Nudo Italia, and the Pacific Wine Group for the products that led me to this fun post filled with fresh produce and trips down memory lane.  We have a recipe here that's earned a spot in our regular rotation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Maple Glazed Candied Walnuts

"Liv... give these walnuts a try.  They're glazed with maple syrup and brown sugar and I really think you'll like them!"

"No.  I don't like walnuts."

"Seriously, I think you will like these."

"Seriously.  No.  I don't like walnuts."

"OK, fine.  I've got to finish this laundry then I'm going to finish my photo shoot of them.  You can play with the camera if you want."

"Oh!  Ok.  I'll see if I can get a good shot."

Health benefits of walnuts
So went our conversation this morning as my girl spent a few much needed hours perhaps missing school and spending the morning home with me.  The house smelled fabulous as the glazed nuts cooled with aromas of maple and brown sugar wafting through the kitchen.

Off I went to swap the laundry and fold a quick load upstairs, and I left Liv in the kitchen to play with the camera.  She's become quite good at photography, and often gets a nice shot or two for me to use.

Some 20 minutes later I returned to the kitchen to find her sitting at the kitchen table playing on her phone and.... finishing off the last of the glazed nuts.

"Seriously??  You don't like nuts?"

"Seriously.  I like these nuts.  They're crunchy.  And sugary.  And mapley.  They're totally awesome!  Can we make more??"

"More??  I have a whole batch here."

"Ummm... sorry.  Not anymore.  I might have eaten them all...."

Yup... she ate the entire batch.  And she doesn't like walnuts.  It was all I could do not to say, "I told you so!".

Instead we reached for the pan and started again.  She did most of the work this time and now has one more recipe under her belt that she can whip out at a moment's notice.  Maple Glazed Candied Walnuts... this recipe should be in everyone's repertoire.

Maple Glazed Candied Walnuts
Photo Credit ~ Liv

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lentils with Butternut, Pearl Onions and lots of Lime

This time of year things get busy.  Really busy.  Hence, I'm all over a quick meal based on what I have on hand and with ingredients that allow me moving fast.

Enter Melissa's Produce and the San Diego Food Blogger's Fall Challenge.  With Melissa's bringing ingredients right to my doorstep, some of my favorite San Diego Food Bloggers and I are putting together recipes "Chopped" style based on what's in our Melissa's Produce Box.

Including butternut squash, pearl onions, shallots, dried cranberries, pine nuts, baby Dutch yellow potatoes, steamed potatoes, and packages of steamed (ready to eat!) fava beans, black eyed peas and garbanzo beans, our directions to use three or four of the ingredients had me immediately eying the squash and pearl onions.  The rest would follow.

My experience with pearl onions dates back more years than I care to share.  As a little girl I remember adults at parties garnishing cocktails (I think they were martinis) with pearl onions, and I recall vividly thinking those little globes would never be a part of my life.

My next experience came in the form of a winter stew, filled with way too many pearl onions that had been cooked for far too long.  Again... I made the vow to avoid those pearls.

However, being an onion lover, my interest piqued with the bag of perfectly formed little onions in my Melissa's Box.  Could I incorporate them and be pleased with the dish??  In a word... Yes!

Short on time and patience after a day of driving (I had spent over 3 hours behind the wheel and never left an 8 mile radius), I've never been so thankful that someone had done the shopping for me.

Grabbing the squash, I quickly had it peeled and seeded, then chopped into cubes, and the pearl onions also peeled quickly after a few minutes in boiling water.

Drizzling them both with a splash of oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, I tossed the pan into the oven and grabbed a package of prepared lentils (Love this Melissa product... they just weren't in our box), a box of broth and Melissa's steamed and peeled garbanzos.

Placing the lentils, broth and garbanzos into a pot I added a small scoop of red curry paste and stirred until heated through.  Some 20 minutes later the vegetables were roasted to perfection and I simply added them to the lentils.  Upon tasting though, the flavor was a bit flat.  A dash of salt helped, but what really had this dish dancing was a squeeze of lime.  Actually, a few squeezes of lime and a handful of chopped cilantro.

I toyed with the idea of garnishing with the pine nuts, and I know they would have been fabulous here, but the freshly roasted butternut squash seeds were simply irresistible.

Bright and flavorful in about 30 minutes, this dish pleased the whole family and brought a bowl of healthy ingredients to the table.

My thanks to Melissa's for providing me with the challenge box, I think this one ranks up there as my favorite to date.  How can you go wrong with roasted butternut?  And those pearl onions...???  They won't be a stranger in our house any more.  Melissa's made a stressful day just that much easier.  Thank you!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Acorn Squash Roasted with Maple Syrup and Vanilla

Acorn squash roasted with Maple Syrup and Vanilla

For years I've walked right past the Acorn Squash at our local markets.  I simply didn't know what to do with them.  Do you eat the skin?  How would you peel them?  Do they taste weird?  Would my family like them?

Oh my goodness, why did I wait so long??  Often I preach to Liv that she needs to be more adventurous and try new things, but now I think it's high time I listened to myself.

Tender and buttery, acorn squash has a light sweetness with slight nutty overtones, and it's positively irresistible when roasted with maple syrup and a splash of vanilla.

Acorn squash roasted with Maple Syrup and Vanilla
A native to the Americas, squash, including acorn, has been found in archaeological digs in Ancient Mexico dating back to before 4,000 BC, it was a staple in the American Indian diet.  A good source of fiber and potassium, the acorn squash also serves up Beta-carotene and vitamins C and B.

Difficult to peel when raw with it's ridged sides, the acorn squash is often roasted either halved or in slices, then scooped out of its skin.  

Looking for pure simplicity, I took our squash, scooped the pulp and seeds (saving the seeds to roast!) and sliced the flesh into 3/4-inch slices.  Brushing with a mixture of butter, maple syrup and vanilla adds a touch of sweetness as everything caramelized in the oven, and the skin cut easily off when done.

Kicking myself for waiting so long to try these beauties, they won't be a stranger in our house any longer.  I'm now on the search for more acorn squash recipes and would love to hear your favorites in the comments below!  Have a link??  Share away!

Acorn squash roasted with Maple Syrup and Vanilla

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Roasted or Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Cilantro and Lime

Are you a Thanksgiving Sweet Potato fan??  I never was... until I grew up.  I don't remember my mom making them all that often, but when we went to other's houses I do remember those super sweet orange pureed "potatoes" from a can topped with browned ooey gooey marshmallows, and for me, that was a no-thanks.

It wasn't until I tried the ruby red tuber baked and with only a little salt, pepper and butter at a girlfriend's house some 15 years ago that my love began to soar.  Learning the health benefits of the vitamin-rich potato (anti-inflammatory properties along with antioxidants and high doses of vitamins A and C) inspired me to grow my recipe repertoire minus the marshmallows, and has made these beauties a family favorite.

And so it's fitting that today, as I introduce to you the new C.L.U.E (Cook, Learn, Undertake, Eat) Society, made up of some of my all time favorite food bloggers, we choose sweet potatoes for our post.

The C.L.U.E Society will be posting once per month with a themed assignment.  Each month we receive a fellow blogger and a theme - we don't tell the blogger we are perusing their posts - and then on the assigned posting day (2nd Wednesday of the month) we all reveal our assignments and the recipe we've chosen to recreate.

This month's assignment was to find "food you'd love to see on your Thanksgiving table" and my assigned blog is Lea Ann, from Cooking on the Ranch.

Based in Highland's Ranch, south of Denver, Colorado, Lea Ann brings recipes reflecting the west, but what inspired me the most is her love of the grill.

A grilling girl myself, my backyard San Diego grill fires up several times a week for everything from veggies and pizza to occasional chicken and kabobs.  I've even been known to bake a treat or two out there when my oven was on the fritz with a good amount of success.

Perusing Lea Ann's blog these sweet potatoes jumped out.  We've served Southwest Thanksgivings in the past, and these Southwest inspired potatoes include ingredients on my all time favorite list.  Lime, cilantro and sweet potatoes all in one place??  Yes please!

However, mentioning the post to another friend, her comment of "Oh, that sounds fabulous!  If only we had a grill... I wish I could do them in the oven.", motivated me to move these guys into the house, and with buckets of snow currently being dropped across the country (even though it's still 70º here...), the oven seemed a good choice for today.

Perfect as a Thanksgiving side dish or even as a plater on your appetizer table, Lea Ann has a hit here that you'll be loving all year round.  So happy to meet you Lea Ann, thanks for this keeper of a recipe!

Now won't you join me as we travel around the country with the rest Inaugural Members of the 
C.L.U.E Society!
Many thanks to Liz, Kate and Christiane for the time you've put into this event to make it run so smoothly for the rest of us!


Monday, November 10, 2014

Chocolate Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Glazes

For me it's all about the glaze... or in this case, the glazes.  This Chocolate Pumpkin Cake begins with a sweet, plain powdered sugar followed by another sweet glaze, this one filled with holiday spice.

Actually, we usually serve this cake at bbqs and picnics in summer in addition to pumpkin (holiday) season, and last year it made a special appearance at a fundraiser for Liv's high school dance team.  While she's not on the team this year, we've still had a request to bring the cake for the fundraiser next weekend and the ingredients have been assembled.

Moving into the holiday season I find far too many high calorie indulgences, and this beauty keeps me in line.  I found the recipe years ago in an Eating Well Magazine, and while it's still "cake", it's a lower fat version that includes a decent dose of pumpkin to up the vitamin content and make me feel not quite so guilty when I reach for slice number two.

Chocolaty enough for any chocoholic and doused in not one, but two sweet and spiced glazes, this cake goes a long way to serve a crowd.  Sliced thinly we've been known to get nearly 20 pieces out of the cake, and it's so popular there usually aren't any leftovers for me to bring home.

Decadent chocolate, enhanced with seasonal spices... this one has earned a top spot on our list of favorites.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Chia Hummus with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Za'atar

I've been slightly obsessed with chia lately... from my several times a week Overnight Almond Chia Oats to Liv's favorite Power Pumpkin Pancakes and this pectin-free (and oh so heavenly!) Chia Blueberry Jam, chia is finding its way into different area of my cooking.  And with good reason.

With 70% more protein than soybeans, 25 percent more fiber than flaxseed, 600 percent more calcium than milk and 200 percent more potassium than a banana, chia earns its superfood status with ease.  Adding a tablespoon to smoothies increases the nutrients without a change in flavor.  We add a scoop to smoothies, pancakes and baked goods and I love knowing I've added that calcium and protein to my daughter's growing body.

But my chia repertoire stopped at about that point and then thankfully Janie Hoffman's (Mamma Chia - based in my own hometown of Carlsbd, CA) book,
The Chia Cookbook, found its way into my kitchen.

Janie's story brings the "superfoodness" of chia even more to the forefront.  Several autoimmune disorders rendered her desperate to find help.  Struggling through chemotherapy and steroid therapies she fought not only her disorders but through side effects that left her weak and with chronic fatigue.

Moving to a strict vegetarian and macrobiotic diet didn't seem to solve her issues. Organic foods seemed to help and she began making some progress in reclaiming her healthy life.  This is about the time she discovered chia.

Recommended by a friend touting the nutritional benefits of the tiny seed, Jannie began consuming a few Tablespoons a day.  Almost immediately she saw a difference in her stamina and energy levels and months later she found herself 100% symptom free of her disorders.

Here began a quest to spread the chia love and she began creating recipes incorporating chia into snacks, meals, drinks, etc which lead to the founding of the incredibly successful company, Mamma Chia, and thankfully, this cookbook, The Chia Seed Cookbook.

More than just a sprinkle on top of yogurt or an addition to a smoothie, Jannie tells us "Chia can provide hearty dishes with a pleasing bit of crunch, turn soups creamy (without the cream) put a fresh spin on on-pot meals, make cocktail party-worthy drinks look gorgeous and keep traditional baked goods light and moist.  When you know how to cook with chia, the possibilities are endless."

Endless indeed!  With some 140 pages of recipes covering every meal of the day (including those gorgeous cocktails - Tart Cherry-Chia Mimosa anyone?), Jannie's book brings chia to life in the most inventive ways.  From Chia Green Superfood Smoothies to Sticky Brown Rice and Sunny-Side-Up Eggs and Baked Shiitake, Spinach and Artichoke Dip, the book inspires you to get into the kitchen and bring out the chia.

Bringing texture and crunch to some dishes and gel-like consistencies to others, chia is my new super hero and this book (splashed with beautiful photography - always a plus for me) earned a top spot on my bookshelf.

While we've made numerous recipes from the book, today I wanted to bring you something different from the norm (smoothies, baking, etc), and we've chosen to feature Janie's Chia Hummus.  Filled with sun-dried tomatoes and spiced with Za'atar, this hummus will be a hit at any gathering, or simply with a few carrots for an afternoon snack.

With a jar of Za'atar in my pantry and really no idea what to do with it, this recipe became a must try.  A Middle Eastern mixture of herbs, sesame and salt, Za'atar gives the hummus an earthy and additional depth of flavor.

However if you don't have the herb mix on hand, Janie recommends substituting fresh thyme leaves in place.  And Sun-Dried tomatoes... a favorite of mine, are always a welcome addition to recipes in my kitchen

Blending up smooth and creamy with the touch of a button in our food processor, Janie's Chia Hummus served as a lovely pre-dinner snack for my husband and I as we sat and recapped the day.

Thanks Janie for bringing chia beyond pancakes and smoothies for me!  This book is a treasure of recipes you will find yourself making again and again.  The extra chia nutrition??  That's just a bonus.

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