This Autumn Crunch Quinoa Salad with Fig Balsamic vinaigrette could be the new healthy and colorful addition you’re looking to add to your Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving menu.
A combination of simple healthy ingredients with the flavors and colors of fall with the bonus of a satisfying crunch. Just a little chopping is involved, then toss together in a large bowl. Sprinkle with seeds and dried fruit just before serving. I used mini syrup pitchers from World Market for individual servings of the vinaigrette.
To create this colorful salad I used the following.
Cook per package instructions, 1 cup of multi colored quinoa and set aside to cool to room temperature
One Napa cabbage (sliced into 1/4 inch ribbons and then in half for smaller pieces)
3 heads of endive (I found a multiple color package at Trader Joe’s) slice into 1/4 in ribbons.
1 small head of radicchio (sliced into 1/4 inch ribbons
Rainbow carrots, 2 of each color – shaved into strips with a vegetable peeler
1 container or bag of mini arugula
1 package of diced pancetta (cooked in a pan until crispy & then drain fat)
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
1/3 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds) toast in a dry pan until slightly golden
5 or 6 dried figs (chopped into 1/2 in slices) *** if fresh figs are available -sliced fresh figs would be lovely with this instead of the dried figs
Shaved parmesan cheese
Once your quinoa is prepared and cooled set aside in a bowl. Serve separate from the actual tossed salad.
Toss all of the vegetables together in a large bowl.
Prepare the vinaigrette.
Balsamic Fig Vinaigrette
2 tbsp fig butter, jam, or preserves
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
6 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp honey or agave
1/3rd cup olive oil (I used Kalamata olive oil)
Salt & pepper to taste
In a small bowl whisk together fig jam, vinegar, salt and pepper until thickened and creamy. For more sweetness add more honey or fig butter, if too thick you can add more olive oil. Vinaigrettes take a little tasting and adding here and there to reach your desired flavor. Salt of course always amps up the overall flavor.
Whisk until thoroughly combined and you won’t have to worry about the ingredients separating. Serve on the side to prevent greens from getting soggy.
If serving individually a few edible flowers on the side will add an additional pop of color and whimsy. I plant several viola plants in my herb garden just for this purpose.
The first weekend in November, I will be hosting my annual Friendsgiving luncheon for ten guests. Inspired by the warm fall colors of a floral bouquet with shades of plum, burgundy, purple, and cream, I decided on a Figgy Plum menu. Figs and plums are both at the end of their season, naturally just before my scheduled date. I managed to find some plumcots, a few plums and dried figs to make this menu work.
A couple of days before my scheduled luncheon, I’ve made the soup, stopping after the purée process. I will add the cream and lime after rewarming just prior to serving.
Roasted Sweet Potato & Fig Soup with Crab
This recipe will serve 4 to 6 depending of the thickness you choose and the size of the bowl.
4 medium sized sweet potatoes
1 medium onion (sliced)
1 head of garlic (pre- roasted) **
4 – 6 dried figs (chopped) – if you can’t find dried figs, a ½ cup of fig preserves can be substituted
4 -6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or more to taste)
Ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (spiciness to your liking)
½ cup heavy cream or half and half
2 large limes
Crème fraiche (1 container about 4-6 oz)
1 plastic condiment squeeze bottle with screw on top
Parmesan (crisps) can be purchased or made *** see link below for recipe (can be made ahead)
Lump crab meat (optional)
Fresh edible flowers, microgreens and/or fresh herb leaves such as flat leaf parsley or mini Thai basil leaves (optional)
This recipe requires some time, but results in added flavor. I keep a jar of garlic confit (**garlic cloves roasted in olive oil until sweet and soft) in my refrigerator that helps speed up the process and I caramelize my sliced onion is a non-stick pan on the stove. But if you don’t have roasted garlic and would rather not caramelize the onions on the stove you can do the following.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
Drizzle olive on lightly on to a rimmed, foil lined baking sheet. ( If everything does not fit in one even layer, a second prepared sheet can be used).
Cut sweet potatoes in half lengthwise and place face down on the tray. Pierce each potato on the skin side several times with the point of a knife.
**Place a head of garlic into aluminum foil, drizzle generously with olive oil and tightly close and seal the foil around the garlic, place on baking.
Peel and slice the onion into about ¼ inch slices and spread (one layer) on baking sheet.
Lightly drizzle everything with olive oil.
Bake for 25 minutes and check onions (they may require stirring to ensure roasting or they may be golden enough. If golden remove and place in the blender –waiting on the rest of the ingredients and to limit dirty dishes).
Continue to bake potatoes and garlic for another 15 to 20 minutes. ( Time may vary based on size of potatoes and differences in ovens, until potatoes are soft when pricked and garlic is soft.)
Meanwhile – prepare Crème fraiche
Zest one lime onto a board (or turn the microplane upside down and zest, the zest will remain on the microplane to easily slide into the opening of the squeeze bottle)
Scoop the Crème fraiche into a small zip bag. Cut one of the bottom corners, twist the top tightly and press contents like a pastry bag into the squeeze bottle. (easier method than using a spoon to transfer to the bottle.)
Cut the lime in half and add the juice of one half of the lime. Reserve the other half for later.
Close the squeeze bottle tightly and with finger over the pointed top hole, shake until well combined.
Squeeze onto a piece of the foil to check consistency and determine if loose enough to swirl on top of the served soup. (It should not be watery just loosened to easily squeeze out. If too watery, place in the refrigerator the it to firm up a little).
Remove roasted potatoes, garlic and onions if still on the sheet, from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature (or cool enough to handle)
Using a teaspoon scoop the flesh from the skins and place in the blender with the onions.
Squeeze the soft roasted garlic from their skins on to the foil (to ensure no skins get into the pulp) and then place the roasted garlic pulp into the blender
Add chopped dried figs, some of the stock and puree.
Add salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes. Process. Add additional stock to achieve the thickness you prefer and continue to season to taste.
Pour the pureed vegetables into a large pot and simmer to warm to preferred temperature, stirring frequently to avoid sticking to the bottom on the pot. When completely warmed until fully combined. Here’s where I recommend tasting the soup and adding any additional salt if needed.
Add the juice of the remaining 1½ limes just before serving. Taste for seasoning and taste make sure there was enough lime to brighten the soup up.
Parmesan crisps: (optional – serve with the soup or a side salad)
Autumn or Fall is my favorite time of year. It’s the most colorful and inviting of all seasons filled with an intense kaleidoscope of every shade of orange, mellon, paprika, cantaloupe, peach, pumpkin, squash, yellow, gold, red, plum, eggplant, chocolate and evergreens that can go on and on in description forever as far as the eye can see. The air is lighter, crisp and cool, with invigorating breezes that encourage outdoor activities and road trips to encircle ourselves with all of its beauty and comfort.
I grow excited at the first cold snap that encourages me to pull out my cozy sweaters and boots, only to be disappointed a couple of days later when the temperatures rise again causing me to abandon them feeling teased by a temporary glimpse at Fall such as it is in the South.
In mid-October I enjoyed a wonderful long weekend visiting family in the northern suburbs of Atlanta. The weather cooperated with cold crisp nights and mornings that then comfortably warmed as the day progressed. I was introduced to the beautiful Georgia mountains where the color was in its early stages of transforming, pleasantly advancing slightly more each day. We visited several of my cousin and her husband’s favorite wineries (I’ll call research), an apple orchard, several antique shops and a grist mill with a lovely burbling creek that powers it.
Their favorite wineries included a beautiful landscape with a relaxing environment, a selection of wines to try by the glass or in a sample flight, and live acoustic guitar and vocalist playing country or classic rock.
The view was often reminiscent of parts of California (where I grew up) that I ‘ve missed so much. Mountains in the distance are not something seen in southern Louisiana and offer lovely weekend drives for recharging and fresh air.
The Nora Mill and Country Store was a quick stop on our way to Helen, Georgia for their Octoberfest that begins in late September and continues throughout the entire month of October. We arrived on an early Sunday morning, hoping to beat the crowds that were sure to arrive as the day progressed. We enjoyed an outdoor lunch and before leaving I had to have a piece of authentic black forest cake!
On my list of things I wanted to do during our visit was antique shopping. My cousin and her husband enthusiastically and successfully I might add, helped me in my quest to start a silver spoon collection, I call tasting spoons. What is a tasting spoon? Those of you who may be a fan of Ina Garten, may have seen the container of silver spoons on her counter that she uses to taste the seasoning of her food during it’s cooking process. I planned to search through Paris flea markets one day to start my collection, but having not made that trip yet, I decided to look for spoons from the various places I’ve traveled.
The second spoon (these are all tablespoons) from the left was recently purchased in a shop not far from where I live. The rest of the spoons were found mostly by my cousin’s a husband who was on a mission to send me home successfully equipped. The most interesting of those he found is the last one on the right and below, found in a shop across the street from the grist mill. Once back in the car, I had a closer look and noticed that it looked like arms wrapping around the back to the front.
A tag was attached to help locate information about the pattern, Fraget Plaque Russian, however a quick internet search lead to the pattern where one site calls it Gargoyle.
In another search I found several for sale, but none with the exact same symbol in front of the Fraget name. One stated: “For those who don’t speak French, the pattern name – Peau de Lion – simply means Lion Skin which is what is being portrayed on the flatware and hollowware in this pattern. It was supposed to recall the lion skin worn by the mythical Hercules. The pattern was designed by Charles Rossigneux to be shown at the 1867 Paris Exposition. It was created by several companies though I think that Christofle and Fraget (Russia & Poland) were more prolific than Gorham. I have seen the Christofle and Fraget examples and I noticed that there are some small but definite differences in their versions of the pattern.”
Any way you look at it, it is an interesting find and great conversation piece.
While the landscape of the Georgia mountains brought back memories of parts of California, the charming quaint mountain towns reminded me of New England.
Our first day of sightseeing started in Dahlonega where we ate at a really cute Mediterranean restaurant Capers on the Square where we enjoyed a bowl of Greek chicken, lemon and rice soup that I’m trying to recreate and add to my weekly soup rotation.
There were several cute shops and antiques stores that we also searched through and found a couple of spoons to add to my collection.
***Dahlonega is a small city in northern Georgia. Tasting rooms offering wines from regional vineyards cluster around 19th-century Public Square. Dahlonega Gold Museum, in the 1836 courthouse, chronicles mining in the area from the discovery of gold in 1828. Consolidated Gold Mine includes an underground mine from around 1900. Waterfalls, including towering Amicalola Falls, dot the mountains of north Georgia. Dahlonega, the seat of Lumpkin County, lies about sixty-five miles north of Atlanta in the Blue Ridge province. The town is closely associated with Georgia’s gold history; its name derives from a Cherokee word referring to the yellow color of gold.***
From the airport my cousin drove me to the little town of Marietta (Marietta Square) where we had lunch at Taqueria Tsunami (very good) and then strolled around the square stopping into the first of the antique shops during my time there.
While some may not associate northern Georgia as a place to enjoy the Fall foliage (at least I was completely ignorant to this location), it was a lovely way to enjoy the changing leaves, drink a little wine, listen to some great music and do a little antique shopping. I checked in with my cousin the following weekend and it does not appear that they have reached the peak of their season yet. She’s hopeful to see more color this coming weekend (the last in October) when her Dad is coming for a visit. It was beautiful, relaxing and a budget friendly way to enjoy nature and the magic of Fall.
My first buckwheat pancakes made with flour from Nora Mill Granary (purchased at Grist Mill & Country Store in Helen, GA). I used buttermilk in place of milk in my batter. These pancakes have no sugar – just a slight sweetness from a teaspoon of molasses. Drizzled with maple syrup and sprinkled with sweet pomegranate seeds they are light and tender. Perfect Fall🍁🍂🥞morning breakfast!
The summer heat has been especially brutal this year, but somehow my herb garden has managed to persevere. So much so, that the abundance has resulted in little bouquet deliveries to my neighbors from time to time including a little Mother’s Day gift this past May when my nasturtiums, tarragon and chives were still blooming.
In the colder months to come, when portions of the herb garden may go dormant, those dried herbs in the pantry are more frequently used. How old are the dry herbs in your pantry? Do you even remember when you bought them? Now is a great time to empty those jars and refill them with freshly dried herbs.
To start I cut bunches of each herb (in the garden) and give each bundle a good trim, discard dead or discolored stems and wash well setting the bundle on a tray lined with paper towel to slightly dry.
For the drying process I used the microwave oven, and two paper plates, with one method for thyme, oregano and tarragon and a different method for rosemary and sage. I didn’t dry basil or mint, as those are always best fresh, but I did share a use for using up the large crop of sweet basil below to add elevated flavor to your recipes.
For thyme, oregano and tarragon, I simply laid the washed stems in a small bunch in the middle of the paper plate and then covered it with another paper plate. Place covered plate into the microwave and process for three 30 second intervals. This allows the herb leaves to slowly dry and maintain a green color without burning. Test your microwave (as they are all different) by checking the level of dryness after two 30 second processes. If your leaves are still slightly “fresh” or wet, process a third time and check again. Some may have to process it for less time and others may have to process it a little longer.
Once dried, using your fingertips, gently roll the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Store the dried herbs into glass jars to prevent crushing.
For rosemary, pinch the stem with two fingers at the top and slide down to remove all of the rosemary leaves. Place the leaves between the two paper plates and process for two 30 second intervals. I found that this was dry enough for my liking and know that they will continue to dry over time in the pantry.
For sage, pull the leaves from their stems, stack three or four leaves and then roll tightly like a cigar. Thinly slice into strips (called chiffonade) and depending on the size of the leaves it may require slicing the strips in half.
Placing the chiffonade sage leaves between the two paper plates, process in 30 second intervals in the microwave watching for the level of dryness you prefer.
For many years, my Thanksgiving centerpiece has been a sage butter roasted turkey, with a sage apple cider gravy that requires both dried and fresh sage. Dried sage pressed together into coarse salt is rubbed all over the turkey skin and then placed in the refrigerator overnight. When baking the following day, it is based with melted butter and fresh chopped sage. Both the aroma and flavors are absolutely amazing! My freshy dried sage will be stored and ready for the big day.
A practiced cook knows that recipes that go into the oven often call for dried herbs rather than fresh because they tend to better handle the heat and long periods of baking, but less amounts are used because the flavor of the herb intensifies when dried. The Fall and Winter seasons are usually enjoyed by savoring rich stews, roasted vegetables and meats that are often cooked in the oven. Having a pantry stocked with freshly grown and dried herbs is not only a tasty plan, but a thrifty plan since buying dried herbs can be very expensive.
If your garden is plentiful, the holidays are just around the corner. Why not consider gifting freshly dried herbs to friends and family as Christmas gifts? Purchase inexpensive jars or use small dollar store zip labeled pouches filled with freshly dried herbs and then nested in a small basket as a hostess or holiday gift is something the recipient can use and enjoy all year. If gifting sealed pouches of herbs, just as you have refreshed your spice jars, your friends and family can toss out the old dried herbs in their pantry and refill their jars with your gifted herbs. A jar of confit garlic and local fresh baked bread (if you don’t bake yourself) and or a jar of pesto (made with your basil) and encourage the least interested cook into creating something easy and flavorful.
Let’s not forget about the basil. I have both sweet basil and thai basil growing in my garden. Both have grown to nearly three feet tall and this is what they look like after a good trim. While dried basil is not something I personally use, a large amount of fresh basil can be used to make fresh pesto. Using a recipe from Pinterest, basil, garlic, lemon juice, toasted pine nuts, grated parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil whirled in a small food processor creates a bright and fresh pesto that is flavorful and delicious spread over grilled chicken or tossed in fresh pasta. It also can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks and can be spread on wraps or used to make a vinaigrette to toss on a fresh spinach salad. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/pesto-pea-salad-recipe-2040302
For my last little project, I made confit garlic and garlic roasted olive oil. Recipes can be found on Pinterest, but for mine I did the following.
For confit: I used a mini ceramic bread loaf pan, and filled with two large garlic bulbs -cloves separated and peeled and then poured extra virgin olive oil close to the top of the pan. Also place on a small baking sheet to protect from spilling. Place in the oven at 250 degrees for two hours. Let cool and store in tightly sealed jar in refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Cover the garlic with the oil and if there is excess add to the roasted garlic oil bottle below.
For roasted garlic oil: I used the same mini ceramic bread loaf pan and sliced the top edge off of two garlic bulbs and placed the entire bulbs in the loaf pan. Fill with extra virgin olive oil, place on a baking sheet and bake at 250 degrees for two hours. Let cool to room temperature. I then squeezed the garlic from the bulbs into the confit jar. Use a coffee filter or cheesecloth folded into four layers and place inside a funnel and filter oil into a measuring cup. Using the same funnel and filter pour the filtered oil from the measuring cup through the cheesecloth again, into your final glass bottle.
Note: You can purchase peeled garlic cloves or break a bulb of garlic apart and place the individual cloves with peel into a tightly closed jar and shake vigorously until all of the peel comes off of the garlic.
How to use your garlic confit and roasted garlic olive oil.
Roasted or confit garlic is sweet and very flavorful. You can spread the soft cloves on breads to make homemade garlic bread, create a vinaigrette, add to soups, pasta or roasted chicken. Be creative and experiment. I had a loaf of freshly baked lucky seven grain bread that I sliced and spread the soft buttery roasted garlic cloves on one slice and caramelized onion chutney on the other slice with thinly sliced honey turkey breast that created a delicious turkey sandwich with intense elevated flavor.
One of my favorite things to do with the roasted garlic infused olive oil, is to drizzle it over fresh tomatoes, avocado or roasted potatoes (any roasted vegetables). Anything you would finish with a little drizzle of olive oil can also be drizzled with the rich garlic infused flavored olive oil.
Whether it’s a hot sunny day or a rainy hot day that you are trying to escape, while staying indoors here’s a productive way to spend the afternoon preserving herbs and creating flavor filled pestos and oils to elevate your summer and future Fall and Winters dishes and maybe even create a few gifts for the holidays.
My favorite summertime fruit is the peach, more specifically the white peach and even more so the saturn or donut peach. The donut peach is a squatty version that when eaten fully ripened, has an intense, juicy, sweet white peach flavor that for me is perfection.
Sunday mornings are my time for a break from the weekly routines, with an extra concentrated focus on prayer, gratitude, and rest that begins with a special breakfast. On this Sunday morning, I was in the mood to combine my favorite peach with pancakes.
For my simply elevated experiment, I started with my favorite pancake recipe published in 2012 in Martha Stewart Living magazine. While few changes were made to her original recipe (always the best choice for success), it’s the topping that elevates these pancakes with a fresh twist of white balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs.
To ensure that I always have fresh herbs when needed, I planted a small garden that thrives throughout most of the year. Mint is kept in a pot (or it will take over the rest of the garden), while basil is a Spring and Summer herb that requires new planting in early Spring. Both also provide beautiful floral blossoms. Planting a small herb garden is also a budget friendly way to add fresh flavor to your recipes.
Summer Pancakes with Peach-Blueberry White Balsamic Maple Syrup
2 medium white or yellow peach (medium ripe -not too firm or too soft) sliced into rings –
1 donut peach (small diced)- or white, yellow peach
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
fresh mint &/or sweet or thai (for a little spice) basil (chiffonade or thinly sliced) and more for garnish
In medium to large mixing bowl whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl whisk eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, oil and melted butter until thoroughly combined and then mix into the bowl of dry ingredients. Let sit for 10 minutes.
With a paring knife slide peaches into 1/4 inch horizontal rings, pulling away from the pit.
In a small bowl combine diced saturn peach, blueberries, maple syrup, white balsamic vinegar and chiffonade mint and sweet basil (set aside for serving).
Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Working in batches and adding more butter as needed, pour 1/2 cup batter into the pan (I used a large ice cream scoop), top each with a peach slice. Cook until bubbles form on the surface and underside is golden (about 3-4 minutes), then flip (you may have to hold the peach to avoid slipping) and cook until the second side is golden brown (3 to 4 minutes).
Serve with peach blueberry white balsamic maple syrup and garnish with fresh mint and sweet basil.
Review tips below before you start.
Vanilla paste is a little pricey, but not as pricey as vanilla beans and the overall quantity is greater and lasts longer. While vanilla exact is just as acceptable, vanilla paste is filled with those beautiful seeds from the bean and elevate the flavor in your recipes.
Peaches were used for my version of this recipe, but other stone fruits such as nectarines, apricots, plums and mangos are other options to experiment with. For the best fruit flavor, the fruit should be ripe, but not overly soft.
I did try placing the peach slice in the pan first and pouring the batter over it. This caramelizes the peach a little more, but the weight of the pancake is less formed (cooked). When flipping the pancake, the cooked portion is thinner and weighted by the peach slice – so the balance is off and the peach can fall out. Feel free to try the version that best works for you.
To elevate the pancake experience I used one of my favorite ingredients, white balsamic vinegar. Using my saturn peaches that are soft, ripe and sweet, diced similar in size to making a chunky salsa (however more of whatever peach you have will create the same results), I then added my second favorite summer fruit, fresh sweet blueberries, a small amount of maple syrup and white balsamic vinegar tossed with fresh mint and sweet basil (or thai basil for a little spice). The vinegar adds an unexpected pleasant brightness to the combination and fresh new way to top our pancakes. The addition of more maple syrup is optional.
These fruit filled pancakes can be further elevated with a serving of crispy bacon on the side.
This summer, freshen up your Sunday morning breakfast pancakes by filling them with beautiful pitted fruits that are at their peak and surprise the family with a new bright, fruity and herbaceous topping they’re sure to remember.
These Italian fig cookie filled pastry envelopes were created for my Annual Mother’s Tea to capture a loving memory my friend Kelly had of her Mom. She shared that her Mom used to write her little letters and stick $100 bills inside that she called “coupons”. (Referred to as coupons because her Mom used to hide the $100 bills in her coupon envelope so that her husband wouldn’t know.)
While the idea seemed simple to create, it took two tries to get the results I preferred and an effort to recall all of the little baking tips I’ve learned over the years that had to be applied. For the same results, it’s important to follow the tested tricks and recipe below:
You’ll need an envelope to use as a template. Mine was from a box of thank you cards 4 1/2 ” x 3 1/4 “. Gently open the envelope to create a flat template.
2. One box of refrigerated pie dough (I used Pillsbury) will make 3 envelopes. Sprinkle your surface with a dusting of flour, remove the dough from the little sealed bag and gently unroll on the floured counter. In order for all of the pastries to look the same and slightly puff, gather the dough sheet into a ball, gently knead together until smooth and then roll it out -long enough for two envelopes using the templates to measure. With a sharp point of a knife, trace the template to cut out the dough. Knead together the scraps and roll out again to create the third envelope. (See the images below that show how the rerolled dough makes a fluffier risen product. )
3. I was surprised by the details I had to pay attention to when making these, and learned from mistakes I made on the first try. If you look at the template I used above, the top triangle of the template is very sharp and pointed, while the folded up bottom is rounded. To add a little cute design, I used a scalloped pastry wheel on the sharp top portion of the envelope that will remain unfolded, resulting in an open envelope. Now transfer the dough to a parchment paper lined baking sheet pan (only 2 fit on one sheet) and place the pan in the refrigerator for 5 minutes.
4) I decided to use my stamp set, that I bought for last year’s tea (I made my signature sugar cookies decorated with dried edible flower cookies and a stamping of each mother’s name), to stamp “Love Mom” on the outside of the envelope. Doing it correctly took to extra thought and practice.
Originally I folded the filled envelope and tried to stamp it, but because the surface was let’s say “bumpy” and soft, the stamp did not come out clear or legible. I realized I needed to chill the pastry first (after cutting out the template as instructed above) before stamping.
5. After chilling for about 5 minutes, turn the pastry over with the bottom section at the top (in my case the rounded end). Stamp the message – I used “Love Mom” with a heart so that when folded under – the words are facing the correct direction. See below that when the pastry is turned over again, when the bottom flap is folded up, the stamp is smooth and clear.
Sugar cookies decorated with dried edible flowers and every Mom’s name.
6. I then had to learn the correct placing of my filling. (Recipe further below.) At first I placed the filling over the entire rectangle that would form inside once folded. In the messy version above, you can see that the filing is exposed above the envelope pocket. On my second try I lowered the filling to just below where the side flaps would overlap. Fold in the side flaps and then the bottom flap up using a light brushing of egg wash to glue it in place. Using a fork, dock the top flap to eliminate puffing in the oven. Place the prepared pastries back into the refrigerator for 5 minutes.
7. Finally lightly brush egg wash on the outside and then sprinkle with sanding sugar careful not to fill in the stamped message. Place into a preheated oven (350 degree F) for 12 minutes. Read the tip below to address areas that bake at different timeframes.
IMPORTANT TIP: Carefully watch the baking process around 10 minutes. If you look back at the two examples of my first and second bake, you’ll see that because I didn’t dock the top portion it bubbled (puffed) and cracked. It also baked faster than the lower filled portion. So in my second try I docked the top to stop the puffing and after 10 minutes I placed a piece of aluminum foil over the top part to stop it from browning any further, and then baked for another 2-5 minutes for no more than 15 minutes. Everyone’s oven is different, so you’ll have to watch closely to see what happens in yours.
8. Finally, one last reference to my first and second bake pictures. Originally I glued the dried edible flowers to the pastry on to the pastry with egg wash (or water was used on the cookies). My flowers are so dark, that the baking process made them darker and not as pretty. So I decided to attach the dried flowers after baking using a little store bought icing. However, if you have lighter colors to use, the baking process works fine. My edible flowers are violas that were pressed between two layers of paper towel and then pressed together with two microwavable plates. The microwave drying time varies depending on how much water in in the flower. Usually for violas or pansies it can take between 5 and 7 minutes, but only dry in two minute intervals and check after the first five minutes. When complete they are dry and fragile and feel a little like paper. Just don’t touch the plate for about 5 to 10 minutes until it cools down.
For the final touch I needed the $100 bill tucked in. So for the pictures above I just copied a $100 bill on the printer and cut the ends off of each side to tuck in. I actually ordered edible $100 bills on Etsy that are made of frosting that I will cut and should (according to the instructions) slightly melt into the pastry AFTER the baking process. (Don’t judge me if I chicken out and use the paper version.)
While these pastry envelopes or letters were used to represent a memory of someone’s Mom, they would have also made a cute dessert for a book club read involving read letters (that happens often in historical fiction) or a cute Valentine dessert with something like a strawberry filling.
What you’ll need to make the pastry envelopes:
Pre-made pie dough (I used Pillsbury) 1 box makes 6 envelopes
1 egg (scrambled in a bowl with a teaspoon of water – for egg wash)
White sanding sugar
Dried edible flowers (optional)
Printed images of $100 bill or you can order edible versions on Etsy (optional)
Letter stamping (purchased on Amazon also optional)
How to prepare and bake – follow the narrative above that provides tips learned for the best results. Make the filling below a day ahead. These pastries can be made a day ahead and stored in a tightly sealed container once completely cooled to prevent any moisture from forming.
Cucidati (Italian Fig Cookie Filling)
The Cucidati (that my Mom called Italian Fig Cookies) are popular here in Southern Louisiana and served at the annual St. Joseph Day Altars. They were a special coveted favorite of my Mom’s, so much so that she eagerly attended an altar or two each year to seek out her little gifted bad of Italian cookies. The filling came to mind as it isn’t runny and tucked inside the pastry is very reminiscent of the cookie itself.
1 Cup Dried Mission Figs or Calimyrna Figs ,stems removed and chopped, about a 6-7 ounce package
1/2 Cup Pitted Dates ,Chopped
1/2 Cup Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice
1/4 Cup Candied Orange Peel ,or Orange Marmalade or Apricot preserves
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar ,or honey
Zest from 1 Lemon
1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice (or 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon)
1/4 Cup Almonds
1/4 Cup Walnuts
2 Tablespoons Dark Rum, French Brandy, or Orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier
Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender and process until a paste is formed and no large chunks are left. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the fridge to chill for at least an hour but preferably overnight so ingredients can meld together.
Some may ask why go to so much trouble for one of many elements of this mothers tea, but my friends and I are making a special effort to bring back to life some of our favorite memories of our mothers that are no longer with us on Mother’s Day. If you’re feeling the void we all do on Mother’s Day, consider creating your own little tradition to honor your Mom year after year. You’ll feel her spirit present with gratitude.
“I Remember You”- Trisha Yearwood
“Supermarket Flowers” – Ed Sheeran
“The Best Day” – Taylor Swift
“Mother” – Kacey Musgraves
“Tell Mama” -Etta James
“Mama’s Kitchen” – CeCe Winans
“Ring Off” – Beyonce
“Turned to You” – Justin Bieber
“Mother Like Mine” – The Band Perry
“Mother” – Sugarland
“Don’t Forget to Remember Me” -Carrie Underwood
“Mom” – Garth Brooks
“God Must Have Spent ” A Little More Time on You-NSYNC
It’s time to start gathering again! This time of year comes and goes far too quickly. I love the Fall season so much and by mid-month some are already pushing for Christmas, but I want to give the season it’s fully deserved time. While the holiday is generally meant to celebrate the history modeled on a 1621 harvest feast shared by the English colonists (Pilgrims) of Plymouth and the Wampanoag people, for most of us I believe it’s a time to show gratitude and appreciation for all that we have, friends, home, health, faith and more.
I am grateful for so much in my personal and professional life, and so happy to once again gather with friends who support all of my creative ambitions, with a Friendsgiving brunch.
Setting the Table
Little boutonniere like bouquets made with a magnolia leaf, fresh sage, chamomile and spray roses were created for each place setting and guests took them home at the end of the brunch.
A combination of succulents, spray and country roses and eucalyptus (and later a couple of apples- I wanted crab apples but couldn’t find any this year) were arranged around brass candlesticks to create a fragrant and feminine centerpiece. Everything was just laid on the table with no water source the morning of the brunch.
Inspired by Erin French of The Lost Kitchen, I decided to use an apple theme for my menu and included one of her recipes.
Cocktails and Nibbles
Simple apple cider bellini. Reduce 3 cups of apple cider to 1 1/2 cups. Let cool and refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve fill each glass 1/4th to 1/2 with reduced cider and top off with prosecco, champagne, crement or other sparkling white wine.
An apple tasting tray of each apple used in the dishes being served.
For most of my younger years I had only eaten a red delicious apple, the only kind my Mom ever purchased. As I studied foods and flavors years later I saw an article in a magazine that featured a description of multiple apple varieties. There are no apple tree farms in Southern Louisiana, so we are limited to the varieties that appear in various grocery stores.
One year I purchased one of each variety and compared their flavors, finding the most amazing flavors and never buying a red delicious apple again. With that memory, I decided it might be fun to create a tray with each of the apples used in the dishes in the menu, giving my guests a similar experience hoping to inspire each to try new varieties on their own afterwards.
For the “nibble boards” a term borrowed from Erin French (my most recent found source of inspiration), almost everything was purchased from Trader Joe’s, hence my Trader Joe Nibble boards.
For the salad I used Erin French’s roasted buttercrisp squash with apple slaw. My local Fresh Market has the largest variety of squash and I’ve been experimenting with several over the past couple of months. One buttercrisp squash about the size of a cantaloupe three to four pounds was sliced into ten wedges, enough to serve all of my guests. The link below provides Erin’s recipe. My only additions were a little apple cider vinegar and pomegranate seeds for color and crunch. My slaw was made with four apple varieties, pink lady, granny smith, golden and honey crisp. My recommendation would be to pick a variety of sweet, tart and crisp versions and also consider the colors of green, yellow and red. The skin remains on the matchstick pieces and adds color. Erin and I ALWAYS decorate with edible flowers. The small yellow flowers (top left)are tarragon blossoms. I planted a couple of tarragon plants a couple of months ago and they have been blooming as if it were Spring!
The squash is easy to bake as instructed and served at room temperature and the slaw tossed in it’s dressing with the arugula holds up well. I plated these about 45 minutes before serving and everything held it’s texture. (My guests could not stop talking about how delicious this was. Thank you Erin!)
The entrée and dessert courses were both contributions from two of my guests. My work hours have been long and stressful and in order to pull this event off I needed to accept offered help and take a few shortcuts.
My friend Lanie (who also loves to cook and has restaurant experience) made this Jazz and Fuji apple – cranberry stuffed pork loin. I think I heard there was a little fig jam, hazelnuts and some other special secret ingredients in the stuffing. It was absolutely delicious and a perfect addition to the menu and there wasn’t a single piece left!
Dessert & Mulled Cider Wine
Lanie also made an apple cider white mulled wine, with a spicy ginger liqueur that we served with dessert.
A week prior to the brunch I attempted to make apple cider donuts for the first time. I don’t have a fryer and I NEVER fry. The dough was too wet and I had trouble controlling the temperature of the oil – the house spelled for days after. It was an epic fail! Donut maker, I am not and I rarely fail when I try to follow a recipe.
I decided a better alternative was to support a local donut business that makes a multitude of small flavored donuts. I employed one of my guests to order a couple dozen apple cider donuts and asked that they not place them in the finishing cinnamon sugar. I wanted to rewarm the lot before serving and then toss in the cinnamon sugar myself.
I already had a large bowl of cinnamon sugar left over from my failed attempt at donut making. I added two teaspoons of Chinese Five Spice (my favorite substitute for cinnamon) and mixed the sugar thoroughly. We were advised to rewarm the donuts in an oven or air fryer – never in the microwave, so I placed them on a tray (to serve 2 per guest) and hoped to make them more “dessert like” my slicing all of the donuts horizontally in half and spreading one side with apple butter before sandwiching the two halfs back together. I then placed the tray of donuts in a preheated in oven at 350 degrees for ten minutes. When warmed through I rolled the donut gently in the sugar mixture and placed on a saucer with small mini dessert forks.
The party may be over, but the memories will remain and the joy I saw in my friends as they hugged and caught up with one another, along with their praises for everything we served as always made all of effort worth it. I am forever grateful for their enthusiasm and encouragement and cannot express how happy I am to be able spoil and entertain again.
To all of my wonderful followers – Happy Thanksgiving! I’m so thankful for your support as well!
My previous post introduced an early Fall dinner shared with a few of my neighbors as we experiment with a Keto-ish diet. As we gathered over a glass of excellent wine, appreciating it all the more due to the exclusion requirements of the Keto diet, we shared how we were managing the change in food choices and the results, if any we were experiencing.
I personally have found that my sugar tooth has been drastically tamed and I’m not feeling the desire to graze and nibble on snacks all day. I feel full and seem to have more energy. My friends expressed some of the same changes in the way they were feeling, but we all agreed that on the weekends we needed at least a little break from some of the restrictions. So tonight we were enjoying a glass of wine, but I’ve done my best to prepare a Keto friendly dinner menu to prove that food can still feel special, decadent and satisfying.
We all agreed we missed our sweets and I was excited to share with them two, yes two Keto friendly desserts I had prepared. As a little bonus, before we made our way to the dinner table I gave them each a dark chocolate almond and it was devoured with great excitement and pleasure!
The ingredients needed for baking Keto desserts are pricey and the quantity is a fraction of what wheat flour and refined sugar products contain, which offers another reason to only have desserts occasionally. Years ago in the book “French Women Don’t Get Fat” I remember reading that the typical French woman has dessert only once a week. Much younger and thinner at the time I was appalled, it seemed like an enormous act of restraint and made me wonder how so many patisseries succeed in France. I have since come to better appreciate the once a week practice.
With the help of pinterest I found two recipes that peaked my interest. The first was this Chocolate Cream Pie. Having no experience with these sugar substitute ingredients I did not deviate from the recipe in the link as I sometimes do. My only personal touch was to add toasted sugar free coconut flakes for some added crunch to the top after pulling it from the freezer. This was a very easy recipe,with only 10 minutes of baking time (the pecan crust). The other layers were prepared in the mixer and went on top of the crust with no other baking required. Follow the recipe in the link below. I’ve shared a few notes on the photos from my own experience.
I placed a layer of coconut flakes on a small sheet tray and toasted in the oven 300 degrees for about 5 to 10 minutes while constantly checking and tossing the coconut until getting the desired browning. It can go from golden to burnt in no time. Don’t walk away! Leftovers are great to sprinkle on Greek yogurt, Keto chocolate mousses or mixed berries.
While the ingredients are expensive, very little was used of some like the chocolate bar that I sealed it up tightly for a future use.
There is nothing about this pie that looks or tastes “diet”. It was decadent and the substituted ingredients were not easily detectable. The recipe advises to place the completed pie into the freezer for at least an hour before serving. I didn’t take the pie out of the freezer until ready to serve and it was very difficult to cut. While it tasted and looked lovely everyone said they thought it would have been better (easier to eat) unfrozen.
For the second dessert I decided to bake a French Almond cake.
Again, I followed the recipe as provided in the link above. While it is very similar to the actual French almond cake, I had this beautiful blood orange sitting in my fruit basket and decided to add a little of its zest and juice to the batter. I also added a little to the glaze that is brushed over the cake while it’s still slightly warm. I used an 8 1/2 inch springform pan and the cake does not rise very high (similar to a one layer cake).
Just prior to serving dust the cooled cake with powdered monkfruit sugar.
Of the two desserts while both very good, my guests voted this one their favorite. The cake was moist and flavorful and the added orange flavor brightened and complimented the almond.
As dinner came to an end, I asked everyone if the menu of the night was in in any way less than or short of a normal dinner. They all replied no. I think if I had not already told them this was a Keto meal, they may never had realized it was. Point made, you can still host an elegant dinner party while following a Keto-ish diet. But we must have our weekend 🍷wine!!
The past couple of years have been filled with multiple reasons for high anxiety, complicated news and decisions, multiple hours of sitting at a desk working remotely and long periods of separation from family and friends. The limited activity and socializing created “the COVID 15” (pounds) that is a real thing for many; among the many are myself and some of my friends. Finally some of us have decided enough is enough, it’s time to attempt to make some changes with the hope of slowly deflating the additional areas added to mid-sections and thighs.
The Keto diet has gained popularity for some time and while I find it hard to embrace a diet plan that takes away and limits so many of my favorite foods, acknowledging where change is needed is the first step in working toward a goal.
I come from a long line of sweet tooth family members. As a little girl, my Dad taught me how to break about six Oreo cookies into a tall glass, then fill the glass whole milk and eat the entire thing with a spoon. Later it was Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, Keebler Fudge cookies and more. Every meal included soft drinks (full of sugar) and ended with something sweet. While I limited soft drinks a long time ago, the sweet tooth tradition continued on and I thought it would be the most difficult habit to break.
For the past two weeks I have eliminated the honey in my tea, the daily piece or pieces of chocolate and a couple of cookies in the evening. I think the hardest thing for me to give up is my weekend Starbucks Chai, that I’ve decided I don’t have to give up, it will be my weekend reward. No bread ( so no turkey sandwiches) and no pasta, that usually shows up in one of those Lean Cuisine meals I stocked in the freezer for quick lunches.
Since having eliminated so much sugar and bread from my diet, oddly I find I’m not as hungry (and as a result not eating as much); I’ve lost my craving for sweets; and I have more energy in just the first two weeks. I also feel less achy.
I’ve hosted many dinner and wine parties over the years, and for each gathering I’ve searched for new and interesting foods and wines to share with my friends and family. This Keto diet created a new challenge when I invited a few of my neighbors over for dinner. I wanted to create a colorful, delicious meal and desserts that did not scream “Diet Food”, but still sachiated and pleased the palate and taste buds. Below I’m sharing the dinner portion of our meal and in second post I’ll share the desserts.
Grilled Rainbow Trout with butter sauce
Roasted Delicata Squash with Organic Girl SuperGreens, toasted pepitas, fried shallots and parmesan crisps.
French (Citrus) Almond Cake (Keto)
Frozen Chocolate Cream Pie (Keto)
I wanted to prove I could still create a delicious meal and still follow the Keto plan. Like me, my friends were missing dessert, so I really wanted to find dessert recipes that didn’t taste any less delicious than we would normally have. Honestly, buying the ingredients to make these desserts was very expensive. This diet plan is not for someone on a tight budget, but I’m hoping it will curb my appetite enough that the old urge to grab a slice of chocolate frosted cake or two on the weekends will dissipate.
The protein was six fillets of rainbow trout that I asked my neighbor to grill. They also created a garlic, lemon herb butter sauce that was gently poured over the fish just before serving.
For the side dish, I found inspiration from different Pinterest posts to create this delicata squash dish. Delicata is a delicious sweet squash that is easy to cut, clean and cook.
Roasted Delicata Squash with Salad Greens
Yields 4 servings
1 Delicata squash
Olive oil spray
kosher salt & pepper
red chili infused olive oil (optional)
5 oz of Organic Girl Super Greens (or arugula, or mixed greens)
1/4 cup toasted pepitas
1 shallot thinly sliced and fried or a packaged thin pre-fried shallots
white balsamic vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
2 -1/4 piece of orange
1 1/2 tablespoon of mayo
4 tablespoons of plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
Oven baked parm crisps
Preheat oven 450 degrees (f). Slice the delicata into 1/2 inch thick rings. Using a paring knife, cut away the pulp and seeds and discard. Spray a rimmed baking sheet pan with olive oil and then lay each of the squash rings in one layer on the tray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle a small amount of red chili oil to add a delicate spiciness (optional). Bake for 15 minutes and then turn each ring over and bake for 15 additional minutes. The squash is served at room temperature.
Toast the pepitas in a shallow pan until slightly golden around the edges.
Whisk together in a small bowl the mayo, garlic powder, salt and juice of 1/4 wedge of orange. (I poured the mixture into a squeeze bottle to drizzle over the dish before serving, but the tines of a fork could achieve the same drizzle result.
Spread the greens on a medium platter. Careful not to over saturate, lightly sprinkle with white balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and squeeze the juice from 1/4 wedge of orange over the greens and toss. Lay the cooled squash rings over the bed of greens. Sprinkle with toasted pepitas and crispy onions. Add parmesan crisps (croutons) for additional crunch. Just before serving drizzle with orange yogurt sauce.
A small amount of any roasted autumn squash is not only delicious, but it’s also very filling. My guests really enjoyed this dish and it left just enough room for dessert. Yes I said dessert…
We had stayed away for desserts for some time and I searched for Keto desserts (two) that I decided might live up to the desserts we were used to and they did. Find those details in my next post.
In this edition of Simply Elevated I wanted to share a few delicious ways to perfectly pair and celebrate the pear….
Available from August through October, more than 95% of pears are grown in the U.S. come from western states like California, Washington and Oregon. Some of the most popular varieties are the juicy and sweet Bartlett (green), firm and crunchy Bosc (brown) and the sweet Anjou (green or red). Pears have a flavor that ranges from tangy to sweet to spicy, and a texture that can be crisp, buttery, or in between.
As the pear season in the U.S. approaches here’s a few ways they can be used to create easy, warm and comforting, but very light desserts and cordial sips to share with family and friends.
Just a few months prior to the original COVID shutdown, I went on an amazing trip to Europe in the Fall of 2019 with two friends and while in the Alsace region of France, we visited a shop in the charming medieval town of Eguisheim where we were offered a tasting of a delicious pear liqueur. I purchased a small bottle of the golden elixir shaped like an elegant pear. The pretty bottle remained on my cocktail cart for an entire year before I cracked the seal and decided it was time to share it with friends.
For several months, social distancing requirements put a stop to my large wine and book club gatherings, but we had learned to quarantine and practice safety measures that allowed me to feel comfortable enough to host a few small luncheons with groups of three or four friends. By September, I decided to invite my travel buddies to get together for a small afternoon gathering and reminisce about our time together in Europe just a year prior – especially during a time when travel was currently off limits, with no idea of when we would be able to travel again in the future.
I prepared a Swiss fondue and charcuterie boards similar to those we enjoyed in Mürren, We drank Crémant, the light effervescent wine we were introduced to in the same little French town, and then finished with mu French pear liqueur. As we slowly sipped the liqueur one friend said, “Why didn’t I buy some of this?” (I must note that she brought back the most amazing black truffle raclette cheese that I’ll never forget).
A few other luncheons followed this one, and each ended with a pear dessert and small sip of my pear cordial. As sips of the liqueur were taken, at each serving everyone was surprised at its complexity. I encouraged each person to focus on the experience as it made its way from the tip to the back of the tongue and then down the throat. It was fun to watch their surprised expressions. It’s warm and slightly fiery with a bouquet and flavors of complex vanilla and caramelised pears leaving a powerful shared memory to end each gathering.
Below are a few of the desserts I paired with the liqueur.
Pears poached in apple cider and Poire Williams pear brandy, paired perfectly with small crystal liqueur glassfuls of my French Golden 8 elixir and the golden sauce poured over the tender pears.
As Autumn arrived, this light custard like pancake spiked with Poire Williams (pear brandy) and infused with the zest of a lime, grated star anise and filled with half of a delicately sliced pear was yet another perfect pairing.
As the holidays drew near I created a wintery panna cotta inspired by a cocktail I found and clipped from a magazine in 2010 served at The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado (image below) called the Snow White. Once again the pleasing experience of tasting the liqueur and enjoying how well it went with the panna cotta was undeniable. For my version of Ina Garten’s panna cotta in the link below, I created these Caramel Eggnog panna cottas. I used eggnog in place of heavy cream and the pear liqueur in place of the rum. I put the caramel layer in the center and created a snowflake with a stencil and sprinkling of Chinese five spice.
My little glass pear bottle was near empty when I invited a friend for the next luncheon. For this meeting I recreated a favorite pear clafoutis that I had seen on Barefoot Contessa when Ina Garten did several episodes in Paris and met with Chef Daniel Rose. His unexpected additions of lime and grated anise make this the best clafoutis I’ve ever eaten.
As I poured the last two small glasses of the liqueur, I expressed my disappointment that my lovely liqueur that my friends so enjoyed was now gone. I had searched for another bottle online and was excited to find it, but when I tried to order a bottle, I continued to get messages that the bottle could not be shipped to at least the Southern States that I tried to have the bottle shipped to.
“I have a friend whose daughter lives in Provence,” my friend said. “Let me see if maybe she can buy and ship it to us.” I was thrilled, and several weeks later the package arrived with a 750 mil pear shaped bottle of our beloved liqueur. So on to the next celebration!
A nearby bakery makes traditional French King Cakes during the Mardi Gras season. It’s created with freshly made puffed pastry filled with almond paste and sprinkled with sugar. For the past few years since the bakery opened I’ve wanted to purchase one, but learned it has to be ordered in advance, due to the limited amount made each day. I was in the area one weekend in January and noticed a larger number of cars parked outside than usual and watched as patrons exited with their boxed King Cakes. I decided to stop and placed an order for the following weekend, planning to share it with my neighbor friends. When I sent a message to let my friend know that we would have a cake to try the next weekend, she told me it was going to be her husband’s birthday. Good timing, I thought, we will celebrate his birthday with this special King Cake.
The following weekend I placed the cake on my table and pushed a few candles into its golden crispy crust. I opened my new bottle of pear liqueur and filled three small crystal etched liqueur glasses. Together we had a small birthday celebration with the cake and liqueur that they are both big fans of. The liqueur once again was a perfect pairing.
How do you oneup a lovely pear shaped decanter? I found this beautiful bottle with a blown glass (or verre souffle’) pear inside of a bottom, from France at a local antique shop.
As I strolled through a local liquor and wine store, this one lone bottle of French pear liqueur (a different brand) caught my eye. The fact that all but the one bottle was gone made me hopeful that it will be as good as the Golden 8. The bottle isn’t as pretty, but I’ve got that covered with my lovely verre souffle’ pear bottle for serving.
The pear season in the US is only a few weeks away, with another season of Fall just on the other side of it. If you’re looking for a light and flavorful dessert for a weekend dinner with family and friends or hosting an afternoon luncheon, consider celebrating with pears and a little sip of pear liqueur. Enchante’.