Cucumber Salad

Cucumber Salad

When we lived in Colorado, I had given up on trying to garden.  The harsh, dry summer and my lack of farming skills was not a good combination.  Now that we are in Kansas, I thought I’d give it a try again.

While this gardening season is not perfect, I have had one abounding success – cucumbers.  In fact, I underestimated the spacing and cucumbers are quickly taking charge of my plot. It is a good thing I like pickles and that my son loves eating cucumber slices. 

I have two varieties of cucumbers growing in my garden.  The one I used for my recipe was pick-a-bushel which is better for pickles but was just as tasty in this cucumber salad. What is your favorite way to use up your cucumber bounty?

Cucumber Salad

Cucumber Salad

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped dill
  • 3 large cucumbers, peeled and sliced (about 5 cups)
  • ½ cup French fried onions

In a large bowl, stir together ricotta, vinegar, salt, sugar, pepper, and dill until well combined. Add in the cucumbers and stir to coat.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until ready to serve. Just before serving, stir in the french fried onions.

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muffaletta spoon bread

Muffaletta Spoon Bread

The pictures and recipes for muffaletta always look so good to me.  I love all things with olives, so a recipe that is basically devoted to showcasing olive tapenade is right up my alley.  Over the last few months I have been wondering if I could create a recipe that had all the same flavors of a muffaletta, with an easier delivery than a sandwich stacked inches high.  Thus, my Muffaletta Spoon Bread was born.

Spoon bread  can be described as polenta that has been elevated to a soufflé. It isn’t really bread at all, since it is rich and custardy, requiring a spoon (or fork) to eat it.  For my Muffaletta Spoon Bread I have folded in my olive tapenade, which I made by marrying together the olive salad recipes from Damaris Phillips and Women’s Day Magazine, and a bit of hard salami and provolone. I reviewed a variety of spoon bread recipes before I started, and most seemed to follow three parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal, 1-2 teaspoons of baking powder, and 2-3 eggs. For this recipe I went with the ratios as found in the spoon bread dressing recipe in Carla Hall’s Soul Food.

My husband and I deemed the recipe delicious.  It is just as decadent as it’s namesake sandwich, but in my opinion is an easier way to serve a crowd!

muffaletta spoon bread

Muffaletta Spoonbread

  • ¾ cup pitted castelvetrano olives, drained
  • ½ cup pitted black olives, drained
  • ½ cup giardiniera, drained
  • ½ canned roasted red pepper, drained
  • 1 celery stalk, leaves removed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flatleaf parsley
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic
  • 2 tablespoons non-pariel capers
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 3 ounces provolone cheese, chopped
  • 3 ounces hard salami, chopped
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  •  3 eggs

Preheat oven to 375 º F. Grease a 3 quart baking dish (9-inchs x 13 inch pan).

To make the olive tapenade, place the first eleven ingredients (olives through Italian seasoning) in a food processor and chop until fine; set aside.

Add the half and half, water, and sugar to a large saucepan and bring to a boil.  Gradually add the cornmeal, whisking constantly.  Remove from the heat and let cool slightly (about 10-20 minutes). Stir in the tapenade, cheese, salami, and baking powder.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs with a mixer on high until light yellow and foamy (I used a tall glass and my immersion blender). Gently fold egg mixture into the cornmeal mixture until incorporated.  Pour into the prepared baking dish.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until puffed, golden brown, and top springs back when lightly touched. Serve.

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Cannoli Cheesecake

Cannoli Cheesecake

At a gathering just before Thanksgiving, we were discussing everyone’s favorite pie.  My husband brought up his love of cheesecake and cannoli, rather than the typical turkey day offerings.  The table threw down a challenge that I readily accepted – create a cannoli cheesecake.

While a quick search on the internet brings up a few recipes, most include cream cheese. My goal was to create a ricotta cheese only cheesecake, to keep it as close to tasting like a cannoli as possible. I decided to start with a recipe from Buddy Valastro for a traditional ricotta cheesecake.  I modified the recipe to include chocolate chips and a crust made of pistachios and Biscoff cookies.

Using only ricotta results in a lighter texture, which was a nice change from a New York style cheesecake.  While the cake isn’t as sweet as cannoli filling, it was still a hit!

If a large cheesecake is too much of a commitment, you can always try my Chocolate Cherry Cannoli Cups instead – either will  make for happy guests.

Cannoli Cheesecake

Cannoli Cheesecake

Butter or non-stick spray for greasing pan
24 Biscoff cookies (~1.5 cups once crushed)
½ cup shelled pistachios
4 tablespoons butter, melted
3 pounds whole-milk ricotta
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup mini chocolate chips

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat to 400ºF. Butter a 9-inch spring form panand place on a baking sheet.

Crush the cookies and the pistachios until fine, then mix with the melted butter.  Press into the bottom of the spring form pan. Bake for 5 minutes; remove from the oven and let cool.

In a stand mixer fit with the paddle, beat the ricotta cheese, sugar, egg yolks, lemon zest, and vanilla until very smooth.

Put the egg whites in a separate mixer bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Fold the whites by thirds into the cheese mixture, then stir in the chocolate chips. Pour mixture into the pan over the crust and level it.

Put the cake in the oven and immediately lower the heat to 350ºF. Bake until the cake has risen higher on the sides than in the middle and is set but jiggling in the center, 1 hour, 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and prop the door open (using a prop such as a wine cork or large wooden clothes pin; Be careful not to let it fall into the oven). Let the cake cool completely in the oven for 1 hour, then cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours or overnight before removing the spring form sides. Slice and serve.

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Chipotle Chicken Crantada

Chipotle Chicken Crantadas

My family LOVES tacos. It seems like we easily eat them once a week, but we do venture out to other Mexican fare.  These Chipotle Chicken Crantadas are a dish I created for a contest about a decade ago, though I have revamped it some since then.  This dish is a summery version of a tostada, where refried beans are swapped for a corn spread, and the salsa features dried cranberries.  The sweetness of the cranberries is offset by the smokiness of the chipotle sauce on the shredded chicken.  

Maybe it is time we switch to a weekly Chipotle Chicken Crantada night!

Chipotle Chicken Crantada


Chipotle Chicken Crantadas

 2 tablespoons jarred, diced chipotle
16 oz can jellied cranberry sauce
 2 lbs fresh,boneless, skinless chicken breasts
 1 cup  plain greek yogurt
4 cup frozen, super sweet corn, thawed
1 t salt
1 t garlic
 2 avocado, pitted and chopped
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
6 ounces queso fresco, crumbled
8 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
4 Tablespoons lime juice
 16 Tostada shells
 2 Cups shredded green cabbage (coleslaw mix)
  
In a  large bowl mix together chipotle chilies, and cranberry sauce.
 Add a small amount of the sauce to the bottom of a 4 quart crock pot, place the chicken breasts on top, then cover with the rest of the sauce.  Cook on low 4-5 hrs (or on high for 2-3 hrs).  
Just before serving time, prepare the corn spread. Add the yogurt, corn, salt, and garlic to a food processor, and process until a smooth spread forms.   
To make the avocado-cranberry salsa, mix the avocado, onion, dried cranberries, queso fresco, cilantro, and lime juice in a medium bowl, until evenly combined. 
When the chicken is ready, shred the chicken in the crock pot, and stirring to make sure the sauce is evenly distributed.  To plate the crantadas, place 1/16 of the corn spread onto each of the tostadas, layer with equal amounts of the shredded cabbage, and then equal amounts of the shredded chicken.  Top each tostada with equal amounts of the avocado-cranberry salsa and serve.

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Apple Cheddar Bread

Apple-Cheddar Bread

One of the cooking contests I am currently experimenting for is the Our Family Garden applesauce contest.  This contest has been so much fun, in part due to the enthusiasm of the host.  He has been giving contestants frequent insights into their products and business, making it a joy to share my cooking hobby with them. 

The other reason this contest has been so much fun is that the applesauce line is amazing.  Their products taste like your favorite, homemade batch – so much so that I had to be diligent to bake with it, rather than eat it right out of the jar.

One of my favorite recipe creations so far was an Apple-Cheddar Bread.  The bread is sweet, with a hint of savory, even with using the unsweetened applesauce. I loved the end result, as did my kids.  They kept requesting slices, which meant we polished off the loaf in under 24 hours.  I enjoyed eating it warm as an afternoon snack and as a breakfast treat.  I can’t wait to hear which way you prefer to eat this delightful Apple-Cheddar Bread!

Apple Cheddar Bread


Apple Cheddar Bread

2 cups flour (plus some for dusting pan)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened Our Family Garden applesauce
4 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
2 large eggs
1 cup shredded, sharp cheddar
Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease a 9-inch by 5 inch loaf pan and then dust with flour.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the 2 cups of flour, baking soda, baking powder, basil, and salt; set aside.  In a separate large bowl mix together the applesauce, melted butter, and eggs and stir to mix evenly.  Gently stir in the flour mixture in small batches until it is all incorporated.  Gently fold in the cheddar, then pour into the prepared loaf pan.  Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool to desired temperature, then cut to serve. Can be served warm or cold.

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Apple Butter and Raisin Bread Breakfast Casserole

Holiday mornings just beg for a breakfast casserole.  I have always enjoyed the classic cheddar & sausage casserole that my mom would make for special occasions. Last year at Christmas time, my sister and I tried a few new ones that got me thinking of creating my own.  I decided to build a breakfast casserole around apple butter since the spicy-sweet treat is hard not to love. 

I mixed in raisin bread and maple syrup for added sweetness and balanced it with a maple breakfast sausage and goat cheese. The result is a breakfast casserole that appeals to the young and old alike. I also love that I can (usually) get a few breakfast meals out of one dish!

Apple Butter Breakfast Casserole


Apple Butter & Raisin Bread Breakfast Casserole

1 pound maple flavored breakfast sausage
5-6 cups torn raisin bread
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup apple butter
3 large eggs
 2 cups ½ & ½
4 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 
Pre-heat oven to 350 °F.

In a non-stick saute pan, brown and crumble the sausage; drain. Add the sausage to a large bowl, along with the raisin bread, goat cheese, and apple butter and mix to combine.  Pour the sausage mixture into a greased 3 quart (2.8L) casserole dish.

In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients, stirring to combine.  Pour the egg mixture over the bread mixture in the casserole dish.  Bake uncovered for 45-50 minutes or until the eggs are set. Let cool a few minutes before serving.

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lingonberry

Lingonberry Goat Cheese Spread

Cheese is a staple food item in this house.  We love the full spectrum: cheddar for tacos and sandwiches to flavored, specialty cheeses.  When I saw a unique jam (lingonberry) to try, I just knew I wanted to marry it with a spreadable cheese.

Before I go any further, perhaps you are wondering what is a lingonberry? It is a fruit of an evergreen shrub that is popular in Scandinavian cooking. It is similar in color and taste to the cranberry. If you can’t find lingonberry at your local store, just substitute a cranberry sauce or jam.

To make a colorful appetizer for Christmas, I decided to blend the lingonberry jam with some soft goat cheese and crushed pistachios.  Not only does it make for a pretty display, it is just as delicious as any of the pre-blended brands you can buy.

The recipe also lends itself to versatility.  I look forward to trying a blend of goat cheese with blueberry jam and quince paste, just to name a few.

lingonbery


Lingonberry Goat Cheese Spread

4 ounces goat cheese
2 tablespoons crushed pistachios
2 tablespoons lingonberry jam*

In a large bowl, stir together the goat cheese and pistachios until well blended.  Next, stir in the jam just until streaks of red and white remain.  Line a small bowl with plastic wrap and fold in the cheese. Press the cheese into the bowl to form.  Place a plate over the bottom of the bowl and invert; remove the plastic wrap and serve with crackers or bread.

*substitute another jelly or jam, such as cranberry, if desired

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Spooky Sandwiches

 Two months in to the school year and my daughter is bored with lunches.  To spice up her lunch box AND do something fun for Halloween, I decided to make an easy Spooky Sandwich.

 spooky sandwich

I bought a set of food markers (I found mine at Walmart, but a craft store would also be a good source) to decorate some lunch items.  It is best to draw on a more solid surface, such as royal icing, or in this case a tortilla.  Soft items like bread or oily/crumbly items don’t work well.

I drew skeletons onto one half of the tortilla before filling them with cheese to make quesadillas.  I also drew on sandwich rolls, just make sure to roll the sandwich first so that you don’t hide some of the image. 

This is such an easy way to bring a smile to your kiddos face without much effort.  Every now and then I plan on surprising my daughter with flowers or faces on her sandwiches!

spooky sandwich


Spooky Sandwiches

Food markers
Flour tortillas
Shredded cheddar cheese or cheese slices and lunch meat

 

Use food marker to draw on tortilla, then build quesadilla (or sandwich), and serve.

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baked potato salad

Baked Potato Salad

My daughter was successful in finishing kindergarten as a word warrior (a title based on the number of first grade words she knew). In our house, this title earned her a dinner of her choosing.   We meandered through the grocery store, and one of the items she picked out was peewee potatoes.  For her special dinner, I roasted some of the tiny potatoes (they are about the size of grape or cherry tomatoes) and contemplated how else I could serve them.

baked potato salad

One idea that came to mind was a potato salad that didn’t involve chopping and boiling.  Hence, the Baked Potato Salad was born. The mini potatoes are roasted whole, and then stirred together with some chive cream cheese, bacon bits, black olives, green onions, and cheddar cheese for a crowd pleaser of a dish.

The Baked Potato Salad was such a hit with my husband, I’m sure the next time I make it I will need to double the recipe to have enough for guests!

baked potato salad

Baked Potato Salad

1 ½ pounds peewee potatoes
4 ounces whipped, chive cream cheese
One 2.25 ounce can sliced, black olives, drained
¼ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
¼ cup real bacon bits
¼ cup diced green onions

 

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Rinse the peewee potatoes, then spread them out on a large, greased baking sheet.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until tender and begin to brown slightly.  Remove from the oven and let cool.

Place the cooled, baked potatoes in a large bowl, add the cream cheese and stir to coat.  Add in the remainder of the ingredients and stir to mix.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Tamarisk Honey Bites

Tamarisk Honey Bites

One of these days I am going to host a honey tasting party.  If you have never tried a honey other than clover, you are missing out. One of my favorites is meadowfoam honey which tastes like cotton candy in honey form. Other honey flavors, such as tamarisk or buckwheat, are dark colored honey with a robust and earthy taste.

Tamarisk Honey Bite

Since I had some tamarisk (and buckwheat) honey on hand, I wanted to make an easy appetizer that showcases the honey.  I topped sweet potato chips with a small wedge of brie cheese, drizzled on some honey and garnished with chives.

Now that I have started to think of ways to sample the honey, I just have to plan and execute the party!

Tamarisk Honey Bite

I typically pick up different honey varieties when I visit farmer’s markets, but some of the larger specialty honey makers sell online as well. A few of the brands that I have tried are Grampa’s Honey and Winter Park Honey.

 

Tamarisk Honey Bites

2 ounce brie cheese
12 sweet potato chips
4 teaspoons tamarisk or buckwheat honey
Chives (optional), chopped

 

Cut the brie into 12 small pieces, then place one piece on each chip. Drizzle evenly with the honey and garnish with chive pieces if desired.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Strawberry Guava Compote

Strawberry and Guava Compote

As I walked through the produce section this week, the guavas literally drew me over to them.  They smelled so fragrant I just knew I had to make some sort of guava dish.  Guavas come in all shapes and sizes, but these Mexican cream guavas are about the size of a golf ball and yellow in color, such that my daughter asked if they were “banana balls”.  To highlight the guava flavor I decided to make a strawberry and guava compote.

fresh guava

Once the flower (the end) is removed, you half and deseed the guava.  The seeds are actually edible, but more of an acquired taste so I removed them from this recipe.

prepped guava

The guava and strawberries are cooked for a few minutes in a spiced syrup, which is all they need to make a delicious compote. The sweet guava compote is the perfect complement to a touch of mascarpone and mint.  The resulting dish is stunning, yet an easy and elegant dessert for Mother’s day, baby shower, or other festive gathering.

Strawberry Guava Compote

Strawberry  & Guava Compote

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground Saigon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 pound (about 10) Mexican cream guavas
½ pound strawberries
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
Mint leaves for garnish
Add the water, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, and cloves to a large sauce pan.  Heat over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, and simmer for about 10 minutes or until syrup begins to thicken.

While the syrup simmers, wash the guava and then remove the flower end from the guava. Next cut them in half and scoop out the seeds (reserve for another use, if desired). Remove the stems from the strawberries and cut in half.  Add the guava and strawberries to the syrup and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, transfer the fruit and syrup to a large bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

To serve, place one ounce of mascarpone cheese in the bottom of a serving bowl or glass.  Evenly divide the fruit over the eight bowls, then drizzle with some of the syrup (there will be some syrup left in reserve). Garnish with mint and serve.

 

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Tuna & Oat Bowl

I have a rather large bag of steel cut oats sitting in my pantry and I decided it was time to find other ways to incorporate them into my diet. Steel cut oats are a great source of fiber and protein, so I really have nothing to complain about. 

I was in the mood for something that would qualify as a side dish or an entrée, rather than a breakfast item.  The resulting Tuna & Oat Bowl is more of an updated version of tuna noodle casserole.  Instead of noodles, the dish has a large serving of steel cut oats. The addition of tomatoes, dill, and goat cheese round out the dish and add a fresh taste. As an extra bonus there is no baking involved so it is quick to get on the table.

While the Tuna & Oat Bowl might not be the most photogenic, I found that it was a great dish for lunch since it kept me satisfied for a long time.  It looks like I may have found a way to finish all of my steel cut oats!

Tuna & Oat Bowl

Tuna & Oat Bowl

4 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups steel cut oats
4 ounces goat cheese
2, 7 ounce cans tuna, drained
1 ½ cups chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon dry dill
¼ teaspoon salt

Bring water and salt to a boil in a large sauce pan.  Add the oats, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, covered, or until liquid is absorbed and the oats are tender but chewy.  Remove from the heat and let sit a few minutes. Next, stir in the goat cheese until the oats are coated.  Next add the tuna, tomatoes, dill and salt, stirring to combine.  Serve; refrigerate any leftovers.

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