Fava Bean and Water Cress with Roasted Garlic Ricotta Spread

A couple of years ago I received the book Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi as a holiday present. I have had my eye on it for a while and I will admit that I was supper pleased to finally have one in my possession. I went through it cover to cover numerous times - I could not put it down. It is full of super great veggie recipes, one better than the next. With full honesty I cannot think of any one of the recipes that I like better. IMG_9905

Then, Ottolenghi came out with another book: Plenty More. I received this one for my birthday this past year, and just like the last one I could not put it down. over and over again I have flipped through the pages. Let me admit that sometimes I do not know what is more enticing in these books, the recipes themselves or the photos of the food. Just like the last book it is just gorgeous!

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Okay, enough of me gushing! The other day while walking past one of the stands down at Pike’s Place Market the vendor told me that the fava beans were exceptional and just came in. So I purchased a few handfuls and headed home. I remembered a recipe in Plenty More that I really admired and I figured this was the perfect time to dive into it.

Sreading the fava beans and water cress over the ricotta.

The recipe was a Fava Bean Spread with a Roasted Garlic Ricotta; I know, it sounds fabulous doesn’t it?!?  So I started in on the recipe. Brian assisted by hulling and shucking the fava beans for me while I took a walk with the dogs to a bakery to pick up a freshly baked baguette to enjoy it with. Although the recipe called for lots of fresh lemon zest and juice I substituted in some preserved lemon zest being I have so much of it on hand. Also, I added in a bit of fresh water cress when I was sautéing the favas. I thought the peppery nature of the water cress would compliment the favas along with the bright lemony flavor. After I had it all plated, bread was sliced and assorted raw veggies to go along the side were prepped we gave it all a try.

Fava Bean Water Cress Saute with Roasted Garlic Ricotta, fresh bread and raw veggies.

I didn’t say a word through each bite! I chewed, I munched, I let the flavors linger on my tongue, and I completely enjoyed ever tiny moment of it all. I savored it all, Brian chatted away telling me about work and then looked at me asking why I was so silent. Once he saw the expression on my face he asked "You are loving every bite of this aren’t you?" I couldn't find a word to muster up, I was just too busy taking it all in. I believe I put my hand up to my mouth, smiled, and nodded. There were no words needed, I was tasting something so deliciously good I had to relish every bit of it! After a bit of time, and about 4 slices of baguette for myself; it was almost all gone. As we were packing up the leftover we both agreed, this definitely needs to be made again - and it must be shared! So thank you Yotam Ottolenghi, you are super talented beyond words and have inspired a fantastic creation.

All that deliciousness on top of crusty bread!

Fava Bean and Water Cress with Roasted Garlic Ricotta Spread (feeds 4)

1 pound of fava beans (about 1 cup shelled)

4 garlic cloves

1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup water cress

1/4 preserved lemon peel, chopped very finely

1 lemon (half zested and juiced, the other half sliced)

handful fresh mint leaves (about 1/4 cup), chopped

Sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

Extra olive oil for drizzling

Freshly sliced crusty bread for serving

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, have a large bowl of ice water set aside for blanching. Place the fava beans in the boiling water and cook for about 2 minutes. Drain and immediately place the beans in the ice bath you have waiting to shock them. Once they are cool enough to handle, pop the favas out of their outer skin - discarding the skin and reserving the inner bean.

Next, toss your garlic cloves with the skin on in 2 tbsp of olive oil. Place them on a baking dish and roast in the oven for 10 minutes. The cloves should be tender when pierced. Once the cloves are cool slip them out of their skin giving them a rough mashing with a fork and set them aside.

Then, place a large sauté pan over medium heat. Once your pan is heated through add the remainder olive oil and heat through. Add the preserved lemon peel, the peeled favas, and let it all simmer together about 2-3 minutes. Add the water cress and sauté all together until ithe water cress wilts.

Meanwhile, in a bowl mash together you roasted garlic and ricotta. Season it with a bit of sea salt and fresh black pepper. spread the mixture in the bottom of your serving dish / plate.

Finally, top the ricotta mixture with your fava and water cress sauté. Sprinkle it with the reserved lemon juice, fresh lemon zest, and fresh mint. Drizzle it with a bit of olive oil, sea salt and fresh black pepper. Serve with fresh bread and lemon slices.

Super Bowl food for the non sports fan!

If you know anything about me, I am not a sports fan / follower. Yes, come the Olympics we try to stay up on events. When the World Cup comes around I love to hear the stats and facts of teams across the world. The World Series, anything basket ball related, and Super Bowl - we are lucky if we know when and what is going on about it. In many ways we are the outcasts to our family over all of this. Ingredients all lined up and ready.

Growing up, my family did lots of stuff around sports. During football season it was not uncommon to find my father in his recliner with my sister in a chair next to him watching the Giants. If you were to go to my Uncle Frank and Aunt Fran’s home my uncle always had baseball or basketball on the TV. And as far as my Uncle Bill was concerned - he was always watching, playing, coaching, or refereeing whatever was in season. I, however, never shared these passions. When I first started dating my husband it was a breath of fresh air that he did not have any fascinations with sports, and yet his family did. His Auntie Orch and Uncle Dave were die hard Yankee and baseball fans. His father and brother are avid Giant fans. Upon first moving to Phoenix we were back in New Jersey for a family wedding the following September. When we came down for breakfast in the morning my father-in-law asked, “The Cardinals are playing the Giants! Who are you rooting for?” We both responded the same way, “Are you talking about baseball or football?” My father-in-law had a disgusted look on his face and replied with: “I have no hope with either of you!”

Layer Dip in a glass plate looks great because you can see all the layers.

Needless to say; whether we are in New Jersey, Phoenix, and now Seattle - it really does not matter what sport is playing. We just don’t follow it. But in the last two years it has been strange. We have a winning football team (the Seahawks) an neither of us have any clue about it. Last week as we are watching 80’s cult film classics we can hear roars of cheering outside - that is our indication that the Seahawks just had a good play. Some might find it odd. I mean the entire city is into it. Despite all the sports fanatics that my husband and I grew up with nothing compares to the amount of Seahawks propaganda that is everywhere you turn. Not to mention, the city kind of shuts down when a game is being played; by this I mean I could take Martini and Latte for a walk down the middle of 1st street and there wouldn't be a car or person in sight! I find it a bit eerie to tell you the truth. I never saw or experienced anything like this while living in New Jersey or Phoenix.

Layer Dip with Tortilla Chips

So, I must admit that I find it strangely odd that last year the Seahawks go to the Super Bowl in - New Jersey. This year, the Seahawks will be playing the Super Bowl in - Phoenix. It is like there is a conspiracy in some way to get us involved in a sport we could care less about. So while I came to this realization I made a meal the other night fit for a Super Bowl party. This is something I would have made while I lived in New Jersey - thinking it was “Mexican food”, only to realize after living in Phoenix for ten years that it is nothing close to what Mexican food really is. I have lived and learned (about food) but as far as sports are concerned I still know very little. But Brian and I are happy that way! As for our Super Bowl type food - it was good and tasty; but you will still not see us eating it while watching the game! That is just unheard of.

Layer Dip scooped and ready to dive in.

Super Bowl Layer Dip (serves 6-8)

1 can of refried beans

1 small container of sour cream

1 container of your favorite salsa

1-2 large avocado (diced or mashed)

1 serrano or jalapeno chili, minced

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 tbsp of minced onion

sea salt to taste

1 lime, juiced

1 - 2 cups of grated cheddar cheese (I personally like a smoked one)

1 small can of black olives, sliced

3 - 4 radishes, chopped small

2 - 3 cups of shredded romaine lettuce

Tortilla chips for scooping.

First, in a glass pie plate spread the refried beans down evenly. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl mix the avocado, garlic, onion, chili, lime juice, and sea salt. Combine until well blended and set aside.

Next, layer the remainder of your ingredients evenly and carefully on top of the beans. I personally like to add the sour cream above the beans, followed by the avocado mix. Be sure to be gentle while spreading and layering. If you press down on amy of it too hard you will mix up your layers. Pour your salsa over it all in as even as a coating as possible.

Then, top all of it with an even layer of your cheese. Above the cheese, sprinkle your lettuce evenly. Tope it all with the olives and radishes. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to eat, at lest a hour before eating or up to a day ahead.

Finally, remove from the refrigerator and serve chilled. Have your Tortilla chips on the side and enjoy.

Holiday Worthy Appetizers

Well the holidays are really, literally right around the corner. I feel like it have been neglecting this blog a bit, and for that I am sorry. But to be honest I have been neglecting all of my holiday cooking. I had no time to make cookies this year (gasp!), nor have I had time to get together with friends and decorate them! I did spend an afternoon making some of my Uncle Jimmy’s Chocolate Bottom Pecan Pie! (You can read about the pie and get the recipe here.) I made them so Brian and I could share them with our coworkers. That, unfortunately is where it ended. I did, however make a few  recipes that I thought were perfect to share with you in the mean time. You see I did feel like the holidays were getting away from us so I made sure to whip up two little appetizers for us to indulge in this past weekend before we ate dinner. Brian and I got to sit and snack on them; and if you can you believe it, we actually got to sit and talk for a while before dinner!?! We have been so hectic around here that we really have not had time for some decent face to face conversation. This and the appetizer snacks were all too fitting for the occasion.

Holiday worthy appetizers: Warm Rosemary, Shallot, and Garlic Mixed Nuts & Fresh Endive Boats

The first of the appetizers I made is a Rosemary, Shallot, and Garlic Mixed Nuts. They are slightly sweet, have a hint of spice, and the crunch of the roasted nuts makes them all too addicting. I have been making this recipe for a long time. I got it from the Martha Stewart Hors D’oeuvres Handbook I have had for years. I made it for our families years ago when we traveled back to New Jersey for Thanksgiving. I placed them in small bowls around the room for everyone to snack on at there leisure. My mom happened to sit next to one of the bowls and by the end of the evening told me: “Danielle, I think I ate all of those nuts! I couldn't stop eating them - they are addicting!” This recipe is all to perfect, and always a pleaser.

Warm Rosemary, Shallot, and Garlic Mixed Nuts

The second of the two appetizers were endive boats. I made things like this when I catered all the time. I will be honest though, what I fill them with totally depends on my mood and more importantly the season. You just line them up of a tray or platter and fill them carefully so that they are uniform. I try to always make sure they are colorful and have a balance on texture and flavor. For these, I filled them with freshly sliced figs, goat cheese, topped them off with some fresh chives, and a dab of balsamic. They are all together perfect with a crunch from the endive, creamy from the goat cheese, and slightly tangy from the fig slices and balsamic.

Endive Boats with Goat Cheese and Fresh Figs

Both of these “snacky" appetizers were great for unwinding, building time together, and light enough not to spoil our dinner. I must also say that they were elegant enough to make us feel a bit more into the holiday spirit. The nut recipe makes quite a bit, so we wrapped up the remainders and shared them with our coworkers. The endive can be made as you go, so don't feel obligated to make a ton of it…just what you feel is necessary. If you find the time to make these this holiday Im sure you and your company will greatly enjoy them. Plus, you will have the added benefit of no fuss while having time to spend with your company. I am sure you will enjoy them as we, and so many others have over the years. Happy Holidays to all of you!

Rosemary, Shallot, and Garlic Mixed Nuts (makes 5 cups)

*From Martha Stewart’s Hors D’Oeuvres Handbook

5 cups of mixed nuts: walnuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts (mix them as you like)

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 small shallots, thinly sliced crosswise into rings (yields about a 1/4 cup)

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced lengthwise

2 tbsp of unsalted butter

1/4 cup coarsely chopped rosemary

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp packed dark brown sugar

1 tbsp losher salt

First, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the nuts in a single layer on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Toast until the nuts are golden and fragrant, 8 - 10 minutes. Rotating the pans half way through. Transfer the nuts when done to a large bowl and set aside.

Next, heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic: fry until golden (3 - 5 minutes). Transfer the shallots and garlic to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.

Finally, melt the butter and pour it over the nuts. Add the rosemary, cayenne, brown sugar, and salt - stir it well to combine. Toss in the crispy garlic and shallots. Serve warm. Can be reheated in a 300 degree oven for 10 minutes. (Keeps up to a week when well wrapped.)

 

Endive Boats (feeds 4 -6)

**Note: can be made up to 1 hour ahead and but keep refrigerated, and best to be kept fresh.

1 - 2 heads of endive

about 4 - 6 oz of fresh goat cheese

3-4 fresh figs, trimmed and sliced

2 tbsp of chopped chives

Balsamic vinegar

Fresh black pepper, to taste

First, trim and remove the endive leaves. I like to line them up to keep them evenly in shape and size, trimming where necessary.

Next, line your endive on your serving platters and drop a small, yet even mount of goat cheese into your endive leaves. Next to the endive place the fresh fig slice.

Then, with a spoon, drop a small amount of the balsamic over the goat cheese. Sprinkle the chives evenly over the endives. Chill until ready to serve.

Finally, when ready to serve sprinkle enough black pepper over the endive boats (just to your own taste and liking) and serve.

My (larger than life) Aunt Marge, and a Mushroom Pate that reminds me of her.

I have been wanting for some time to sit and write about my Aunt Marge. However, I found it just too hard. My Aunt Marge was an extraordinary person. When she passed late last year my heart was broken and it was all too personal for me.  You see she was more than a great aunt to me, more like an anchor to the whole family. My Aunt Marge alone was a source of support and stability to all her brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, grandchildren and more. She was the oldest of my father’s Aunts and Uncles and a step-sister to my grandfather. My Great Aunt Marge, just the way I will always remember her...smiling!

If there was ever a moment in my life that I can reflect on growing up, My Aunt Marge and my Uncle Jimmy (her husband) were there. I can still clearly remember nursery rhymes she sang to us. There were trips to the mall, dancing school recitals, school plays, graduations, religious ceremonies, getting ready for the prom, going to college, my wedding day – my Aunt Marge was there for it all. I can remember when I was in grade school my parents went away for a week and my Aunt Marge asked if she and my Uncle Jimmy could watch us. She was so happy having us there. She helped us with our homework and then let us watches whatever we wanted on TV. I can remember my sister whispering to me “Danielle, she is not cooking anything. When are we going to eat dinner?” I looked at my aunt and asked “Aunt Marge, when will we eat dinner?” She responded with “Just tell me when you’re hungry and what you want and it is yours!”  As it turns out she prepared and stocked the refrigerator with some of my and my sister’s favorite meals. She let us pick what we wanted and heated it up. She also let us watch TV while we ate! My sister looked at me and said, “We never get to do this at home!” The whole time was such a treat.

My Aunt Marge and Uncle Jimmy (circa 1980's) I wish it was a better picture but it is one of the only ones I have of them.

In the past year I continually remembered things she did or said. It is funny how that happens. Even after she is gone it is like she is still here in my presence. I finished a book not too long ago that I really enjoyed, as I closed the book I could hear her voice: “Reading is a great way to use your imagination, it can take you anywhere!” I was slicing a loaf of bread one day in my kitchen and it was like she was right there. I could hear her saying, “Eat the heel of the bread and you will get pretty, curly hair Danielle.” (An old wives tail she always expressed and quite possibly why I have more curls today than I ever did.) I turned on the TV the other day and Little Women was on. I instantly thought of my Aunt Marge, she once asked if I ever read the book and when I said no she returned a week later with a copy of the book for me. “I think you will enjoy this, every girl should read it!”

My Aunt Marge was intelligent beyond her schooling. She could pull up facts, dates, times, names, anything – all within the snap of a finger. It fascinated all who encountered her. She was always up on current events, women’s rights, politics, small town issues, popular culture, and slang terms. In some ways I always felt she was a head of her time, and wise beyond her years. The other day I was cooking mushrooms in my kitchen and I thought of her. I was making a Mushroom Pate and I thought, “I wish she was here, I think she would love this dish.” When Brian and I sat at the dinner table to enjoy it I dipped into the Pate I could hear her voice. “Do you believe in double dipping?” Aunt Marge was the one to introduce the term to me (long before it was mentioned on a Seinfeld episode). We were in my parent’s living room and my mom put out a platter of raw vegetables and dip. I can remember my mom looking at me and saying “You always are on top of new topics Aunt Marge.”

Mushroom Pate, and resisting to double dip.

So there you have it. Aunt Marge was a head of her time - inspiring, and a huge influence on my life. But I don’t look at it like she is gone. I mean I just have to see a movie, read a book, cook something, or eat something and it is like she is right there again. She was one of a kind, and we all have been fortunate to have her as a part of our family. In fact, I find this mushroom pate a lot like my Aunt. The pate is tender, savory, a hint of sweetness, easy going while being elegant, and memorable. I told Brian some of my Aunt Marge memories while we ate and he smiled. She really was a special lady! Aunt Marge, thank you for everything, you are always on our mind and in my kitchen.

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Mushroom Pate (feeds 6)

*I made this pate often when catering. It is always a crowd pleaser. The pate is rich in flavor and shocking to most that it is vegan as well. The balsamic reduction always makes people stop and ask what it is as it gives it a glistening black glaze covering it. It is great for a casual gathering or fancy enough for a holiday table.

4 cups of trimmed and sliced Crimini mushrooms

2 cups of onion, chopped small

Olive oil (at least ¼ cup)

¼ cup of brandy

2 cups of basil leaves

¼ cup of chives, roughly chopped

¾ cup pf pistachios

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

¾ cup of balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp of sugar

Bread, Italian or baguette, sliced (and toasted if you like)

First, place your pistachios in a small pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Place it over medium heat and bring it all to a simmer. You are looking for the nuts to become fork tender. It will take about 20 – 30 minutes depending on the nuts. Drain off the water when the nuts are ready and set aside.

Sauted mushrooms and onions.

Next, place a large (12 inch) sauté pan over medium heat. Once it is heated through pour about 3 tbsp of olive oil into it. Place the onions and mushrooms in the pan and let men sizzle and simmer, stirring it all often. Keep an eye on the pan as you do not want it to have your mushrooms and onions stick or start to burn. If they stick you can add a tiny bit more of olive oil at a time. Once the onions start to turn translucent you can add a bit of sea salt and black pepper to it all. Once the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are tender and golden you can add the brandy. Let it all simmer until all the brandy is absorbed and cooked down to barely enough liquid to coat the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside until cooled.

Meanwhile, place you balsamic vinegar on a small pan with the sugar and give it a stir. Place it all over a medium heat and bring it to a simmer. Keeping an eye on it, you want it to reduce by half and no more. Once it is reduced remove it from the heat and set aside.

Then, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment; place your pistachios. Pulse the nuts until they are a past.  To this add your basil and chives and pulse your mixture until the herbs are chopped well into the nuts.  Once herbs are chopped add in your mushrooms and onions and puree until it is all a smooth paste like mixture. If the mixture is stiff you can add a bit of olive oil (no more than 1-2 tbsp) to help loose it up to be a smooth paste.  Season it with sea salt and black pepper to taste.

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Finally, place your nut and mushroom mixture in a serving dish or crock. Spread it out evenly pressing it into the dish. Over the top pour the balsamic reduction you made. You are looking for the reduction the coat the top evenly. I like to tilt my dish back and forth to be sure it is even. Cove the dish and chill for at least an hour before serving. Serve with sliced crusty bread and extra herbs you may have as a garnish.

The good and the bad; well not so bad!

This year is just moments away from its end. In my family it was not uncommon that at the stroke of midnight of the New Year we would snack on piece of Italian pork sausage. It was believed that what you eat reflects on what type of year you will have. The sausage represents a fatty and prosperous new year to come. What you eat after that is all up to you. Trying to be mindful that in the New Year a healthy and fit lifestyle is for the best I truly question what should I be eating. Eating something rich and fatty at the stroke of midnight is one thing, but what you eat the next morning sets the tone for the day; let alone the week and year to come. What to eat?

Onion Rings with Curry Dipping Sauce

Getting back to the sausage; what do you eat when you are a vegetarian? It has to be indulgent. Fatty and indulgent! I thought long and hard about this. I came up with a really simple solution. Onion Rings. Ask any vegetarian you know, a deep fried onion is decadent and somewhat gluttonous. Pair it with a nice rich dipping sauce to smear each ring through is a luxurious taste bud euphoria. The crunch on the battered onion, all nice a deeply golden is like vegetarian gold! But what else? What do I eat to set a tone for a fit and healthy year to come?

Bruleed Graprfruit

Over the past couple of years I have gotten into the habit of always having fresh fruit on my counter and dining table. When you walk by and see the apples, tangerines, pears, and sometimes bananas staring at you it is much easier to keep up with a wholesome snack rather than chips. Eating something fruity and refreshing would be perfectly fitting for this fit and healthy year. With the grapefruits on our table; slicing one and carefully running a knife along its pith is one step closer to a tasty, refreshing, and good for you attitude for the New Year. Placing some brown sugar over the top and brulee-ing your grapefruit brings your ordinary grapefruit to an elegant height. It is delicious, and believe me; once you try it you will be questioning why you have not tried this sooner. i will be making this for breakfast New Years Day. Out with the old, and in with the new. Good eating habits for the New Year. The bad habits are gone…well; onion rings are not so bad. At least the onion is a vegetable.

Almost gone- Onion Rings with a curry dipping sauce

Onion Rings (feed 4 – 6)

1 large onion

2 cups of flour

½ tsp of baking powder

½ tsp of sea salt, plus more for sprinkling

½ tsp of ground black pepper

1 bottle of beer (12 oz)

Vegetable oil for deep frying

First; in a bowl whisk together your flour, baking powder, sea salt, black pepper, and beer. Be sure your mixture is smooth and not lumpy. If you feel your batter is too thin you may add a bit more of the flour, but if you do this - only add a little bit at a time to be sure of your batter is where you would like it.

Next; take your onion and trim the bottom end off of it. Peel off the outer skin and discard of it. Holding the onion steady against a cutting board, slice your onion in ¼ inch thick pieces so that you have nice and evenly sized rings.

Meanwhile; take a four quart pot and fill it with oil until it is about two inches deep. Place the pot over medium heat and wait until you see wavy lines appear in the oil. You can then drop a bit of the batter you made in the oil. If it sizzles right away your oil is ready. If it does not just give your oil a bit more time on the heat before testing again.

Finally, place a few of your sliced onion rings into the batter and coat. Remove them from the batter (one at a time) and let the excess batter drip off. Place the coated rings gently into the hot oil and fry until they are golden flipping them half way through. When they are golden remove them and let them drain on a paper towel lined plate. Sprinkle with more sea salt if you wish. Serve warm.

Curry Dipping Sauce (makes about ¾ a cup)

¼ cup of mayo

¼ cup of Greek yogurt

1 tbsp of Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp of curry powder

¼ tsp of powdered ginger

¼ tsp of garlic powder

1 tsp of honey

1 tsp of vinegar

Sea Salt to taste

First, in a bowl whisk together all the above ingredients. Be sure all is mixed well and smooth. Cover and refrigerate for about one hour to let the flavors bloom and develop

Finally, remove from the refrigerator and stir again and taste. You can adjust the seasoning as you wish. Serve with your warm onion rings and enjoy.

Tasty and refreshing Bruleed Grapefruit

Bruleed Grapefruit (serves 2, but can be multiplied)

1 large grapefruit

2-3 tbsp of brown sugar

First, slice your grapefruit in half across the center to expose the starburst wedges inside. I also slice a small amount off the top and bottom of the grapefruit so it will sit flat to expose the center.

Next; with a sharp knife, run along the pith and each little section of grapefruit. (This will make scooping the fruit when eating easier.) Drain off any excess juice that may rise to the top of each half of fruit.

Finally, evenly spread about 1 – 1 ½ tbsp od your brown sugar across the top. If you have a torch in your kitchen, gently torch the sugar until it melts and begins to caramelize. If you do not have a torch you can achieve the same result by using your broiler. Preheat the broiler to low and carefully watch the grapefruit until your sugar is caramelized and remove. Serve immediately.

My Grandmother, and all my gratitude.

I have noticed several friends on Facebook taking part in a “Gratitude Project”. Where every day in the month of November you express at least one thing you are thankful for. I must admit I was invited to participate, but there is something about it that scared me a bit…Could I come up with that many different things without repeating myself? I am sure that I could, but I let the opportunity slip me by. But over the last two week I really gave it some thought. Is there only one thing I could name in being the single thing that I am so grateful for over everything else? Then the other day a friend of mine posted some pictures of her family when they first came to the United States. That is when it hit me: the one thing I am most grateful for my life is captured in this picture below. It is the day my maiden Grandmother left Italy to come to America. My Grandmother, and her brother Enrico; Italy,1947

My grandmother Tina was only sixteen when this picture was taken. On her arm is her older brother Enrico (Uncle “Riggy” as we called him), escorting her to the plane. This was in 1947 after World War II ended. During the war she met my grandfather Frank. He was a soldier for the American Army stationed in Italy. After the war was over and he was back in the states he wrote her and her family. My grandfather asked if she would like to come the United States, and if she pleased they could be married. But you need to remember that my grandmother was only sixteen; my grandfather was twenty-six. My grandmother’s family felt there was not much opportunity for her in Italy given the circumstances they were facing because the village where they lived was bombed and partially destroyed from the war. Her family paid a local doctor to falsify her birth certificate making her 18 and legal to come to the U.S.

My grandmother came here with nothing. She had barely any money, belongings, and did not know the language. It sounds surreal, doesn’t it? Coming to a foreign country to be married, barely knowing anything or anyone at such a young age. (Even more surreal is how the families arranged for my Uncle Riggy to marry my grandfather’s sister a couple of years later, but that is a whole other story.) Although, if all of this wasn’t the case I would not have my mom and my uncles. And without that, you would not have me or my sister. My grandmother’s courage to take this chance with her life is the single one thing I have the most gratitude for.

My Uncle Frank, my Mother Rita, and Uncle Sal

With my gratitude, and a Thanksgiving menu to plan, I need to get to work. I was thinking this year that I should reflect on my Italian heritage a bit more then I usually do for this meal. This year I was thinking of making a White Bean and Artichoke Spread to be served with bread and an assortment of raw veggies as a starter. My grandmother really liked artichokes, I think to her it was something that she ate and reminded her of Italy and her home. I only wish she was here to try this dish. But I know she is here in spirit as she always is. Thank you Grandma, my love for you never fades…it grows stronger in my cooking. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

White Bean and Artichoke Spread, with assorted crudite

White Bean and Artichoke Spread (makes 2 cups)

1 - 14oz can of artichokes, drained

1 – 15oz can of white beans (cannellini), drained

1 clove of garlic, peeled and trimmed

1 lemon, zested and juiced

2 tbsp of olive oil, plus extra for garnish

Parsley, chopped for garnish

Sea Salt and Fresh Black Pepper to taste

Assorted crudité and sliced bread to serve

First; in the bowl of a food processor fitted with its blade attachment place you artichoke hearts, white beans, and garlic clove. Pulse your motor until you break down your ingredients into a fine chop.

Next; add in your lemon zest and juice, along with a bit of sea salt and black pepper. Begin to let the motor run and slowly drizzle in your olive oil. Keep it pureeing until it is all a smooth paste and emulsified. Taste it to adjust your seasoning.

Finally, scoop up your puree into a bowl you would like to serve it in. Sprinkle the top with your chopped parsley and a bit of olive oil. Serve it with your assorted crudité and bread.

Note: Spread can be made ahead of time wrapped and stored in an air tight container. Keep no more than one week.

Simple Asparagus

I enjoy the early spring so much. The tree blossoms are edging there way, the tulips are scattering color throughout the neighborhood, and there is a sweet smell in the air of all things growing. The weather is lovely right now in Seattle. I really enjoy the long urban hikes I have been taking to soak up the scenery and come home with an appetite ready to satisfy. In my personal opinion the best part of early spring is how asparagus comes into season. All the joys of spring in Seattle aside, I await the arrival of asparagus with anticipation! It is my most favorite vegetable of them all. I love every possible way you can prepare them and devour every last bit. I have been known to eat an entire bunch of asparagus on my own. Yes, I am just a tad obsessive about this vegetable.

When I went to the market this week I saw that all the local asparagus is in and it looked perfect. I picked up two bunches and ran all the ways I love to eat them through my mind. Roast them? Grill them? Stir fry them? Asparagus has endless possibilities, but I settled on keeping it in its simplest form to really show how fantastic this vegetable can be. Below is a very simple lemon vinaigrette over asparagus that was gently simmered while retaining its lovely texture and bright green color. It is pure and bright in flavor and lets all the natural beauty of its own self shine though. This is a really vibrant dish as a side to some fish or chicken; but also would make a great starter to any meal. I hope you enjoy it when you try it. You might just begin to fall in love with it like myself.

Asparagus with a Lemon Vinaigrette

Asparagus and Lemon Vinaigrette

1 bunch of asparagus

olive oil

juice and zest of 1 lemon

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

First, when trimming asparagus it is best to keep the bunch together and bend the end of a few stalks to see where it will snap / break naturally. It will most likely break around the same area as one another. Use the breakage as a guide line as the where to trim your asparagus. Cut the whole bunch of asparagus along that guide in order to remove the tough ends and avoid the hassle of having to peel each stalk.

Asparagus with a natural guide line for trimming.

Next, rinse your asparagus well and place in a sauté or frying pan. Just barely cover the asparagus with water and place over medium heat. Bring the asparagus to a simmer for about 3 minutes; remove from heat, and drain. I always check to see how “done” my asparagus is by piercing with a knife. You are looking for the knife to sink though the stalk easily. How thick or thin the stalks are may vary the cooking time.

Finally; place the cooked asparagus on a serving platter and drizzle with a bit of olive oil- over that pour your lemon juice and sprinkle with sea salt & black pepper to taste. Toss it all together, then sprinkle the zest over it all and toss again. Serve while still slightly warm and enjoy.

Notes: If you have Meyer Lemons still available it is a great time to take advantage of them. They work lovely in this dish. Also, this is the perfect time to use a really good quality and brightly tasting olive oil. Great ingredients shine through in a simple dish like this