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Pumpkin Ricotta and Fig Crostini with Honey Maple Syrup

October 13, 2014 Appetizer, Menu No Comments
pumpkin fig

I always got a kick out of how television painter Bob Ross would turn artistic mistakes into ‘happy little accidents’.  This recipe isn’t so much of a mistake or an accident as it is a substitution, but it’s end result still made me much happier than anticipated.

My first intentions were to take the classic Italian dish of fresh figs, ricotta and honey, and add a little seasonal flare to it. My version would be fresh figs, pumpkin ricotta and a maple honey syrup. The only problem was that on the day that I planned to make this, I couldn’t find any figs. Every store I checked…nada. I guess I wasn’t the only one with figs on the brain that day.

I was offered two alternatives by one of the produce people that I spoke to that day. They suggested either dried figs or fig preserves. I didn’t think that dried figs would be a good substitute, but the jarred fig preserves got my wheels spinning. Since the preserves are obviously meant to be a spread, why not turn my idea into an autumn crostini? The lack of fresh figs turned into a happy and delicious Pumpkin Ricotta and Fig Preserve Crostini drizzled with maple honey syrup.

NOTE – the pumpkin ricotta is not as sweet and creamy as a pumpkin spread, filling or mousse. The ricotta cheese flavor stands out the most…with a bit of a cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice kick. It’s  quite delicious.

The following ingredients makes for a small batch of pumpkin ricotta. You can double up on ingredients to make a larger batch.
Pumpkin Ricotta
4 oz ricotta
2 oz pumpkin puree
1 tspn powdered sugar
1/4 tspn pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tspn cinnamon
1/2 tspn vanilla extract

Honey Maple Syrup
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup maple syrup

1 small jar fig preserves

1 French baguette, thinly sliced and toasted

Directions:
Combine all pumpkin ricotta ingredients into a bowl, whip together until well combined. Chill in fridge for at least 1 hour.
Melt butter in a small sauce pan. Remove pan from heat, stir in honey and maple syrup.
Lightly coat the toasted crostini bread with fig preserves, add either a smear or dollop of pumpkin ricotta. Lightly drizzle with honey maple syrup.

If you do happen to come across fresh figs, you can slice them and dip them into the ricotta, or you can add a dollop of the ricotta to the top of the figs and drizzle with the honey maple syrup.

pumpkin fig

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Baked Tomato Zucchini Casserole

September 26, 2014 Appetizer, Entrees, Menu No Comments
Sliced and ready to enjoy!

Here’s an easy, quick and healthy recipe that you can serve as either a side dish or a main course. With just a handful of fresh ingredients, you’ll have this meal assembled and cooked in less than an hour. My original plan for this dish was to bread the individual slices of zucchini and tomatoes, and then stack the slices in a baking dish. To save time and ingredients (and to make it a bit more interesting), I instead decided to make a basic breadcrumb topping (breadcrumbs sautéed in melted butter and mixed with parmesan cheese), and use the topping as a layer within the casserole. I also used a 50/50 mixture of regular breadcrumbs and panko breadcrumbs for an extra crunchy texture. Regular breadcrumbs will of course work fine on their own.

Ingredients:
3 green zucchini, sliced thin length-wise
8 plum tomatoes, sliced thin
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced thin, separated into individual rings
1/3 cup basil, finely chopped
garlic powder
salt and pepper
olive oil
2 tbspn butter
1 cup breadcrumbs (I used 1/2 regular and 1/2 panko breadcrumbs)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Step 1: Making the breadcrumb topping
Melt butter in a small skillet; add breadcrumbs and sauté until lightly browned. Remove from heat, and stir in parmesan cheese. Set aside.

Step 2: Assembling the casserole
Preheat oven to 375˚. Lightly spray an 8×8 baking dish. Cover the bottom of the dish with a single layer of zucchini. Next place a single layer of onion rings (you can spread out the individual rings so that the onions do not  over-power the dish), then add a single layer of tomatoes. Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper (to your liking). Sprinkle some of the basil on top. Drizzle with olive oil. Top with a light coating of breadcrumbs. Repeat the layered steps (zucchini, onion, tomatoes, seasoning, basil, breadcrumbs) until all ingredients are used up. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool slightly. Slice, serve and enjoy!

The assembled casserole.

The assembled casserole.

Sliced and ready to enjoy!

Sliced and ready to enjoy!

 

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Coconut Lime Chicken

September 13, 2014 Entrees, Menu No Comments
limechicken

This past weekend, we had our annual end-of-summer neighborhood grill fest. Since chicken is always a crowd pleaser, and coconut and lime are two of my favorite summer flavors, I did some research and put together my own variation of grilled coconut lime chicken. Although I did not win the coveted Friendship Road ‘Golden Spatula’ for favorite dish, my entry seemed to be a big hit with everyone…so I’ll take that as a win any day! This is definitely a tasty dish that could be served up any time of the year, so I’ve also included baking instructions for those who do not like to venture out into the cooler weather to fire up their grill.

 

 

6 chicken breasts, cut in half length-wise (makes a total of 12 pieces)
1 13.5 oz can coconut milk
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves minced garlic
juice of 4 limes, plus zest of two limes
1/4 tspn ground ginger
1/2 tspn light brown sugar
2 tspn salt
1/4 tspn black pepper
1/4 cup shredded coconut

In a large mixing bowl, combine the coconut milk, olive oil, garlic, lime juice and zest, ginger, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Whisk until well combined. If grilling, reserve 1/3 cup of the marinade for later use.

Cut about 4 to 5 small slits into each chicken breast. Place the chicken breasts into a plastic baggie, then pour the remaining marinade mixture over the chicken. Squeeze all air out of the baggie, then tightly tie the bag closed. Let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for 2-6 hours.

Grilling

Heat your grill to medium-high, evenly coating your grill grates with cooking spray. Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade and place on the grill. Discard the old marinade. Pour a small portion of the reserved marinade into a bowl. Grill for approximately 15-20 minutes, flipping occasionally, until the chicken is browned and evenly cooked. Baste the chicken occasionally with the small portion of the marinade, discarding what is left of the small portion of marinade when grilling is done.

When the chicken is done, remove it from the grill and place it in a baking dish. Pour the remaining marinade evenly over the chicken, and place the baking dish into your oven set to warm for 10 minutes. This will allow the remaining marinade to slightly thicken into a sauce.

While the chicken is in the oven, place the shredded coconut into a large pan. Toast over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, or until the coconut starts to brown.  Remove chicken from the oven, sprinkle with toasted coconut. You can also sprinkle with chives for extra color and flavor!

Baking

Preheat oven to 375˚. Remove marinated chicken from refrigerator, place in a baking dish. Pour marinade over chicken, making sure that all pieces are well covered (there is no need to reserve any marinade when baking). Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until chicken is completely cooked, flipping once half-way through. Remove from oven, top with toasted coconut (see instructions above for toasting coconut).

limechicken2

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Tomato Salad with Toasted Bread

September 4, 2014 Menu, Salads No Comments
tomsalad1

Summer is quickly coming to an end, which means that an abundance of ripe and juicy garden tomatoes is on its way! One of my favorites ways of enjoying garden tomatoes is in a nice tomato salad. There’s nothing fancy or intricate about this dish. Just add some salt and pepper, a little olive oil, maybe a dash or two of balsamic vinegar and some fresh chopped basil to your sliced tomatoes, and voila…a quick and tasty tomato salad. Of course, you can kick it up by adding some fresh chopped cucumber, red onion or chunks of cheese. Even bacon pieces add a nice touch. Whatever ingredients you may choose, it doesn’t take much to create a delicious tomato salad.

However, I did pick up an interesting and easy trick to make tomato salad that much better from my sister-in-law Carmela, while we were all on vacation this past summer. By simply toasting up some cubed and lightly seasoned day-old bread, you now have a crunchy and tasty side to serve with your tomato salad. Home made croutons, if you will! The toasted bread not only adds a nice crunchy bite, it also balances out the wetness of the salad by soaking up some of the juices…which, of course makes the toasted bread even more enjoyable.

Just as I had suggested with seasoning the tomatoes, you don’t have to do a lot to enhance the flavor of the toasted bread. A quick drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper before toasting makes for a tasty basic crouton. If you want a more flavorful and zesty crouton, try adding some parmesan cheese, garlic and/or onion powder, or some Italian seasoning. The amount that you add is all according to your taste. Just make sure that you’re using good quality day-old bread, because good bread is ALWAYS the key to a good Italian meal!

tomsalad2

Step 1: Cut up day-old crusty bread into 1″ cubes. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and any additional seasonings that you prefer. Bake at 325˚ for 10 minutes, making sure not to burn the bread.

 

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Step 2: Slice up your tomatoes (along with cucumbers and red onion if you prefer).

 

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Step 3: In a large bowl, mix together your sliced veggies, some salt and pepper and a dash or two of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. You can add additional spices and seasonings, along with other ingredients (cheese, bacon, etc.) to your liking. You can also prepare the salad earlier in the day and keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

 

tomsalad5
Step 4: Plate your salad and toasted bread. Top with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Serve and enjoy!
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