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figs with goat cheeseMy friend Becky is near and dear to my heart.  She is smart, compassionate, soulful, thoughtful – I’m thankful to know her.  She was born on Cinco de Mayo; we celebrated Cinco de Becky last week with “tapas” at her house.  It is so wonderful to know people who LOVE food.  It’s even better when these same people all bring food to a party. 

We ate so good.  SO GOOD.  We had so much food at this party that we didn’t end up cooking it all!  Lots of little crostinis, crispy with a creamy and delicious red pepper spread (I ate four pieces myself – FOUR), asparagus wrapped in serrano ham, tangy pork riblets, sweet and smoky Japanese style chicken and beef on skewers (who doesn’t love meat on a stick?), and tamarind margaritas (one of the best margaritas I’ve ever had). 

Being the quasi-purist that I am, I had to make things that seemed at least a little shroomsSpanish, so I made some mushrooms sizzled in a smoked chipotle and smoked paprika butter, little crostinis of serrano ham, manchego cheese and fig jam, and little crostinis of caramelized figs with goat cheese and basil. 

The shrooms will be soft and browned – the butter will give them this smoky richness that is outstanding.  The serrano ham marries so well with the assertive flavors of manchego and the sweetness of the fig jam.  The figs with goat cheese were kind of a last minute addition in an effort to use up some dried figs that were sitting in my pantry.  I reduced them down with some dry sherry, sherry vinegar and brown sugar.  W-O-W.  Those figs in combination with tangy goat cheese and the freshness of the basil will make you sing. 
ham and manchegoIt makes me happy to share these tasty little bites with you.  You should make them immediately and eat them.  Invite some friends over and ask them to make something extremely delicious and call it a party!

 

 

 

 

mushrooms sizzled in smoky spicy butter

  • a couple of tbsp of butter, softened
  • 1 heaping tsp of dried chipotle powder
  • 1 heaping tsp of smoked paprika
  • salt to taste
  • 12 oz or a few packages of whole mushrooms, either shitake or cremini (don’t use button mushrooms – they have too much water)
  • little wooden skewers if you’d like (be sure and soak them in water first)
  1. mix the spices with the softened butter to form a delicious, spiced compound butter
  2. gently sautee your mushrooms in a skillet or sautee pan over medium high heat until they have released their juices and are softened
  3. removed them from the pan and place into a bowl or on a plate and cover so that they can steam a little
  4. skewer them, if you want
  5. heat some of the butter over medium high heat and sizzle the mushrooms for two to three minutes, watching butter so that it doesn’t burn (if you are using skewers put the butter and shrooms in the pan in batches)

little serrano ham and manchego crostini with fig jam

  • one baguette
  • a few tbsp of fig jam
  • a small wedge of manchego cheese
  • 6 or 7 thin slices of serrano ham or prosciutto de parma
  1. cut the baguette on a bias and toast the slices under the broiler (spread with a little butter before going into the over if you’re feeling naughty)
  2. smear a thin layer of the fig jam on the toasted bread, top with a thin shaving of the manchego and a piece of the ham – could this be any easier? 

little crostinis with sherry glazed figs, goat cheese and basil

  • one baguette
  • a handful of dried figs
  • fresh goat cheese (I prefer a “log” for this)
  • a few leaves of basil, cut “chiffonade” style
  • about 1/2 cup of sherry, depending on how many figs you have
  • about 1/2 cup of good quality sherry vinegar, depending on how many figs you have
  • about 1/4 cup of brown sugar, packed
  1. bring figs, sherry, sherry vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt to boil over medium high heat in a medium sized saucepan
  2. reduce and simmer over low heat until liquid is very syrupy and almost gone, careful to prevent burning (taste as you go and adjust the amount of sherry/vinegar/sugar to taste) – this will take about 25 to 30 minutes
  3. meanwhile, cut the baguette on the bias and toast the slices in the broiler
  4. top each piece of bread with a little medallion of goat cheese, a fig or two and a generous sprinkle of the basil
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Cooking is an experience that I savor daily, no matter how busy I constantly seem to be.  It is one of the few times each day that I am actually living in the moment.  Instead of worrying, running through an endless task list, etc., I am simply thinking about what I am doing.  Actually, I am also greatly anticipating the meal that I will soon be eating, so I suppose I’m not totally in the moment… Cooking, EATING, preparing a meal for someone – this is truly a pleasure to me.  Pairing simple, whole ingredients together to make something gloriously delicious not only sustains my body, but it also sustains me in a holistic way that I can’t completely describe.  It just feels good.   

There is something very special about soup.  Why is cooking a giant pot of soup so satisfying?  Maybe for me it is because of the memories I have attached to the first bubbling batch of soup that I cooked soon after I got married.  The first cold weekend in Atlanta spurred a craving for minestrone.  After much slicing, dicing and patience, I tasted what would become my most favorite soup.  Ever since then, the first minestrone of the season has been a celebratory occasion.  It always takes me back to that lovely, chilly weekend.  Or perhaps it is because any good soup requires a very intentional process of pairing fresh and honest ingredients together to make something complex and lovely, yet simple in its ability to warm and comfort.  Ingredients that on their own are simple, overlooked even (um, celery), come together to make something fabulous.  A good soup takes a little bit of time; not only in the prep work, but also as you slowly add the various layers of flavor, as it simmers and comes together.  Soup is the ultimate slow food.  My need for instant gratification has me waiting anxiously until it is ready to be enjoyed; the anticipation and my impatience only adding to the gratification of that first, steaming bite.  Another point in favor of soup is that you usually have enough to enjoy it again later, discovering that it continues to improve in flavor as it waits for you in the fridge.  Warm it on the stove and your home is once again filled with the delicious fragrance of your efforts. 

This particular minestrone takes a little bit of time and effort, but I promise that it is worth it.  This recipe is the result of many additions, subtractions, and variations, and is the one I like best.  Prepare it exactly as written or make it your own, but please be sure and take time to enjoy the process – it is tremendously rewarding.  If you’re like me and you love on others with food, then consider this soup an extra portion of affection.  I lavish love on my husband by cooking a meal (or two, or three) for him everyday.  He almost always accepts my efforts and intentions with a passionate (albeit repetitive!) exclamation of, “this is the best thing I have ever put in my mouth!”  That alone will send me back to the kitchen, joyously, time and time again…       

minestrone

  • a generous glug of olive oil (maybe 2 tbsp)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled or scrubbed well, chopped
  • 2-3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4-5 oz thinly sliced pancetta, chopped
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large head of escarole (substitute chard if you can’t find), rinsed or soaked VERY well
  • 1 russet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes with juice
  • a sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 1 can of cannelinni beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cans of low sodium beef broth
  • a chunk of a parmesan cheese rind (don’t leave this out!  this flavor is what makes this soup)
  • 1 tbsp of tomato paste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. heat the oil in a heavy, large pot over medium heat and add onions, garlic, carrots, celery, pancetta, and a pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté about 10 minutes until onions are translucent and veggies are just beginning to brown lightly
  2. add escarole and potato and sauté about 2 minutes, stirring well to combine and allow escarole to wilt
  3. add the can of tomatoes and the rosemary, and cook for about 10 more minutes, allowing tomatoes to break down some and release their juices
  4. meanwhile, blend about 3/4 cup of cannellini beans, tomato paste, and about 1/4 cup of beef broth in a blender or food processor
  5. add the puréed bean mixture, remaining broth and cheese rind to the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes
  6. stir in the rest of the beans and cook about 2 minutes more
  7. serve with freshly grated parmesan and toasty, crusty garlic bread

garlic bread

  • 1 French or Italian baguette
  • 1 clove garlic
  • good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly ground sea salt and pepper
  1. slice your bread and place under a broiler (watch it closely! it can burn in a matter of seconds) or in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes
  2. remove bread from the oven, and rub each piece generously with the garlic clove
  3. drizzle with olive oil, and season with freshly ground sea salt and pepper

 

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