Magical Mountain Day: Waterfalls, Wine and Raptors

Frogtown4The last few weeks have been filled with intense work deadlines and long work days. It’s all good and the projects are exciting, but that does mean I tend to stick to my tried and true cooking repertoire, making it rather difficult to be new and inventive in the kitchen for blogging purposes…or any other purpose. It also means that I’ve had way less time to post, read and comment on other blogs as well, so forgive me as I try and catch up.

Spring is now in full bloom here in our big city, including our magnificent dogwoods, and I’ll show you some of those sights on my next post. However, just a mere 70 miles north of here, Spring is just beginning. That’s how close we are in proximity to the North Georgia Mountains, and yet that 70 miles, as well as the higher altitude, can make all the difference in the world to things like plant life-cycles, temperatures and weather. It was that very change of sceney that the mountains can provide that we sought out this past weekend.

While it’s too chilly and too early to swim in North Georgia, the mountain vistas are clear and the sight lines are terrific during this time just before all of the leaves fill in. And, given that we still have warm and cold days, there’s not an insect to be found…yet. Perfect conditions for a picnic. Since this was a spur of the moment idea and all about relaxing, I kept our picnic simple: some grilled balsamic chicken sandwiches with pesto, jarlsberg cheese, tomato and local lettuce on prairie bread, a little guacamole with crackers and some fresh fruit and Greek yogurt parfaits for dessert.

For our first stop, we landed at Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge. After popping into the lodge to take in the vistas, we turned around and came eye to eye with this guy.

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His name is “Owl Capone” and he’s a Georgia Barred Owl—the same type we see often in our own back yard. “Mr. Capone” happens to be an important member of Amicalola’s Raptor Rehabilitation & Education Program. We’d unknowingly arrived just in time to see the Amicalola Naturalists make a presentation on these amazing birds up close and personal, where they go into great depth about the facts, and fiction, of Georgia raptors.

It’s illegal for Georgia raptors to be owned or kept, in whole or in part, and if one is found injured and can’t be rehabilitated and returned to the wild by a qualified wildlife rehabilitation center, they must be euthanized or in some few circumstances, become part of an educational program like these birds. These lucky guys get to be ambassadors for their species, living our their lives in comfort while educating folks about what they are and the important role they play in the ecosystem of our land and planet.

Please do take a moment and enjoy the slideshow below featuring: “Owl Capone” the Georgia Barred Owl who was hit by a car and blinded in one eye; “Zeus” the Great Horned Owl and undisputed king of the food chain (yes, including eagles); “Gizmo” the Red Screech Owl and “Goliath” the Gray Screech Owl; “WeeGee” the owl known as a Ghost-faced, Barn Owl, Screaming Banshee or Love Owl; “Sir Lands-a-Lot” the unreleasable Red Tailed Hawk; “Mospeed,” a Kestral, the fastest living creature on the planet; and “Fabio”, the misunderstood Black Vulture (because no, he’s not a buzzard, we don’t have those in North America) who imprinted on humans and thinks he is one…or that we are vultures! What a fascinating way to start the day, and this is just one of many nature programs at this state park.

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After seeing the raptors, we decided to have our picnic next to Amicalola Falls…a show all unto itself. At 729 feet, Amicalola Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeastern United States. At the top of the falls there is a large green space with a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains—a perfect picnic spot. The top of the falls features an overlook bridge and a challenging trail with staircases that you can descend next to the falls for some spectacular views. Be forewarned though, the descent part of this trail is fine, but coming back up is not for the out of shape or faint of heart!

We left Amicalola mid-afternoon and decided to stop by a couple of our favorite North Georgia wineries on the way home. I’ve posted about these two before, Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Frogtown Cellars. Both have lovely views and some even lovelier wines. We’ve enjoyed revisiting them over the years to see how the vines and the wine improve over time. A glass of Wolf Mountain Blanc de Syrah Brut was a most enjoyable respite while taking in their lovely property from the tasting room balcony.

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Wolf Mountain Blanc de Syrah Brut.

Upon departing Wolf around 4:45 p.m., we had just enough time to end our day at Frogtown Cellars with a glass of “Inclination”, their distinctive full-bodied white blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Vidal grapes. Frogtown’s main tasting room and immense deck overlooking the vines was open to the public (they close it if there’s an event and open a tasting tent further up the property), and it was a beautiful place to watch the sun go down. We took a moment to inspect the barely budding vines on the way to our car, and as I looked down at the ground I spotted this 4-leaf clover peeking up at me from amongst the grasses. Good day and good luck, indeed!

The vines at Frogtown.

The vines at Frogtown.

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Inclination.

Inclination.

I looked down at my sandaled feet and there was...

I looked down at my sandaled feet and there was…

This! What a nice way to end the day.

This! What a nice way to end the day.

If you’re traveling in the state of Georgia and want more information on any of the places and events I’ve mentioned here, check out these links: Amicalola Falls Lodge, Amicalola Falls State Park and upcoming dates for Close Encounters of the Bird KindWolf Mountain Vineyards, Frogtown Cellars, and Georgia State Parks.

Betsy’s Grilled Balsamic Chicken Pesto Picnic Sandwiches
Makes 2 Large Sandwiches

4 slices prairie bread, or other whole grain seeded rustic hearth bread
4 Tablespoons basil pesto (mine was purchased as we don’t have basil yet!)
2 roma tomatoes, sliced
4 large leaves of lettuce such as butter or green leaf, preferably local or homegrown
2 slices of jarlsberg or swiss cheese
1 large grilled balsamic chicken breast, sliced (see marinade recipe below)

Spread one tablespoon of pesto on each slice of bread. Add one slice of cheese, divided in half diagonally, to two of the bread slices. Top each slice of cheese with half of the sliced chicken, then half of the lettuce and the tomato. Place the other slice of bread with pesto one each on top of the loaded slices, and cut each sandwich in half. Eat in an open air and lovely spot.

Betsy’s Sweet Balsamic Marinade/Salad Dressing for meats or salad
(For a less sweet version, use regular balsamic vinegar and don’t reduce it)
Makes 1 pint jar

1/2 cup very high quality sweet balsamic vinegar, OR you can reduce about 3/4 cup of regular balsamic vinegar over low heat until it just becomes syrupy in texture and the sugars become concentrated
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons prepared Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried and crushed tarragon leaves
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients in a pint-sized mason jar with a lid, shaking it until it emulsifies. Keep in the fridge for up to one week.

For a marinade, use approximately 1/4 cup of the dressing  poured over 4 boneless chicken breasts in a plastic freezer bag. Seal and toss the chicken in the marinade to coat. Allow the chicken to marinate for 1-2 hours in the fridge before grilling, then grill over medium high heat until just done. You can use the same proportions to marinate vegetables for the grill.

Betsy’s Yogurt and Berry Picnic “Parfaits”
Makes 2

1/4 pint fresh blackberries or blueberries, washed
1 pint (about 8 large) fresh strawberries, washed and sliced
4 heaping Tablespoons Greek yogurt, divided
2 teaspoons brown sugar, divided
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange or lemon zest (optional), divided
2 pint-sized mason jars

Beginning with the black or blue berries, place 1/4 of the berries in the bottom of the two jars, then add 1/4 of the sliced strawberries to each jar. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of yogurt on top of the berries, a small pinch of zest if using it and and 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar, then repeat the layers in both jars, beginning with the blue or black berries and ending with the sprinkle of brown sugar. Cap the jars and refrigerate for an hour or until ready to eat. The sugar will melt into the yogurt and make a syrup or sorts, which will mix with the fruit and zest as you did down into the jar with your spoon. Delicious and healthy!

Light and Lovely Lavender Lemon Sorbet

sorbet7BI’m a bit late posting and therefore late in wishing you all a Happy Spring! Yes, has arrived for some of us, and maybe not so much for others. We’re blooming here, in between the freezing temps and then zooming up to the high 70′s. It is still March after all.

The longer days and blooming flowers make me want something light and delicious. A palette cleanser of the very best kind. This elegant and easy to make Lavender Lemon Sorbet fills that desire perfectly. The combination of floral essence and flavor of the lavender buds tames and compliments the tang of the lemon. In fact, they are symbiotic in a way…bettering each other in the marriage. Adding buttermilk to this sorbet creates an underlying creaminess in its texture, without taking it all the way to a sherbet consistency. It’s really delightfully refreshing, any time of the year.

I didn’t strain out the lavender flower buds from my simple syrup because I enjoy the visual appeal and seed-like texture, as well as the pop of lavender essence that they add to the finished product. But if you don’t care for that tiny bit of herbal and floral chew, then by all means, strain your infused syrup before adding it to the rest of the mixture.

This is my new favorite sorbet and I’ll be making it over and over again. I hope you’ll make it, too. Be sure to use cooking quality lavender for this and all recipes that call for lavender. Cheers and have a great weekend!

Lavender Lemon Sorbet
Makes 3 pints

2 teaspoons cooking lavender buds (you can find these in gourmet sections of fine grocery stores and cooking stores)
1 cup cane sugar, divided
2/3 cup water
4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
4 cups buttermilk, I use low fat but any kind will do

Combine 2/3 cup of the sugar, 2/3 cup water and the lavender buds in a small saucepan over medium heat. Allow the mixture to come to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for about 1-2 minutes, until the syrup is clear and all the sugar has melted. Take it off the heat and allow it to infuse and cool for about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining 1/3 cup sugar, lemon juice and zest, and the buttermilk and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the lavender infused syrup (straining it through a fine sieve first if you want to remove the buds), and stir well to combine. Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator to chill for about 5 hours or overnight. Process the mixture in your ice cream freezer according to the directions, then remove the dasher and scoop into freezer containers (it will be quite soft), then seal them. Place the sorbet into the freezer and allow it to harden the rest of the way, then scoop out and serve as desired.

Note: To make this recipe without an ice cream maker, pour the mixture into a metal tray or baking dish and place it in the freezer. When the mixture starts to freeze, rake a fork through it several times to break up the ice crystals. Repeat this process about 4 or 5 times over the course of three hours. This will give you a sorbet that is really more of a granita. You can run this through a food processor to make a finer texture, then put it back in the freezer and run your tines through again several times until it has refrozen. If you don’t run the fork through it and break up the ice crystals, it will freeze solid.

You can also pour the mixture into ice pop molds.

Sorbet1B

Spring Preview: Greek-Styled Toasted Quinoa Salad

salad5BThough it may not seem like it in some parts, the official beginning of Spring, the Vernal Equinox, is less than a week away. With three days in a row of around 77 degrees last weekend, followed by flowers popping all over the place, my thoughts are turning to warmer weather…even though ours is still a bit of the bi-polar vortex variety. Enter this light, colorful and refreshing quinoa salad.

First, I have a confession to make. I have not been overly fond of quinoa. I’ve tried it many times, but the mushy/slimy texture that I, and others, seem to achieve has made me, well…less than enthusiastic shall we say. But no more. I’ve found the solution to that textural malaise. Toasting is the trick. Not only does it add a wonderful nutty flavor to the grain, but it kind of seals it so that the integrity, or “tooth” stays intact after cooking. And with that one step, I have now become a quinoa fan.

Now this trick may not be news to some of you, but merely seeing the suggestion on a package of quinoa inspired me to try it, and to create this salad for a pot luck pottery class last night. My salad features some favorite ingredients—those components that make up a traditional Greek salad—combined with a light, lemon and oregano enhanced dressing to brighten all of the flavors. This makes for a delicious and healthy dish, fit for a vegetarian meal or as a wonderful side dish. It was a real hit with my fellow classmates and I loved it, too. I’ll be making this again and again as the weather warms, so here it is for you to enjoy. May it remind those of you still suffering through snow, ice and cold temps that Spring is truly on it’s way, so hang in there. Happy weekend!

Greek-Styled Toasted Quinoa Salad
Makes 8-10 servings

For the salad:
1 1/2 cups dry quinoa (I used organic Royal White)
3 cups water
1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes, sliced in half or quarters, depending on size
1 large (I used English) cucumber, peeled, seeded and small diced
1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
1 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
6 oz. crumbled feta cheese

For the dressing:
4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 Tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano

Heat a large, deep sided skillet over medium heat. Add the quinoa and toast it, shaking or stirring it frequently, for about 5 minutes or until it smells fragrant and is just beginning to show a little color. Be careful and don’t burn it. Add the 3 cups of water to the pot, bring the quinoa to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow the quinoa to cook until the grains are translucent and the germ has spiraled out from each grain, about 15 minutes. At this point, most of the water will be absorbed and the grain will still have some tooth to it. Remove it from the heat, take the lid off, fluff it, and allow it to cool in the pan while you compose the remaining ingredients.

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and olives. Add the cooled (it can still be warm, just not hot) quinoa to the bowl and gently stir it into the vegetables to combine. Add the feta and gently stir it in. Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until emulsified and thickened. Pour the dressing over the salad and gently toss it to coat well. If you have time, cover and allow the flavors to blend (I put mine in the fridge), then serve cold or you can serve this at room temperature right after making it. It will keep well for a day or so in the fridge.

This beautiful ceramic bowl was made by my talented friend, Denise Tombro.

This beautiful ceramic bowl was made by my talented friend, Denise Tombro.

Earthy Wild Mushroom Risotto

finishedrisotto1I’m starting to wrap up another busy week here, and it has turned cold outside once again. A perfect time to make a warm, rich and delicious risotto for dinner.

Risotto is such a luxurious dish to me. Truly it is all about the essence of a few fine ingredients, allowing each one to shine through. The texture is so creamy, the rice so enriched with the chicken stock it has absorbed over time, along with a little bit of some sweet shallot and just a dash of wine. I always finish mine by stirring in some finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano for that extra depth of nutty richness and creaminess that only cheese can bring. A dish fit for a king. Or company. Or just you. We can’t get enough of it.

I think lots of folks believe that risotto is hard to make, and really it isn’t. You do need to prep all of your ingredients ahead of time, so you can concentrate on stirring in the broth, little by little. But stirring is really the hardest part…and that’s not hard at all, anyone can do that. And the results of making your own hot risotto are sublime. A taste that is truly out of this world good.

So I challenge those of you out there who have never made it to give it a try. You won’t be sorry you did, and the reward will be well worth your time. In fact, you’ll be wishing you made more so that you’d have leftovers for risotto cakes, but we’ll go down that road at a later date. Here’s how I made my risotto. Mangia!

I really wish I had some of this right now.

I really wish I had some of this right now.

Earthy Wild Mushroom Risotto
Makes 2 very generous dinner-sized portions or serves 4 as a primo

For the Mushrooms:
1 Tablespoon olive oil
8 oz. mixed wild mushrooms, thinly sliced (I used baby bellas, oyster and shiitake)
1 Tablespoon dry sherry
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
A pinch of kosher salt

For the Risotto:
6 cups of very good quality homemade or purchased chicken stock (I used my homemade roasted chicken stock)
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup minced shallot
1 cup arborio rice
2 Tablespoons dry sherry
A pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
A sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves for garnish (optional)

Bring the broth just to a simmer in a small sauce pan and keep warm over low heat, do not boil.

Place the 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they have released their liquid, just begun to brown and most of the liquid has reabsorbed. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and the thyme leaves. Add the 1 Tablespoon of sherry off the heat, then return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the sherry has just been absorbed. Remove the mushrooms from the heat and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the shallot is soft and just beginning to lightly brown, then sprinkle with a tiny pinch of kosher salt. Add the rice to the pan and stir constantly for 30 seconds, then add the sherry and cook about 15 seconds more. Add 1/2 cup of the hot broth, cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly or until the broth is absorbed by the rice, but not dry. Add the remaining broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until the liquid is absorbed but the rice is not dry, each time before adding the next 1/2 cup. This will take about 20-25 minutes total.

When the last amount of liquid is absorbed and the risotto is creamy, remove from the heat and stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese until well combined, then stir in the cooked mushrooms. Serve the risotto immediately, finishing with a sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves, if desired.

*****

Not a mushroom fan? Eat your risotto without the mushrooms…it’s wonderful, or check out my Caramelized Onion Risotto with Aged Balsamic Drizzle.

Spring Teases Us and a Refresher on How to Cook and Extend a Roasted Chicken

To say this week has been busy would be a severe understatement. In addition to my regular work, I’m learning how to do web site design. It’s really fun, but lots to learn and do. When I have this kind of a week, I tend to focus more on cooking my old standards and less on experimenting with anything new. Are you like that?

I did take a needed break on Monday and went for a walk to enjoy an amazing spring-like day. It was just a tease, though, as the temps have now returned to more normal and winter-like cold, but there were definitely signs that spring is on it’s way. Let me share a few pics to brighten your day:

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Last Friday there was a sale on whole organic chickens, and faced with that lovely prospect, you know I couldn’t resist. Yes, roasted chicken was on the menu. And much like in the Tale of the Little Chicken That Could, posted a couple of years ago, I made an Herb Roasted Chicken first. The next night, I stripped off the remaining meat and instead of making the Individual Chicken Pot Pies, I used the meat to make my Easy Chicken Enchiladas Verdes for the next two nights’ meals. This chicken made exceptionally good enchiladas.

Last night, I combined the stripped chicken carcass with veggies, herbs and water to make a rich Homemade Chicken Stock, which you can see in the photo at the end of this post. I’ll use it to make a lovely risotto and/or a soup later in the week, and share that in my next post. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll click on the individual dish title links in bold above, and check out ideas for cooking and using chicken, as well as enjoy the story I wound around the dishes—if you haven’t read it already.

Here’s my study partner in all of her almost 15 pound glory…Miss Thumbelina, for a giggle.

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New dishes will be on tap for the next post, I promise. Have a great week and may spring be on its way for us all!

This stock has such a rich color and taste...I can't wait to use it in my next dishes!

This stock has such a rich color and taste…I can’t wait to use it in my next dishes!

Keeping It Classic: Steak au Poivre, Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Asparagus

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Not the best images as they were all snapped quickly with the iPhone. We were concentrating more on eating than snapping, as it should be.

Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, but classic meals are timeless!

I was reminded of that once again last Friday night, when I shared this meal with my Valentine. We rarely eat steak, and even more rarely purchase filet of beef tenderloin, but since this was Valentine’s Day and we were dining chez moi, I decided to keep things very old school. Steak, potatoes and asparagus…that’s about as classic and old school as it gets.

It was a pretty snow, but that's actually about 1/2" snow on top of ice.

It was a pretty snow, but that’s actually about 1″ of snow on top of ice.

I ran through the grocery rather frantically on Friday—Valentine’s Day itself—after days of being “trapped” in our house last week from yet another winter storm. When I arrived at the butcher counter, a smiling young woman asked me what I wanted, saying that this was the kind of day that you just couldn’t be anything but happy. She was right. I ordered my two beef tenderloin filets and she handed them to me nicely wrapped in butcher paper—along with a beautiful little lobster tail! “Today only, we’re giving away a free lobster tail when you buy steak, for as long as they last…and you’re the last one!” she called out, beaming at me. And by this time I was beaming back, let me assure you, as I absolutely adore lobster. Surf and Turf for dinner—even more classic than I’d intended! Sweet.

After securing my ingredients for dinner and dessert, I was back home in a flash. And here’s what our very classic Valentine’s evening menu included:

Artichoke Squares
Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2009 Napa Valley

Steak au Poivre
Lobster tail sautéed in butter and finished with lemon
Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes with Fourme d’Ambert
Roasted Asparagus
2002 Titus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Molten Chocolate Cakes with Coffee Ice Cream
(Another glass of the Schramsberg, naturally!)

MoltenchocolatecakeA truly elegant and deliciously decadent dinner, easily made and costing literally pennies on the dollar of what you’d pay to eat it in a restaurant. And with the most intimate setting—our own dining room. Lovely evening.

But it doesn’t have to be Valentine’s Day to enjoy this simple feast. These are classics for a reason…they’re delicious any time. This terrific meal comes together so quickly (if you’ve made and frozen your artichoke squares ahead of time like I told you), that you’re out of the kitchen in no time flat and able to relax and enjoy. See below for the recipes and links (in red.)

Bon Appétit!

Artichoke Squares (from my last post)

Steak au Poivre (Alton Brown)
Notes: I used a mixture of black and pink peppercorns because I had them left over from making Chai Tea mix. I’ve had this dish at a restaurant made with all green peppercorns, and it was amazing.

Lobster Tail Sautéed with Butter and Finished with Lemon
Simple is best here, and this allows the sweetness and natural briny flavor of the lobster to shine through. It also keeps the meat from getting rubbery, just don’t over cook it.

1 small cold water lobster tail removed from its shell and split in half lengthwise (small tails are typically sweeter meat)
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Melt the butter in a small non-stick skillet over medium low heat. Add the two sides of the lobster tail, making sure each is on top of the melted butter, and cook for 3 minutes, then flip the tails to the other side and cook for 3 minutes more, or until the meat has just turned opaque. Squeeze the fresh lemon juice over the meat. Plate the lobster meat and pour the lemon butter mixture remaining in the pan evenly over the top of the lobster meat. Eat and wish you had about 5 more small lobster tails.

Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes (The Neeleys)
This is a brilliant way to make mashed potatoes and I wish I’d discovered it sooner. You dice and cook your potatoes leaving on the skins, heat your cream and butter separately, add the blue cheese, then pour that over the drained potatoes and then mash…brilliant. I used Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese which is readily available here, creamy and lovely. Use your favorite cheese or no cheese, and do a happy dance!

Roasted Asparagus
(2-4 servings)

1 lb. fresh asparagus spears, washed and tough bottoms of the stalks removed
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Toss the asparagus spears in the olive oil and lay them in a single layer on the cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, checking them after about 10 minutes and turning them over. They are done when the asparagus is tender and has a few browned spots on the stalk. Serve.

Bittersweet Molten Chocolate Cakes with Coffee Ice Cream (Bon Appétit Magazine)
I’ve been making this dessert since it first appeared in the magazine in January of 2003 and it’s always a winner, always reliable and always impressive. I’ve added a pinch of cinnamon to mine, or sometimes a bit of grated orange zest, and tried different ice creams, too, just to change it up. They’re not too hard to make, either. You can make these a few hours ahead of time, or the day before, then store them covered in the fridge, pull them out to get back to room temperature while you eat dinner, heat the oven up, bake them just after the meal and serve. What’s not to love?

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Try, Try Again-Revival of a Favorite: Artichoke Squares

That’s what they say, if at first you don’t succeed.

Sorry to post this again, but it seems just this one previous post from earlier today may have been corrupted so that you couldn’t comment on that version. Let’s see if you can comment now on this second posting. And if you can, I shall remove the original post from the record once it’s been diagnosed. For sure, I’d never close my comments to you…I do really love hearing from you, it’s part of what makes blogging so fun! Technology is great when it works correctly. Thanks for your patience.

Bathed in that late afternoon cocktail glow.

Bathed in that late afternoon cocktail glow.

The weekend is upon us, and it’s time for a savory little nibble to go with that happy hour cocktail. Enter these delectable Artichoke Squares.

You know you want one!

You know you want one!

This is one of those throwback recipes, circa 1960 or so. I’ve updated it with some fresh ingredients, really tasty extra sharp cheddar cheese, herbs, spices and plain panko breadcrumbs instead of the canned, seasoned, Italian type.

And because I always try to use as few, or as minimally, processed foods and ingredients as I possibly can in my cooking, I decided to make my own marinade for the artichoke hearts instead of using the jarred marinated version. The result was wonderful. Fresh and clean-tasting marinated artichoke, and a commitment to marinate my own from now on for every recipe that calls for them.

Come a little closer...

Come a little closer…

But I digress. These Mad Men-worthy bites of deliciousness are the perfect companion for most any cocktail—from martinis to sweeter concoctions, with a glass of wine or a beer…and they make for some darn good eating without an adult beverage, as well. They’re rich and have a marvelous texture, so I like to cut them into small squares where I can eat more than one…or two…or three.

Now reach in and grab one or three!

Now reach in and grab one or three!

Since these Artichoke Squares can be made ahead and they freeze perfectly, they’re just right for that busy day when you need an appetizer you can pull together quickly and have ready for guests—or for yourself—pronto. Just take out what you need from the freezer, warm them in the oven on a cookie sheet and they’re ready to plate and eat. And they look pretty, too.

Cheers to the weekend!

Artichoke Squares Redux
Makes 54, some to eat now and some to freeze for later!

For the marinade:
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar, unseasoned
1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon dried and crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Remaining ingredients:
1-14 oz can of artichoke hearts packed in water, drained, rinsed in water, drained again
1 large sweet onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 Tablespoons fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated (I use Cabot)
1/3 cup plain panko (Japanese style) breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried and crushed red pepper flakes
4 eggs, beaten

In a small bowl, whisk together all of the marinade ingredients. Finely chop the artichoke hearts and add them to the marinade, stirring to coat them well. Allow them to marinate while you prepare your other ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and lightly grease a 7 inch by 11 inch glass baking dish with olive oil and set aside. Drain the chopped artichoke through a fine meshed sieve, pressing on the artichoke, and reserving the marinade by allowing it to drain directly into a large, non-stick skillet. Set aside the artichoke hearts. Heat the marinade over medium heat, then add the onion and garlic and sauté in the marinade for about 5 minutes, until the onion is softened. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine the artichoke hearts, the sautéed onion and garlic mixture with the marinade, and all of the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and smooth the surface, spreading evenly. Bake the mixture at 325 degrees F for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan. Cut into small squares with a very sharp knife. Serve at room temperature or freeze the squares on a cookie sheet, then transfer to a freezer bag. When ready to use, remove what you need, warm them on a cookie sheet in a 300 degree oven, and serve slightly warm or at room temperature. These should keep a couple of months in the freezer, if they aren’t eaten first.

Comments, interrupted!

I have absolutely no idea why this is happening or what made it happen, but as you may or may not now know…you can’t comment on my last post about the Artichoke Squares, which should be comment-able, at least. But, it’s been reposted and with a modified title and the newest one allows commenting. Go figure.

Never happened before. Didn’t touch a thing…no diagnosis from WordPress yet…I got nada.

But, I did want to thank all of you who have read and visited my latest post, and “Liked” it, which is all it would let you do.

Rest assured, I’d never “Close” my comments, so this is a technical glitch of some sort.

Thanks for reading, visiting, and your desire to comment! Until this is resolved, (now seems to be as I reposted) you can always reach me on my Bits and Breadcrumbs Facebook page…click the “Like” box at the right for Facebook (if you are on it) on the home page of this blog and it will take you there and give you feeds. And you can also email me if you have an urgent question.

So sorry for any frustration this has caused. I imagine it is mostly me who’s frustrated. Hopefully they will tell me how I can fix it soon.

Or they can fix it soon.

Someone fix it soon.

Thanks for your support!

~Betsy

P.S. I’ve just seen that you CAN comment on this post…like that makes sense…so if you want to comment HERE about the Artichoke Squares THERE then I certainly welcome your comments wherever they can be made! :)

 

Revival of a Favorite: Artichoke Squares

Bathed in that late afternoon cocktail glow.

Bathed in that late afternoon cocktail glow.

The weekend is upon us, and it’s time for a savory little nibble to go with that happy hour cocktail. Enter these delectable Artichoke Squares.

You know you want one!

You know you want one!

This is one of those throwback recipes, circa 1960 or so. I’ve updated it with some fresh ingredients, really tasty extra sharp cheddar cheese, herbs, spices and plain panko breadcrumbs instead of the canned, seasoned, Italian type.

And because I always try to use as few, or minimally, processed foods and ingredients as I possibly can in my cooking, I decided to make my own marinade for the artichoke hearts instead of using the jarred marinated version. The result was wonderful. Fresh and clean-tasting marinated artichoke, and a commitment to marinate my own from now on for every recipe that calls for them.

Come a little closer...

Come a little closer…

But I digress. These Mad Men-worthy bites of deliciousness are the perfect companion for most any cocktail—from martinis to sweeter concoctions, with a glass of wine or a beer…and they make for some darn good eating without an adult beverage, as well. They’re rich and have a marvelous texture, so I like to cut them into small squares where I can eat more than one…or two…or three.

Now reach in and grab one or three!

Now reach in and take a bite!

Since these Artichoke Squares can be made ahead and they freeze perfectly, they’re just right for that busy day when you need an appetizer you can pull together quickly and have ready for guests—or for yourself—pronto. Just take out what you need from the freezer, warm them in the oven on a cookie sheet and they’re ready to plate and eat. And they look pretty, too.

Cheers to the weekend!

Artichoke Squares Redux
Makes 54, some to eat now and some to freeze for later!

For the marinade:
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar, unseasoned
1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon dried and crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Remaining ingredients:
1-14 oz can of artichoke hearts packed in water, drained, rinsed in water, drained again
1 large sweet onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 Tablespoons fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated (I use Cabot)
1/3 cup plain panko (Japanese style) breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried and crushed red pepper flakes
4 eggs, beaten

In a small bowl, whisk together all of the marinade ingredients. Finely chop the artichoke hearts and add them to the marinade, stirring to coat them well. Allow them to marinate while you prepare your other ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and lightly grease a 7 inch by 11 inch glass baking dish with olive oil and set aside. Drain the chopped artichoke through a fine meshed sieve, pressing on the artichoke, and reserving the marinade by allowing it to drain directly into a large, non-stick skillet. Set aside the artichoke hearts. Heat the marinade over medium heat, then add the onion and garlic and sauté in the marinade for about 5 minutes, until the onion is softened. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine the artichoke hearts, the sautéed onion and garlic mixture with the marinade, and all of the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and smooth the surface, spreading evenly. Bake the mixture at 325 degrees F for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan. Cut into small squares with a very sharp knife. Serve at room temperature or freeze the squares on a cookie sheet, then transfer to a freezer bag. When ready to use, remove what you need, warm them on a cookie sheet in a 300 degree oven, and serve slightly warm or at room temperature. These should keep a couple of months in the freezer, if they aren’t eaten first.

Snow Day Sweet Tooth

This is a magnificent shot of my thumb, don't you think?

This is a magnificent shot of my thumb, don’t you think?

You may or may not have heard on the American news that we had 2 – 2 1/2 inches of snow here this week, resulting in ice, resulting in 4 million folks all heading home in the middle of a minor snow storm, compacting more ice and ending in a massive traffic gridlock…and stranded motorists. This event is now not-so-affectionately known as “Snowpocalypse 2014.” I still feel so badly for anyone who went through the stress and frightening strain of being stuck in traffic or stranded for hours—and in some cases days—on our roads and interstates here in Atlanta as well as in Birmingham, Alabama. Hopefully everyone is home, safe and sound by now.

This is what our Southern felines thought of the snow.

This is what our Southern felines thought of the snow.

In addition to a stiff single-malt scotch, there’s nothing that can take away the sting of enduring such an event quite so well as these easy, chewy and toffee-covered Heath Bar Blondies. And hey, they’d be a good choice for the Superbowl festivities, too.

Not a fan of toffee? Use the same amount of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips instead, and lightly press them into the top of the batter before baking.

Heath Bar (or Chocolate Chip) Blondies
Makes 3 dozen rich bars, plenty to soothe your raw nerves and some to share, too!

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup melted butter, unsalted, plus extra to grease the pan
1 egg
2 teaspoons good quality pure vanilla extract (I use Madagascar bourbon vanilla)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup English toffee bits in milk chocolate such as Heath, or you can sub an equal amount of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Grease an 8 x 8 inch square baking pan with butter and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the sugar, butter, egg and vanilla in a medium-sized bowl with a whisk. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt, then pour it into the butter mixture. Stir with a spoon to combine, until the mixture is moist and just blended. Spread the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing evenly. Scatter the toffee bits or the chips evenly over the top of the batter and press lightly to adhere. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-22 minutes, until the blondies start to pull away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out mostly clean. Remove from the oven and cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into 36 small squares. Relax.

Hard to believe such a beautiful little snow could wreak so much chaos.

Hard to believe such a beautiful little snow could wreak so much havoc.