Gifts, Goodies and Greatest Hits

I have some new recipes, really I do! And some travels and adventures to share as well. And I have pictures, too. But as I am still in high gear work mode right now with some deadlines looming before the Christmas holiday, I think I’ll first take this opportunity to share these “greatest hits” of the season with you. May these favorites of mine inspire some holiday food and gift ideas for you to try until I can get back to the regularly scheduled programming.

I hope you all have enjoyed the holiday season so far, and may your days be merry and bright…and filled with good food, friends and family.

Cookies! For the cookie monster in us all.

Who doesn’t love cookies any time of year, but during the holidays they are a mandatory make and give. Starting from the top with these biscotti…this is the one thing I will try to get made before Christmas!

biscottiA-1Chocolate Hazelnut and Ginger Biscotti are perhaps the most addictive cookies ever known to man or woman. These truly decadent biscotti have the perfect dry texture combined with savory hazelnuts, spicy candied ginger and melty semi-sweet chocolate surprises in every bite. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…if I don’t make these for my husband every Christmas, I might as well find another place to live. I kid you not!

cookies smOld Fashioned Drop Sugar Cookies are a recipe that my mom used to make every year. They are the best I’ve ever had and fun to make by yourself, or with some little elves helping you to decorate! They have the added advantage of keeping well for a week or more in an airtight container.

crinkles2Chocolate Espresso Crinkle Cookies. I knew I had to try them the moment I saw Eva’s original recipe, and then Sawsan’s adaptation of Eva’s recipe that added some warm spices. They did not disappoint!

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readytobake2Old Fashioned Ice Box Cookies are so easy to make ahead and wonderful to freeze, then have on hand to slice, bake and decorate a few whenever you need or want them. Prettily packaged, they make a sweet gift as well.

Mmmm. These Glazed Apple, Walnut and Oatmeal cookies are to die for! Mmmmuuuuaaaah ha ha ha ha!

Sweet Cider Glazed Apple, Walnut and Oatmeal Cookies have festive flavors and aren’t quite as heavy as some cookies…so you can eat more than one, not that I can only eat one anyway!

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Ma’amool is a Middle Eastern treat in the form of a fruit or nut stuffed semolina cookie that is molded into beautiful shapes. They taste as good as they look, too! No mold? No worries. You can seal them and decorate with the tines of a fork.

Toffee Bars are a wonderful gift to make and give to that special someone that you want to thank for all that they do. These were my gift to the Firemen who came to our house when it was struck by lightning. They are truly gift-worthy!

Hors d’Oeuvres, Noshes, Appetizers and Snacks

While I don’t snack during the day at all, I do love a good nosh with a glass of wine or a cocktail before dinner. Here are some of my faves to make as gifts and some more faves to make to serve.

almonds1R2olives4Glazed Red Pepper and Fennel Almonds are a hit with everyone and won’t last long at a party…or in your home in general. They’re a most welcome gift for a cocktail nibble or appetizer, and a few sprinkled atop a green salad with some fruit are a lovely way to enjoy them, too. You’ll also find these savory Provençal Olives in this post. They keep well for about a month or so, and make a great hostess gift. These two together as appetizers or tapas are a dynamic duo.

jarsfinal1This Walnut Thyme Honey is just amazing drizzled over cheese for a quick and impressive appetizer. Needless to say, it makes a lovely gift.

wholeplateMy Retro Cheese and Olive Bites make a “can’t believe how good these are” do-ahead-and-freeze appetizer to bake when needed, then serve or give away. They are truly addictive, so be sure to make enough for yourself and some to share. Also in this same post are the equally fabulous make-ahead-and-freeze Bacon Wrapped Dates with Pistachios and Apricots.

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Two more lively appetizers for entertaining are found in another post: Mini Crab Cakes with Lemon Chive Aioli and Goat Cheese and Fresh Basil Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes. While the crab cakes take a little work, they can be made ahead and frozen, then rewarmed when needed. And the stuffed tomatoes are just too darn easy and good to be ignored. Seasonal colors, too.

Bathed in that late afternoon cocktail glow.

These Artichoke Squares are truly a revival of a favorite. A throwback recipe, circa 1960 or so, that I’ve updated with some fresh ingredients. These are the perfect accompaniment to cocktails, are rich little bites and can be made ahead, frozen and then warmed as needed. What more can you ask for in an appetizer?

Drink and Be Merry!

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Cranberry Liqueur is the perfect gift and keeps at room temperature for a year. There’s still time to get a batch made for holiday giving or New Year’s tippling. Be sure to make some while fresh cranberries are still available.

Chai Tea Mix is fast and easy to make, and who doesn’t love a good hot cup of chai tea, any time of the year? Make your mix and package it in mason jars tied with pretty ribbon for a lovely hostess gift.

The Raindog

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Champagne Cocktail

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Christmas Dawn

My post wouldn’t be complete without a couple of my favorite cocktails to go with all of this food. Here are some classics, perfect for holiday entertaining. The Raindog is an easy variation on the classic martini, fortified with some fresh herbal essence and tasty olives. The timeless Champagne Cocktail will never go out of style and is easy to make for a crowd. And if you’ve also made the Cranberry Liqueur listed above, try out these Festive Holiday Cocktails for an extra Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

The Busy Season: Some Food, Some Fun, Some Pots

I’ve been cooking, I’ve been hiking, I’ve been working…a lot, I’ve been making clay pots, and I’ve been traveling some. And then suddenly, it’s NOVEMBER!!!

Here’s what’s been going on (click the red links for more info and recipes:

RibollitaThere was a batch Ina Garten’s fantastic Ribolitta pictured above, to warm up the cold evenings.

There was a lovely hike to Raven Cliffs Falls in the North GA mountains. Spectacular leaves that weekend.

spooktacularchiliThere was some Spooktacular Beef and Italian Sausage Chili made for Halloween!

And Punkitties were carved for the big event!

There was a lovely gathering of cousins in town that called for an early batch of my most favorite gratin and holiday potato dish, Potato and Fennel Gratin. It takes a little effort, but the flavor is show stopping.

And this week I’ve been carving some clay pots for a friend’s new lifestyle website…more on that later.

And then there was work…happily lots and lots of it! So that’s what I’ve been up to. How about you? Are you having a fun autumn so far? Happy Weekend!

A Bodacious Birthday Cake!

Well, once again some time has passed since my last post, written on my birthday at the very beginning of this month. Thank you all for the wonderful birthday wishes…it was an awesome birthday! I feel like I’m still celebrating.

Upon request, my husband gave me a new pair of hiking boots and socks for my birthday, along with some other goodies. And additionally, keeping with the hiking theme, a friend gave me a really super day pack as a birthday present. In order to do justice to all of this new gear, we had to go someplace where the hiking was cranked “up a notch,” so to speak, and we spent a lovely weekend in Highlands and Cashiers, North Carolina.

Just down the road from Cashiers is the truly beautiful Gorges State Park in Sapphire, North Carolina. “Plunging waterfalls, rugged river gorges, sheer rock walls and one of the greatest concentrations of rare and unique species in the eastern United States are found within Gorges State Park. An elevation that rises 2,000 feet in only four miles, combined with rainfall in excess of 80 inches per year, creates a temperate rain forest and supports a collection of waterfalls.” As this description on the website indicates, there’s lots to see and a strenuous hike!

I don’t know if it was the cooler weather—which was in the low 60’s that day—or the renewed vigor resulting from a birthday, that made me feel up to the challenge of hiking an 800 foot elevation change after a night of celebrating. But it was a glorious, if strenuous, hike, and my new boots and pack performed exceptionally well. The payoff of Rainbow Falls at the end of the trail by the same name, is totally worth the effort. We’d actually run into some friends the night before at dinner in Cashiers and they joined us for the hike, which made it all the more fun. I’d love to go back here and do this hike again, as well as explore some of the other trails in the park. Do this every day and you can eat what you want! Here’s a slideshow of some scenes from my birthday adventures and our hike, along with some captions included to guide you through. I hope you’ll enjoy the tour.

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Meanwhile, you might be wondering why this post has a birthday cake with SOMEONE ELSE’S name on it? Well, October is the birthday month for several of our friends and while I did not make a cake for myself, I did make one to take to a party we attended for a friend of ours last weekend. This cake was so delicious that I felt like it was truly post-worthy. Now I’m not a real baker, nor one to take too much time for fancy decorations. In fact, getting out my icing bag and tips for this caused me to break out in a sweat, momentarily, but I pushed through. This makes a great, old-fashioned birthday cake—a classic that everyone loves.

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A birthday cake for all of the October birthdays!

Old School Devil’s Food Layer Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Icing
Serves 12-16
(Cake adapted from Epicurious.)

For the cake:

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (such as Baker’s)
2 cups granulated cane sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher sea salt
1/2 cup hot brewed coffee
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans with unsalted butter, then lightly flour them and set aside.

Melt the chocolate over very low heat in a heavy saucepan or in a double boiler over hot, not simmering, water. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn. Remove from heat. In a large bowl, sift together the sugar, flour, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the hot coffee, sour cream and canola oil. Gradually whisk the eggs into the wet ingredients, then stir in the melted chocolate. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until all of the ingredients are smoothly blended. Pour the batter into the two prepared cake pans, dividing evenly.

Place in the oven and bake at 350 for approximately 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of each layer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and allow to cool completely on a wire rack with the top side down, before frosting. Cooling with the exposed top side down to the rack helps level the cake.

For the icing:
*This is a double recipe which makes about 4 cups of icing, which will be a bit more than you may need. I find it better to have a little too much, than not enough when frosting and decorating a layer cake! Half the recipe for a sheet cake.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon kosher sea salt
4 teaspoons pure madagascar bourbon vanilla
6 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar, plus a bit more if needed
2/3 cup whole milk

In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, salt, vanilla and two cups of sugar on low speed with a mixer and beat until fairly smooth. Add a bit of the milk, then more sugar, alternating the two and beating until smooth between each addition. Add more sugar to thicken or milk to thin the icing to your desired spreading consistency. Set aside about 1- 1 1/2 cups of icing, if decorating.

Place one tablespoon of icing in the center of your serving platter, cake stand or plate. This will help your layer to stick and not slide off the plate while you’re frosting the cake. Place one layer of cake, pan or bottom side down on top of the plate (if one layer is larger, use it on the bottom.) Put strips of parchment just under the edges of the layer (about 1/8 inch) all the way around the layer, to protect the serving dish from stray icing. These will slide out when you’re done icing and give you a nice, clean edge at the bottom of your cake.

Place about 1 cup of icing on top of the layer. Spread the icing evenly over the top of the layer, using an offset long spatula. Add a little more icing, if needed, to ensure the layer is covered. Gently place and center the second layer on top of the iced layer, pan or bottom side up. Put about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of frosting on the top, then smooth it evenly to cover the entire top. Try not to overwork the icing—just use smooth, long strokes. This will help keep the crumbs out of your icing. Once the top is covered in icing, frost the sides.

Working in quarters, add icing to the side of the cake, smoothing as you go. Be sure to give yourself enough icing for each quarter so that you aren’t digging up crumbs. When the cake is fully iced, carefully remove the parchment at the bottom.

If you want to leave as is, this is a great cake! If you want to decorate, add food safe gel colorant (Wilton makes a good version in the U.S.) to the icing you set aside earlier and mix to get the desired colors. Pipe your designs or script through an icing bag fitted with decorative tips.

Enter…Fall. Roasted Vegetable and Kale Stew

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So here we are…Fall has fallen, so to speak, and October is upon us! (What happened to September??? I don’t have my Fall banner up yet!)

I love Fall, actually, and especially October. I was born in October (today is my birthday, as a matter of fact), and I love the crispness in the air, the changing colors of the leaves and the deep blue of the autumnal sky. And while I do miss all of the summer vegetables, there’s a lot to be said for this season’s variety of fruits and veggies, too.

Even though we still have 80 degree temps this week, here’s a very fall-ish dish for those cooler nights. This roasted vegetable and kale stew is filled to the brim with hearty veggies and earthy greens. Potatoes, carrots, green beans and squash are roasted first to concentrate and caramelize their flavors. Tender leeks are sautéed with a bit of fresh garlic, salt and pepper. Then a little chicken broth (or vegetable broth or all water) is added to the pot along with some tomatoes, herbs, the roasted veggies and fresh kale. Cook until the flavors blend and you have Fall in a bowl! And as with most soups and stews, it gets better each day after you make it, and freezes well.

Fall is also a great time to be outdoors and about. There are festivals and shindigs galore to explore in autumn. You know I’ve been hiking every weekend, and we have long since completed the Top Ten Atlanta Hikes and moved on to other hikes, walks and adventures. Here’s a little slideshow of the last few weeks since I posted, to catch you up.

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Meanwhile, here’s the recipe and I hope you enjoy this healthy and hearty stew. Cheers and Happy October everyone!

Roasted Vegetable and Kale Stew
Makes 8-10 Servings

2 Large Idaho potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1 inch cubes
3 large carrots (I used rainbow for color), peeled and sliced 1/4 inch on the diagonal
3/4 lb. green snap beans, trimmed and snapped into bite sized pieces
2 medium zucchini or other squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
3 Tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon each of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large leeks, washed well, trimmed and diced, white and light green parts only
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 Tablespoons of olive oil
a pinch of kosher salt and two grinds of black pepper
1 28-oz. can of whole, peeled tomatoes and their juice, low sodium
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 1/4 cups water
2 bunches (about 3/4 lb.) fresh lacinato kale, stems removed and leaves chopped into 2-3 inch pieces
1/4 cup packed shredded fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
additional salt and pepper to taste if needed

Line a cookie sheet with tin foil and grease well with olive oil or cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spread the potatoes evenly on the cookie sheet, toss with 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil, sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and roast for 15-20 minutes. After 20 minutes, stir the potatoes, then add the green beans, carrots and zucchini that has been tossed in the remaining 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and pepper and roast for another 15 minutes. Stir well and roast for about another 10 minutes or until the vegetables are all tender and have a little color. Remove them from the heat.

While the veggies are roasting, heat the 1 1/2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy stock pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Turn the heat to medium low and add the garlic and stir for another 2 minutes or until the leeks are cooked through and just beginning to color. Add the tomatoes and their juice, the stock and the water, and stir well. Add the roasted vegetables and any juices to the pot and stir, then bring the stew to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and add in the kale, basil, parsley, tarragon and nutmeg. Stir well and allow the stew to cook for about 10 to 15 minutes over low heat. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Serve garnished with a little fresh parsley if desired. I love this with cheddar corn muffins!

Last of Summer’s Bounty: Rustic Heirloom Tomato and Caramelized Onion Tart

finishedslice1Although Summer isn’t my favorite time of year…mainly because it gets so darn hot and muggy where I live, I do really enjoy the fruits and veggies of the season. The end of summer always brings a tearful time saying goodbye to the last of the peaches, corn, peas and tomatoes of the season. Fortunately, we do have a longish summer here, and I could still find an heirloom tomato or two in our local farmer’s markets last week.

Having procured three fine heirloom tomato specimens, I felt bound to make a dish in their honor. This rustic tomato tart has a few steps, but it’s easy to make. Use some of your own pie crust you may have on hand, or purchase some good quality crust at the grocer. The juicy-ripe tomatoes join with their BFF’s—sweet onion that’s been caramelized to really enhance the flavor, some fresh basil and thyme, and three fantastic cheeses—to create this delightful ode to tomato goodness. It’s sweet, it’s savory, it’s gooey, it’s delicious.

To keep your tomatoes from making this tart too soggy, I recommend slicing them, sprinkling them with a little sea salt and allowing them to drain a bit before you compose the tart. Save the resulting “tomato water” and use it to flavor cooked rice, or add to a pasta sauce. The tomato water essence is so flavorful that it deserves to be used and enjoyed…just remember that you are adding some salt to your dish via the tomato water, so adjust your seasonings accordingly. You can find the recipe below towards the end of this post. It’s so good, I’ll be out looking for tomatoes again this week!

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Warning! Here comes the long part of the post.

So for those of you keeping track, you may ask where have we been lately on our weekly hiking treks? In addition to some hikes further afield, we’ve actually completed eight out of the Top Ten Atlanta hikes. And, I might add, most of them were on days where the temps were in the upper 90 degree range. Honestly, if anyone had ever told me I’d be out hiking in the heat of summer I would have laughed in their face…but here I am and it’s been great, if a bit steamy! Here are some snippets from six more of those top ten Atlanta hikes to share with you, and again, if you live in the area or are visiting, these sites and hikes are well worth your time to enjoy and investigate. Be sure and run your cursor over any image to see a caption, or click to see a larger image.

We’re now entering prime hiking season in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Fall and Spring are great times of the year to “get some nature on,” take in some “forest bathing” and see the leaves turn—or the flowers start to bud and bloom, depending on where you are. And it’s so much more fun than going to the gym. So do yourself a favor and GO TAKE A HIKE!

Panoramic view from the Indian Seats, Sawnee Mountain.

Panoramic view from the Indian Seats, Sawnee Mountain.

#3 Sawnee Mountain Trail to Indian Seats: I don’t think I can describe this one better than the website I’m linking to here: “The Indian Seats Trail hikes over and around the sheer face of Sawnee Mountain to breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the mountain’s overlook. The trail is part of the 5+ mile network of hiking, walking and running trails at the Sawnee Mountain Preserve, a 900-acre stretch of beautiful coniferous and deciduous forest just 40 miles north of Atlanta. Sawnee Mountain’s history spans from a sacred site for the local Native American Cherokee and Creek tribes to a mining site in the 1800s search for gold in Georgia.” It’s a super trail and involves a 500+ foot elevation change.

#4 The Sope Creek Trail: This very in-town (it’s actually in a residential neighborhood) and relatively short trail at 1.5 miles, meanders through young forest and past the ruins of a Civil War paper mill. This is part of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area merges with the longer Cochran Shoals bike and running trails, and is very popular with mountain bikers and runners. Once you come off of the initial creek trail, you have many choices of how to extend your hike. One small trail leads to Sibley Pond on the way back out of the area. The trails are well marked with signage along the way showing you where you are, and if you are on a bike trail. If you ARE on a bike trail, keep a wary eye out as bikers can be upon you before you know it.

#5 The East Palisades Trail at the Chattahoochee River: Our first attempt at this really fun trail earlier this summer was aborted by a very strong lightning storm that came up quickly, encouranging us to head back down and home as fast as we could go! Fortunately we decided to give it another try before Labor Day, and it delivered a great hike with stunning views of the Chattahoochee River, which runs around and through Atlanta metro. There are about 3 plus miles of hiking trails on this side, with strong elevation changes and views above and alongside of the class 1 and 2 rapids. This trail begins in the Buckhead area of Atlanta…hard to believe it’s in the middle of town.

#6 The Kennesaw Mountain Trail: With more than 16 miles of trails to choose from, this Civil War Battlefield area is definitely one to visit multiple times. As long as I have lived here, this was my first visit to Kennesaw Mountain and it was a 98 degree day and unbearably hot and humid. Couple that with storms coming in, and we didn’t hike as long as we might have. We did hike the actual Kennesaw Mountain trail, which can get steep at some points, but provides a pretty nice view of Atlanta in the distance. There are many more trails to choose from in the area that cross mountains, battlefields and creeks, and pass through many historic sites. Each includes different access points if you don’t wish to trek the multi-mountain and over 16 miles of trails in full. Something to aspire to, I think, and maybe in the Fall.

#8 The Vickery Creek Trail in Roswell: This was one of the first of the Top Ten trails we hiked, and it is very pretty. The hike is about 3 miles through forest area and alongside the steep banks of Vickery Creek. There are two dams along the way, one is modern and the other is the historic Vickery Creek Dam from the Civil War era. Save a little time after your hike to enjoy the fun shops and restaurants in downtown Roswell.

#9 The Yellow River Trail at Yellow River Park: This 3.2 mile hike is an easy one through beautiful forested areas and alongside the Yellow River shoreline. The area has about 13 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails. My only complaint was that while there were a lot of trail markings, they were somehow not very clearly marked. Still, a great place to get in a hike without driving very far, and some parts closely resemble North Georgia.

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Rustic HeirloomTomato and Caramelized Onion Tart
Serves 6

1 Medium onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 – 9-inch ready made and thawed rolled pie crust 2 Large red, purple or pink tomatoes cut into 1/4″ thick slices (I used Cherokee Purple), sprinkled with a tiny bit of sea salt and placed in a colander or fine meshed sieve over a bowl to drain. Reserve the “tomato water” for adding to rice or pasta at another date.
1 Large yellow tomato cut into 1/4″ thick slices
3 oz. sliced buffalo mozzarella
1/2 cup part skim ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/4 cup packed basil leaves cut chiffonade
1 clove garlic, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cut finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Flour to roll out crust
8-10 Fresh basil leaves for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or silpat.

In a large non-stick skillet, heat the 1 teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat and add the onions. Sprinkle with a pinch of fine sea salt and some freshly ground pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have turned golden and caramelized, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Sprinkle about a tablespoon of flour on a work surface, and roll the pie crust into a 10 inch diameter circle. Transfer the crust to the baking sheet.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, thyme leaves, chiffonade of basil leaves, garlic and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper and mix well. Spread the ricotta mixture on the pie crust in a circle, leaving about a 2 1/2″ border. Layer the caramelized onions on next, spreading evenly to top the ricotta mixture. Layer the tomatoes in a single layer, overlapping each slice and altering colors decoratively, and placing a slice of mozzarella in between each tomato. Fold the edges of the crust up over the edges of the tomatoes and pinch gently to seal the folds. Brush the edges of the crust and the tops of the tomatoes with a little olive oil. Sprinkle the top of the tart with some freshly ground black pepper and the parmesan cheese.

Bake the tart at 375 degrees F for about 35 to 40 minutes, until the cheese and the crust are a golden brown. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 3-5 minutes, then slice into 6 pieces and serve with basil leaves strewn on top.

Just out of the oven and it's a night shot...Gee, it's starting to get dark earlier and earlier!

Just out of the oven…gee, it’s starting to get dark earlier and earlier!

Peach and Blueberry Streusel Coffeecake

Ready to cut

Allow the cake to cool completely before you cut it…if you can wait that long!

Coffeecake. It’s not just for breakfast.

Sure, it’s a tasty way to start your work or school day, but this Peach and Blueberry Streusel Coffeecake is so much more a than breakfast food alone.

Peaches and blueberries were made for each other in my opinion, and this cake is chock-full of summer fruity goodness, without incurring too much damage to your waistline. The layered fruit within the cake and the oat, brown sugar and almond streusel topping combine to make this just sweet enough, with a crunchy and satisfying texture on top. It’s a perfect combo.

Make one for your holiday weekend cookout (and add a little ice cream or whipped cream on top for decadence), or have it as a snack after a hike or swim…you’ll love it. AND it’s wonderful for breakfast, too, by itself or with a dollop of greek yogurt on top.

What? No peaches or blueberries in sight? Try it with fresh cherries, pitted and cut in half. Or apples. Or pears. It’s a versatile recipe as far as fruit goes, and it’s one we’ll be enjoying year round from now on. Check out the recipe below and try it for yourself.

I’ll share more hikes with you next post, but in the meantime, have a wonderful week and weekend…and get out there and do some forest bathing if you can. Be sure to have some of this cake waiting for you when you get back!

Peach and Blueberry Streusel Coffeecake
(Slightly adapted from Cooking Light.)
Makes 12 servings

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cups fresh blueberries
1 1/2 cups fresh peeled and thinly sliced peach
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 tablespoons blanched and slivered almonds
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup granulated cane sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Lightly spoon in 2 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine the 2 cups flour, baking powder, soda and salt, in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Remove 2 tablespoons flour mixture and sprinkle over the blueberries and peaches, tossing to coat.

In another medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, oats, almonds, 1 tablespoon of flour and cinnamon. Drizzle with the 2 tablespoons of melted butter and toss to combine.

Place the granulated sugar, 1/4 cup butter, and oil in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until blended (about 2 minutes). Add the egg and beat well. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mix after each addition. Stir in the lemon rind and juice.

Spoon half of the batter into a 9-inch square light-colored metal baking pan that has been greased lightly with butter. Sprinkle evenly with half of the blueberry and peach mixture. Spoon remaining batter over the fruit and spread evenly. Sprinkle the top of the batter evenly with remaining blueberry and peach mixture. Top with the brown sugar streusel mixture, sprinkled evenly. Bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife gently around the edge of the pan, invert the cake onto a plate, then invert the cake back onto the rack (this will keep the streusel from falling off of the cake. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into 12 squares and enjoy as is, or add a dollop of yogurt, whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

 

Happenings, Fresh Corn Frittata and Some Potent Cherries

Cornfrittataslice1Work has continued to be brisk for me this summer…a very good thing. I don’t have as much time in the kitchen as I would normally, and when I’m in there, I’m not really experimenting on creating anything new. But I have been trying some new recipes…new to me, at least, from various sources. Here’s one of my favorites, especially since we’re in corn season—a fresh corn frittata.

This is such a brilliant idea from the June edition of Cooking Light magazine…and I wish I had thought of it! I can’t tell you how pleased this dish made me. This frittata utilizes a slightly better technique than I have used in the past, resulting in a perfect looking and perfectly textured slice of goodness. The fresh corn paired with egg, cheese, shallot and herby, fresh Italian parsley, just sings. It’s also very easy to make! We enjoyed this dish with the Fruited Farro Salad from my last post, also inspired by this particular jam-packed issue of the magazine. Don’t miss out on trying this frittata while corn is in season, you won’t be sorry! You can find the recipe at the end of this post.

In addition to this lovely frittata, I want to share another recipe that I’m so excited about. It’s for Bourbon Cherries from Greg and Katherine over at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide. (Click on the titles to see for yourself.) This year we’ve had an amazing amount of cherries at a decent price in our markets…the first time I can remember this, so it must have been a very good year for them. I saw this recipe on their blog and happened to already have a huge bag of cherries in the fridge, waiting to be dispatched…et voilà! I followed their recipe exactly except for the fact that I have a cherry pitter, so I left mine whole instead of halving them. I’m so excited about these potent babies, that I’m going to make another batch. We have particularly enjoyed the cherries and the liqueur mixed with rye and a couple of drops of bitters for a delicious spin on a Manhattan. My mind is reeling at the possibility of the new cocktails and quick breads or cakes that I could make with these cherries, and the liqueur they produce. Thanks Greg and Katherine, we’re all smiles over here!

We've polished off half of these so I'm making some more tonight!

We’ve polished off half of these so I’m making some more tonight!

We’re still having fun hiking this summer on our mission to do a new hike once a week, and these hikes almost always involve walking in woods and forests. It’s a fact that walking in the woods lifts spirits and makes you feel good, but did you know that it can lower blood pressure and pulse rate, decrease fatigue and tension, increase the number of anticancer proteins and encourage the growth and activity of disease fighting white blood cells? I have read that in Japan, this has developed into a new form of therapy and preventative medicine called shirin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” which involves taking a relaxing stroll among the trees, breathing it all in. Who knew? We love it and I think you will, too, if you give it a try.

There are some books and websites available that have been our inspiration for these hikes and you can check them out for yourself by clicking on these three links—Atlanta’s Best Hiking Trails, Top Ten within 40 miles of Atlanta, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Atlanta, and the book Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests-Intown and Out. So far, we’ve hiked 7 of the Top 10 trails and in the last few weeks, all of them beautiful and quite diverse. What we’ve found is that each place even has trails within the trails, so some of these we’ll be returning to and will hike at a later date. We’ve been at this since June 8, and I’m a little late in sharing due to delayed posting, so today I’ll highlight of a couple of them with you to get caught up.

Following are the Top 2 out of the Top Ten Atlanta Trails that we’ve hiked so far, along with links to more details about the trails. I would encourage you to read the links before visiting, as there is much more information about the areas and the history that I can detail here without making this post even longer than it already is. I hope you enjoy hiking along with us for a spell!

#1 Sweetwater Creek State ParkWe could certainly see why this one was ranked number 1 out of the Atlanta trails. It’s about a 30 minute drive west of Atlanta and the scenery is stunning, spanning over 2500 acres of creekside landscape. A wooded trail follows the stream to the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, a textile mill burned during the Civil War. Sweetwater Creek provides a North Georgia outdoor adventure – without the drive. We trekked a 5.1 mile loop next to the creek, which involves some elevation changes and a small amount of the trail is over rock. Once you reach the end of the creek trail, you turn into forest for the next couple of miles, then come out into flat pasture land to make your way back to the trail head at the LEED Platinum Visitor’s Center, which is well worth taking a few minutes to tour. As another hiker recommended, we stayed to the left on our hike, walking next to the creek and meandering back to the main trail. The trails are easy to see, but the blazes are not well marked. Staying to the left along the creek makes it easy not to get lost and it’s very pretty, too.

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#2 Arabia Mountain Trails: To say that you’d never guess this exposed granite field landscape was in Georgia, much less half an hour from Midtown Atlanta, is an understatement. This barren, moon-like and almost surreal landscape is quite otherworldly. On our first trip, we chose to hike the Mile Rock Trail (but I like to call it Moon Rock Trail) over a mile long and stone cairn-marked granite face to Lake Arabia, then headed back through the forest trail leading to the bike trail, and out from there. It was early afternoon and 98 degrees the first day we went, so we kept our hike to about 4 miles and did not go up the mountain. Our second trip was this weekend. This time we did hike to Arabia Mountain and the summit, which commands a beautiful view of the surrounding area. From the summit you can see that there is another forest trail at the base of the mountain which will take you to Arabia Lake (yes, there are two lakes apparently with similar names.) Both granite trails feature many interesting ecosystems unique to the area, the granite itself is very beautiful with molten patterns. When we hiked this past weekend, we’d just had torrential rains the night before, so there were small ponds in the granite, teeming with life. I can just imagine how magnificent these ecosystems must be in Spring, and we’ll have to check that out. The are also some 30 miles or more of connected bike trails through this general area, known as the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, and we’ll be back there with our bikes in the Fall.

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Extreme panoramic view from the summit of Arabia Mountain.

Extreme panoramic view from the summit of Arabia Mountain.

Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone for their very kind comments about my header. While it does look quite tropical—and that’s what I was going for, being Summer—you might be interested to know that it is actually an un-retouched image of a cardinal flower in bloom in my front yard…next to a pine tree! Pretty cool, eh?

This is the most perfect looking frittata I've made to date!

This is the most perfect looking frittata I’ve made to date!

Corn Frittata with Pecorino-Romano Cheese (but I used Parmesan instead!)
Ever so slightly adapted from Cooking Light
Makes 4 servings

1 teaspoon olive oil
2 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels and their milk* (about 3 ears)
1/2 cup diced shallots
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup 1% low-fat milk
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat a medium oven proof skillet over medium high heat, I use my 10 inch cast iron skillet. Add the oil to the pan and swirl to coat. Add the corn and the shallots to the pan and cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, 14/ teaspoon of the pepper and the smoked paprika. Place the corn mixture into a small bowl and set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Wipe our your skillet with a paper towel, and set aside for a moment.

Place the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, milk and eggs in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the corn mixture to the egg mixture and stir to combine. Preheat the broiler to high.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add butter to the pan. Swirl until the butter melts. Add the egg mixture to the pan. Cook 1 minute without stirring. Gently slide the pan back and forth to keep eggs from sticking. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 4 minutes longer or until eggs are set and golden on the bottom. Sprinkle cheese evenly over eggs. Broil 1 minute or until eggs are are just set on top and the cheese browns. Remove from the oven, slice into four pieces and serve with parsley sprinkled over and a little more paprika for garnish, if desired.

*After you have used the sharp side of your knife to cut fresh corn off the cob, use the flat side to scrape down the cob and get the sweet corn “milk” liquid to add to the kernels and cook as outlined. Very tasty.

 

Camping and Hiking Part II, Fruited Farro Salad, and Grilled Za’atar Spiced Chicken with Peppers and Onions

FinishedFarroCherrySaladSummer is in full force and it’s just flying by. Soon the children will go back to school, the wind will take on a decidedly cooler feel, and Fall will be here before we know it—but not yet! There’s still plenty of time for grilling and chilling.

Hot weather makes me crave salads and this Fruited Farro Salad is one of my new favorites. This colorful salad is more savory than sweet, with a perfect balance between the natural sweetness of the fruit and nuts, the herbaceous parsley and crisp celery, and the chewy farro with a tangy dressing. It pairs well with most any food and is particularly nice with barbecued pork, or with your favorite style of chicken…like this Za’atar Spiced, Marinated and Grilled Chicken with Peppers and Onions. These two dishes make a complete meal, and the farro salad lasts for a few days, so leftovers can be used for a light lunch. Check out the easy recipes below for these two versatile and delicious dishes to try.

As I mentioned a couple of posts back, we’ve been doing some hiking lately and have managed a hike a week all summer—with the one exception of last week when we were traveling. Hiking in North Georgia is particularly nice right now because the temps are so much cooler than those we have here in the city. Following is the continuation and conclusion of my story about our little adventure camping in the mountains in early June, featuring three more great hiking areas to explore…

Close to the Warwoman Dell recreation area is Black Rock Mountain, a beautiful state park with a visitors center which is situated at the top of the mountain, overlooking the Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains. The area features camping, cabins and hiking trails as well as scenic overlooks with some 80 miles of vistas. The cabins and the tent campsite areas literally hang over the edge of the top of the mountain, and the views are breathtaking. There are RV campsites with hookups by reservation, cabins by reservation and walk-in rustic campsites on a first come, first serve basis. Because we’d just finished our hike at Warwoman Dell when we visited here, we didn’t hike any of the trails, but we did make a note to try renting a cabin here at some point down the road.

The next day our hike was at Tallulah Gorge State Park. I had visited the gorge before from the other side, but hadn’t been to the Interpretive Center or down some of the trails that follow a series of waterfalls from the Center…some of which are quite steep. One of the most spectacular canyons in the eastern U.S., Tallulah Gorge is two miles long and nearly 1,000 feet deep. You can obtain a pass at the Center to go down to the floor of the gorge and cross over it on an 80 foot suspension bridge. On the day we were there, they had given out the limited number of passes available to hike down into the gorge, so we toured some of the waterfalls instead. We walked down 3 different trails and viewed 3 of the numerous waterfalls, but were thwarted from going further by some rather ominous storm clouds moving in. For those who are lucky and adventurous enough to get a pass to go down into the gorge, know that there are around 1099 steps down into, and back out of, the gorge. It’s considered a strenuous hike…especially coming back up. You can loop across the gorge and come out on the other side…if you’re hearty enough to do so. Another day for us, perhaps.

Our last hike on this 4-day trip was up the mountain of Brasstown Bald, the highest mountain in Georgia. Brasstown Bald rises 4,784 feet above sea level and its peak looms half a mile above the surrounding valleys. The observation deck offers a breathtaking view of the mountains’ scenic vistas, which sweep a four state area, and the “Bald” falls under the purview of the U.S. Forest Service.

“You hiked all the way up the mountain?” you ask. Heck no. We drove up most of it to the Forest Service Park Ranger parking area, took our picture with Smokey the Bear like any other good tourists would, then hiked the paved and steep 1/2 mile trail to the summit of the Bald where the Visitor’s Center and lookout station are located. For those who don’t wish to hike the trail, there’s a free shuttle that will take you to the summit.

In addition to being able to view four states from the Bald on a clear day, the weather at the summit of Georgia’s tallest mountain is very different from the rest of Georgia. The temperatures are 5-10° F cooler than the rest of the state, and at any time, fog, mist, and storms may unexpectedly move in and obscure the view. These weather conditions help to contribute to the variety of plants and wildlife found on the forested slopes of Brasstown Bald Mountain, and we were able to see spring wildflowers, mountain laurel, azalea and ferns all the way up the trail. It’s a great place to visit in the summer because the temperatures have never exceeded 84° F. The Forest Service has an interpretive center inside the Visitor’s Center, along with a little theater that plays a short film on the history and nature of Brasstown Bald. You can walk up the short flight of stairs to the observation decks and see north, south, east and west, with maps to view that show you what you’re seeing. It’s quite charming and very beautiful.

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On the last day of our camping/husband’s birthday trip, we experienced a very scary thunderstorm during the night that had us hurriedly packing up our tent and heading home the next day. Fortunately, we have a great tent with a rain fly, and were camped in a secluded spot during the storm. And most fortunate of all, there wasn’t any significant wind or hail involved and our tent didn’t leak, but the lightning was frequent and the torrential rain was relentless. All in all, we had a great time and were lucky that the weather held for us as long as it did, since scattered thunderstorms are the norm here this time of year.

I’ll share more hiking adventures soon, but for now let’s get back to the food! Being outdoors makes me really hungry and this easy meal is a tasty and healthy way finish to your day after hitting the trails, or for dinner any time. I hope you all are having a lovely summer so far…or if you’re in the southern hemisphere, a mild winter. Either way, I hope you’ll enjoy these two dishes.

Fruited Farro Salad
Slightly adapted from Cooking Light’s Farro, Cherry and Walnut Salad
Makes 8 Servings

5 cups water
1 1/2 cups uncooked farro
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 pound sweet cherries, pitted and halved (about 2 cups) or an equal amount of red seedless grapes, halved
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
additional freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring 5 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add farro and 1/4 teaspoon salt to boiling water; cook 15 minutes or until al dente. Drain; cool at room temperature, about 15 minutes. Combine farro, cherries or grapes, celery, walnuts, and parsley in a large bowl.

Combine lemon juice, mustard, honey, pepper, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add oil, stirring constantly with a whisk. Pour dressing over farro mixture; toss to coat. Taste for seasoning and add a little more pepper if needed.

Happy 4th of July! Happy Weekend!

fireworksIt’s a great day to celebrate our country’s independence, and to celebrate independence in general. We take for granted the rights we have in this country to make our own choices, and to choose those who enact those choices for us. We have the freedom to live where we want, cross our state borders freely, speak our minds and interact with the rest of the world. We should never forget that we are fortunate to be citizens of, and to live in, this country, nor forget the price and the responsibility of protecting our freedom to do so.

Today in America is all about celebrating liberty and freedom. And celebrate we will!

Here are some great dishes to share that are worthy of a celebration…or worthy of a weekend shared with family and friends. Whether you need inspiration for an appetizer, a salad, side, main dish or dessert, you can find it below. Click on the name under each image to link to its recipe.

Cheers, everyone! May those of you in the United States of America have a wonderful and safe Independence Day, and may all of you out there have a fantastic weekend.

eggs1

Deep South Deviled Eggs

You know you want one of these!

You know you want one of these!

Italian Sliders

This is what the patties should look like once off the grill, and see? They are juicy!

Sundried Tomato and Basil Turkey Burgers

Alas, another night shot which really doesn't do these justice, a wrinkle in my cloth, and my little digital camera ran out of space in the middle of shooting...plus I was hungry!

Alas, another night shot which really doesn’t do these justice, a wrinkle in my cloth, and my little digital camera ran out of space in the middle of shooting…plus I was hungry!

Easy Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

Texas Sheet Cake....you know you want it, you know you're gonna make it!

Texas Sheet Cake….you know you want it, you know you’re gonna make it!

Texas Sheet Cake

Ready for the picnic, cookout or pot luck, this salad has outdoor fun written all over it!

Ready for the picnic, cookout or pot luck, this salad has outdoor fun written all over it!

Couscous Salad

Luscious homemade peach ice cream. I mean really, can there be anything better than this? (A daylight picture perhaps?)

Luscious homemade peach ice cream. I mean really, can there be anything better than this? (A daylight picture perhaps?)

The Best Peach Ice Cream

Now THIS is a southern plate of food that makes me grin like a Cheshire Cat!

Now THIS is a southern plate of food that makes me grin like a Cheshire Cat!

Firecracker Slaw and Corn with Chipotle Butter

With such a fiesta of color, this dish just has to be good!

With such a fiesta of color, this dish just has to be good!

Betsy’s Famous Black Bean and Mango Salad

wholeplate

Betsy’s Retro Cheese Olive Bites and Bacon Wrapped Dates with Apricot and Pistachio

chickensalad4

Curried Chicken Salad

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini...need I say more? But I will!

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini…need I say more? But I will!

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini

cornbreadtartlets2

Cornbread Tartlets with BBQ Pork, Sauce and Wickle

tart1

Crustless Summer Squash, Zucchini and Tomato “Pie”

sticksadded

Peach Melba Pops

finished plate3Mock Maque Choux

The 4th of July all wrapped up in a dessert. Happy Independence Day!

The 4th of July all wrapped up in a dessert. Happy Independence Day!

Star Spangled Peach, Cherry and Blueberry Crumble