So this is where I’m supposed to go on and on about how delicious this grilled cheese sandwich is. And what’s in it. And why it’s a rockstar recipe that nobody else has. And why you need to make it now.
But guess what? I just did a food photo shoot for a NYC catering company and bakery for the past 2 days and shot at least 1000 photos that need to be culled through and selected to share with my clients and it’s enough to make your head spin faster than Linda Blair in The Exorcist. AND the fact that the Mad Men finale is coming on in less than 2 hours and I have some catching up to do and some last savoring moments of Don Draper to hold on to while I can.
OK – so now that I got that off my chest, here’s a little ditty of a recipe that I whipped up on Friday afternoon for a grilled cheese contest I entered for Wisconsin Cheese. It’s actually quite lovely and spring-y and full of good things. Homemade Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote, strawberries, granny smith apples, grilled chicken paillards, kale with lemon and parmesan, honey dijon mustard, melted sharp white cheddar and gooey mozzarella cheese – all grilled on a whole wheat pita (actually 2 of them).
It’s called California Dreamin’ Grilled Cheese because all the good things inside remind me of a sunny, breezy day on Pacific Beach in San Diego watching the sunset with a margarita in my hand with my toes in the sand, salty sea mist on my face, while basking in the glow and enjoying everything in life there is to offer. So here you go. Whether I win the contest or not – it’s absolutely fabulous, and will make you want to hop on a plane to the west coast and catch a few rays yourself.
Now back to my Sauvignon Blanc and Don Draper fix. Enjoy and Happy Sunday! 🙂
1 chicken breast, cut in half lengthwise and pounded thin
1/2 cup strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup green apple, sliced
1 cup kale, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp Wisconsin Parmesan, shredded
Fresh cracked black pepper
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey
4 slices Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar, sliced
4 slices Wisconsin Mozzarella
4 tablespoons Strawberry-Rhubarb compote
1 cup strawberries, sliced or chopped
1 stalk rhubarb, sliced into small chunks
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
Stir strawberries, 1/8 cup sugar, and 1/2 tbsp lemon juice and 1/2 tbsp of water in a small nonreactive pan; bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add the rhubarb, 1/8 cup sugar, and 1/2 tbsp lemon juice and 1/2 tbsp of water back into same pan and simmer for about 6 minutes until rhubarb is tender and soft. Transfer rhubarb to same bowl as strawberries and add all liquid to the pan through a strainer.
Raise heat to medium high and simmer until liquid thickens and reduces to almost half.
Return strawberries and rhubarb to liquid and let cool.
Preheat olive oil in a grill pan or sauté pan to medium/high heat.
Mix honey and mustard together in a small bowl and set aside.
Rub chicken with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill chicken pieces for about 6-8 minutes until cooked through, remove from pan.
Spread both pitas on one side with butter.
Spread each pita on reverse side with honey Dijon mustard on a cutting board or piece of plastic wrap.
Top with sliced mozzarella cheese slices.
In a small bowl, toss kale, lemon juice, salt and pepper and place on top of each pita over Mozzarella.
Top one pita with both pieces of grilled chicken.
Drizzle Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote over the chicken.
Layer on the sliced strawberries, apples and top with cheddar cheese slices.
Top the sandwich with other piece of pita bread (butter side up) and place in preheated grill pan.
Smash the sandwich together with a heavy spatula or panini press and grill on both sides until cheese is melted and pita is crispy.
Cut in half and serve with additional Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote and Honey Dijon for dipping.
Makes one sandwich.
Note: you can make the Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote ahead of time and store in an airtight container in the fridge. You can also double the recipe to make more for other uses (great over vanilla ice cream, pancakes, whipped cream or greek yogurt and granola!!)
Once the holidays are over, it’s time for a break from all the super rich food and cocktails and detox with some healthy recipes made with some of my favorite superfoods for a fresh start to a healthy New Year!
What’s all the fuss over superfoods about? They help step up your immunity, boost energy, slow down aging, lift your spirits, improve circulation, detox, improve sleep, and they have healing benefits too. And they just make you feel better and healthier all around. Colorful fruits and vegetables possess tons of vitamins and minerals – start ‘eating the rainbow’, and you’re off to a healthy start.
The best way to get your fix of Superfoods is to make a big pot of veggie soup in the middle of winter, not only for it’s warming properties, but also because soup gives a big dose of healthy vegetables that boost the immune system, as well as detox and cleanse the body with its healthy ingredients, antibacterial properties, vitamins and minerals.
I’ve created a super healthy soup recipe that I made with my KitchenAid 11-cup Food Processor, that is so convenient to chop, grate and shred all those lovely veggies. Then I just threw them all in my KitchenAid 8-Quart Stainless Steel Stockpot (part of the Stainless Steel 8-piece set that I just got!) to make a delicious and heartwarming Vegetable and Bean Soup. The Stockpot is great because it heats up fast on the stovetop to sauté all the veggies and seasonings and it has etched measurement markings inside the pot that make it easy to measure all the liquids for the soup.
My soup is full of onions, garlic and chicken stock, which all help build the immunity system and keep the colds away. It also has tons of fresh veggies including zucchini, kale, carrots, celery, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and northern white beans topped with grated Parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil and some crusty whole wheat bread for dipping.
The New Year is also a great time to cleanse and detox by eating lots of healthy Superfood fruits! I love all berries that are full of antioxidants, with plenty of vitamins for a super boost in the morning.
I’ve created a delicious KiwiAppleBerry Blast Smoothie recipe made with kiwi, apples, vanilla greek yogurt, almond milk, blueberries, acai berry puree, honey, lemon zest, flax seed and raw almonds.
I simply threw all the ingredients into my powerhouse KitchenAid 5-Speed Diamond Blender with 5 different settings that does all the stirring, mixing, blending, pureeing and heavy lifting for me.And the smoothie is a healthy breakfast or snack, giving a big boost of protein and energy from the yogurt, almond milk, flax seeds and almonds; antioxidants from the berries and honey; and betacarotene, vitamin E and C from the kiwi fruit and lemon zest.
There’s nothing better than a big pot of soup in the Winter – and this has been the longest one..ever. I’ve always loved my Gram’s Minestrone soup – chock full of veggies, ground beef and pasta and thought I would make a spin on it by making it a combination of her Minestrone and Italian Wedding Soup just for fun. I made a batch of chicken meatballs with lots of parmesan cheese, garlic, onion and fresh parsley..browned them up a bit before adding some kale, carrots, chickpeas, chopped tomatoes and orzo and let it all simmer up into a big batch of healthy, heartwarming goodness. I topped it off with some extra grated parmesan, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper and mopped it up with some fresh baked Italian Rosemary bread from Todaro Bros. down the street.
Who says you can’t have some fun during a blizzard? I’m happy as a clam right now. Or as a meatball, bathing in that gorgeous broth with veggies.
I love cooking with honey – not only in the Fall or dead of Winter, but all year around. It’s such a nice substitute for regular sugar and gives a warm, homey flavor to almost all types of recipes. I recently picked up a copy of The Fresh Honey Cookbook, by Beekeeper, Caterer, Chef and Spokesperson for The National Honey Board and Café owner Laurey Masterson of Asheville NC. I fell in love with her vibrant recipes using different varieties of honey throughout all 12 months of the year – she offers honey-tasting tips and recipes featuring seasonal ingredients for dishes both savory and sweet.
Each chapter is organized around a specific honey for the month including orange blossom, tupelo, avocado, eucalyptus and blueberry honey and more. In January, she has a recipe for Meyer lemon and Honey-Marinated Chicken Skewers, Pork Tenderloin with Orange Blossom Honey Mustard and Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic. In the Summer, she features delicious fresh recipes for Grilled Garlic Shrimp with a Fresh Heirloom Tomato Sauce, Vermont-Style Summer Squash Casserole, and Broiled Peaches with Sourwood Honey.
She also goes into detail about her experience as a beekeeper and teaches readers how bees make honey, how it’s harvested, what they can do to help the bee population and what is going on in the hives throughout the year.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes from the book for the chilly months of the Winter season. Enjoy!
roasted delicata squash with tuscan kale
Delicata squash is naturally sweet and pairs so nicely with the kale and the other tastes of Italy and the Mediterranean. This recipe calls for pine nuts, which are quite expensive these days, but the buttery texture and flavor is so delicious that I am reluctant to suggest an alternative. This dish is great as a lunch salad or as a warm side dish. She recommends pairing this with her Deviled Beef Bones recipe made with Eucalyptus Honey (recipe follows).
3 Delicata squash (about 3 pounds total)
Extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound bow-tie pasta
2 bunches Italian (Tuscan Lacinato) kale
½ cup pine nuts
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Cut into 1-inch chunks (there’s no need to remove the edible skin). Arrange on a baking sheet and spray or brush with olive oil. Season with the salt and pepper. Roast 10 to 15 minutes, until tender. Allow to cool.
3. Fill a large pot with water, add salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until just tender. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
4. Remove the leaves of the kale from the stems and cut into large pieces. Set up a steaming basket over boiling water, and steam the kale just until bright green, about 2 minutes. Remove and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking and keep them bright green.
5. Toast the pine nuts in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat until light brown, 3 to 5 minutes. (Stay nearby while you’re toasting. Left unattended, they can easily burn.)
6. Combine the pasta, kale, squash, and pine nuts in a large bowl. Toss, and then add the cheese. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Enjoy!
deviled beef bones
Laurie grew up with these wonderful beef bones, which were leftovers from the standing rib beef roast served at her Mother’s Blueberry Hill restaurant. The fat rib bones have a lot of meat and are enough to make a substantial meal out of them. They are served in a barbecue sauce that is a dark, wintry mixture featuring Eucalyptus Honey, which resembles molasses or Louisiana cane syrup. It is then combined with mustard and served as a delicious sauce for the beef bones.
Eucalyptus Honey varies from light amber to very dark brown, depending on where the eucalyptus is growing. It has a stronger taste then the lighter honeys, but is very pleasing to folks who have a more adventurous palate. This dark honey is perfect for the chillier days of Autumn and Winter.
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon eucalyptus honey
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
6-8 whole beef rib bones, cooked
Preheat the oven to 425°F if using cooked ribs, or 450°F if using uncooked ribs.
Combine the dry mustard, salt, Dijon mustard, vinegar, honey, molasses, and Worcestershire sauce in a small bowl. Whisk well.
If your ribs are already cooked, place them on a baking sheet, brush with the barbecue sauce, and cook in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Finish them under the broiler for 5 to 7 minutes until crispy.
If your ribs are not cooked, place them in a baking pan, brush with the barbecue sauce, and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 350°F. Brush the ribs again with the sauce and return to the oven for 20 to 25 minutes longer. Remove the ribs once more and brush with more sauce. Turn the heat to broil and broil for 5 to 7 minutes, until the ribs are crispy (but not burned!!). Serve warm.
pears with blue cheese, toasted pecans, and chestnut honey vinaigrette
I get excited by the proliferation of pears in the market in the winter. I imagine what it would be like to live in Washington or Oregon. And so, though they are not local to me in December, pears are available and abundant and become the foundation for this delicious salad. Sweet, salty, bitter, and sour: All four tastes are in this salad, which makes it a memorable one for your guests.
This recipe uses a Chestnut Honey, which is one of the stronger honeys prized in Tuscany as a local taste. Italians appreciate many more bitter flavors than we do, and it has a big taste explosion for your palate. The color, flavor and smell of Chestnut Honey varies depending on the source of the Chestnut trees. Descriptors go from light and slightly pungent to extremely strong, breathtaking and lingering.
For the vinaigrette
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey, preferably chestnut honey
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
For the salad
¼ cup pecan pieces, toasted
4 ripe but firm pears
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese (Maytag)
1. To make the vinaigrette, combine the orange juice, vinegar, and honey in a small bowl and stir with a wire whisk until well mixed. Drizzle the oil into the bowl in a thin stream, whisking constantly until well blended. This will take 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
2. To make the salad, toast the pecans in a small dry saucepan for 2 to 3 minutes over medium heat, watching carefully and tossing often so they don’t burn.
3. Cut the pears in half from the stem to the blossom end. Remove the core, and cut each half in half again.
4. Arrange the pear quarters on individual salad plates. Sprinkle with the cheese and toasted pecans and, just before serving, drizzle with the vinaigrette.
easy tarte tatin
I love tarte tatin, the inverted apple pastry, but I am not the best baker in the world, as I’m not really patient with careful measuring. Frankly, I am much more comfortable cooking than baking. But this recipe will produce a grand result even if you’re not a serious baker. And if you have any leftovers, they make a great breakfast.
Get the best tart local apples you can find. With that start, you’ll do very well.
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup honey, preferably eucalyptus or local honey
3 pounds tart apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into wedges
Unbleached all-purpose flour, for the pastry
Ice cream for serving (optional)
1. Following the instructions on the package, thaw the puff pastry. This will take 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the type of pastry. You should be able to unfold it without breaking. Set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add the honey. Stir well to blend thoroughly. Carefully arrange the apple wedges in the bottom of the skillet in a decorative pattern, taking special care on the first layer, as it will end up being the top of the tart. Take care, also, to fill in any holes with other apple pieces. Continue to layer the apples until you have used all the apple slices. Since they will shrink as they cook, you want the uncooked apples to be higher than the edges of the skillet, so add more if needed.
3. Cook over medium heat on the stove until the juices bubble up and change from clear to a rich amber color, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the heat and the consistency of your apples. As they cook, press the apples down with a rubber spatula; once the juices are visible, baste the apples with the juices. Keep an eye on them and don’t allow them to burn. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
4. Preheat the oven to 475°F.
5. Roll out the thawed pastry on a floured surface, until it is a square that can comfortably fit over the skillet. Lay the puff pastry over the cooked fruit, making sure that the pastry completely covers the apples. Tuck the pastry into the sides of the skillet, sealing in the apples.
6. Bake the pastry-covered skillet in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the pastry puffs up and turns a golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
7. Place a serving platter on top of the cooked pastry and, holding tight, flip the skillet over so that the tart comes out of the skillet and ends up on the platter, pastry side down. Remove any of the cooked apples that might have stuck to the skillet and tuck them into the tart as needed.
8. Serve with ice cream, if you like, though it is perfect just as it is.
“Excerpted from The Fresh Honey Cookbook (c) by Laurey Masterton, photography (c) by Johnny Autry, used with permission from Storey Publishing.”
On a recent trip up to Rochester, I had the pleasure of discovering a lovely little Italian place called the Mona Lisa Café. My mother and I stopped in there on a whim one afternoon for a cappuccino, but after entering the café and seeing all the delicious pastries and gelato and enticing smells of amazing food, we decided to stay for lunch instead.
We sat at a table by a large window and enjoyed a glass of wine while perusing the menu. At first we thought we would just split an appetizer, but there were just too many tasty choices on the menu to settle for just one item. We opted for a delicious Italian Panini and their amazing Greens and Beans appetizer made with escarole and cannelloni beans sautéed with heaps of garlic, savory Italian sausage, white wine, olive oil and bread crumbs topped with Parmesan cheese. WOW. Best thing I’ve ever tasted! I loved this dish so much I was inspired to recreate it at home, and my own version of Garlicky Greens and Beans with Sausage I now present to you. Delicioso!
2 cups Fingerling potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters or chunks
1 1/4 pound sweet Italian sausage (may use chicken or turkey sausage if you prefer)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
6 garlic cloves, sliced or chopped fine
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 large bunch of greens (I used collards, but you can use spinach, kale, escarole, or mustard/turnip greens)
1 can white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra for garnish
Crusty bread or garlic bread, for dipping
Rinse and drain potatoes, cut into quarters or chunks, depending on the size.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook potatoes for about 10-12 minutes until tender. Drain and set aside.
At the same time, add 1/2 inch of water to a large saute pan over medium heat. Add sausages to and cover with a lid, simmering for 10 minutes (without turning). Remove the lid, turn sausages over, and cook for another 5 minutes until almost cooked through.
Meanwhile, measure out your liquids and dry seasonings and set aside.
Chop the garlic.
Wash the greens well and drain. Remove and discard the veins and stems, cutting leafy green parts off on either side into 1-inch strips.
Remove sausages from pan and cut into coin-sized chunks. Drain fat from pan and wipe down.
Add 1 tablespoon of oil into the same pan and return to medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and saute while stirring often, for about 1 minute being careful not to burn garlic.
Add additional 3 tablespoons of oil and start sauteing greens by the handful until they are just starting to wilt.
Add cannellini beans, sausage, potatoes, broth, water and minced onion; bring ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer on low for 10-15 minutes to let the flavors meld.
Remove lid, add 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, and let simmer for another 5 minutes or so until the liquid reduces a little (you can simmer it down longer if you like a thicker stew or add more broth/water if you like a thinner stew).
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve the Greens and Beans in large bowls topped with shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and crusty bread for dipping in the broth.
Substitute sweet Italian sausage with chicken or turkey sausage or omit all together and adjust water/broth down to 2 cups if you prefer a vegetarian dish.
Mona Lisa Cafe uses breadcrumbs and white wine in their dish which I omitted in my version because of the starch from the potatoes and adding a splash of white wine vinegar which gives it a nice tangy flavor to the broth. Feel free to experiment by topping it with toasted breadcrumbs and using some wine in place of the water in my recipe, but you'll need to adjust the amount of liquids down if you omit the potatoes from the dish so it's not too watery/brothy. The consistency should be of a nice light stew with a balance between the meat and vegetables and the broth.
Serve with a dry white Italian wine such as Pinot Grigio and crusty bread for dipping up the broth.