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Monday, January 27, 2014

Packed With Intense Flavors!

Last week I found a recipe in one of my favorite e-newsletters - Dr Weil's Daily Tip - that sounded reasonably simple to make and full of ingredients I like. French Bean Salad uses kidney beans, green beans, potatoes, roasted tomatoes and more. A perfect hearty dish for the cold winter's day potluck we were to attend on Sunday. Since this is a cold salad, I did the prep work on Saturday and finished the salad off on Sunday.

Sad to say our dinner party was canceled due to blizzard and extremely low temperatures, however we won in the end as we paired the French Bean Salad with a simple meatloaf latticed with bacon. One of the better Sunday dinners I've made in a long time.

Oven Roasted Tomatoes

A key ingredient that needed to precooked for this dish was oven roasted tomatoes. This intrigued me because neither my husband or I care for uncooked tomatoes added to salads and other recipes. The recipe on Dr Weil's site was rather simple but took a while to cook -- two hours to be exact. Oh well, it was a cold day in Wisconsin and the house could use some warming up, so I forged ahead.

The tomatoes were nowhere near done after two hours, so I did a quick Google to find other similar recipes. One said 200 degrees for 6 -8 hours, some said 400 degrees and others used a combination of low temperature and high temperature. So I decided to pump up the temperature as seen in a Rachel Ray recipe.

While the tomatoes were roasting at the lower temperature a rich aroma started to fill the house and once the heat was turned up, oh my.... I couldn't wait to taste these babies and when I did there was a flavor explosion  of rich, roasted tomato. I will definitely make and use these again.

Here's my version Oven Roasted Tomatoes: 
  • Take a combination of tomatoes, various types and colors and cut in half through the core, not as you would slice for sandwiches
  • Place on parchment, aluminum foil or Silpat lined baking sheet, makes for easier cleanup
  • Sprinkle with salt and pepper
  • Sprinkle with fresh rosemary or other fresh herbs, these will be removed after cooking
  • Drizzle with olive oil.
Bake at 200 degrees for 2 hours. Turn the heat up to 400 degrees and bake for 20 minutes. Tomatoes should look caramelized, wrinkled and somewhat juicy. Turn off oven and let sit in oven for 10 - 15 minutes, then remove from oven. Once cool, remove the herb sprigs and the tomato skins. Removing the tomato skins is not necessary, especially if you are a lazy cook like me.

Refrigerate, freeze for up to 8 months, or use right away.

French Bean Salad

This is a hearty and intensely flavored and quite healthy salad. With ample protein from the kidney beans it would easily make the entire meal. If you are of the vegan persuasion, just substitute a vegan dressing. 

The flavors are delicious and very well balanced they are rather intense and for some super-tasters all that big flavor may be a little overwhelming after several bites. They will like and appreciate the salad, but may not be able to eat a lot of it. For the rest of us bring it on!

  • 1 pound potatoes, cubed and roasted with 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 10 ounces green beans, stemmed and strings removed or frozen whole green beans - cook to crisp - not soft
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut into thin half moons 
  • 1/3 cup chopped Marcona almonds
  • 3/4 cup sliced Oven-Roasted Tomatoes
  • 1 cup canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/3 cup pitted and sliced Kalamata olives
  • 3 tablespoons chopped basil
  • 1/3 cup Light Caesar dressing 
Add ingredients together in medium to large bowl. Turn the ingredients together gently with a large silicone spatula to keep the tomatoes and potatoes intact. The salad can be assembled the day before and refrigerated, but do not add the dressing until 15 minutes before serving.

Here's the link to the recipe French Bean Salad and signup for the newsletter:

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year's Eve. Staying In and Staying Warm.

Cold weather in the hinterlands! So cold was the forecast for early this week that we had to forgo New Year's Eve plans with friends as we felt it necessary to spend time at the Red Cedar House monitoring and making sure pipes didn't freeze and furnaces kept running. We thought about going out to a local supper club but after discussion decided we should stay in and make our own dinner and celebration welcoming the New Year.

The Menu

Appetizer Course
Avocado and shrimp salad
Gin and vodka martini with blue cheese stuffed olives

Main Course
Cornish Game Hens with Spicy Honey Glaze
Butternut squash gratin
La Crema Sonoma County Chardonay

My sister's homemade Amaretto

The day began slow and easy, reading the paper, taking a few phone calls, answering a few emails, loading the dishwasher and a little light housekeeping. Mid-afternoon we started cooking. We made half recipes of all the recipes used because we are not big leftover eaters. It worked out well, a little dessert the next night and a Cornish Game Hen in the freezer for a later date.

Ostkaka, ready for the oven.
I made the Ostkaka first because it needed at least an hour to bake. I followed the recipe from the previous post except I used whole milk ricotta in place of the cottage cheese. It was a good choice as the cheese incorporated very smoothly into the egg mixture. I substituted homemade Amaretto for the almond extract. Using Amaretto was suggested in some recipes instead of extract or the traditional ground bitter almonds. The Ostkaka resembled a custard when fully mixed and ready for baking.

Ostkaka, baked and ready to eat.
This custard-like dessert was a very light and slightly sweet ending to the meal. I'll definitely make this again, next time using the cottage cheese to see if there is a difference in texture or taste. The leftovers were even better the next night fully chilled.

Shrimp & Avocado Salad
Once the Ostkaka went into the oven, I cooked and chilled the gigantic shrimp. I boiled the shrimp in water with about a teaspoon of Penzey's Crab and Shrimp Boil.  When we were ready to start the festivities, I assembled this simple yet elegant salad. I make this salad, without the shrimp, often because it is so simple and tasty.

For each serving:

  • Half of an avocado, sliced
  • Chilled shrimp, I used two, they were very large
  • Fresh cilantro (leaves only)
  • Red onion, thinly sliced
  • Girard's Champagne  or Light Champagne Dressing (a Champagne vinaigrette would work also)
The Squash Gratin recipe came from The Splendid Table.This is super simple, easy to scale and very delicious recipe. A savory rather than sweet squash recipe in which you layer squash, grated Romano cheese, salt and pepper and then pour heavy cream over the finished layers with a sprinkle of fresh herb on top. I used rosemary instead of the thyme the recipe called for, because I had fresh rosemary but no thyme. (It was an excellent substitute) Once the squash is tender, you sprinkle Panko crumbs on top and brown the topping.(

As I worked on the squash gratin, Todd prepared the Honey Spiced Cornish Game Hens, a rather simple recipe where you make a glaze and baste the birds every ten minutes of cooking time. The glaze had a well balanced savory flavor. Though a very good recipe, I think next time we'll amp up the spices a bit as we were expecting it to be a little zestier than what we got. Here's the full recipe:

All in all it was a fun evening of cooking, eating and enjoying each other's company. A great way to spend New Year's Eve.