Dark Chocolate Truffles w/ Dates, Coconut & Toasted Walnuts

I love chocolate truffles, yet I always feel guilty when consuming more than one of them at a time.  If I ever buy some of those delicious hazelnut and chocolate ones, my favorites, my husband will attempt to hide them from me as to have them all to himself.  Then, it becomes a game of ‘truffle keep away’.  So, I decided to make some healthier truffles … ok, a little healthier truffles.  Maybe that will keep Kevin from wanting them all.

DARK CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES W/ DATES, COCONUT, AND TOASTED WALNUTS 

8 oz pitted Dates
1/2 cup raw Walnuts – toasted
1/4 cup sweetened shredded Coconut
1 cup dark Chocolate or semi-sweet Chocolate
2 tablespoons organic Butter
2 tablespoons heavy Cream
1/4 cup raw Walnuts – toasted & for garnish
1 lb Strawberries – washed & dried

Place the dates in a food processor, and pulse them to get them finely chopped into little pieces.  Place the dates in a bowl with the coconut.  Place the raw walnuts in a dry skillet on medium low heat, and toast them.  Please watch them closely, as they tend to burn very easily, since they are full of natural oils.  You may choose to chop them on a cutting board with a knife, or you may put them in the food processor, as I did, and pulse them to get a fine-ish chop.  Place the walnuts in the same bowl, with the dates and coconut.  Reserve 1/4 cup of the toasted walnuts to the side for garnishing the truffles.  Mix very well to form a cohesive mixture.

Roll the mixture into small balls, and place them on parchment paper.  Because of the high natural sugar content in the dates, which makes them sticky, the balls are formed very easily.  In a double boiler*, place the chocolate, butter, and cream, until the chocolate and butter melt and the cream warms up.  It is very important to use very good quality chocolate in this step.  *A double boiler is made of a bowl that sits on top of a sauce pan with simmering water.  The water should not be touching the bowl.  The steam from the simmering water in the pan warms and/or melts what is in the bowl.  

Grease a sheet of parchment paper in preparation for the “wet” truffles.  Now that the chocolate, butter, and cream can be stirred into a beautiful chocolate ganache, gently dip the date balls into it, making sure all side are evenly coated.  Place the “wet” truffles on the greased parchment paper.  Use the reserved toasted walnuts to sprinkle on top of each truffle.


If you are going to be eating the truffles sooner than later, place them in the freezer for half an hour to an hour.  If, however, you are making them for later in the day or the next day, place them in the refrigerator until about 10 minutes before you serve them.  Remove them from the freezer or the refrigerator, and use a cold spatula to scrape them off the parchment paper and onto a serving platter.  You may use your fingers, but the heat from them might melt or distort the beautiful ganache.  Cut up some strawberries for decoration and to serve on the side with the truffles.  In my humble opinion, these truffles taste best, when eaten with a fresh strawberry.  Yummy!


Baba Ghannouj – Fire Roasted Eggplant Dip

Baba ghannouj is one of my favorite mezza / mezze platters that adorn the Lebanese table.  Its smokey flavor and creamy texture make it unique among the other spreads.  Though it takes some time to make, at least for me, it is all worth it at the end.  I remember the very first time I made it for Kevin; he was not so keen on trying it, as he was not an eggplant fan at the time.  I asked him to try it; he did.  As they say, the rest is history.  These days, I am asked to make it quite often.

BABA GHANNOUJ – Fire Roasted Eggplant Dip

2 large Eggplants
2 Garlic cloves
2 tablespoons Tahini
1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
1 1/2 large Lemons – juiced
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Italian Parsley – finely chopped

It is very important to pick the right eggplant to ensure the good quality of the baba ghannouj.  The eggplant must be smooth and shiny, without any blemishes, bruises, or wrinkles.  The stem must be green, and it should feel heavy for its size.  If the eggplant feels light for its size, do NOT use it.  The smaller the eggplant, the less bitter and less seeds it has.  However, the larger variety is needed to make this Lebanese dip.  I suggest picking the smaller of the large variety.

Once you have picked out the eggplants, roast them on an open flame over your gas stove.  You may also choose to roast them over a charcoal grill for amazing results.  However, if you do not have either option, you may roast them in the oven.  **If you choose to do the latter, you will not have the distinctive smokey flavor for which baba ghannouj is known.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Turn one of your gas stove burners on to medium heat, and place the eggplant on it.  Flip the eggplant on all sides to ensure each side gets charred properly.  Once you are finished with roasting one, place it in an oven proof dish and cover it with foil.  After you have charred both eggplants, and placed them in the oven proof dish covered in foil, place the dish in the oven for 30 minutes to completely steam and roast the eggplants on the inside.

Now that your eggplants are ready, gently peel the skin off and discard.  Cut each eggplant down the middle to inspect for seeds.  If your eggplant has large seeds in it, you MUST remove them, as they will turn bitter.  If a few seeds are left after the removal process, do not worry about it.  You just don’t want a dip full of eggplant seeds.  Take all the flesh of the eggplants and place it in a strainer or cullender for an hour or two.  The eggplant flesh must drain, as it is full of water.  That water will turn your baba ghannouj to a bitter, watery mess.

Once the eggplant seems properly drained, finely dice it and place it in a large enough bowl.  You may use a food processor, but I prefer to finely dice it for the texture.  Mash the garlic in a mortar and pestle, or grate it with a microplane.  Add the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and extra virgin olive oil to the eggplant and stir enough combine into a paste.  Plate in a nice bowl and make a little well in the middle of it.  Top with more extra virgin olive oil and some finely chopped Italian parsley to garnish.  You may also add a small amount of paprika as a garnish for some color.  Warm up some very thin Lebanese pita bread, and enjoy your freshly made baba ghannouj.


Grilled Kafta w/ Traditional Salad & Tahini Sauce (Tarator)

Charcoal grilled meats and vegetables of all kinds are a traditional Sunday fare for the Lebanese.  Every Sunday, the grill comes out … for everyone.  Aside from the cubed and skewered garlic and olive oil marinated chicken and barely spiced lamb, kafta comes to mind.  What can I tell you about good Lebanese kafta?  It is just delicious!  You can use all lamb, or beef, or a combination of the two.  However, as lamb is much more traditionally and widely used in Lebanese cuisine, I will be using it.  Besides, to me, nothing comes close to the incredible flavor of lamb.

LEBANESE KAFTA

2 lbs ground Lamb
1 large white Onion – finely diced
2 cups Italian Parsley – finely chopped
1 tablespoon Salt
1 tablespoon Allspice
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In a large bowl, place the ground lamb with the onions, parsley, salt, allspice, cinnamon, and extra virgin olive oil.  Don’t overwork the meat, but mix well to combine everything together.  Place the kafta in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or overnight to allow the flavors to marry.  I usually make my kafta the day before and leave it in the refrigerator; it makes for a much more flavorful and delicious dish.

When you are ready to grill your kafta, take it out of the refrigerator and shape it as you wish.  You make shape it into patties, round meatballs (great for stews), or long tubes to skewer.  I did the latter.  I always have a little bit of extra virgin olive oil on the side to “wet” my hands with, while I am shaping the kafta.  I highly suggest placing the kafta back in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes or so, since it has gotten warm from the shaping process.  This step will allow the meat to “set” on the skewer.

Now we are ready to grill.  For best results, please use a charcoal grill; however, I chose to use a grill pan, as it is much easier to photograph without all that smoke.  After you grill the kafta on all sides, which shouldn’t take long, place on a serving dish, and cover with a piece of aluminum foil, as the meat needs to rest for a few minutes.  HOWEVER, if you wish to perform this task the traditional way, then you must have a piece of Lebanese pita bread open and ready.  Lebanese pita is very very thin, unlike most other pitas found at the grocery store.  Place the grilled kafta on the one layer and cover with the other piece of pita.  All the juices that drip, should go into this delicious loaf of Lebanese bread that will be used to consume the kafta at the table.

KAFTA SALAD

1/2 large white Onion – sliced
1 teaspoon Sumac
2 tablespoons Italian Parsley – finely chopped

 

 

Slice the onion and place in a bowl along with the sumac and the parsley.  Mix well and allow to sit for a bit, while you make the tahini sauce or the tarator.  Tarator is more of a condiment that is used with anything from fish to vegetables to meat.  It is a very easy sauce to make.

TAHINI SAUCE – TARATOR

3 tablespoons Tahini – Sesame Paste
1 cup Water
1 Lemon – juiced
1 large Garlic clove – mashed or grated
1 teaspoon Salt

In a small bowl, combine the tahini, water, lemon juice, grated or mashed garlic, and salt.  Mix well.  Plate the kafta, the kafta salad, and the tahini sauce as you like and serve.  You may want to make a kafta sandwich by placing the kafta on an open pita, add the salad and some tomatoes to it, and finish with a healthy drizzle of tarator.  It is so delicious!

 


Strawberry Preserves

Homemade preserves are so much better than any store bought variety, and more economical as well.  When the preserves are spread over some freshly churned butter (I will cover in a future post) or some delicious cheese, believe it or not, the combination makes for a very tasty treat.  I love making all kinds of preserves in the summer and the fall, as most berries and stone fruit are in season.  However, living in the United States makes it much easier to still get all those kinds of fruit during any time of the year, but they taste best, when harvested during their season.

A couple of years ago, my husband, Kevin, and I went to Seattle for a mini vacation.  We found a wonderful little crumpet shop in downtown Seattle, where we had breakfast every morning during our stay.  They made delicious preserves to go with their cream cheese topped crumpets.  It was the preserves that made the crumpets so good.  When we returned to Dallas, we wanted to relive that delicious experience.  So, I made some strawberry preserves, and instead of the crumpets, we used toasted sprouted bread to make it a bit healthier.

STRAWBERRY PRESERVES

24 oz fresh Strawberries
1/3 cup Sugar – depending on the strawberries’ sweetness
1 small Lemon – juiced
1 tablespoon Orange Blossom Water (optional)

After washing the strawberries, dice or slice them into whatever size you like them to be.  I suggest tasting the strawberries to gauge their sweetness, in order to make sure the sugar you add is not too much or too little.  Put them in a saucier over medium low to low heat for 30 – 45 minutes, or until they break down.

Add the sugar and the lemon juice, then stir to combine.  Let the preserves cook for another 15 minutes, then turn the heat off and add the orange blossom water, if you choose to do so.  Adding the orange blossom water gives the preserves a little Lebanese flavor.  It adds a hint of orange blossoms that takes the preserves from yummy to AMAZING.  If you think that orange blossom water is just too “perfume like” for you, then please feel free to skip that step.

Allow the strawberry preserves to cool down completely, then place them in a clean and sterile mason jar or container.  Put a date label on the container and place it in the refrigerator.  The preserves will keep for a month or a little longer.  Enjoy over a piece of toasted bread, or on anything you wish to put the preserves on, for that matter.


Spinach Pies – Ftayer Bi Sbanekh

The Lebanese are known for their mezza or mezze platters; small plates full of tabbouleh, fattoush, hommos, baba ghannouj, fresh vegetables, meat and vegetable pies, pickled vegetables, all kinds of olives and cheeses, an arrangement of grilled and raw meats, etc.  Aside from the most popular salads and dips, meat and vegetable pies make up an important part of the spread.  A particular favorite of mine are small dough pies stuffed with spinach, onions, and sumac.  We call them Ftayer bi Sbanekh, and they are eaten with a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Let’s start with the dough …

BASIC DOUGH

3 cups all purpose Flour – plus a little extra for dusting
1 teaspoon coarse Salt
1 teaspoon Sugar
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil – plus a little extra for finished dough
1 – 1 1/2 cups warm Water – depending on humidity
1 pkg rapid rise Instant Yeast – about 2 1/4 oz

*You may use regular active dry yeast, but you will have to proof the yeast in the warm water and sugar before you add it to the flour, salt, and olive oil.  I like using rapid rise, because it is much easier and takes less time for the dough to rise.

Combine the flour, salt, yeast, and sugar in a stand mixer, and turn it on low.  Add the extra virgin olive oil, and slowly add in the warm water.  Start with a cup; should you require more, add a little drizzle at a time.  If your dough is too moist, add more flour.  Turn the stand mixer to medium low and keep kneading the dough for about 5 – 8 minutes, until it is smooth and pulls away from the bowl.

On a clean board, sprinkle some flour and transfer the dough to the floured board.  Roll into a ball and place in a greased bowl.  Drizzle a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil to coat the dough.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave it a warm dark place to rise for about an hour to an hour and a half.

SPINACH FILLING

4 cups fresh Spinach – roughly chopped
1 small Onion – diced into small cubes
2 tablespoons of Sumac
1/2 cup Lemon juice
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil – plus a little more for ftayer tops
1/4 cup Pine Nuts
1 teaspoon Salt
Lemon wedges for the final product

While the dough is rising, chop the spinach and dice the onion, and combine them in a bowl.  Add the salt, sumac, lemon juice, olive oil, and pine nuts.  Stir gently to incorporate all the ingredients together and leave to the side, while you attend to your risen dough.

After the dough has risen, move it out onto your floured board, cut it into manageable sections, and roll it out into a thin sheet with a rolling pin.  With a round cookie cutter or any round cup, cut out rounds, then remove and bring together the excess dough to be reused.  For an extra thin dough, re-roll the individual small dough rounds with the rolling pin to achieve the desired outcome. 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Scoop a small spoonful of the filling into a dough round.  Bring two opposing side of the round dough together, and pinch it all the way to the left to seal those two sides.  Then bring the right round side of the dough toward the already pinched part and seal it, forming a 3D triangle or pyramid.  Place the ftayer or triangle pies on a lightly greased baking sheet.  Brush each of the pie tops with olive oil, and bake in the oven for about 12 – 15 minutes.  To achieve a very nice golden color, when the baking process is almost over, turn the oven to boil.  Make sure you keep a close eye on the pies, as they will turn golden brown very quickly.  Remove from the oven when the desired color is achieved, let sit for a few minutes, then plate.  They are best served at room temperature with many lemon wedges.


Breakfast Egg, Ham & Havarti Cheese Tart

If there is one meal that I adore more than any other, it is brunch.  I look forward to it every week and weekend.  It is my favorite time to host family and friends, as it is casual and fun.  We sit around the table drinking mimosas, eating various delicious dishes, and chatting for hours with music playing in the background.  When you’re with good company, it is very nice to have good food and drink to keep the festivities going.  Eggs, ham, and cheese are somewhat of a classic breakfast and brunch combination.  Making an egg tart with some olive oil and herb roasted potatoes* and a simple arugula salad* on the side make for a very delicious brunch.  Oh, and don’t forget the mimosas.

*Both the Olive Oil and Herb Roasted Potatoes and the simple Arugula Salad will be featured in later posts.

BREAKFAST EGG, HAM, AND HAVARTI CHEESE TART

Serves 4

1 sheet Puff Pastry
4 organic Eggs
4 oz Goat Cheese – room temperature
4 oz creamy Havarti Cheese
4 oz Ham – preferably nitrate and nitrite free
4 sprigs fresh Oregano
Salt
Pepper – freshly ground

EGG WASH
1 organic Egg
1 tablespoon Water

Begin by taking out the frozen puff pastry and leaving it at room temperature for about 40 minutes, or leaving it in the refrigerator for about 3 hours.  Once you are able to easily unfold the pastry, lightly flour your board and place the pastry on it to roll it out a little bit more.  The pastry must still be very cold, as the cold butter will make it flakey.  

Cut the pastry sheet into quarters.  You may want to dot the pastry with a fork.  Spread the goat cheese evenly on each quarter, then lightly salt and pepper them.  Place a 1 oz slice of Havarti cheese on each tart, followed by one slice of ham.  In this case, I often buy already sliced Havarti cheese; each slice is 1 oz.  The slices are easy to use and melt evenly.  

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Fold all four edges of each tart to form a high enough border to hold an egg in the center.  Now crack an egg in a small bowl, then very gently place it in the middle of the tart.  Salt and pepper the egg.  With a spatula, VERY GENTLY move each individual tart, and place it on a lightly greased baking sheet.  This is not an easy task, as the eggs have a tendency to want to wander around the tarts and the baking sheet.  Please make your border high enough.  However, you may want to avoid dealing with the transport of the egg filled tarts altogether by placing the eggless tarts on the greased baking sheet first, then placing the egg very gently on each tart.

In a very small bowl, crack an egg and add the water to it to make the egg wash.  Whisk it.  With a pastry brush, apply the egg wash to the exposed borders of the tart.  Place in the oven and bake for about 10 – 15 minutes, depending on your oven and how you like your eggs to be cooked.  If you like your yolk runny, then bake the tarts for less time (10 – 12 mins); if you like your yolk hard, then bake the tarts longer (13 – 15 mins).  If an egg or more become(s) loose during the baking process, don’t worry.  When the tarts are done baking, gently remove the cooked runaway eggs from the baking sheet and place them on each tart.  

Remove the tarts from the oven and allow to sit at room temperature for a couple of minutes.  With a spatula, remove the tarts from the baking sheet and plate.  Roughly chop the fresh oregano and sprinkle over the tarts as a very tasty garnish.  The butteriness of the crust, the tanginess of the goat cheese, the creaminess of the Havarti cheese, the saltiness of the ham, and the fresh herbaceous flavor of the oregano go very well with these delicious eggs.  Enjoy!


Tomato Bisque

Tomato bisque is one of those hearty soups you would eat on a cold day with a grilled cheese sandwich, or better yet, toasted sprouted bread or a crusty baguette.  I started making this delicious soup as a slightly lighter and more economical way of enjoying a dish my husband and I frequently ordered from a French bistro down the street.  Kevin and I loved going to this little bistro, simply to get their famous tomato basil soup.  Well, now that I make it at home, it has become a hit with my family, as well as with some of my friends.

TOMATO BISQUE

6 tablespoons organic Butter
1 yellow Onion
2 Celery stalks
4 Carrots
4 large Garlic cloves
6 Tomatoes
5 fresh Thyme sprigs
1 tablespoon fresh Oregano – chopped
3 tablespoons Italian Parsley – chopped
4 tablespoons sweet Basil – chopped
2 tablespoons Tomato paste
1 cup Tomato sauce
1/2 cup Sherry – Medium
2 teaspoons Sugar
4 cups Chicken Broth – preferably homemade*
1 1/2 cups heavy Cream
2 tablespoons Salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper – freshly ground

*If you choose to make your own chicken stock, please refer to the STOCK recipe portion of the “Everyday Chicken Soup” post for instructions.  Otherwise, I highly suggest using an organic chicken stock in a carton, NOT a can.

Start by chopping the onion, celery stalks, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, and all the fresh herbs; you may, however, leave the thyme whole on the sprigs, as you will remove the sprigs later after the soup is done cooking.  Don’t worry about finely chopping everything, because it is all going to be blended or puréed at the end.  A rough chop is just fine.  

In a large dutch oven or pan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, and add the chopped onions, carrots, and celery.  After they are translucent, add the chopped garlic, tomatoes, the fresh thyme sprigs, oregano, Italian parsley, and half the sweet basil with the salt and pepper, and let sauté for a few minutes.  Now add the tomato paste and the sugar.  Deglaze the pan with the sherry.  When most of the sherry has reduced, add the tomato sauce and the chicken stock.  If you do not want to add chicken stock or don’t have any, you may substitute vegetable stock or water.  Cover and allow to cook / simmer for 30 – 45 minutes on low heat.  Turn off the heat and add the remaining half of the basil.  Remove the thyme sprigs from the soup.  If some thyme is still attached to the sprigs, scrape it off into the soup.

In a good blender, ladle the soup gently and purée until it is completely smooth.  Place back in the dutch oven over low heat and add the heavy cream.  Stir until all the cream is incorporated in the soup, then turn the heat off and add the last 3 tablespoons of butter in 1 tablespoon pieces.  Stir in gently.  Taste the velvety bisque and determine if it needs any more seasoning.  If so, season with salt to your liking.  Serve and enjoy.  Bon appétit!


Mushroom, Shallot & Thyme Tart

My family loves mushrooms, all kinds of mushrooms cooked in all sorts of ways.  And to be truthful, I love making things with mushrooms, as my family can tell you.  When we host our friends or family for brunch, I love to make mushroom and shallot tart with thyme.  It can also serve as an appetizer, but I prefer it as part of a brunch.

MUSHROOM, SHALLOT, AND THYME TART

8 Cremini Mushrooms
2 1/2 tablespoons organic Butter – unsalted
1/4 cup Spanish Sherry – medium
1 Shallot – sliced
1 cup Pecorino Romano – grated
1 teaspoon fresh Thyme
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Pepper – freshly ground
1 sheet Puff Pastry

Allow the puff pastry to thaw at room temperature for about 40 to 45 minutes, or follow the directions on the box.

Begin by cleaning the mushrooms with a brush or a damp paper towel.  Slice the mushrooms as thick or thin as you like them; I prefer a thicker slice in this particular case, as the mushrooms need to stand out.  In a sauté pan, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, and sauté the mushrooms until they caramelize.  Pour in the medium Spanish Sherry, and let cook out.  After that you may salt and pepper them.  Immediately, remove the mushrooms from the heat and place in a bowl.  Allow them to cool down.

*It is very important to NOT salt the mushrooms, until they caramelize.  If you salt them before, they will yield much water and end up steaming, instead of caramelizing.*  

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the same pan, melt the rest of the butter on medium heat, then add the sliced shallots.  Allow them to caramelize, then remove them from the heat to cool.  Since I am using Pecorino Romano, which is a salty sheep’s milk cheese, I will not salt the shallots.

Lightly flour your board and open up the folded and thawed pastry.  Use a rolling pin to roll it out a little more. Using a fork, you may want to prick the dough to keep it from bubbling up.  Start by placing the grated Pecorino Romano evenly on the pastry, followed by the caramelized shallots, sherry mushrooms, and topped with fresh thyme.  Place on a baking sheet with a little non-stick spray and in the oven for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes before cutting it up into squares.

Cut the mushroom tart into 9 squares and place on a serving plate.  Again, you may use it as part of a brunch spread or an appetizer before your main meal.  I hope you like it as much as my family and I do.  Enjoy!


Olive Oil Roasted Brussels Sprouts w/ Pecorino Romano

My husband, Kevin, hates Brussels sprouts; he has hated them, since he was a young boy.  He refuses to eat them, whether we are eating at home or dining at an amazing restaurant.  My sister, Lena, made them once in a secret attempt to entice him.  They were delicious!  He, however, has remained stranded on his lonely island, void of all cruciferous vegetables.  I decided a few days ago that it was time to end his isolation.  I wanted to make a very simple and delicious Brussels sprout dish that resonates with Italian flavors.  Maybe this way, I can get Kevin to join the rest of us.  So, this is what I did …

OLIVE OIL ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH PECORINO ROMANO 

2 lbs Brussels Sprouts
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Pepper – freshly ground
1 tablespoon organic Butter – unsalted
1 Shallot – finely diced
1 cup Pecorino Romano – grated
1 tablespoon Italian Parsley – finely chopped

Begin by cleaning the Brussels sprouts by cutting off the residual stem and removing the outermost leaves.  Rinse in cold water and let them dry.  You may use a salad spinner, if you are limited on time.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Either cut the sprouts in half, or quarter them, which ever you prefer, and place them in a bowl.  Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper to the Brussels sprouts and mix to thoroughly coat them.  Place them on a baking sheet and into the oven for 35 minutes or until you achieve the desired color.  Remove them from the oven and let sit.

In a sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and add the finely diced shallots.  After they become translucent, turn the heat off and add the roasted Brussels sprouts.  Stir gently, then add the grated Pecorino Romano and stir again.  Be very careful when using this salty sheep’s milk cheese.  Though it is very delicious, you must salt your food very lightly, when using it.  

Put the pan with the roasted sprouts, shallots, and cheese in the still very hot oven for 2 minutes, keep it off.   The residual heat will begin to slightly melt the cheese.  Remove them from the oven and place in a serving dish.  Top with chopped Italian parsley.  You may choose to serve this as a side to grilled or roasted chicken or meat.  Or you may choose to make a vegetarian meal of it by topping some buttered pasta with it.  Either way, I hope you like it.  Let’s hope Kevin likes it …


Mediterranean Tuna Salad w/ Dijon Mustard, Lemon & Herb Vinaigrette

I woke up this Thursday morning to ice and snow all over my neighborhood.  It is March, and we are getting snow in Dallas!  Does anyone else think this sounds ludicrous?  Regardless of how silly it sounds, I am very happy for it, as I get to enjoy a delicious cup or two of Earl Grey, while working from home.  Normally, I am rushing out the door without any coffee or tea … or breakfast for that matter.  Looking outside of our uptown condo this beautiful cold morning, I snapped a few pictures to share.

After taking care of a few things via phone, I decided to get back to business … and pleasure.  I turned on my work and my personal computers in an attempt to get some work done on both fronts, while enjoying some much needed Caffeine.  Instead of a wholesome breakfast, I opted to have an early lunch.  And what I wanted to do on this cold day was to be transported to the beautiful Mediterranean.

MEDITERRANEAN TUNA SALAD WITH DIJON MUSTARD, LEMON, AND HERB VINAIGRETTE

1 lb French Green Beans – cleaned
1 red Bell Pepper – roasted
4 oz Spanish or Italian Tuna in olive oil
1/3 cup Niçoise Olives
1/2 tablespoon Mint – finely chopped

VINAIGRETTE

1/2 Shallot – finely diced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon grainy mustard
2 Lemons – zested
1 sprig fresh Thyme – finely chopped
1 sprig fresh Oregano – finely chopped
1 tablespoon Italian Parsley – finely chopped
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Salt
10 Pepper grinds

Start by cleaning the French green beans and blanching them in heavily salted water.  Basically, you bring about 3 quarts of water to a boil, add about 1/4 cup of kosher salt, then add the cleaned green beans, and let them blanch for about 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove the green beans from the hot water and into an ice water bath.  This method serves to achieve two things, it stops the cooking process and keeps their dark green color.  After about 5 to 10 minutes in the ice water, remove the green beans and dry them.  I use a salad spinner for this task, followed by a paper towel or two to remove the last bit of moisture.

As I would rather roast my own peppers, place the red bell pepper directly over a burner, and let the skin char.  Continue to turn it to get an even char on all sides.  Immediately, place the charred pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for about 5 minutes.  This will continue to steam the pepper and will make peeling it very easy.  Cut the pepper open and deseed it.  You may rinse the pepper to remove all the leftover charred skin and seeds; however, I prefer to NOT rinse it, as to keep its charred flavor more concentrated.  Dice the roasted pepper into one inch cubes and leave to the side.  If you would like to avoid this task, you may want to buy already roasted and jarred peppers at your local grocery store.

For the vinaigrette, start by zesting two large lemons and placing the zest, salt, pepper, and both the Dijon and grainy mustard in a small bowl.  Finely dice the shallot, and add it to the bowl.  Finely chop the thyme, oregano, and parsley, and add them to the bowl.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil.  Leave the vinaigrette on the side until you plate the salad.

I always use lemon juice with any and all fish and seafood.  However, as to keep the beautifully deep green French green beans from discoloring, I have used only the zest to get the citrusy flavor in this pseudo-vinaigrette.  

Now that you are ready to plate your salad, begin by placing the the green beans on the desired serving plate.  Top the green beans with the roasted pepper, followed by the tuna and olives.  Make sure you drain the tuna from the oil it is packed in.  You may choose to remove the pits from your olives or keep them.  Though I always buy olives with the pits still in them for better flavor, I chose to remove them for this salad.  Chiffonade the mint — cut it into long strips.  Top the salad with the vinaigrette by spooning it on top, and sprinkle the mint for a finishing touch.  You may serve this delicious Mediterranean salad with a crusty baguette, or you may dive in as is.  Bon appétit!