Trader Joe's has already achieved the highest ranking in my book. They don't need to do anything else and I will always be loyal. So when my sister introduced me to one of their more fantastic food offerings, SPECULOOS COOKIE BUTTER, the swoon factor went up about 100 points. And once you taste it you'll understand why I swirled it into the richest, creamiest vanilla custard pie I've ever made. Then, because the Speculoos Biscuit has a bit of a gingerbread taste, I laid it all on a bed of my lime, ginger, and honey syrup. YUM!
The story behind our Speculoos craze is my sister and her love of all things TJ. And because she is allergic to peanuts and chocolate, (I know, I was hatched...we can't be related.) she has glommed on to this stuff like a teenager to free WiFi and we have followed the LUV.
I have been planning on making something with this yummy stuff for some time. Pie is what came first.
What is Speculoos? Click here to read about it on Trader Joe's website.
Now, if you're not currently in your car, driving to the nearest TJ's to get some, and you are by some strange stretch of the imagination remaining in front of your computer, check out the photos and recipe for my VANILLA CUSTARD PIE WITH SPECULOOS COOKIE SWIRLS below to see one of the ways you can use this fabulous concoction!
My son manages a Japanese restaurant. I'm not even sure what's on the menu because when I walk in, he simply catches my gaze, I nod, and the "mom plate," full of amazing sushi selections made just for me, magically appears. So when I have a chance to cook for my son, I try and target non-Asian, non-rice based comfort food.
Now, if your family is like mine, you have about 20 minutes advance notice as to their arrival time. Personally I know this causes immediate panic for a lot of my friends. Buy my answer to what to make when you have no time to plan is easily something with CHEESE.
Cheating? No, brilliance. It cannot be refuted, and its practically a no-brainer that you will please everyone with this philosophy. And for me, I find every face smiles when I say I'm making Mac-n-Cheese. For color and flavor, I also served it with a delicious side of ROASTED APPLES AND BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH ONIONS AND OREGANO AND HONEY.
Follow the easy recipe for my ASIAGO AND PECORINO ROMANO CHEESE WITH RIGATONI, BACON AND BASIL is the perfect way to add gooey into the food your family loves.
When I was really little, I was afraid of the dark. For awhile during my twenties, my acrophobia kept me off escalators. And for the longest time, I've been intimidated by the whole homemade pizza thing. I tried it about a year ago and my oven and pizza stone were a menagerie of burnt corn meal, and crusted, black cheese. Not to mention the crust was too thick, and the clean up was torture.
Roll your eyes if you want. Not all of us are born for pizza greatness. However, with the help of an article in Bon Appetit Magazine, which suggested I forgo the stone and the cornmeal and simply spread my dough out on an olive oil primed cookie sheet and cook it at 500 degrees, along with enough practical logic from other doughy-lessons, I am proud to say, I DID IT. Now I still am experimenting with the right dough from scratch, but you will NOT BELIEVE how amazingly good this pizza was using ready-made dough. (Makes it easy and quick to satisfy the hungry mob, too!)
Here's what I did. First, I used the Publix brand pizza dough. I let it rest on the counter for the requisite hour before opening the plastic and rolling it out. Then, after rolling it the first time and feeling like I was working with a rubber band, I let it sit, in the small disc I had started to roll out, for about 15 minutes so it could rest, and then worked it again. And the second time? Pliable! I rolled it a bit more and and then simply picked it up and began to turn it and stretch it, gently but deliberately, round and around until it was the size of my medium sized cookie sheet. (Bear in mind I was using flour to dust the counter-top, the rolling pin, and my shaking hands.) By that time it easily spread out to nearly the edges of the cookie sheet and I was able to add the condiments. Really, it won't break. It wants to be stretched!
I made two pizzas. One with the following: 1 C asiago cheese, 1 C pecorino romano (both freshly grated) a drizzle of good olive oil, a scattering of cut up San Marzano cherry tomatoes, freshly torn basil, half a can of drained and cut up artichoke hearts, about a teaspoon of dried oregano, and a generous amount of chili flakes. Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt finished the creation and into the oven it went for about 6 -7 minutes. OH MY GOODNESS. Salty, rich, chewy yet just the right amount of crunch to the crust. (That thin crust -- but not too thin -- is what has eluded me.) The cheese made it perfect, even WITHOUT any red sauce was so amazing. The sweet tomatoes and basil were perfect. Just enough heat and the fresh dried oregano (Please, throw out your bottle of old oregano after 6 months to a year, okay?) made everyone at the table go nutso with pleasure.
The second pizza was just a fun. For toppings I started again with the olive oil. Then chunks of goat cheese; the Humbolt Fog Blue Goat Cheese made it out of this world. Then chopped dried figs...I guess about 3/4 C, 2 T fig spread, dalloped on, about 1/2 C caramelized sweet onions (which my friend prepared earlier), and really quality proscuitto. The soft, kind. Then salt and pepper and into the oven for the same amount of time. Right before serving I topped it with fresh arugula, and then a drizzle of fig balsamic vinegar.
There are others to thank as well. Jules, the consummate cheese monger at the Publix in Ballantyne, (Charlotte, NC) the editors of Bon Appetit for knowing I would need a nudge this month to try pizza again, (How on earth did they read my mind! Hahah!!) my wonderful friends for helping with advice, encouragement and smiles, and of course my husband who never stopped begging me to "keep trying!"
On the Sunday following their departure, feeling a little melancholy they could only stay two days, I decided to mix and bake the beer bread mix they had given us, carried carefully to our door from their home in Petosky, MI. Once baked and half the loaf consumed with butter and honey I knew the rest would help me create an indulgent and elegant breakfast, which echoed the flavors of fall. With a rich but deeply flavored syrup of pumpkin butter, real maple syrup and a splash of good brandy, these buttery squares fetched a lot of MMM's, and OOooh's when I topped them with pecans.
After recovering from our food coma, and while frittering away a warm, perfect autumn afternoon, dinner time rolled around and quite frankly, we still felt like a little spoiling. I already had some ground sirloin in the fridge and some other fresh ingredients in the produce drawer that inspired a burger that just might become one of our new favorite quick meals.
Mixing some jalapenos, red pepper, garlic, fresh grated ginger and splash of sesame oil, I further tenderized the patties by adding some freshly chopped bread crumbs (from that ever-yummy bear bread loaf and about 30 seconds in my handy miniature food processor,) and an egg, along with the requisite salt and pepper and pan seared them. Melting smoked mozzarella on top was amazing, as the umami goodness of the cheese was a perfect accompaniment to the acidic bite of the ginger. Topping it with one of my favorite bottled sweet chili glazes, there was hardly time to snap a picture before we all got our chins greasy. Download my Ginger Jalapeno Burgers and try them yourself!
Want more, okay, tons more photos to enjoy! Check out the slide show below!!!
Check out the how-to photos in this slide show below, and all the fun family photos!
At about 2 a.m. Friday night I conceived this crazy idea that I could create a beautiful round tower of deliciousness for dinner. I've been watching my Culinary DVD's that I got for my birthday and its giving me all kinds of ideas that I have no business thinking. I am a good Au Pif cook ("by the nose," or by feel as the French call it) and even though my daughter insists my disasters are so few and minor they don't need mention, I still am more of adventurer than a professional.
It started while my husband was a few feet away, in the garage, putting new batteries into one of his electric cars; a Zenn to be specific. I could see it would take him awhile so I started in on creating the dish that had awakened me about 12 hours earlier. I knew the tower would have to hold together, it needed to be colorful, and I wanted to use the leftover shredded roasted chicken and pan drippings. I was dying to try a pesto I had seen assembled on TV, and there was an eggplant languishing in the fridge. And so the stage was set.
Often when he passes by, things are unassembled and a bit messy. He usually just smiles and asks what step I'm on. This time I was thoroughly entertained by his unfamiliarity with one of our most beloved vegetables.
"What's that?" My husband inquired.
"Eggplant. Pretty, isn't it?"
"Never knew it looked like that. Interesting..." and he was back outside.
I decided that the topping should be a cold vegetable salad so I started with tomatoes (blanching and then peeling them and then de-seeding them before adding to the eggplant, which is I have learned is a simple tomato concasse,) and then the eggplant which I diced and then quickly tossed with lemon juice and a bit of oil to keep it from turning brown while I figured out what to do with it. A quick saute and some apple cider vinegar and garlic and then in the fridge it went.
Next was the pesto, a parsley pesto to be exact. Chopping Italian parsley along with garlic, capers, lemon and olive oil and then whirring it all into a beautiful green mixture that would go into the potatoes and serve as a garnish was so fun!
After boiling the potatoes and mixing in the requisite butter, milk, sour cream and salt and pepper I rough mashed them with a fork and then blended in about a tablespoon of the pesto. It was the perfect light green color. And by improvising with the measuring cylinder I got from Pampered Chef that I thoroughly coated with oil on the inside, and tamping down each of the ingredients with the pestle so it was snug and tight, soon my masterpiece emerged!
I think I will try this technique in the future. In the meatime, enjoy the recipe for all the levels, and don't forget a squirt of lemon juice on top. It really makes it tres magnifique!!!
Get the simple recipe for all these elements by clicking here.
It IS healthy! Well, it was until I added butter and marshmallows. Introducing the ultimate midnight snack:
It's like a nervous tick. It's late at night, you know you're about to go to sleep, yet to need to stuff your face with something. These are never moments of clarity. Choosing a wise snack is all but impossible during the yawning, yearning munchie phase. And yet, I was able to compromise and create something that is healthy but gooey. Ta-dah! Mission accomplished.
These TEAM CHEERIO MARSHMALLOW TREATS with TRAIL MIX PEANUT BUTTER TOPPING are made by simply using Team Cheerios instead of puffed rice cereal in your favorite marshmallow treat recipe. Then take your favorite trail mix, add a few more chocolate chips (mine was homemade, using dark chocolate chunks,) warm it in the micro, add several heaping tablespoons of smooth peanut butter to the trail mix, and spread on top of the Cheerio mixture. Crunchy, sweet, even a bit fruity when you bite into a raisin, and always a fave with peanut butter.
I know. Brilliant!!! Well, cooking is never stupid. Eating at midnight maybe. Enough said.
There was a day when roaming the mall was fun. Yeah, I know. It's not fun anymore is it. Crowds, vendors trying to slather you with European wonder lotion, and one too many athletic shoe stores to name just a few of the reasons I've given it up for good.
There's no significant void in my life in its absence. I still get exercise, I can shop online when Belk has a sale, and the escalator is still running, running, running; even as we speak. (That's sort of comforting.) What I do miss was that moment of weakness when you just had to have one of those soft, buttery, salty pretzels.
Say no more. I discovered and tried a recipe for HOT BUTTERED FLUFFY PRETZELS, posted by fifteenspatulas.com (One of the best food blogs EVER,) which, as she predicted, tastes EXACTLY like those good old mall pretzels. Although I have a new found respect for those 14 year-olds that could flip, twirl and place a perfectly shaped pretzel on the sheet. (It's kinda hard, actually!) I realize that alas, I am much happier baking these at home.
These beauties are easy, work JUST as the recipe states, and will certainly eliminate the last of any regrets you may have about abandoning yet another 90's habit: THE MALL.
Long ago, before TV dinners were deemed bad, before we wore helmets when riding bikes, and before anyone talked about GMO's I had a very small list of foods I wouldn't eat. There wasn't a good reason. I wasn't protesting, allergic or trying to use my choice as leverage to stay up late. Picky I wasn't, and I would try almost everything....except pears.
I know that's random. Pears are so harmless! So friendly!! We refer to faces as pear shaped, diamonds as pear shaped, even tushies as pear shaped. It is definitely something that I should have liked! Maybe it was the mushy texture. Or what I perceived as a perfumed taste. Whatever the reason, I steered clear of them for the longest time.
That is not the case today. They're one of my favorite foods!!! When I'm digging into a pear the event is usually accompanied by audible sounds of joy. Try them on cereal, or toast. Atop ice cream, as beautiful champagne colored jam, even when they're cubed and crammed into a can of fruit cocktail they're still cute.
The other day while browsing one of the local Farmer's Markets, I happened upon a gem of a pear, the Stark Crimson. If I could, I'd skewer this variety with wire and wear them around my neck, they're so pretty, so regal, and so SWEET. And that stem! It is something out of a romance novel; like the rudder of a sailing ship, the cane of a Hobbit or even the fencepost in a Twain novel. I guess I'm trying to say it is just plain amazing. That's why I couldn't wait to create a fabulatistic dessert to showcase its charms.
My PORT WINE POACHED CRIMSON PEARS WITH SOUR CREAM AND BROWN SUGAR came together in less than an hour and I'm definitely making this for my next dinner party. Whatever your stance is on pears, I know one thing, wear a helmet because you'll have to wrestle all the guests for the first amazing bite!
This picnic and the recipes developed are dedicated to the residents of Riverwalk, Rock Hill, and Evans Cohgill Homes, builder of fine homes at Riverwalk Carolinas in Rock Hill, SC.
Check out the slide show at bottom for how-to photos!
Want the recipes? Click on the name of the MENU item in the story, or these photos, to download a pdf.
“Time for a picnic.” I muse, choosing to travel today to Riverwalk, in Rock Hill, SC to see friends, and then enjoy an al fresco meal among the oaks. As I prepared my simple weekend lunch in honor of this last holiday of summer, I decided to create not only something fun and original, but one themed for the many activities that every resident in Riverwalk is lucky enough to enjoy. With ice and napkins on board, I head out for one of the most progressive master-planned communities in the Carolinas.
After arriving and saying hello to my friends at Evans Coghill Homes and touring their amazing homes (I want one of the Villas!), I unhinge my bike, throw my lunch across my shoulders and ride slowly towards the river. Passing tree lined streets dotted with colorful cottages, and charming front porches, I then wave at my fellow pedalers -- those more ardent in their cycling passion than myself who are racing away at the adjacent and world-class Giordana Velodrome -- and settle in for lunch beside the river. The spot I choose is in the middle of the budding Town Center parcel. Among other exciting additions it will feature its own micro-brewery, a YMCA, shopping, dining and enhanced open spaces.
Spreading out a blanket and noshing on some carrot sticks and asparagus, my first course is a nod to cyclers everywhere. Check out my BMX-CELLENT SPIRAL PASTA SALAD WITH CHICKEN AND ORANGE GINGER DRESSING which pays homage to the Novant BMX Supercross Track soon to open here in Riverwalk. Using ready-made and fresh ingredients, this colorful salad is packed with protein and vegetables, and surprises with a kick of chili flakes and the heady satisfaction of ginger and orange. Replacing the usual sandwich fare as the centerpiece, this salad comes together in a flash, and qualifies easily for one of my #fabin40 recipes. It goes great with chips, apples, even holding its own next to your favorite baked beans, or a generous slice of watermelon. “This salad will taste even better tomorrow!” I think, as I wipe the last vestiges off my chin, and place the leftovers in my back pack.
I’m now ready for something sweet, and inspiration is only a few yards away. Watching the currents in the bend in the river swirl around the base of aging trees, I see the brightly colored kayaks come into view, paddling peacefully along the banks of the Catawba just inches from my traveling lunch. Warm and soothing, the muddy waters urge me on to dessert. My first bite of my CATAWBA INSPIRED DARK CHOCOLATE, CREAM CHEESE AND CARAMEL SWIRL PARFAIT wows with the dizzying satisfaction that only chocolate provides. Crowned with a caramel filled Ghirardelli wafer planted in the middle of swirling dark chocolate ganache, I dig deep to get a spoonful of caramel, and sweetened cream cheese in one, decadent bite. These are easy to make in advance and keep in the fridge, covered until you put them into your cooler. Yeah, I know. I’ll have to paddle a few hundred miles to mitigate the calories, but it’s chocolate, caramel, and cream cheese for heaven’s sake! Plus, I need energy for the hike I have planned later, right?
Speaking of hiking, the Carolina Thread Trail is another huge amenity here in Rock Hill. Eventually it will connect 15 communities and over 2.3 million citizens, and features miles of meandering pathways. Not to mention a way to get your pulse respectably up to speed. I even created a beautiful, take-along snack for the trek. My CAROLINA THREAD CASHEW CURRANT TRAIL MIX is pumped up in flavor with the addition of crunchy organic raw sugar, and earthy cinnamon. White chocolate makes it rich, golden raisins make it pretty, and peanuts make it familiar. I declare! Pack some in your pocket next time you sport those hiking shoes and you won’t regret it.
“Hey! You want someone company?” A low voice chants from behind, interrupting my slow attempt to gather my belongings and head for home. As I turn to identify the callers, I see four bikers, 10-speeds in tow, headed my way for a rest after 30 miles or so at the track.
“Sure! Come on down!” I shout. And turning to my leftovers, I know just what to offer them on this lazy, comforting, delicious, No-Labor Day.
#caminecooks #riverwalkpicnic #catawbainspired #fabin40 #caminewrites #c-and-company #evanscoghillhomes
With a business to run, a home to take care of, a husband with whom private time is hard to come by, and a mother in law with dementia who lives with us, I don't have a lot of room in my day for meaningful cooking. The inspiration for the blog was because my husband, ever trying to pamper and take care of me, would, after a long day, suggest that we go OUT to eat. "Nah, I feel like cooking. It will relax me!" And we would, at my request, stay home.
As my craft improves, my kitchen confidence soars, and my blog lengthens, I am still, at heart, a pleaser. And nothing makes it all worthwhile more than having a dinner guest proclaim what I stated in the title of this entry: "We've never been so spoiled!" Uttered as she and her husband swooned over the entree and the dessert and intoned with a bit of shyness as she proclaimed she might be too intimidated to cook for me, I hoped my next statement would convince her that friendship transcends all. With understanding, I looked at her and said, "You know, it's more important to us who is AT the table than what is ON it." And that is the TRUTH.
I'm not one to spend days planning a menu. I do better off the cuff, as I did with this meal, grabbing what's fresh in the market that day, using magazines, Pinterest, and Instagram as muse, and always including something I've never done before. They say to never try something new with guests. I say you only live once and I ALWAYS do something I've never done when guests come over. I can count on one hand the times it didn't turn out just as I had hoped it would be. So poo-poo to the naysayers. Pressure makes you BETTER.
Take this meal. I took ground lamb, added pine nuts, mint, raisins, garlic, and rosemary and stuffed it into these adorable and sweet mini red peppers and baked it until soft and fragrant. Alongside these ruby gems I served a jasmine rice braised with dried apricots, onion, jalapeno, garlic and of course cumin, coriander, tumeric and thyme. The salad was a simple butter lettuce with yellow tomatoes, and a lemon vinaigrette, and it all sat on a bed of cucumber, cilantro, mint yogurt sauce. Holy spices, Batman, this was sooooo good.
Dessert didn't disappoint either. I caramelized some bananas in butter, brown sugar and a little Southern Comfort Bourbon and placed it over a shortcake and bathed it in whipped cream. Uh, yes. We were still conscious afterwards, but just barely.
Really, spoiling guests is my passion. Especially when it works out. And the more I cook, the MORE everything in life seems works out. Download the meal recipe here.