Posts tagged with dinner:

Roasted Carrots with Fennel and Onions

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Is it a side dish to go with the brisket or is it a work of art?

The answer is it could be both.  These roasted carrots began as beautiful bunches of orange, purple, and pale yellow organic carrots with their stems intact that I bought at the local farmer’s market.

Along with a couple of fennel bulbs and a white and purple onion they became the lovely side dish served alongside my brisket at our recent Seder.

After peeling them, and leaving the stems on as many as possible, I tossed them with some extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper. 

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The sliced fennel and onion wedges were also tossed with some olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper before I spread them all out on a couple rimmed baking sheets and placed them in a 425 degree oven.

After about 15 to 20 minutes toss them around a bit on the sheets to prevent sticking, switch trays from top to bottom and bottom to top, and continue roasting for another 10 to 15 minutes until they begin to caramelize.

Serve on a platter hot, warm or even room temperature.  Delicious!

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My First Dinner Party In Our New Home

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Moving to a new home especially when it is far from your old home brings with it many firsts.  And we recently had some new friends over for our first dinner party here. 

For me, setting the table for a special dinner is fun.  I love to mix and match and see how I can reinvent items by using them in a different way, sometimes with something new added to the mix.

My Provencal tablecloth designed with olive branches which I have had for years was perfect for my Greek themed dinner.

I had picked up the napkins on sale at Anthropology  recently, knowing one day they would come in handy.  I can’t resist a really good buy!

The salad plates were part of a very old set of dishes which belonged to my husband’s grandmother, and I love the contrast between those and my contemporary white everyday dishes.

I kept it simple with three small glass bud vases each filled with a couple of olive branches plucked from my newly planted olive shrub on the deck. 

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I lined them down the center of the table, and five clear glass votives holding white candles illuminated the table.

There is nothing that makes a table look prettier than candlelight, and I regret not taking a photo once they were lit.

The menu included some of my favorite Greek dishes.

We enjoyed appetizers on the deck.

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Homemade tabbouleh , a red pepper, eggplant and garlic spread from Trader Joe’s, assorted olives, and Marcona almonds kept us happy til dinner was ready.  Tabbouleh recipe to follow on an upcoming blog.

A delicious Greek salad was brought by one of our guests. 

After which we dined on my Greek Chicken and Potatoes, grilled lamb chops, Greek Style Green Beans with Tomatoes.  Homemade Tzatziki with grilled pita rounded out our meal. 

You can find most of these recipes on my Greek Dinner post, with the exception of the Tzatziki recipe so here it is…

Tzatziki- Cucumber Yogurt Dip (adapted from Lynn Livanos Athan, About.com Guide)

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Cool and creamy, this tangy cucumber dip flavored with garlic is the perfect complement to grilled meats and vegetables.  It can be served on the side with warm pita bread triangles for dipping, and is also used as a condiment for souvlaki.

Ingredients:

3 -4 garlic cloves, minced finely

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup Greek yogurt, strained

1 cup sour cream

2-3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced (I prefer Persian cucumbers)

1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Preparation:

Combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Mix well until combined.  Using a whisk, blend the yogurt with the sour cream.  Add the olive oil mixture to the yogurt mixture and mix well.  Finally, add the cucumber and chopped fresh dill. 

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Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.  Garnish with a sprig of fresh dill just before serving.

Recipe can be doubled or tripled if you wish.

For dessert, knowing that carrot cake was a favorite of some of our guests, I parted from the Greek theme, and baked a good old-fashioned Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting which was a real hit!

You can find the recipe here.

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When the evening was over everyone went home with a full belly,  a goody bag of Tzatziki , and an extra slice of cake.

I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Glazed Corned Beef Dinner

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Another Saint Patrick’s Day, and another corned beef dinner.  This is my favorite way to make corned beef.  It is simple, but it does take time so plan accordingly.  I didn’t, so we ate late this evening, but every bite was worth it.

Glazed Corned Beef

one 4 to 5 pound corned beef brisket  (with juices)

Fill a large pot or Dutch oven with cold water.  Place the corned beef with all its’ juices and pickling spices in the pot.

Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer, about 180 degrees.  The key to a great corned beef is that it needs to cook low and slow.  Cover with a lid partially, and continue to cook at a simmer til fork tender, approximately 90 minutes per pound.  So a 4 pound brisket will take about 6 hours.

While the corned beef is cooking prepare this sweet mustard glaze

In a small bowl, blend together:

1 tablespoon coarse ground mustard (Country Dijon)

1 tablespoon regular Dijon mustard

1-2 tablespoons dark brown sugar (depending how sweet you like it)

1-2 tablespoons honey (I used a wild sage honey, my favorite local honey I have been getting at the Farmer’s Market)

When the corned beef is tender carefully lift it from the pot, draining the excess liquid, and place it fatty side up on a rack in a roasting pan.

Spread the mustard glaze evenly over the fat.

Place in a preheated 325 degree oven for about a half an hour or until the glaze is bubbling a bit.

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Remove from oven and carve into thick slices cutting against the grain.

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Serve with roasted cabbage, carrots and new potatoes.

Toss carrots, cabbage wedges, and small new potatoes in extra virgin olive oil.  Sprinkle generously with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet with rimmed edges.

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  Bake in a preheated 450 degree oven for 15 -20 minutes.   Turn, and cook another 15 minutes or til browned on edges, and tender.

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Insteadof the traditional way of  cooking the vegetables in that fatty broth that you cooked the corned beef in, roasting them is a delicious alternative which will allow you to have that extra slice of corned beef!

Turkey Pot Pie

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  For the past couple of weeks I have been more or less housebound.   An awful cold/bronchitis not only has kept me in the house, but has kept me out of the kitchen as well.  

The return of my taste buds, and my desire to get in the kitchen and make up for lost time are the best indicators that I am on the road to recovery.

Losing the ability to taste is one of those things we take for granted until  we are reminded by a bad cold or flu what it is like to be without them.

So I was excited today to spend some time rambling around my still new to me kitchen cooking and tasting as I went along.

I made a turkey pot pie with some leftover turkey breast, and was able to use up that extra piece of puff pastry that was in the freezer as the topping. 

 There always seems to be carrots, celery, and onions in the fridge so that along with some frozen corn and peas all went into the filling for the pot pie.

  A roux of butter and flour thickened some store bought chicken stock. I added a bit of  home made turkey gravy from the freezer for some turkey flavor, and ended up with a delicious sauce to envelop the pieces of turkey and veggies.

Although I was hoping to serve the potpie for dinner the smell was so intoxicating my husband and I decided to have  it for lunch. 

That turned out to be a really good decision!

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Turkey Pot Pie (makes one 9x13 pan)

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

5-6 cups cooked turkey, cut into large dice

2 tablespoons salted butter

1 cup  chopped onions

1 cup sliced carrots

1 cup diced celery

2 cups chicken broth or stock

3 tablespoons of turkey gravy, optional

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup unbleached flour

Kosher salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 of a 17.3 oz package (1 sheet) of Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry, thawed according to pkg directions

2 -3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley and thyme

Heat oven to 400 degrees. 

Beat  the egg and water in a small bowl to make the egg wash.

Saute the diced carrots, celery and onions in the 2 tablespoons of salted butter in a large skillet on medium heat til somewhat translucent.

Add the turkey to the veggies in the skillet.  Turn the heat off.

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In a 2 quart saucepan heat the 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat.

Add the 1/2 cup flour and cook for 3 minutes, stirring with a whisk.

Gradually stir in the chicken broth /stock.

Continue cooking until the mixture boils and thickens, about 5 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper.

Add the optional gravy to the mixture if using.

Pour over the turkey and vegetables.

Pour the mixture into a 13x9 inch baking pan.

Unfold the pastry sheet onto a lightly floured surface.

Roll the pastry into a 13x9 inch rectangle, and gently place over the filling, sealing the edges around the rim of the pan.

Brush the pastry with the egg wash and sprinkle the chopped fresh herbs on top.

Cut several silts in the top of the pastry to allow the steam to escape.

Bake in the preheated 400 degree oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling hot.

Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes before cutting.

"Big" Dinners from a "Small" Kitchen

The calendar reads November, daylight savings time has ended, and there is an appropriate chill in the air, all facts confirming we have entered the pre-holiday season.

First up will be Thanksgiving which will arrive this year just a week from this Thursday! 

And if that is not enough, this year Hanukkah arrives especially early, with the lighting of the first candle on the menorah taking place the evening before Thanksgiving.

Normally, by now I would have been happily immersed in holiday planning, but this year that planning was to occur in my new home, the cooking in my new kitchen, and the dining around our new dining table.

Now I’m not saying it won’t happen, I’m just saying…we are not there yet.

So we are anxiously awaiting our final walk through, or should I say run through, so we can get the keys, arrange the move in date, unpack the kitchen (kinda) and sit down to Thanksgiving Dinner with our children in our new home here in downtown San Luis Obispo!

Keep your fingers crossed.  You will know almost as soon as I do !

In the meantime we are still enjoying life in our studio apartment, and I have managed to continue to prepare meals for us most of the time.

Here are a few of the dinners I have made lately.

While my current kitchen is well equipped with the basics it is compact and lends itself to simpler meals. 

Many of them are dishes from my blog which I made in my east coast kitchen, with one big difference…there I could spread out,  here, not so much.

So, as with life we make adjustments.  And I have.

There are the Pan Fried Pork Chops with Sauteed Apples…

Season the chops generously with kosher salt, pepper, and some minced fresh rosemary.  Bring the chops to room temperature before browning both sides in a pan on the stovetop  in a small amount of olive oil and a bit of butter.

To the same pan I add thick slices of peeled apples (which have macerated a bit in a little sugar and lemon juice).

Continue to cook them in the pan with the chops on moderate heat, and they will soak up the yummy juices.  Continue cooking til they begin  to caramelize, but are not mushy, and they will be a stellar accompaniment to the pork chops.

With just 3 russet potatoes I made a quick rendition of mashed potatoes, substituting some of the pan juices from the pork and apples for gravy.

Then there was the Chicken Tenders Parmesan…

…using chicken tenders instead of boneless breasts the breading process was quicker and took up less room.

I made a quick tomato sauce with some good quality canned tomatoes.  I simply mashed them with a fork and potato masher since there is no food processor or blender here.

I added the tomatoes to some sauteed onions, garlic, and oregano, added a splash of white wine, and cooked slowly til thickened.

For the breading:

1st…dredge lightly in flour seasoned with salt and pepper

2nd..dip in lightly beaten egg

3rd…dip in Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) to which you have added grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) cheese.  Press gently so crumbs adhere.

Note:  For more detailed directions on breading and frying see blog post on Chicken Milanese.

When ready to serve, spoon some tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan, as well as on top of each piece of  chicken, and sprinkle with some shredded mozzarella cheese.  Sprinkle some extra Pecorino on top.   Return to oven and remove when cheese is melted and the chicken is heated through.

Serve with pasta and some extra sauce.

I also made the Chicken with Olives and Tomatoes…

This is a one pan dish if you have prepared the roasted tomatoes in advance.  There will be enough roasted tomatoes left to use for some other meals… as a sauce for pizza, bruschetta, or pasta.

I’ve previously posted the recipe for it here.

Yom Kippur Eve Dinner for Two

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A couple nights ago was Yom Kippur Eve on the Jewish calendar.

Yom Kippur literally means “Day of Atonement.”  It is traditionally a day devoted to repenting and reflecting on one’s sins committed in the past year.

Yom Kippur marks the end of the 10 day period that begins with the Jewish New Year on Rosh Hashanah. It is a time of introspection and a day of fasting.

As a result the dinner the evening before has special significance and the meal usually consists of traditional holiday foods.

We were on the east coast this year during Rosh Hashanah so we were fortunate to have a holiday dinner with our aunt whose home we stayed at that evening before leaving for the wedding a few days later.

It was a lovely dinner and while we were happy and grateful to be among family, the holiday seems very different to us this year.

Having moved to the west coast, but still not settled in our home, and having been back on the east coast again, but not in the home we celebrated the holidays in for the past 25 years, was especially bittersweet.

For me, shopping and cooking for the Jewish holidays has always been an important part of the New Year.

The smells, sights and sounds that occur within those hallowed walls of the kitchen are part of me…from growing up watching my dear mother in her kitchen (my mom is always so close to my heart, but even more so at this time of the year), and then from a lifetime of preparing meals for the holidays in my own kitchen in our various homes.

So now that we were back in SLO for Yom Kippur, and challenging as my current kitchen is for preparing  a holiday meal, I couldn’t wait to begin.

It was just a Yom Kippur Eve Dinner for Two, but as I was cooking that afternoon, all the holiday smells, sights and sounds that I remember were in full force, and as I prepared recipes from my mother, and my husband’s grandmother I felt the warmth and love that is tradition.

With the limited kitchen equipment in mind I chose the following menu:

Bottle of Chardonnay (complements of the owner of our rental, which we found in our fridge upon our return from our trip)

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Freshly baked challah (not by me, and thanks to my husband for finding one) drizzled with honey symbolic of our wish for a sweet year ahead

Store-bought gefilte fish with crudités
(Memories of my grandmother’s homemade gefilte fish… watching her chop the fish in her wooden bowl)

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Roast turkey breast for me (leftovers for sandwiches for the week) and 2 turkey drumsticks for my husband

Turkey Gravy

Mom’s Apple Noodle Kugel (instead of the regular egg noodles I substituted a package of TJ’s pappardelle egg noodles that I already had, and they worked perfectly)

Baby Carrots  in a Buttery Brown Sugar Glaze

Mom Min’s Farfel with Mushrooms and Onions (recipe below)

Jelled Cranberry Sauce

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And for dessert…

A variation of my Mom’s Passover Lemon Sponge Cake served with nectarine slices

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Mom Min’s Farfel with Mushrooms and Onions (my version of what we remember)

One 12 ounce package of Manischewitz Barley Shaped Egg Noodles

8 ounces fresh white button mushrooms, chopped

Half of a large sweet onion, diced

2- 3 tablespoons salted butter

About 2 cups chicken broth

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Cook Farfel according to package directions, not more than 8 minutes.

In a medium skillet sauté diced onions in the butter till translucent.

Add the chopped  mushrooms, and cook til browned a bit.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add chicken broth and stir well.

Add the mushroom and onion mixture to the drained Farfel.

Cover and keep warm on top of the stove or put in a buttered covered casserole in a 325 degree oven to keep warm.

When ready to serve add some gravy and stir to combine.

A few notes about the Lemon Sponge Cake…

Since  I didn’t have a tube pan here, but did have a layer cake pan that is what I used.

I also used flour instead of the potato starch I prefer.

Both of those changes produced a more dense cake than the lighter version baked in a 10 inch tube pan, but truly delicious nonetheless.

Without an electric mixer here I had to whip the egg whites, which are the only leavening agent in this batter,with a wire whisk.

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When I first came home from shopping I had to look around to see if there even was a whisk here.  There was, but far from a professional one so I knew I would have to be careful not to break it.

With all the desserts I have made over the years I had never whisked egg whites by hand… with the Kitchen Aid within easy reach, why would I?

All I can say is I have a new respect for chefs who seemingly can easily whip that gelatinous mixture into stiff peaks before your very eyes.

Those who know me know I will persevere when the going gets tough, and though my arms were telling me to stop I refused to quit until those snow white peaks surfaced.

And finally they did!  And I was never so proud!  And I did it with the handicap of a flimsy whisk and a plastic bowl!

So I pulled together a wonderful holiday meal for us, and at the same time was able to master a new culinary skill!

Happy and Healthy New Year to all!

Grilled Herb -Marinated Pork Tenderloin

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If you think I have my hands full with moving in less than 3 weeks and all that there is to do,  how about we add to the scenario that my husband had spinal surgery last week?

No, I am not kidding.  In actuality, we are very fortunate.  He has been suffering for several years now with leg pain that was masquerading as other diagnoses which it turned out not to be.

Recently our path finally led us to the true source of his problem, as well as the neurosurgeon who could fix it.

Once the diagnosis was clear, ( thanks to our internist’s continual efforts to lead us to the correct diagnosis by referring us to the orthopedist who referred us to the physiatrist (rehabilitation physician) who referred us to the fantastic neurosurgeon), it was inside a week from consult to the successful outpatient surgery performed only 5 days ago! 

We are so grateful to all involved who made this happen, and in such a small window of time before our scheduled move. 

We had truly feared as my husband’s condition was suddenly increasingly worsening that our hopes and dreams of hiking, biking, and being active in our new home on the west coast might be just that, a dream.

But with the events of last week we can now look forward, (with some time for him to build himself up to almost the athlete he once was), to that dream coming true.

And while he is recovering from the surgery, I am trying to pick up the slack in the packing department as our moving day is quickly approaching.  And since he is not to lift, bend or twist…there will be no more packing for him!

He will, however be able to supervise me so that should make up for some of his discontent !

But as always, we have to eat!  So I have been making simple meals that require very little prep time, such as the Grilled Herb-Marinated Pork Tenderloin in the photo above.

This is a recipe from Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, featured in her Back To Basics cookbook.  All my cookbooks are packed, but I have been making this for quite some time now.  

It is a favorite of mine for the summer on the grill.  Other than the time spent marinating in the herbs, garlic and lemon juice, it requires little cooking time.  Leftovers make great cold sandwiches.

As long as I had the grill hot, I sliced a couple of Russet potatoes in wedges, tossed them with olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper, and grilled them while the pork was cooking.

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 Grilled Herb-Marinated Pork Tenderloin (Ina Garten, Back to Basics)

zest of 1 grated lemon

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (4-6 lemons)

1/2 cup olive oil (plus more to brush the grill)

2 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)

1 and 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

kosher salt

3 pork tenderloins (approx 1 lb each)

fresh ground black pepper

Directions

Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, mustard and 2 teaspoons of the salt in a 1 gallon resealable plastic bag.  Add the pork tenderloins and turn to coat with the marinade. 

Squeeze the air out of the bag.  Marinate in the refrigerator overnight, or at least 3 hours.

When ready to cook, preheat the grill.  Be sure to brush the grill with some oil to prevent the pork from sticking.  Remove the tenderloins from the marinade and discard the marinade but leave herbs clinging to the meat.

Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, then grill, turning a few times to brown all sides, for 15-25 minutes-until the meat registers about 137 degrees at the thickest part.

Transfer the tenderloins to a platter and cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Let rest for at least 10 minutes.  

Carve in 1/2 inch thick diagonal slices. The thickest part will be pink; this is just fine!  The thinnest parts will be well done. 

Season with salt and pepper if needed.  Serve warm or at room temperature with the juices that collect on the platter.

Bruschetta (First of the Season)

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Although the tomatoes are not at their peak as yet, I couldn’t resist serving this bruschetta as our appetizer the other evening to go along with the Tuscan Style Chicken Under a Brick.


I have planted a small pot of genovese basil and some purple basil even though I will only have several more weeks to enjoy it.

  However, it is already flourishing so I will be using it every chance I get in cooking before we take off for sunny California!  (Can’t wait to see how basil and all the other herbs will thrive there)!

I’ve decided that with enough coarse salt, garlic, olive oil and basil in which to sit and macerate, most tomatoes can reinvent themselves to this delicious topping for grilled or toasted bread which you have rubbed with a bit of fresh garlic. 

So while you are waiting for those perfect summer tomatoes you can still have your bruschetta and eat it too!

Tuscan-Style Chicken Under a Brick

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With just about a month to go until we move the days have been flying by at breakneck speed.  Over Memorial Day weekend we were in upstate New York celebrating our niece’s college graduation.  It was a beautiful event, and one we would not have missed.

Now that we are back home there is plenty to do.  Along with all the packing, selling of furniture, and pre-moving stuff that must be done, our schedule is filled with lunches, dinners, parties, and other farewell events with friends and family as we begin the long good-byes.

I’ve been so busy that meal time has become a game of what can I make with what’s here since I can’t seem to get to the store to shop.  But tonight I wanted to make a real dinner and decided on the Tuscan-Style Chicken Under a Brick pictured above.  

This is the best chicken dish I have made in quite a while.  After the crazy weather we’ve been having, one day cold, one day rainy, it seems summer has arrived a month early.  Suddenly it was very hot and humid today (something I will not miss in San Luis Obispo).

But when summer is in the air all I want to do is grill, or should I say have my husband grill…so I found this fantastic recipe from Steven Raichlen who is well known for his grilling and barbeque prowess.

While buying my chicken (oh, and I bought two so we could have it again tomorrow night since I know I will not have time to cook), I also bought some fresh supersweet corn.  Of course, it is too early for it to be locally grown,  but it was pretty darn good nonetheless.

It gave me a chance to try something I have not had before.  Slather the warm corn with a light covering of good mayo, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, a sprinkle of kosher salt, a grinding of fresh black pepper, and top it all off with some grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese.  All I can say is YUM!

I have seen recipes for Mexican corn done similarly, but with cotija cheese and cayenne pepper. And at the Farmer’s Market in San Luis Obispo they offer grilled corn on the cob on a stick with those toppings in addition to the melted butter, but I had never tried it.  But now I have, and you should, too!  Unless you’re a purist like my husband…only  melted butter for him!

Anyway, I divert from the main point of this blog post and that is the deliciously crispy and succulent brick chicken.  Oh, and by the way, when I decided to make it I hadn’t thought about the fact that I didn’t have any bricks. 

So my husband went next door to our dear neighbors, and asked if they had any bricks we could borrow, and sure enough they did!  We are really going to miss them (for many reasons), not just because they have bricks when we need them.

Tuscan-Style Chicken Under a Brick (adapted from recipe by Steven Raichlen)

Ingredients

3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped ( use more if you love garlic)

2 tablespoons stemmed fresh rosemary leaves, plus the remainder of the bunch for serving (optional)

2 tablespoons stemmed fresh sage leaves, plus the remainder of the bunch for serving (optional)

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

scant 1/2 cup coarse kosher salt

2 chickens, 3 and 1/2 to 4 pounds each

2 lemons, cut in halves, and grilled for serving

2 bricks wrapped in aluminum foil

Directions

Place the garlic, 2 tablespoons each of chopped rosemary and sage, and the pepper in a food processor fitted with a metal chopping blade and pulse to finely chop.

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Add the salt and process to mix.

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Transfer the rub to a jar with a tight fitting lid.  This makes about 3/4 cup of herbed salt rub, more than you’ll need for this recipe.

The leftover rub is also excellent for seasoning veal and pork, and will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Remove and discard the fat just inside the neck and body cavities of the chickens.  Remove the packages of giblets and set them aside for another use.  Rinse the chickens, inside and out, under cold running water, then drain and blot them dry, inside and out, with paper towels.

Spatchcock the chickens.  (That is removing the backbone so the chicken can be opened up and flattened.  This allows the whole chicken to cook faster, and more evenly).  Also known as butterflying.

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Generously season the birds on both sides with the herbed salt rub.

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Set up your grill for indirect grilling.  This will give you a crisp, moist bird without the risk of flare-ups or burning.   Preheat the grill to medium, about 300- 350 degrees.

Arrange the birds skin side up in the center of the grate away from the heat and place the foil wrapped bricks on top.

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Cover the grill and cook the birds until golden brown and cooked through, 40 minutes to one hour.

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Place the lemon halves on the grill away from the direct heat for the last 10 minutes of cooking time.  Remove and  squeeze on the chicken before serving.

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Spinach, Orange, and Candied Almond Salad

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Our best friends had a dinner party for us and some of our friends over the weekend at their beautiful home.  In June they will have been in this home for just two years. 

Prior to this they had lived down the street from us. We were 8410 and they were 8401…we had a connection from the very beginning.

They moved here almost 25 years ago just like us..we came from Chicago, and they came from Cleveland, and like a fish takes to water we became individually and as a couple almost inseparable.

The shared memories of all the times we have spent together over the years are many…at their home or ours, their deck overlooking the pond, or our patio looking out to the woods, celebrating their Christmas or Easter or our Hanukkah or Passover, hospital visits from us or house calls from nurse Donna, supporting each other in good times and bad, celebrating the accomplishments of each others’ kids as they grew into adulthood…

…and of course there’s the endless meals we have shared, as well as our love for cooking, eating and entertaining (okay, the guys weren’t that keen on the cooking and entertaining part…however, they did share a similar annoyance about the many last minute trips to the store for just one more thing …)

There were the countless walks down the street to each others’ homes carrying a dish we had just prepared and wanted to share, and the meals we would leave for each other, complete with a floral bouquet when one or the other was returning home from a vacation or a family visit out of town.

And the countless cards we’ve exchanged…sometimes 2 and 3 for a single occasion…

…marking the birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings and births of grandchildren we’ve celebrated together through the years.  We’re still waiting for those last two. ( Hope my boys are reading this! )

And there were just the times when she and I would sit on her porch with an iced tea or in my kitchen with a cup of coffee and talk about nothing…those were some of the best times.

We shared our love of gardening and for years  my friend and I would make it an annual event to drive to my sister’s in PA for a spring plant shopping field trip, driving back home with the car so overflowing with flowers, that we could barely see out the rear view mirror.

And on our arrival as we pulled into her garage and then mine to unload, our husbands shared that same look of disbelief as they witnessed the amount of flowers we had purchased.  Through the years they came to expect it, but the look was there just the same.

And now, although they are a half hour away, of course it can’t be the same as walking down the street to see each other, but with a friendship as strong as ours it will take a lot more than that to break the bond formed over all these years.

And now two years after they have tested our relationship by moving, we are putting it to a harsher test by moving cross country in less than 2 months.  As difficult as it will be we all know we will pass the test.  We are already talking about the coastal visits we have to look forward to, and all the new things we will have to share with each other.

So it is no surprise that they wanted to entertain us one more time with some friends.  I insisted that she let me bring something, and after much persuading (I can wear someone down when I want to), she allowed me to bring the salad.

I decided on the spinach salad above which is a recipe from Emeril to which I added some pitted Calamata olives, and some orange muscat champagne vinegar as well as the white vinegar called for.

(I’m in the process of emptying my pantry so I take any opportunity I can to use something up in there).

The evening was wonderful, the table was lovely, the food was terrific as always, and beautifully presented.

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After nibbling on shrimp, cheeses, olives, and an edamame hummus along with cocktails we dined on…

Grilled Chicken Kebabs

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Orzo with tomatoes, cucumbers, lemon, and herbs

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and a melange of grilled vegetables…

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My Spinach, Orange, and Almond Salad completed this fantastic menu.

Dessert was homemade strawberry shortcake, and we all dug in so quickly I forgot to get a photo.  Rest assured, it was delicious!

Before I give you the recipe for the spinach salad I just want to say one last thing…

…while I love posting recipes on this blog, I love telling the story of how the things I post came to be, and why they came to be, so to our dear friends, the Murphys…this one’s for you with love!

Emeril’s Spinach, Orange and Candied Almond Salad

(serves 6, but can be adjusted for more)

Ingredients

1/4 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons sugar (Use a bit less if you want)

1 tablespoon water

1/2 cup almonds, sliced

4 small oranges

Dressing

1/4 cup champagne or 1/4 cup white wine vinegar 

(I used half orange muscat champagne vinegar and half white wine vinegar)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon orange zest (I used a bit more)

1/4 teaspoon salt, to taste (I use kosher)

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salad

6 cups fresh baby spinach, washed and dried

(I used half baby spinach and half mixed greens and herbs)

1 cup celery, thinly sliced

1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced and cut into crescents

freshly ground cracked black pepper

(I also added pitted Calamata olives)

Directions

1.  Lightly grease a 10” square of parchment paper with butter or vegetable oil and set aside.

2.  Use a salad spinner to rinse the baby spinach thoroughly.  Remove as much moisture as possible from the spinach or your salad will be soggy.  Set aside to drain.

3.  Simple Syrup: In a small saucepan combine 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of water over medium-high heat.  Swirl the mixture occasionally until the sugar turns a golden amber color.  this should take about 3-4 minutes.

4.  Add the almonds and stir to coat.  continue cooking until the almonds are fragrant and golden brown, about 1 minute.  Be careful not to burn the sugar/nut mixture or yourself!  Transfer the nuts to parchment paper, using a spatula to spread into a thin layer, and set aside to cool completely.

5.  With a sharp knife, peel the orange, remove the bitter white pith, and cut the fruit into segments. (Use a small bowl to catch the orange juice that drips.) Reserve the segments in a separate bowl.  Reserve the orange juice.

6.  Salad Dressing: Combine 1/4 cup of the reserved fresh orange juice, remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, the Champagne or white vinegar, olive oil, orange zest, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the cayenne in a mixing bowl and whisk to blend.  Transfer the dressing to a non-reactive container with a lid and refrigerate until ready to eat.

7.  Put the fresh spinach in a large serving bowl, then top with the orange segments, celery, red onions, and Calamata olives, if using.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

8.  When ready to serve, break the caramelized almonds (at this point the almonds have turned to “brittle”) into bite-size pieces and scatter over the top of the salad.  Drizzle the dressing over the salad and season with salt and black pepper, to taste.  Toss to coat and serve immediately.