Sunday Dinner

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Twice Baked Herb and Sour Cream Potatoes
Bibb Lettuce Salad with Bacon and Croutons

French Apple Cake

A classic Fall day with mild temperatures and puffy cumulus clouds passing overhead calls for a classic Autumn meal.  The capper to this menu uses the staple fruit of the season---apples.  Although this is called a cake, the taste, texture and appearance call to mind a bread pudding or a thick apple crêpe.  The minimal amount of batter is simple to prepare with no stand mixer needed.  Four large apples are folded into the batter.  And for a play on texture, use different varieties of apples.  I used Gala, Pink Lady, Golden Crisp, and one that a neighbor shared (I think it was a Macintosh).  Serve it with a cinnamon and sugar infused crème fraîche for a delicious dessert worthy of rounding out a hearty meal. 


Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping

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Have you ever had something so awesome that you didn't want to share it with anybody?  Scratch that.  Have you ever had something so awesome that you had to share it with your neighbors because you knew you would polish off the whole thing all by yourself?  These bars are the dessert that would be served on the last train to Awesome Town.  Seriously, re-read the name of these.  Caramel Apple- check,  Cheesecake Bars- check, Streusel Topping- check!  I really wish I could take credit for these, but I can't.  So I am sending a big thank you to the queen of butter herself, Ms. Paula Deen. Once you make these bars, you will do the same.  I did add some salt to the crust and the streusel.  And since I like a little citrus with my fruit desserts, I added a little bit of lemon juice to the apples.  Oh, and for the caramel... a generous drizzle of the caramel sauce cockaigne.  These bars are bananas, or should I say apples☺? Let's just say they are crazy, crazy good!


Roasted Broccoli with Garlic and Lemon Wedges

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How many times have you either said or been told, "Eat your broccoli.  It's good for you."  Too many to remember?  Never fear, I have a dish that will turn those responses to your demand from "All right, Mom" to "Alright, Mom!"

Many of you are fully aware of what roasting can do to a vegetable.  It intensifies the flavor and caramelizes the natural sugars.  And roasting at a high heat means dinner is on the table in under 15 minutes. 

This recipe uses both the florets and stalks, so remember to buy the broccoli with the big stalks and not just the crowns.  Not only is it tasty, but it is lighter on the wallet.  I happen to prefer the stalks over the florets (I know--weird). They are so delectably tender and they don't stick between my teeth like the little buds do.  To ensure that they come out fork tender, you must peel them first.  You can use a vegetable peeler, but I find that it is easier to slip a sharp paring knife just under the thick skin. While holding the skin between your thumb and the edge of the knife, pull the skin down and away from the stalk. Repeat until completely peeled.  That sweet and tender stalk is even tasty raw.

I like to cover the broccoli for the first 5 minutes of roasting.  This creates a little steam and keeps the broccoli nice and tender.  I also like to shake on a little crushed red pepper and sometimes freshly grated Parmesan cheese depending on what else we are having for dinner.  


Spiced Apple Walnut Waffles

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I certainly couldn't share the homemade apple pie spice without sharing a delicious recipe.  This plate full of goodness (along with an 8:30 am soccer game) is one of those things that can get me out of bed early on a cool, crisp, fall weekend morning.  Apples, walnuts, cider, and a little bit of sugar make for a hearty and tasty forkful.  And speaking of hearty, the batter has some whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and grated apples in it.  So it's good for you too, right?!  

I served these waffles with caramelized brown sugar apples and an apple cider syrup (both recipes included below), but they can be served with a good maple syrup.  I have even combined an equal part mixture of maple syrup and caramel sauce for a decadent treat. One note-- these waffles are big, so serve the syrup of your choice on the side and drag each bite through the sugary pool.  They are best enjoyed warm off the waffle iron, but they can be cooled, wrapped well in plastic wrap, then toasted in a toaster until heated through.


Homemade Apple Pie Spice

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Apple pie spice can be used in lots of great recipes.  But it won't find its way into my shopping cart.  Why would I buy a special ingredient when I already have the makings of it in my own cabinet?  It takes no time to whip it up, it saves me several dollars, and the mix of spices can be adjusted according to one's own taste.  I like to keep my combination simple, but nicely spiced.  I don't add ginger (I save that for pumpkin spice) or cloves, but you can if that's what you like.  I have even seen cardamom listed on the ingredient list of some blends.  I haven't said this in a while, but make it for you, make it your own☺.


Sunday Dinner

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Blue Cheese and Walnut Dusted Grapes

Rib-eye Roast with Garlic Herb Butter
Mashed Potatoes with Horseradish and Cream
French-Style Green Beans

It's more food on a stick!  I like to think that these little appetizers are a notch higher on the taste sophistication scale than, say, a deep fried twinkie.  The toasted nuts, pungent blue cheese, and ripe red grapes are all seasonal foods that come together in an intriguing combination of flavors delivered in a fun, easy to eat package.

A few notes-- you may be tempted to eat them right away, but don't.  They are far tastier once set and well chilled.  You will also wind up with leftover nuts and cheese dip that can be combined and thinned with a little milk to dress a green salad.  Appetizer for dinner and salad for lunch?  Works for me☺.
Sunday Dinner one year ago


Raspberry-Fig Crostata

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This is my farewell to summer/hello to fall dessert.  Raspberries are the last of the summer berries to go and figs, with their unique taste and texture, are a delicious late harvest fruit.  When baked together, the combination is delightful.

The original dough is a little hard to work with, so I chose to use a different dough--a sweet pasta frolla, to be specific.  Spiced with lemon zest, orange zest and a little cinnamon, the dough highlights the flavors of the fruits perfectly.  Half of the fruit is first cooked on the stove-top, then mixed with the fresh fruit before filling the dough lined tart.  A simple alternating of lattice strips makes for a beautiful presentation.  Cooled to room temperature, dusted with a bit of confectioners' sugar and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you like (my family likes☺), this is a tasty way to enjoy the late summer season.


Caramel Sauce Cockaigne

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Mmm...c-a-r-a-m-e-l.  Say it again... c-a-r-a-m-e-l. *drool* Rarely is my kitchen without it.  At this time of year it is a staple and it must be shared.  I use it as a sauce for desserts like apple galette, a schmear on graham crackers for pumpkin pie marshmallow s'mores, a drizzle on vanilla ice cream, as a dip for sliced apples, or even a spoonful stirred into my morning coffee☺.  It is also great gift to share during the holidays.

I have several caramel sauce recipes, but this is the one, the pièce de résistance, the crème de la crème.  No brown sugar, no corn syrup, no sour cream-- just sugar, water, butter and cream that is seasoned with a good vanilla extract and sea salt.  It is hard to believe that something so wonderful comes from such simple ingredients.

If you are new to making caramel, here are a few tips and step-by-steps:

*Use a heavy-bottomed saucepan, preferably copper or copper lined.  Stay away from thin pans that are uneven on the bottom.

*Make sure the sugar is completely dissolved before you bring it to a boil.

*Placing the lid on the syrup creates condensation of the sides of the pan, keeping crystallization from forming.

*At this point do not take your eyes of the caramel.  It can go from this...

to this in a few short minutes.

*Once the syrup begins to caramelize, you will notice puffs of smoke coming from the surface.  Cook it just beyond this point until it reaches a deep amber, but not burnt.

*When the butter is added to the hot caramel, it is slightly browned for a nutty flavor.  Browned butter + salted caramel = YUM!

*When adding the butter and cream to the hot caramel, the mixture will bubble vigorously.

*If any hard lumps form, cook over low heat until smooth.

End result-- liquid gold or the best thang you ever tasted.  (Pardon the internal Southern dialogue☺.)


Roasted Vegetable Panzanella

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Dear Panzanella, I love you.  Veggies, cheese, and bread-- what's not to love? Whether you are served as a side to a main dish or present yourself as a meatless meal, you are glorious.  Like the grilled panzanella, this is a variation on the classic panzanella.  And this one is particularly nice this time of year when the vegetables are just off their peak.  Roasting the vegetables intensifies the natural sugars, making for a deeply flavored salad.

I know this is a bread salad, but I cut the carbo load way back from the original recipe.  I like my panzanellas heavy on the veggies.  Since I was using less bread, I also cut back on the oil, but I amped up the garlic in the vinaigrette.  I roast my veggies slightly less than called for because I didn't want my tomatoes to fall apart and the green beans to shrivel up.  Having said that, I do not recommend using haricot verts (thin French green beans).  They will roast into nothingness.  Use the standard variety.  Keep a close eye on them while they roast.  Your oven may be hotter or cooler than mine, so adjust the roasting time accordingly.

Canellinni beans and fresh mozzarella are added for more taste, texture, and color.  White balsamic vinegar, capers, and the last of the summer basil make up a tasty vinaigrette that completes the dish.


Sunday Dinner

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Prosciutto and Cantaloupe Bites

Herb Roasted Cornish Game Hens
Corn Risotto

I feel kind of silly even posting this because it really isn't much of a recipe.  It is more of an idea that brings together just a couple of ingredients.  But a classic pairing it is.  I enjoy the simple combination of the sweet melon and the salty prosciutto, but other ingredients can be added for flavor enhancement. Basil lends a freshness to the proceedings while the balsamic vinegar brightens up the flavors.  I have even seen it served with mozzarella cheese. 

The most important thing to remember is to use quality ingredients.  The melon should be at its peak in flavor and texture and the prosciutto should be the best you can find, preferably Prosciutto di Parma. And if you decide to serve it with the vinegar, an aged balsamic works best.  It is sweet and syrupy.  This little amuse-bouche is on my Can't go wrong with this list for appetizer ideas. 


Grasshopper Pie

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My oldest child and only son, Jack, turned fourteen this week.  Fourteen?! Where has the time gone?  It seems like yesterday that I had him strung around my hip.  Now he is bigger than me and probably can put me on his hip☺.  Sunday was his turn to choose the meal and a good one it was, right down to this pie.  

The mint-chocolate flavor comes through in both the crust and the filling.  Crushed Cool Mint Oreos make up the crust while the mint-chocolate flavor in the filling comes from two liqueurs-- crème de menthe and chocolate.  The original recipe called for green crème de menthe and white crème de cacao.  But I only had white crème de menthe and brown chocolate liqueur (Godiva to be specific) in my cabinet and I wasn't about to go the store to buy two more bottles just for this pie.  So how to achieve that lovely shade of minty green?  Food coloring.  It masked that brown color from the chocolate liqueur just fine.

The texture of the pie comes from whipped cream that is stabilized with gelatin and egg yolks.  It is so light and airy, it is almost like eating a meringue filled pie.  I like to garnish most pies and tarts with a little something extra to make them look purty.  The garnishes du jour were chocolate curls and yes, more whipped cream.  As a minty way to end a meal, this pie beats a peppermint candy any day.


Spicy Minced Pork in Lettuce Bundles

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Not exactly the catchiest title, right?  What this dish lacks in its name, it makes up for in taste and fun-to-eat charm.  Here we have a great, low-carb way to transport a delicious mix of pork and vegetables from the plate to your mouth.  I like to think of them as Asian style pork "tacos".  No matter what you want to call them, you and your fellow diners (my kids love them) will enjoy a light and crunchy, yet savory meal that will make the list for fun weeknight meals.

These can also be served buffet style as an appetizer or light bite.  I normally double the proportions for a weeknight dinner with lunchbox leftovers. To make an even more substantial and healthy meal, I serve the pork and lettuce cups with julienned vegetables, like red bell peppers and carrots.  My children like to add mung bean noodles and sometimes sprouts to their "tacos".  A spoonful of chopped honey roasted peanuts, a sprinkle of additional cilantro, and a dash of extra hot sauce will complete the bundle.  


Sunday Dinner

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Pimento Cheese Stuffed Deviled Eggs

Hickory Smoked Pork Ribs
Angel Biscuits

Today is the Sunday closest to my son's birthday, so he gets to pick the menu.  I figured that ribs were going to be the main attraction.  Last night I was thinking about a great appetizer we could enjoy right when he gets home from the Bears game today.  He is there with his grandfather and uncle on this beautiful, sunny, first full Sunday of the NFL schedule.  

What could be better than finding another vehicle for delivering the great taste of pimento cheese?  Deviled eggs make an excellent platform for the rich, tangy flavors found in this recipe.  When jalapeño is added for a kick, well, these eggs make themselves downright irresistible.  


Chocolate Sorbet

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More chocolate, Nicole?  Really?!  I know. From the muffins, to the cake, and then the granola--- there has been a bit of chocolate around here lately, but I am not apologizing.  In my house, chocolate is a food group☺.  And with the weather being a bit on the warm side, I needed to get my chocolate fix in without it weighing me down.

Like many of the ice creams, sorbets and sherbets that I have shared with you, this one has the magic ingredient that keeps the final product from freezing rock hard while also adding more flavor.  This time the magic ingredient is delivered via Kahlúa.  It's chocolate and coffee together again! 


Chicken and Corn Patties with a Roasted Red Pepper Mayonnaise

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Leftovers.  You either love them or heave them.  With four hungry mouths to feed, I am most definitely in the love category.   Heating up leftovers can come in handy and still be tasty, but-- boring.  When I have a chance, I like to transform them into a completely different meal.  This past Monday, I grilled two Brown Sugar Chickens with the intention of having leftovers.  With some uncooked ears of corn bought for that meal taking up space on my kitchen counter, I knew these tasty cakes were going to be on the menu this week.

Along with the chicken and corn, I add sautéed red onion, some herbs from the garden, lemon juice, and cayenne for a kick.  An egg and panko crumbs are used for binding and breading.  But what really makes these patties crowd pleasers is the red pepper mayo.  Instead of plain ol' mayo, I jazz it up with a purée of roasted red bell pepper and garlic.  It's a simple and flavorful combination.  A little of it goes into the patty mixture and the rest is served on the side.  Serve with a simple salad and some sliced garden tomatoes for a complete weeknight meal.  I made these patties with salvaged parts of another meal, but you can pick up a store bought rotisserie chicken in a pinch because they are definitely worthy of intentional meal status.


Mocha Cherry Granola

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My son, Jack, started eighth grade this year.  It's cool to be in the big dog grade of junior high, but not so cool to be the last one to eat.  By the time 1 pm rolls around, he is starving.  With his late lunch period in mind, I need to make sure he has a breakfast that will take him through the day.  Granola makes for a tasty, substantial first meal that provides a base of energy to last several hours.  And teenagers burn energy.  Sometimes I feel like I'm shoveling coal into the engine of a locomotive in the 19th century.   

Pardon the digression...on to the taste.  What is it about the combination of chocolate and coffee?  While each is great on its own, they bring out the best in each other when paired---kind of like two great actors.  And when surrounded by a capable ensemble including a star turn by dried cherries, the chemistry is delicious.  And the bonus at the bottom of the bowl-- mocha milk☺.


Sunday Dinner

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Popcorn Shrimp
Cocktail Sauce

Hawaiian Kahlúa Pork
Pineapple Sauce
Macaroni Salad
Rice Pilaf
Homemade King's Hawaiian Rolls

Guava Chiffon Cake

This Sunday we will be with family for one last meal together before my parents head South for the winter.  My mother is hosting and she created the themed menu with a little help from me.  We lived on the island of Oahu for several years during my childhood and we thought it would be fun to revisit some island favorites.  Most of the menu items are new and not yet tasted (trying to recreate those beloved flavors), but I do know how tasty the popcorn shrimp are so I provided that recipe to my mother in advance.  While she is preparing them this evening, I will be sharing them with you☺.

Unlike a standard fry batter, this one uses a mixture of flour and cornstarch for a crispy crunch.  In lieu of the usual water, club soda or beer, clam juice and my addition of chicken broth is stirred in with the seasoned dry ingredients.  This may sound strange, but the combination of the clam juice and chicken broth greatly enhances the sweetness of the shrimp.  Speaking of the shrimp, they are marinated before battering to give them an extra flavor boost.  The shrimp are then fried until golden brown and served with a dash or two of Tabasco and your favorite cocktail sauce.  Get to them pronto, because they are sure to disappear in a hurry!

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