Roasted Cauliflower, Spinach and Mushroom Pearl Barley Salad

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To those of you who are regular followers of my blog, I apologize for my absence!  I go in waves thinking, “I will never be a blogger that allows my life to get in the way of my blog.”  NOTE TO SELF: Life always gets in the way!  And so should it.  Let’s Celebrate That!  Now at this moment, life getting in the way is a good thing so that’s why I celebrate.

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What am I celebrating?  Why not make a list?

  1. I am creating from scratch (with a friend) a neighborhood focused youth culinary training program that will culminate in a neighborhood farm-to-table brunch.  Yes, it’s massive and warrants most of my focus currently.
  2. I am active in my church and serving on a steering committee.  Remember in high school when you were involved because it added to your social life, well I now wish that I was more involved and took on more responsibility.
  3. I am making new friends and enjoying new social opportunities.  Raise a glass to opening up your horizons.

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I chose Pearl Barely over Quinoa because of the high price of Quinoa and that Pearl Barley and Rice are more readily available at the super markets that our youth shop at though I think Quinoa, Bulgar Wheat, and Brown Rice could also work well.

Recipe adapted from she cooks, she gardens.

Ingredients

    • 1 cup Pearl Barley
    • 1/2 tsp dried fennel seeds
    • 1/8 tsp dried chili
    • 1 head cauliflower, divided into bite sized florets
    • 4-6 Tbs olive oil
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • 1/2 – 1 tsp ground cumin
    • 4 oz mushrooms, chopped
    • 1 large bunch of spinach, stalks removed
    • 1 Tbs Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar or regular Balsamic Vinegar
    • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
    • 1 bunch basil leaves, rolled together, sliced and soaked in olive oil
    • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
    • 3-4 oz crumbled feta cheese
    • salt and pepper to taste

**I recently attended a cooking class taught by a Le Cordon Bleu, Paris instructor and I learned so many good techniques.  I will try and pass some on.  My favorite was that salt and pepper should be added when food first starts to cook, not at the end.  This enhances the flavor.**

Directions

    1. Cook the Pearl Barley according to the package instructions with the fennel seeds and dried chili.  This takes about 45 minutes.  Allow the pearl barley to cool.
    2. Preheat oven to 400º F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a bowl, mix the cauliflower florets, 2 Tbs olive oil, 1 clove minced garlic, and 1/2-1 tsp ground cumin, according to your taste. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Spread the cauliflower on the baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes, checking at 15 minutes and turning the heat down to 350º F if golden.  Bake until just tender.  Allow the cauliflower to cool.
    3. Saute mushrooms and 1 clove minced garlic in 2 Tbs olive oil with a dash of salt and freshly ground pepper over medium-high heat until the mushrooms begin to sweat, 3-5 minutes.  If they screech, turn down the heat.  Add the spinach and mix until it starts to wilt.  Add the balsamic vinegar and immediately turn off the heat.  Fully incorporate the balsamic vinegar.
    4. Lay the basil leaves each facing up and roll lengthwise.  Chop the basil and transfer strips to a small shallow dish.  Cover with 1-2 Tbs olive oil. This stops the browning process of the basil.
    5. In a large bowl, combine the pearl barley, cauliflower, sauteed mushrooms and spinach, green onions, basil, and fresh parsley.  Fully combined and season with salt and pepper as needed.  Mix in the feta cheese and serve.

 

Sugar Free Date & Nut Granola Bars

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Every 6 months or so I venture to make my own granola bars.  The first I made, which were simple but sugary, were these Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Granola Bars.  Months later a friend turned me on to dates in baking and I tried these Cinnamon Walnut Date Balls.  These were low in sugar but stored best in the freezer.  I’ve tried some no bake, but for me they don’t seem to bind.

So, my goal is to create a granola bar that is low in sugar (i.e. honey, agave nectar) and doesn’t require any type of oil or butter (i.e. coconut oil, peanut butter, almond butter, apple butter) and doesn’t crumble upon the sight of a knife.  Agh, what a challenge!

Result:  They actually don’t need any sweetener!! The dates make them sweet enough, but in the future I think I will substitute 1/4 cup maple syrup or agave nectar for 1/4 cup (appx) of dates.  The dates make them a tad bit too rich, so I’ll need to work on a good balance.  I think I’m off to a good start!

Enjoy with fresh berries and greek yogurt drizzled with agave nectar!

Ingredients

    • 2 Cups dates, pitted and soaked in a bowl of water (measure before removing pits)
    • 2 Cups Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
    • 1/2 cup flax seed
    • 3/4 cup nuts and seeds
    • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
    • 1 cup dried berries, cherries and raisins
    • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 325º F.
    2. Remove the dates from the water with a slotted spoon and pulse in a food processor, adding additional date water (from soaking dates) until the dates resemble apple butter.
    3. In a large bowl, combine the Oats, flax seed and cinnamon. Add the dates and a few Tablespoons of water (as needed) until the mixture is moist but not wet.
    4. Mix in the nuts, seeds, and dried fruit until well combined.
    5. Line an 8×8 or 9×9 baking pan with parchment paper.  Press into the baking pan with another sheet of parchment paper and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and freeze until the bars are firm (about 1 hour).  Lift the parchment paper out of the pan and cut into 8-12 bars.
    6. Store in the refrigerator.

A Tapas Taster Night

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Last weekend I threw a Tapas taster night for many of my friends.  I cooked all the food in my kitchen along with a few friends and served a new Tapas every 30-45 minutes.  It was a big challenge but a lot of fun and personally a big accomplishment.

I started planning the party 6 weeks out and tested most of the Tapas on my blog.  The week of I finished all my planning and preparations.  Looking back, next time I’ll finalize all my food plans two weeks before and the week of focus on finalizing party details.  There are so many things to consider when entertaining.

The most popular Tapas by far were the Pear, Hazelnut & Honey Mustard Crostinis and a close second were the Bacon Wrapped Dates with Stilton Cheese and Marcona Almonds.

I wanted to share a few photos here.  I hope you find inspiration in them.

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DIY: Wine Display & Table Runner

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For the last year I’ve talked about throwing a Tapas Taster night and last weekend, also the anniversary of my blog, I finally threw the party.  More on that later.

First, I wanted to share a project that I’ve poured much energy into over the last month.  When creating my Evite invitation, I read about this Benevolent Wine Tasting Party for party ideas.  I loved the use of chalk and chalkboard material, especially the way the wine was displayed.

Just days later I was out walking and saw a table leaf being thrown out. Immediately I envisioned it as my wine display for my party, using chalkboard paint.  After looking online, sharing with a friend, and going to Home Depot, I purchased paints and went to work on the project.

Tapas Display Paintbrush

Though it’s not typical for my blog, I wanted to share the process with my readers.  I hope you enjoy and find inspiration!

My idea was to use the back side of the table leaf for the display.  The top side of the table leaf was not in good condition and upon closer examination I found that the leaf was made of pressed wood with a veneer finish.

Table Leaf Unsanded Paintbrush

I decided to paint the interior red and the bottom a slate blue.

My friend recommended that I sand it down real well to get past the veneer finish so that the paint would adhere.  This turned out to be a much bigger task than I first anticipated!

Full Table Leaf Sanded Paintbrush

As you can see, I got ahead of myself and painted the interior before the leaf was fully sanded.

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Ironically, I loved the look of it after sanding and part of me didn’t want to change it, but I knew that I had to see my vision realized.  At a later point I may find more freedom to adjust the vision as I go, but at this point it seemed more important to finish the project.

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The trickiest part about painting was applying the painters tape.  The edge sanded down very smooth and round, so I chose to paint the chalkboard paint over the edge.  Since the tape was on a curved surface, it didn’t adhere as well as when it was on a flat surface, therefore the paints tended to run into each other.

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Table Leaf Red & Slate Blue Paintbrush

Before using it again, I may touch it up and make the lines cleaner but it will depend on whether I find it useful for parties or an annoyance to store.
Since the particle board was rough and the paintbrush I used wasn’t the highest quality, the finish isn’t very smooth, making it hard to clean up.

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Table Leaf Finished Paintbrush

Roasted Fennel & Rosemary Baked Macaroni and Cheese

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My friends do a weekly dinner with themes and this week was a Macaroni and Cheese Bake-Off.  Apparently this is actually a thing!  We had Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon & Chives, Macaroni and Cheese with Brussels Sprouts & Bacon, this Roasted Fennel & Rosemary Baked Macaroni and Cheese, and of course the classic Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

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I adapted this recipe from Verses from my Kitchen for the macaroni and cheese and used this recipe for Roasted Fennel and White Bean Dip from Sprouted Kitchen for the roasted fennel & rosemary.  I have to say, the fennel was the hero here!  It added a subtle sweetness and a nice crunch.  Be sure and try the Roasted Fennel and White Bean Dip, it was delicious!!

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This was my first experience making homemade macaroni and cheese and although it was successful, the most difficult part was adjusting the recipe for a full bag of macaroni (16 oz).  I had purchased just enough heavy cream for the recipe, so I don’t think it was as creamy as it should’ve been.  If you want better accuracy, you can follow the recipe from Verses from my Kitchen, though I would also reduce the amount of roasted fennel that you add.

Ingredients

    • 1 large fennel bulb, fronds reserved
    • 3-4 cloves garlic, skins on
    • 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
    • salt and pepper
    • 1 tsp rosemary leaves
    • 16 ounce bag of macaroni
    • 4 Tbs butter
    • 1/3 cup flour + 2 Tbs
    • 4 cups whole milk
    • 1 1/3 cup heavy cream
    • 2 cups grated Gruyère cheese
    • 2 cups aged white cheddar cheese
    • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    • salt and pepper to taste
    • 2/3 cup bread crumbs (topping)
    • 4 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese (topping)
    • 1.5 Tbs butter (topping)

Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 400º F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
    2. Roughly dice the fennel.  In a small bowl mix the fennel with 1 1/2 Tbs olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Spread onto the prepared parchment paper. Add the garlic with skins in the corner and douse with the remaining olive oil.
    3. Roast for 15 minutes and then toss the fennel.  Decrease the oven to 350º F and continue to roast for an additional 12 minutes or until golden. Transfer the fennel to a bowl and set aside the garlic.
    4. Dice the fennel fronds.  Loosely mix the fennel fronds and rosemary in the remaining oil on the parchment paper.  Roast for 3 minutes.
    5. Butter two medium or one large casserole dish.
    6. Cook the macaroni according to the package directions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup liquid, drain and transfer to a large bowl.  While preparing the cheese, if the macaroni starts to stick add just enough liquid to loosen it.
    7. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the fennel fronds and rosemary, smash the garlic and add until well combined.  Add the flour and cook for about 2 minutes, whisking continuously.  Slowly add the milk and cream, whisking continuously until smooth.    Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to build up on the spoon, about 8 minutes.  Incorporate the three cheeses until smooth.
    8. Mix the cheese mixture with the macaroni until fully combined.  Chop the fennel into small pieces.  Add the roasted fennel.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
    9. Transfer the macaroni and cheese to the prepared dishes.
    10. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Add the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese until well combined.  Sprinkle over the macaroni and cheese.
    11. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  Sprinkle with fresh fennel fronds if desired.

Note: 

    1. These directions are based on my style of cooking, but if desired I encourage you to study the original recipes and see if their style works better for you.
    2. The roasted garlic easily over browns and burns.  Remove early if necessary.

Aside

A Tapas Party

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I am hosting a Tapas Party at the end of February and though many of you reading this can’t come (oh, how I wish you could.  I love to host!) I am sharing with my guests here what they can expect.

If you also have a hospitality gifting, I hope these Tapas will inspire you for your next party or gathering.

Some Tapas you may expect with their wine pairings are the following:

If you would like, please vote on your favorite Tapas (up to 6):

Since I love everything local and natural, the majority of the produce will be purchased from a Long Beach Farmer’s Market and the chicken will be Vegetarian fed.

Happy Medjool Date Day: Bacon Wrapped Dates with Stilton Cheese and Marcona Almonds

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Happy Medjol Date Day!

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I’m a little slow on the uptake, but I had planned to make these bacon wrapped dates today anyway so I thought I would share them before the days up.

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Honestly, I will have to wait for my taste testers to tell you how they taste.  I went to the dentist today because of some jaw pain I have from a cavity filled a week ago and I was instructed to only eat soft foods for the next week. Let me tell you, that is the worst news for a food blogger!

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I’m preparing for a Tapas party, so most of my posts this month will feature dips, small bites and finger foods.  These aren’t actually Medjol dates, but Organic Halaway dates from Bautista Family Organic Date Ranch.  With 7 varieties available, you will marvel as you taste test and the dates melt in your mouth.  I love these dates so much that I call the seller my “date guy” and I was sorely distressed last spring when they disappeared from my market (end of their selling season).

If you live in Los Angeles, Long Beach or Orange County, check out their Farmer’s Market page.

Ingredients (serves 16)

    • 8 Slices Apple wood Smoked Bacon
    • 16 Medjol or Halaway dates
    • 16 Marona Almonds or Trader Joe’s Roasted & Salted Marcona Almonds with Rosemary
    • 1/2 lb English Blue Stilton Cheese
    • 16 toothpicks

Paintrush dates 1

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Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 400º F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
    2. Slice dates to remove pits and discard.  Add one Marcona almond and a chunk of cheese to each date.
    3. Slice bacon pieces in half.
    4. Wrap date with bacon and secure with a toothpick.
    5. Bake for 20 minutes or until bacon is browned.
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