Grilled Halloumi with Rosemary-Grape-Walnut Relish & Garlic Bread


Here we are in the heart of grilling season. There are a lot of enticing recipes out there – most of which revolve around meat – but I’m going to share something a little different, and if you’re a cheese-lover like me, you are sure to get excited about this one. It’s a cheese plate on the grill! A grilling cheese like halloumi or yanni can withstand the heat of the grill without melting. It softens nicely on the inside, and appealing golden grill marks form on its exterior. The creamy, slightly salty taste is a brilliant match for the sweet rosemary-grape-walnut relish and the the rustic, grilled garlic bread. The relish gets a delicious sweet, smoky flavor from cooking the bunch of grapes directly on the grill (I bet you’ve never grilled grapes before!) The garlic bread adds a nice savory counterpoint. Try this as an appetizer at your next BBQ, or as a dinner in itself (as we did) served with a salad dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. Dining al fresco makes it taste even better.


Grilled Halloumi with Rosemary-Grape-Walnut Relish & Garlic Bread

(From the June/July 2011 issue of Fine Cooking)

1 medium red onion, cut into 3 to 4 thick slices
2 Tbs. plus 4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 oz. halloumi cheese, cut into 3/8-inch-thick slabs (we used Yanni, a Mediterranean grilling cheese)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 small loaf of ciabatta (about 8 oz.),cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup walnuts
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 large bunch seedless black or red grapes (about 1-1/4 lb.)
2 to 3 tsp. balsamic vinegar

  • Prepare a charcoal or (high) gas grill.
  • Drizzle the onion slices with 2 tsp. of the oil and lightly season them with salt and pepper.
  • Pat the cheese dry and drizzle with 2 tsp. of the oil.
  • In a small bowl, mix the remaining 2 Tbs. of oil, the garlic, and a pinch each of salt and pepper; brush the mixture evenly over one side of the bread slices.
  • Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a small skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until golden-brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Coarsely chop the walnuts while still hot and transfer them to a medium bowl. Mix in the rosemary.
  • Place the onion slices and the bunch of grapes on the grill. Cover and grill, turning once, until the grapes are bursting and the onions are grill marked, about 10 minutes. Transfer the grapes to the bowl with the walnuts, and the onions to a cutting board.
  • Use tongs to pull the grapes from their stems as well as crush them one by one before dropping them into the bowl with the walnuts & rosemary. Chop the grilled onions and add them to the bowl. Season to taste with the vinegar, salt, and pepper. Set relish aside.
  • Clean and oil the grill grate. Place the bread and cheese on the grate and grill uncovered, turning once, until there are nice grill marks on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes. Divide the bread, cheese, and relish among 4 plates (if enjoying as an appetizer) or 2 plates (as a main dish) and enjoy immediately. A lighter bodied red wine pairs wonderfully with this meal.

And yes, I’m aware of the sippy cup in the background of our pictures. “You know you’re food blogger-mom when …”

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Fruit & Nut Granola


Jump-start your new year’s resolution to eat healthier by making a batch of fruit & nut granola! It freezes well so you can enjoy it with milk or yogurt throughout the start of the year.

Before Christmas my mom and I were browsing the baking section at the store, when we excitedly came across barley malt syrup (look for it in your natural foods store next to the molasses). It added a nice malty depth of flavor to the granola, but next time I think I’ll use more so that the flavor is more pronounced. For whatever reason, the dark brown color and the viscosity made me use it more sparingly than I should have. But the nice thing about granola is that if you (for the most part) keep the proportion of oats, oil, sweeteners, and mix-ins, you can add any combination of things, depending on what’s in your pantry. For example, we used half olive oil and half melted butter, a combination of barley malt syrup, honey, and maple syrup, and whatever nuts were in the freezer (almonds, walnuts, and pepitas). I’m sure every time we make it, it will be different!  How fun!

And it’s not too late to surprise someone with a homemade gift! We love these glass jars we found at Dig in Santa Cruz. They come in several shapes and sizes for gifting your granola in a variety of ways (or storing it for yourself, of course).

Fruit & Nut Granola

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

6 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (pepitas), not roasted
2/3 cup chopped almonds or pecans (or whatever nut floats your boat!)
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup barley malt syrup
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of cardamom
pinch of allspice
pinch of salt
1 cup dried apricots, diced
1 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup dried currents

  • Preheat to 375 degrees.
  • Stir together all the ingredients, except the fruit, in a large bowl and stir until combined.
  • Line 2 large (17-by 12-inch) rimmed baking pans with foil, and then parchment paper.
  • Spread mixture evenly onto pans. Bake, stirring occasionally, until golden brown (be careful, it browns quickly towards the end), 20-30 minutes. Rotate pans halfway through baking, if one is on the top, and the other is on the bottom.
  • Transfer granola, in the pan, to a cooling rack, continuing to stir occasionally for about 30 minutes. When cool, stir in the dried fruit. Transfer to airtight containers and freeze, up to one month.  If you leave it out, the fruit will soften it, but it will still taste delicious.

I have to share some pictures from Levi’s first Christmas! Here he is about to open his stocking on Christmas morning:

I’m pretty sure the best thing about Christmas was the wrapping paper and boxes!  Yippee!

We hope everyone has a safe, festive, and fun New Years!

Orecchiette with Roasted Root Veggies, Pine Nuts & Goat Cheese


It’s that awkward time in between winter and spring where in an attempt to somehow magically control the weather, I wear dresses and flip flops, but end up freezing. Really, the reason I want it to get warmer is so I can wear dresses instead of maternity pants. But I can be patient. In the meantime, plum trees are blooming all over town and they’re beautiful and remind us of Japan. We can also take advantage of the last of the winter produce, like all those root vegetables that are crying out to be roasted until they’re sweet, nutty, and caramelized.

In this pasta, we simply toss orecchiette (I know it means “little ears”, but I like to call them “little hats”) with cubed roasted root vegetables (we used sweet potato, parsnips, carrots and beets but use whatever combination you like), pine nuts, and goat cheese, resulting in a hearty pasta with a touch of creaminess. Soon we’ll have fresh peas, asparagus, rhubarb, and fava beans galore, but until then, enjoy the flavorful vegetables in this dish!

Orecchiette with Roasted Root Veggies, Pine Nuts & Goat Cheese

a couple small golden beets with greens – beets peeled and cubed, and greens washed and roughly chopped
1 small sweet potato, cubed
a couple parsnips, cubed
1 carrot, cubed
a few cloves of garlic, unpeeled
extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
a handful of pine nuts
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 lb. orecchiette pasta
1/2 cup chicken stock, warmed
soft goat cheese, crumbled to taste (we used a log of Cypress Grove goat cheese)

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Give your beets about a 10 min. head start in the roasting process (they take a bit longer than the other vegetables): Place on a baking sheet and toss with a little olive oil. Season with some salt & pepper and throw in the oven (not literally).
  • While beets start roasting, toast the pine nuts in a large skillet, stirring frequently until fragrant and golden. Set aside. Place the other cubed root vegetables and the garlic cloves on another baking sheet and toss with olive oil. Season with a little salt & pepper. Place in the oven to join the beets. Roast until all veggies are tender and caramelized, 20-30 min (depending on how small they are cut), stirring once or twice during that time.
  • In the same skillet that you used for the pine nuts, sauté the beet greens in some olive oil until wilted. Season with a little salt & pepper, and squeeze half a lemon over them.
  • Get some water boiling for the orecchiette. Cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and add to the skillet with the beet greens.
  • When the veggies are ready, remove from oven. Pick out the garlic cloves, and peel and chop (when cool enough to handle). Transfer the roasted veggies to the skillet with the pasta and beet greens. Add the chopped roasted garlic. Gently toss everything together, adding a little chicken stock at a time to keep the pasta moist. Add the pine nuts and goat cheese (to taste) and gently mix in (it’s ok if the goat cheese melts. It makes the pasta nice and creamy). Divide among bowls with some Parmesan cheese on top, if desired. Serves 2-3.

Chili-Lime Peanuts

Put a spicy, salty snack in front of me, and a pint of cold beer in my hand and I’m pretty much a happy camper. Unfortunately, I won’t stop eating the snack and might spoil my dinner. Despite my own personal weakness, my intention for making these zesty peanuts was to have something to offer before our Mexican BBQ without spoiling my family’s appetites! When I saw the recipe in the February 2009 issue of Bon Appetit, I know I had to make them. Okay, fine. It was an excuse to use my current obsession: Sriracha hot chile sauce. The combination of that and the lime will excite your taste buds! Because my grocery store only had roasted & salted peanuts (instead of the raw, Spanish peanuts the recipe called for), I had to modify it a bit — cutting the time in the oven from 30 minutes to 12 minutes, and using only 1/2 a tsp. of salt. Oh, and I probably doubled the amout of hot sauce, knowing me! The recipe below is the original version.

2 cups raw Spanish peanuts (about 10 1/2 ounces)
1 TBS. olive oil
2 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. hot pepper sauce
3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, toss the peanuts with the oil, salt, and sugar.
  • Scrape nuts onto a rimmed baking sheet in a single later.
  • Roast until fragrant and beginning to darken, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.
  • Transfer nuts to a large bowl. Add the lime juice, hot pepper sauce, and cayenne pepper and toss to coat.
  • Allow to cool completely. Then serve. Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

    Asparagus Pesto Pasta


    My cousin Nikita emailed me this recipe a few weeks ago and said that we had to make it together. Embedded in the email was a mouth-watering picture that drew me in: two asparagus tips neatly garnished a tangle of green pasta, dotted with pine nuts and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. How could I say no? For the entire week I looked forward to this meal. I love that our family is so food oriented. We can plan an entire evening around the food, whether it’s a holiday, or a weeknight meal like this one. And while we’re eating one meal we’re already talking about the next one! Anyway, asparagus is my favorite spring vegetable. I thought I’d had it prepared every way until I saw this recipe. What a great idea – blanching asparagus and turning it into a pesto with baby spinach, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil! It tastes so fresh and surprisingly the asparagus flavor was not as strong as we thought it would be. But it’s just subtle enough to remind you of its presence. Leaving some whole pine nuts to toss in at the end adds the perfect crunch to this beautifully verdant pasta dish.

    Asparagus Pesto Pasta
    (From Simply Recipes)

    1 bunch asparagus spears (about 1 lb), trimmed of tough ends and halved crosswise
    3 handfuls baby spinach leaves
    2 cloves garlic, peeled
    1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
    1 cup pine nuts
    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for topping
    Juice of 1/2 a lemon*
    1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
    8 ounces of dried pasta or 12 ounces fresh -linguini, fettuccini, or spaghetti**

    *we used a lime from our tree instead

    **the original recipe suggests mixing regular pasta with spinach pasta for a medley of colors

    • Bring two pots of water to a bowl – one large one for the pasta and one medium sized one for the asparagus.
    • While the water is heating, put the pine nuts in a single layer in a large skillet. Heat on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove pine nuts from pan and set aside. (You will use 3/4 cup of the pine nuts for the pesto and 1/4 cup to mix in whole).
    • Salt the asparagus water and drop the spears into the pan. Cook for only 2 or 3 minutes, until the spears are bright green and barely tender. Drain under cool water to stop the cooking. Cut the tips off, and set aside, several of the asparagus (diagonal cut about an inch from the end) to use for garnish.
    • Add the asparagus, spinach, garlic, Parmesan, and 3/4 cup of the pine nuts to a food processor. Process until smooth. With the motor running, drizzle in the 1/4 cup of olive oil until a paste forms. If too thick, thin it with a bit of the pasta water. Add the lemon juice and salt, taste and adjust seasoning.
    • Salt the pasta water well and cook the pasta until just tender. Drain and toss immediately with 1 cup of the asparagus pesto.
    • Serve sprinkled with the remaining 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, a dusting of Parmesan, and a light drizzle of olive oil. Serves 4 to 6.

    Farfalle with Golden Beets, Beet Greens, and Pine Nuts


    Reasons to love this dish: 1) It’s Green! Using both the beets and their greens means less waste (and less money at the store). 2) If you used red beets in this recipe, you would have pink pasta! Valentine’s Day idea, anyone? Ok, that’s a silly reason to love this dish. 3) The earthiness of the beets goes so well with the slightly bitter greens, the sweet onions, and the toasty pine nuts. Really, it’s a brilliant combination. We halved the recipe below because it serves 4-6. It paired beautifully with this 2007 Roussanne from Lavender Ridge Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills.

    Farfalle with Golden Beets, Beet Greens, and Pine Nuts
    (From the Feb. 2009 issue of Bon Appetit)

    1/3
    cup pine nuts

    4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
    2 large onions, quartered lengthwise through root end, sliced crosswise (about 4 cups)
    3 garlic cloves, minced
    2 bunches 2-inch-diameter golden beets with fresh healthy greens; beets peeled and cut into wedges; greens coarsely chopped
    12 oz farfalle (bow-tie pasta)
    1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving

    • Toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl.
    • Add 2 TBS. of olive oil and the sliced onions to the same skillet. Sauté until beginning to soften and turn golden, about 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to sauté until onions are browned and caramelized, about 30 minutes longer.
    • Add the garlic and stir for 2 minutes. Scatter the beet greens on top of the onions. Drizzle with remaining 2 TBS. olive oil, cover, and cook until greens are tender, about 5 minutes.
    • Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the beet wedges until tender, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beets to a medium bowl.
    • Bring the water back up to a boil and add the pasta to the beet cooking liquid. Cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot.
    • Stir onion-greens mixture and beets into pasta. Add pasta cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls to moisten. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Divide pasta among shallow bowls. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve, passing additional cheese at the table.

    Chocolate Chunk – Hazelnut Blondies


    I was in search of a dessert that Dustin could take in his lunches all week when I came across this recipe. These blondies were simple to make and are very adaptable. You can top them with any combination of nuts and/or chocolate that you like. You’ll find that the bitterness of the dark chocolate and the crunch of the nuts compliments the sweet, chewy base. The perfect afternoon pick-me-up! The only challenge I encountered while making these was keeping my kitties off of the counter and stove while I was baking them. They sure are determined little guys.

    Chocolate Chunk – Hazelnut Blondies
    (Adapted from the recipe Blondies with Pecans and Chocolate Chips on Epicurious, from the July 1998 issue of Bon Appetit)

    2 cups all purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder

    1/2 teaspoon salt

    1/4 teaspoon baking soda

    10 tablespoons (1
    1/4 sticks) salted butter
    2 cups (packed) brown sugar
    2 egg

    2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    4 oz. (1 bar) bittersweet chocolate, chopped

    3 oz. (a couple handfuls) roasted-salted hazelnuts, chopped

    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and a flour a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan. Set aside.
    • In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
    • Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over low heat. Turn off the heat and whisk in the sugar to blend.
    • Whisk in eggs and vanilla extract.
    • Gradually stir in the flour mixture (the batter will be pretty thick).
    • Pour into prepared pan and smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle the top with the chopped chocolate and nuts.
    • Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle of the pan comes out with moist crumbs attached.
    • Cool the blondies in the pan, then cut into squares. Makes about 24.