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Roasted Roma Tomatoes With Garlic and Basil

As many of you know, I love to entertain.  And the past two nights we've enjoyed the company of friends here in Florida.  So I decided to make some appetizers that would allow me to use up items left in our refrigerator, freezer and pantry as our Winter season winds down.

So here is the recipe I created to use up some Roma tomatoes...in a VERY tasty way!

COOKING TIP:  Hubby HATES the smell of roasting garlic.  (He thinks it smells like an electrical fire...LOL!)  And I've discovered by inserting the garlic cloves INTO the tomato flesh there is MUCH less of that smell for him to hate.  I'm not sure of the science behind that, but it is kind of amazing, I must say...

ROASTED ROMA TOMATOES WITH GARLIC AND BASIL
This tomato dish would work well as a side dish...maybe served with a grilled steak.  Or try what I did.  I turned the roasted mixture into a Bruschetta appetizer.

The Dish...BEFORE Roasting...
Roma Tomatoes (as many as you'd like)
whole garlic cloves
Fresh basil
Salt and Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (About 4 Tablespoons or so.)
Fresh or dried basil and/or oregano if desired (just a sprinkle)

Slice tomatoes in half and place in a casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray
Slide whole, peeled garlic cloves into the flesh of the cut side of the tomatoes
Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper
Scatter some sliced fresh basil into the dish and roast at 400 degrees for approx 25-30 minutes or until tomatoes start to blacken and garlic is soft.  Top with more fresh basil and serve...or make bruschetta!

BRUSCHETTA...MY Style!

Slice a baguette thinly on the diagonal.  Brush with the olive oil from the bottom of the dish of roasted tomatoes and bake on a cooling rack placed on a cookie sheet for about 8 minutes or until crispy.  (By placing the bread on a rack, it allows both side of the bread to become crispy.) Remove the bread from oven.  Mash the tomato and garlic mixture with a fork.  Top the toasted bread with the mixture and add a slice of fresh mozzarella.  Bake about 5 minutes or until cheese melts.  Remove from the oven and top with more shredded basil and a touch of coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.  ENJOY!!!


The Italian Flag...On A Plate

What is FOND?

Have you ever wondered why chefs cook with REGULAR pans that are NOT non-stick?  I'll show you why.  See this pan?  I fried sausage in it...and then I fried onions and garlic...and it looks like a burned on mess!


The BROWN you see in the pan is actually called FOND.  Now watch what happens when I DEGLAZE the pan with a little white wine...


All that YUMMY GOODNESS (a.k.a. BROWN BITS) are absorbed into the onions and garlic...and the results are MAGICAL.

I only wish you could have tasted the results...

I'll share the recipe (SAUSAGE STUFFED MUSHROOMS) another day...

And HERE is the pan after the deglazing process...hardly ANYTHING left to wash!  (A Non Stick pan would NOT give you these flavors...BELIEVE ME!)


Viva La FOND!!!!

Vivino...Simply AMAZING

It's amazing the things you can learn when you eavesdrop in a restaurant.

Several months ago, when we were eating breakfast at the beach, I overheard a man telling his dining companions about an amazing App he downloaded to his smart phone.  It's called Vivino.  It allows you to take a picture of the label on a bottle of wine...and immediately learn the cost, rating, and reviews of that vintage!  I found his comments hard to believe...but now let's just say I'm a BELIEVER!

So go to www.vivino.com   and check it out.

Or go to your App Store and download it...and give it a try.  And, best of all...IT'S FREE!!!

Cheers!

Applesauce Raisin Nut Cake

I'm beginning to survey my pantry here in Fort Lauderdale...and I'm looking for ways to use up what I have left in the cupboards and the refrigerator.

So today I noticed a half-empty jar of applesauce in the refrig.  Then I found a partial container of raisin and nut trail mix in the cupboard...and the wheels in my brain began to turn.

How about an Applesauce Raisin Nut Cake?

I found a recipe online, and then I started to "tweak" it...based on what I had on hand...and the ingredients I thought would taste good when combined.  And here is the finished product.



APPLESAUCE RAISIN NUT CAKE


2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
Approx. 1 cup nuts and raisins...nuts chopped

1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla


METHOD
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Mix together all dry ingredients and set aside.  

COOKING TIP:  When adding nuts or raisins to a recipe, stir them into the flour mixture to coat them.  It will help to keep them from falling to the bottom of the cake as it bakes!

In another bowl combine vegetable oil, applesauce, eggs and vanilla.  Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix well and pour into  baking pan.  Bake until done...approximately 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Serve WARM with ice cream or whipped cream...or COOL and  top with my favorite icing (since I also found a half-block of cream cheese and part of a stick of butter in the refrigerator during my earlier search)

CREAM CHEESE ICING

WHIP TOGETHER:
4 oz. softened cream cheese
2 or 3 Tablespoons softened unsalted butter
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla

STIR IN
2 cups powdered sugar (approximately...I don't measure!)
If needed...some half & half

Mix well with electric mixer.  If icing is too stiff, stir in 1 Tablespoon half & half...and add more if needed.

Spread on cooled cake.  Refrigerate until served...especially if you've topped it with the icing.

Easy Avocado Prep 101

Here is the easiest way to prepare an avocado...

Cut it in half and twist apart.  The large seed will probably remain stuck in one half of the fruit.  Strike the seed with the blade of your sharp chef's knife, and the blade should be stuck in the seed.  Then simply twist the knife and the seed should come out--still stuck to the knife blade.  Discard the seed and then follow these simple steps to remove every last bit of deliciousness.  Enjoy!

Stick the knife blade into the seed and twist...the seed will pop right out

Scoop around the avocado flesh with a large spoon

After flesh is loosened from the shell, slice across flesh

Then scoop contents from shell

Voile!  All that remains is the empty shell!

Sally's Rice Pilaf

Today I heard a knock on our door...and there stood neighbor Sally with her recipe in hand for her DELICIOUS Rice Pilaf.  I promised to share it with you...so here goes.

Sally says you can double, triple, etc. this recipe with great results.  (It's delicious as written, but I'm also going to experiment several times by adding fresh herbs and mushrooms...You know me-always thinking outside the box!)

This recipe, as written, serves 3 PEOPLE.

SALLY'S RICE PILAF



1 C. white, long grain rice
1 or 1 1/4 C thin style egg noodles
2 C chicken broth (or 1 can and the rest water to equal 2 cups of liquid)
1 stick unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

METHOD:
Place rice in a strainer.  Rinse, drain and set aside.

In a saucepan, melt butter and stir in uncooked noodles.  Stirring constantly, brown noodles until they reach a deep, golden brown color.  DO NOT BURN.

Place rinsed rice into butter/noodle mixture.  Add chicken broth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Let mixture come to a boil.  Then turn heat to simmer. Cover with a lid and simmer for 20 minutes, covered.  Do not stir or lift the lid.

COOKING TIP FOR FLUFFY RICE:  After 20 minutes, turn off heat and PLACE A DOUBLED THICKNESS OF PAPER TOWEL BETWEEN THE LID AND THE PAN.Let stand for at least 10 minutes.  Stir pilaf to distribute what has settled to the bottom of the pan.  Serve and ENJOY!

Thanks Sally!!

Wine Glass Polishing

I watched with HORROR last night as a waiter polished a wine glass before allowing the bartender to fill the glass.  First, he stuck his FINGER into the glass to pick "something" off the inside of the glass.  (I wonder where his fingers had been before that moment!)  And then he BLEW into the glass before continuing to polish it with a paper napkin.

After what I saw...I think I'll stick to BEER...unless I'm pouring the wine myself!

Does this waiter look like he's happy to be at work?  (He's probably wondering how many glasses he'll have to polish!)
HELPFUL HINT:  Use a paper coffee filter to polish your wine glasses.  (And keep your FINGERS out of the glass...unless it's your own!)

On A ROLL...

Our condo is small.  (Approx. 600 square feet!) And the last thing I need to see in our bedroom is a LARGE five-drawer dresser.  So Hubby arranged our closet to accommodate the dresser, as well as our hanging clothes.

The problem with that arrangement is that sometimes I have to MOVE the dresser to allow me to access the storage shelves beside the dresser...so today I asked my resident-handyman to install castors so I can easily move it when the need arises.

The next thing I knew...my dresser was upside down on our bed...



And the NEXT thing I knew...Fred was off to the hardware store!

Some scrap wood...a few screws...

Who needs a GYM membership when you can do THIS!!!

And the casters appeared...like magic!

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
Ask...and you shall receive...Especially if you have your very own handyman in residence!
(THANKS, DEAR!)

A Pan-Grilled Panini

You don't really need an expensive panini press to make a great panini sandwich.  Here's how to do it:

Stack two slices of GOOD bread (I used Publix 5 Grain Bread)  on top of each other, and butter the outsides.  Open the two slices and begin to add your sandwich ingredients.  Today I layered these items...

  • Thin sliced deli roasted chicken
  • Thinly sliced tomatoes (blot with paper towels to remove the liquid so your sandwich won't be soggy.)
  •  Fresh basil leaves
  • New York white cheddar cheese-sliced
  • red onions-thinly sliced
COOKING TIP:  If you want your sandwich to "stick together", make cheese both your first and your last ingredient!  That allows the cheese on BOTH pieces of bread to act as a "glue" to hold all of the other ingredients in place.


 Place the two sandwich halves back together.

One sandwich to finish building...Then off to the skillet!
Heat a non-stick skillet on medium-high heat and place sandwiches in the skillet.  Using the back of your spatula, press each sandwich down and flatten them, holding them down for at least 20-30 seconds.  When they are browned on the bottom, flip them over and repeat.  You can continue to flip the sandwiches over and over until the cheese is melted and the ingredients are heated through.

My pan-grilled panini with sweet potato chips
So you see...a simple sandwich can be a thing of beauty...and it beats a cold sandwich ANY day!


Our Newest Neighbors...

Our condo neighbors don't cause trouble or make much noise...they just hang around their condos and "chill out" by the pool.  But none of OUR neighbors hang around IN THE PALM TREES...unless they are baby iguanas!  And we have at least TWO living in the palm tree on our deck by the pool.  (I saw another one about three feet long earlier this year, so I'm guessing that one is MOM...and she's been pretty much out of sight this winter.) 

Our weather is really heating up here in Fort Lauderdale (temp is supposed to be almost 90 this week) and iguanas LOVE hot weather, so I expect these guys will be very active and visible as they lie in the sun and soak up some rays in the next few days.


I'll try to get some better pictures when these neighbors decide to come a little closer by climbing down the tree.  But remember...they change colors based on their surroundings...so they may be a different color in the next pictures I send!

Sunny Sunday...

It's a beautiful Sunday morning in Fort Lauderdale...


Ahhhh....

Dinner At Sally's

The dinner invitations keep rolling in as many of our neighbors are getting ready to pack up and head North for the summer.  And last night the invitation came from Sally.

It was a beautiful night to gather on the balcony for appetizers...



And soon it was time to find a seat at her table inside...


Sally is another cook (like me)  who is NOT afraid to try out new recipes on company.  And last night she made two new chicken recipes for us to sample...a lemon chicken and a chicken in a creamy dijon mustard sauce.  They were both delicious, but my favorite was the chicken in the creamy sauce.

For me, the highlight of her delicious menu was her amazing rice pilaf.  Sally told us that recipe was passed down to her from her Armenian mother-in-law.  


Sally promised to share the recipe with me, and I will share it with all of you when she does.  It was DELICIOUS.  Every grain of rice was separate and fluffy...and the flavors were AWESOME.



And her dessert was a beautiful pear and plum tart with whipped cream.  A delicious way to end another great dinner...

Now...if I only had a bowl of that rice pilaf to eat for breakfast...
I wonder if Sally is up yet...I think there were leftovers...
(Stay tuned for the recipe!)

A Fireman's Dinner...

Last night, our friends Billy and Joan invited us over for dinner.  Some of you may remember Billy's delicious Firehouse Chili recipe I shared on my blog several years ago.  (Billy is a retired NYC firefighter, and his wife Joan was a banker in New York City.)

Billy and Joan...and his famous chili.  (FYI...Joan says he stole the recipe from HER!)
Billy does most of the cooking in their house, and his cooking days in the fire house certainly allowed him to perfect some awesome recipes.  And last night he made an Italian dinner that was amazing.  Let's just say we all cleaned our plates...right down to the last drop of "gravy" (a.k.a. red sauce).

A beautiful table...filled with beautiful food!

Neighbor Sally, with Fred and Joan...ready to dig in!
Billy made a delicious spinach salad loaded with fresh tomatoes, boiled eggs and black olives...and BIG homemade meatballs served in a sausage "gravy" over perfectly cooked pasta.  He also encouraged us to add a dollop of ricotta cheese on top of the sauce and meatballs...a delicious and unexpected flavor twist I plan to copy from now on!  For dessert he served a delicious pie he admitted to purchasing at Publix.  (No harm-no foul!) Every chef has their short cuts...and he picked a delicious pie to end the meal.

 Joan admits she sometimes cooks, and she enjoys it, and I know she's a good cook too.  But Billy showed us last night that he certainly knows his way around the kitchen...and he also proved that an Irish guy can cook a GREAT Italian feast!  (Thanks to BOTH Billy and Joan for another wonderful evening in our tropical paradise...)


Our Slice of Paradise

Sometimes, when we are walking across the drawbridge in the evening, I just have to stop and take a picture...


It's definitely worth a thousand words....