Fresh Figs with Parmigiano-Reggiano and Balsamic Reduction

Fresh Figs with Parmigiano-Reggiano and Balsamic Reduction

 

Fresh Figs with Parmigiano-Reggiano and Balsamic Reduction

I know it seems strange that my last two posts have been about wintery soups and now I am here slapping you in the face with a full-on summer dish. But that is the game that Mother Nature plays with us – bringing us out of those cold dark days and into days full of bright greens and colorful menu options. When we just can’t take any more cabbage, and root vegetables, Mother Nature bring us a summer bounty full of fresh baby lettuces, snap peas and later tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, stone fruits and these little beauties.

Just look at the color of that fig – if that isn’t a sexy show stopper on your spring and summer table, I don’t know what is! It is the perfect hue of spring green.

I am also pleased to tell you that this little snack is not just gorgeous, but also super easy to prepare and only requires 3 ingredients – figs, cheese and balsamic vinegar. There is very little prep work and it is absolutely delightful to eat. Win, win, win! Beautiful, fresh and elegant. Perfect for sharing with friends and family. There is just something magical about the pairing of figs and balsamic vinegar. The sweet, syrupy richness of the vinegar cutting through the sweetness of the fig is unparalleled.

asset_BestBloggersContest

I have entered this recipe in this month’s Better Recipes Best Blogger Recipes Ever contest featuring Potluck and Party Food. If you bring this to a potluck or party I can guarantee that it will be the hit recipe!

If you have a great potluck and party recipe, please enter your recipe too. The more the merrier! The winning blogger each month will win a full page feature in a Better Homes & Gardens magazine! That means if yours is one of them, thousands of new readers will discover your voice. You will also win a $1,000 cash prize and be guest editor for a day!

Please check out my recipe and if you like it, I would definitely appreciate your vote in the contest. You can vote every day, so if you really like the recipe, think about voting more than once. Thank you and enjoy!

The Best Brownies Ever (with Cherries!)

Paleo Brownies (with Cherries!)

(gluten free/grain free/ dairy free/ paleo)

I did not title these Paleo, or Gluten -Free or even Grain-Free, because that might give you the impression that I believe these are the best PALEO (or GF ) brownies ever, when what I really mean is what the title says  - they are THE BEST brownies EVER.

I should have posted these for Valentine’s Day, but of course I didn’t make it. I did actually make them ON Valentine’s Day, so that should count right? But really these brownies are not for a special occasion, they are for every day. They are so good that they are considered one of the staples at our house and I am not even really a fan of chocolate desserts. They take only a few minutes to put together and they are packed with protein and have very little sugar. So they are actually quite good for you! Roberto even tries to get me to let him have them for breakfast and of course they are healthy enough for that, I just prefer them as an evening indulgence.

I have tried a ton of different paleo and gluten free brownie recipes because Roberto loves chocolate and I do enjoy brownies, if I am going to have something chocolate. Through this process of trying various recipes I came up with my own recipe. These brownies are pretty dense, so although they don’t rise much when baking, they are satisfying. If you like them really moist and fudgy cook them a little less.

The main ingredient is almond butter, so make sure to use one of good quality. My favorite is Barney Butter . Barney Butter is smooth and rich and doesn’t separate like so many almond butters on the market. It also doesn’t rip whatever you are trying to spread it on. Barney Butter is also certified GMO free, which no one can complain about. I lived on this stuff when I was pregnant with my daughter – stirring it into yogurt, mixing it into smoothies, putting it on top of ice cream, eating it with bananas or just right off the spoon if I needed an extra little boost. So if you know someone who is pregnant, get her a jar of Barney Butter, she will love it!

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup almond butter, I use Barney Butter
½ cup full fat coconut milk
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup cacao powder
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
2 TBS. raw honey
1/3 cup chocolate chips, I use Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips – they are Gluten, Dairy, nut & Soy Free,
Optional: 1 tsp of Dandy Blend or espresso powder
1 cup of cherries (frozen or fresh)

METHOD: Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8×8 pan. Mix all the ingredients together, except the chocolate chips and the cherries and then fold in the chocolate chips and cherries. Pour batter into pan. Bake for 18-20 minutes (20-22 minutes if using the cherries).

How I Approach Baby Led Weaning

Alba Eating
(Alba Rose enjoying mashed avocado with egg yolk)

I will start off by saying I am a rebel. I was never good at following directions. I never follow anything to the letter. I like to read all about a subject from all angles and then take an approach that makes the best sense for my situation and me. This is how I approach feeding my 5-month-old daughter, Alba Rose.

I had a great discussion on facebook the other day about Baby Led Weaning and other ways of feeding babies. Before I became a mom I had pretty much decided that I wanted to feed Alba Rose using the Baby Led Weaning approach. It seemed the most natural way to go about things – give baby food right off your plate. Let them be in control of their eating and readiness to eat. Don’t force babies to eat what they don’t like, just try giving them those foods a little later on and see how they fare.

My ultimate goal with feeding Alba is to try and foster a diverse palate in her. We are adventurous eaters in this family and so I want to give her the best start in becoming adventurous too!

It started when we in Italy when she was just over 3 months old. Somehow she put it together that when we sit at the table something amazing and flavorful happens. She started following our forks and spoons with her eyes as we were eating and then that evolved into her starting to open her little mouth as we put the food in our mouths. So we started giving her little tastes – some broth here, a little pizza sauce there, a taste of gelato when we were out and about. She even got a little taste of black truffle sauce (what a lucky girl). At that time it was all about having a sensory experience., we would just dip her “ciuccio” (pacifier) in something we were eating and she was content having a flavored pacifier. After a week or so she even developed her own sound to ask for this flavoring.

After we got home we started giving her runny egg yolks, mashing some banana or avocado for her and she came to expect those treats as part of her daily routine. I call them treats because she really only tasted small amounts. She was learning to chew and swallow something other than breast milk.

Well in the last two weeks, she would start to cry and get frustrated if we only gave her a little bit. So we started making her larger amounts. She still nurses as often as she ever did before, but now she also gets 2-3 “meals” in between nursings in addition. She has always been in the lower percentiles for weight (and the highest percentiles for height) so we are hoping this might bridge the gap a bit.

Since I want to develop her palate, I started to think about how I could give her variety, but also feed her during the day when we weren’t having a meal (so we couldn’t just feed her off our plates). I got a wonderful book Bébé Gourmet: 100 French-Inspired Baby Food Recipes For Raising an Adventurous Eater from a friend of mine before Alba was born and so I decided to start making some purees for her to enjoy throughout the day. Her pediatrician recommended meat as a first food, since the composition of meat is most similar to breast milk. She also advised against using any baby cereals because a baby’s gut is not totally developed until one year of age and that gut permeability can lead to health issues if a baby is not eating easily digestible foods like meat, egg yolks, vegetables and fruits. Apparently babies don’t have the enzymes to break down grains until they are over a year old! Plus rice for example has no real nutritional value, so why start your baby on a filler food when you can provide them with nutrient dense alternatives?

LiverandSweetPotatoPuree
(Liver and Sweet Potato Purees)

Alba is so enjoying her daily snacks. She eats a wide variety of things now: egg yolks, banana, avocado, ground beef, liver, bone broth, sweet potatoes, green peas and today for the first time, pears. She also enjoys drinking a little coconut water from time to time. We never have to fight with her to eat her little meals, she chows them down with gusto and she can really pack it away! She is definitely a foodie in the making. This process has all come together by taking her lead. I think that is why it has been so enjoyable for all of us instead of being rife with complaints or difficulty. Since becoming a mom I have already learned that things go so much easier when I don’t cling to certain ideas if they aren’t working for us. By letting go I have been able to enjoy her so much more than I would have constantly fighting to keep my pre-conceived notions intact.

Now that I am a mom, I might be adding some recipes to this blog from time to time featuring baby food recipes. My plan is to introduce her to a wide variety of nutrient dense foods and slowly start adding spices and flavors over time. When making baby food, rule number one, if it is something savory, don’t forget to add a little bit of flavor – a little salt and some herbs and spices! If you feed baby straight from your plate s/he would be getting these things anyway!

Today I made her a sweet potato puree with a pinch of salt and some turmeric and curry powder. Very small amounts, but enough that she can taste there is something complex going on there. I also made her a very tasty pear puree. I added some vanilla and cinnamon to it and it was so delicious that I wanted to eat the whole batch myself! It would be delicious stirred in yogurt or smeared on top of toast.

I gave her some of the fresh warm pear puree and she gobbled it right down. She absolutely loved it! She also tried the sweet potato. She wasn’t as excited about it, but I will try again later for her dinnertime snack.

I made small batches of these purees and using the great little BPA-free freezer trays from Mumi&Bubi it is easy to just pop a few out the night before, giving them time to thaw so she can enjoy them the next day,. I still haven’t figured out an easy way to warm them up for her yet, anyone have some suggestions?

Remember, always consult with your pediatrician regarding introducing solid foods to your baby and specifically discuss any foods that may pose allergy risks for your baby.

What is your experience feeding your baby? Do you use Baby Led Weaning or some other practice all your own? What are your baby’s favorite foods?

PearPuree
(Pear Compote)

Pear Compote with Vanilla and Cinnamon
Adapted from Bébé Gourmet

INGREDIENTS:

3 pears, I used a combination of Anjou and Bosc
water
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp pure vanilla extract

METHOD: Wash and peel the pears, remove the cores, seeds and stem and cut u p into cubes. Place pear chunks into saucepan and cover the fruit halfway with water and bring to a boil. Cook the pears uncovered over medium heat for about 15 minutes or until they are very tender. Sprinkle with cinnamon and pour the vanilla in. Using an immersion blender blend everything together to desired consistency.

Makes about 10 1 oz. servings.

Experimental Scoops for #ElleAPalooza: Hard Cider and Plum Sherbet #ElleAPalooza #Scoopapalooza

Elles_Sorbet

 

#ElleAPalooza is an even that any blogger can join! This is our community’s way to remember a wonderful friend, mentor and blogger that passed out of our midst suddenly and sadly, Elle of Elle’s New England Kitchen. Foodies celebrate with food and we also grieve with food and that is what this event is all about, remembering our dear friend Elle in a way she would have loved, with food!

scoopa

Elle and her friend Heather from He Cooks, She Cooks started an event called #Scoopapalooza and I just found out there is also a facebook page. This is the inspiration for Scoopapalooza in their words: “The idea is to pick up a new, unusual, or super fresh ingredient from the farmers market, grocery store, or even your own garden–and incorporate it into an ice cream recipe. Because that is what summer is all about! Fresh ingredients and ice cream!”

Well it isn’t summer anymore, but I decided what better way to honor my friend’s memory than with making my own crazy concoction! I was going to go straight up and just make Elle’s amazing Woodchuck Cider Sorbet  but I didn’t feel that was really in the spirit of Scopapalooza! I needed to mix it up – do something different, bold and a little crazy. So I decided on making a sherbet, using yogurt and of course that key ingredient, Woodchuck’s Cider. I know, sounds weird, but that is what Scoopapalooza is all about, getting creative with ice cream!

Talking to Heather the other day and remarking on her Hard Apple Cider Cranberry Sorbet  and how the color looked like Elle’s hair, I knew I wanted to add a pink element to this creation. So I added some plums I had frozen over the summer. I think the plum and the apple go well together, their sweet and tart flavors, mixed with the yogurt is definitely a delicious combination. For extra sweetness and more pink I also added some Swedish lingonberry concentrate. The sherbet didn’t get as pink as I would have liked, but I am happy with the result.

I learned a valuable lesson too, while making the sherbet. I wanted to use some delicious jarred morello cherries in juice that I get from Trader Joe’s – for the sweet and for the pink. We don’t have a TJ’s near us so when I come across one in our travels I always get a jar of those cherries (more if we have lots of extra room). They are precious because I love them so much and they are so hard to come by. So I dole them out sparingly, trying to save them, make them last longer. Well I guess I let these wait a bit too long, when I opened the jar there was a fizzy sound, meaning the cherries had spoiled. So I had to throw half the jar away. Instead of enjoying the cherries while they were good and fresh. By hoarding them, I lost half the jar. Lesson learned was to enjoy things in the moment because you never know what tomorrow will bring. Enjoy life NOW. If Elle’s passing taught us anything it is that life is precious and way too short. Follow your dreams, do what you love, be passionate about what you do, or don’t do it. Live each moment in the fullness of your being.

I think Elle would have been proud of my experiment and the lessons learned in its making. I wish I could have a dish with her right now to celebrate the sweetness of life. I am sure she is making delicious ice cream and treats in the great beyond. I love you, Elle.

If you would like to join the food blogging community in supporting Elle’s family, please join Friends of Elle on facebook to learn more about the auction be held to benefit her family. It is also a place where you can share your thoughts about Elle and gather with friends old and new who all loved this beautiful woman.

Hard Cider and Plum Sherbet

INGREDIENTS:

2 c. plain yogurt
1 bottle Woodchuck’s Hard Cider (Elle’s Favorite!)
1 plum, cut in half and parboiled
4 TBS lingonberry concentrate (can also use black currant or pomegranate)

METHOD: Place all ingredients in a high powered blender, like a Vitamix. Blend until mixed thoroughly. Place in your ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s directions. I let my sherbet mix for about 25 minutes.

Post-Partum Freezer Meals Series: Homemade Burgers and Meatballs

meatballs_final

The last post I wrote was my daughter’s birth story and it got me thinking about all the things I did to prepare for her birth. So I decided to start a series on easy Postpartum Meals for the blog. These posts will also be of interest to those who are friends or family of a pregnant woman that would benefit greatly from having meals brought to her family in those first two weeks post-birth. Or for people who just want to nutritious and healthy freezable meals.

In this day and age many new moms and dads are isolated or living far from family and friends. One of the best things I did for myself in late pregnancy was spending a week getting various healthy, nutrient packed meals in the freezer for us, so when the baby came we were all set with good things to eat.

All in all, I was able to freeze a month’s worth of breakfasts, and about a month’s worth of lunches or dinners.  We are still eating from this bounty supplemented with some quick and easy fresh meals as well and now that Alba is over a month old, we are also going out for meals sometimes also.

I have read a lot about preparing for the arrival of your baby and most articles would suggest gathering local take-out menus so that during those first few weeks postpartum where you don’t really have the time or energy for cooking, you can let someone else cook for you.

This is good in theory, but the reality is that what you eat those first few weeks is the first nutrition you will be feeding your baby, if you are breastfeeding. So for me I wanted to be sure that what she was getting was super nutrient dense.  You won’t get that from take-out.

I am going to start the series out with two super easy ideas, pre-made burgers and meatballs. I will also link you to my Pinterest board with other Postpartum meal ideas that gave me inspiration when I came up with my own menu. In the posts to come I will share a variety of soups, stews, breads, muffins, etc.

caramelized-onion_burger_ready-to-eat
Burgers:

Who doesn’t love a nice juicy burger? Especially at a time when your body could use more iron? Burgers are the perfect fix! Making burgers for the freezer is easy! I use 100% grass-fed beef as the base and then I like to add smoked salt and a little barbecue sauce to the meat, mix it with my hands and create the patties. The trick to this is then putting the patties on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet in a single layer and popping it in the freezer until frozen. This way you can package your burgers into 2 serving bundles without the patties sticking together. I used 3 lbs. of ground beef and got 12 patties.

spaghetti-and-meatballs_preparing-meatballs

 

Meatballs:

I made meatballs in the same way. I flavored one batch with Italian seasonings: salt, oregano, basil and thyme and the other with Middle Eastern spices: salt, cumin, coriander, paprika and sumac. I formed the meatballs and then cooked them on cookie sheets in the oven at 350 F for about 15 minutes. After they cooled I put them in a single later on cookie sheets and popped them in the freezer, then bagged them in 2 person serving sizes for the freezer. With the Italian version we had rice pasta with meatballs and with the Middle Eastern meatballs we made Middle East Inspired Meatballs.

Here is my pinterest board with other freezable meals to get your mind and taste buds going.

 

Homemade Pumpkin Coffee Spice and Paleo Pumpkin Muffins

Do you enjoy pumpkin spice coffees but don’t want all the chemicals and corn syrup? You don’t have to miss out on this favorite seasonal treat; consider making your own spice blend!

I started this kick by accident two years ago when I was grinding a special spice blend for my Pfeffernusse Shortbread Cookies  in my coffee grinder and forgot to clean it out. Next time I made coffee it had this wonderful spice that brought me right back to Yuletide in Norway. So I started making more and putting a pinch in my coffee in the morning all winter long.

Just this morning I was lamenting the fact that I can no longer enjoy Pumpkin Spice coffee drinks when I go out (I have been lamenting this seasonally for years now), since the syrups are full of corn syrup and other artificial flavors. I love Autumn, I love pumpkins and I love pumpkin spice everything this time of year! So I decided to make my own spice blend!

I have been enjoying Teecino as an alternative to coffee, it is an herbal coffee comprised mostly of ground roasted roots, like chicory and dandelion and nuts as well as dates and carob. The one I get is called Dandelion Vanilla Nut and it is 100% gluten free (unlike some of their other flavors). This lends itself nicely to the spice blend that I created, making a delicious, warm and seasonal beverage!

Of course no gourmet coffee experience is the same without a nice delicious treat to go along side, so here is also another recipe from Practical Paleo for Pumpkin Spice Muffins with Cranberries! The perfect healthy Autumnal treat!

Pumpkin Coffee Spice Blend:

INGREDIENTS:

2 tsp whole cloves
2 allspice berries
½ star anise
2 tsp cardamom
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon

METHOD: Place all ingredients in a coffee grinder and pulse until ground. Don’t worry about cleaning out the grinder!  Makes about 6 servings, use about ¼ tsp of spice blend per cup of coffee. Place spice mixture in the coffee filter with your coffee grounds for brewing.

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins adapted from Practical Paleo

INGREDIENTS:

3 eggs
¼ cup canned pumpkin
¼ cup butter or coconut oil melted
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 TBS pure maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut flour
Pinch of salt
¼ tsp baking soda
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
¼ cup fresh cranberries

METHOD:
Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix all ingredients (except cranberries) in a large mixing bowl, using an electric hand mixer. Then gently fold in the cranberries. Scoop evenly into a muffin pan (line pan or use a silicon muffin pan). Bake for 35-40 minutes. Serves 6.

My Favorite Treat of the Season

 

I have really been into smoothies and chia or avocado puddings this summer. Since going Paleo 6 weeks ago, my sugar intake has gone way down, and I have found myself being drawn more towards fresh fruit this season. Some of my favorite smoothies have been papaya with cardamom and cinnamon and this one, which is actually more of a pudding than a smoothie.

Roberto is the smoothie maker in the family, I just tell him what I want in mine and he whips it up in the vitamix. We usually have a smoothie after dinner on most nights.

Once papaya season was over, I started getting mangoes. For some crazy and fateful reason, the day Roberto made the first mango smoothie, he added an avocado to the mix. The result was amazing, the best treat of the season! As anyone who has made a smoothie with avocado knows, the consistency is more of a pudding that a smoothie. With the addition of lime juice, and the color of the avocado, this dessert is reminiscent of a key lime pie filling. As the season draws to a close, be sure to get in one of these delicious smoothie-puddings! You won’t regret it!

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup coconut milk
1 mango
1 avocado
2 pitted dates
Juice of 1 lime
½ tsp cinnamon
Ice

METHOD:
Place all ingredients in the blender in the order they appear (except the ice). Go from low speed to high slowly to make sure that all the ingredients blend well together in a smooth consistency. Once it has been blended add 1-2 ice cubes at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Serves 2.

Grilled Fresh Sardines

 

I hope everyone in the Northern hemisphere is having a good summer! We have truly been blessed this year with blue skies and warm (not super-hot) days. We have gotten some rain here and there, but all in all it has been spectacular. We have been spending a lot of time outdoors, taking long walks, hiking, and gardening. So I haven’t been online as much as usual and so it has been hard getting blog posts out, let keeping up with all my favorite blogs…but I am plugging away!

Summertime is all about fresh flavors and simple recipes. I love throwing veggies on the grill, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, onions, and potatoes – a great accompaniment to any dinner, simple and delicious.

Recently we were happy to find fresh sardines from Portugal at our local health food store. I have never had fresh sardines, although I see them on a lot of blogs this time of year, and I have always hoped to have a chance to try them. I have been trying to get into canned sardines for years – they are so good for you. But I have a hard time finding a good recipe to use them. Does anyone have any favorites? Please leave them in the comments, if you would! Plus we are always joking that if Roberto eats them, does that mean he is a cannibal? He is from Sardinia after all.

So when we got this package of beautiful fresh and silvery sardines, I knew I wanted to prepare them in a way that would really let us taste the fish. I looked online and found a lot of ways to prepare sardines, but in the end we went with simplicity, grilling them and serving them with fresh squeezed lemon juice.

I basically followed the directions for Portuguese Grilled Sardines from this website.  It is a very simple preparation and the result is truly delightful. Served up with some of those grilled veggies and a glass of vihno verde it is an excellent summer meal!