Pear, Pecan, and Blue Cheese Salad

FullSizeRender-1The bite of blue cheese paired with the sweetness of candied pecans* and fresh pears make for a myriad of flavors in this salad. When pears are in season, it’s a great way to use up a stash that’s all ripened at the same time. (Anyone else have that happen? Green, green, green…oh no! They’re all ripe NOW!) And where did I get this winner? From my friend and co-worker Tom, a single guy who claims to not know how to cook, and who has been my number one blog fan (but not in a creepy “Misery” kind of way…). His Mom shared the recipe with him, which she’d found in the November 2015 edition of It was touted as the perfect first course at a Thanksgiving dinner, but my friend Marylee and I made it for lunch on a hot, June day, and it was juuuuuust right. I did make a few adjustments—doubled the amount of pecans (but not the sugar), upped the Dijon mustard, and added some cukes to the salad. They suggested using Roquefort cheese,* as it’s supposed to have the best flavor, but I couldn’t find it at Costco on my weekly trek. So I used run-of-the-mill blue cheese, and it was simply delicious.

Makes 4 main dish, or 6 side salads

For candied pecans:
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 cup pecans

For dressing:
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
Dash course-ground black pepper

For salad:
1-2 heads romaine lettuce, julienned (about 8-10 cups)
3-4 pears, cored and cubed
1 cucumber, sliced and quartered into bite-size pieces
1-2 avocados, diced
4-6 scallions, sliced thin (aka: green onions)
6 ounces Roquefort or blue cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)

Combine sugar and pecan halves in small skillet on medium heat. Stir gently until sugar has melted and caramelized and adhered to the pecans. Transfer nuts to a piece of tin foil and set aside to cool. (Try to break up nuts as you place on foil.)

In clean glass jar—or whisk in a bowl—combine olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon, garlic, salt, and pepper for dressing. Set aside.

Layer lettuce, pears, cucumbers, avocados, scallions, and blue cheese on a large platter or 4-6 individual plates. Drizzle with dressing. Break up cooled candied pecans, and sprinkle on top just before serving.

*NOTES: If you don’t have time to make the candied pecans and let them cool for your salad, you can purchase Planters honey roasted peanuts, and sprinkle those on top of your salad(s). The snack pack size is perfect for an individual salad. The candied pecans or honey roasted nuts really are an essential ingredient to this salad recipe!

Roquefort cheese is aged exclusively in the Combalou caves in France, and is known for it’s creamy texture, as well as fabulous flavor. No wonder I couldn’t find it at Costco. That’s just too uppity for a big box store.

Rhubarb Strawberry Jam

FullSizeRenderTart, tangy rhubarb makes a perfect fresh, summery jam, especially with a subtle hint of strawberry. So if you’ve got more rhubarb than you know what to do with, stir up a batch of this and give grape jelly a break from kitchen duty. I got this recipe from my friends Tom and Kim, who got the recipe from Tom’s mother, Clara. Clara immigrated to America as a young woman, so English wasn’t her first language. That’s why I smile when I read my copy of her neatly typed recipe, with sugar consistently spelled “suger.” And there’s another twist to this tale—I now work with Clara’s granddaughter, Lauren, and I love it when she shares memories of her “Oma,” who has since passed away.

I’m glad Clara shared this recipe with me 20+ years ago, because it’s become a favorite with my sons who prefer this over the sweeter berry jams. My Mom was kind enough to cut me a wheelbarrow full of rhubarb from her garden this year, as I’d used most of mine making rhubarb cake for parties. This recipe takes a whopping 18 cups of fresh rhubarb, but after soaking it in the sugar (or “suger”) overnight, it shrinks. (I don’t quite get the science of that…) Once you’ve done your overnight duty, this jam is a snap to make. You can freeze it or can it. My directions below are for canning it, which is my preference. And our favorite bread on which to slather this jam? Old Country Potato Dill Bread, previously posted.

Makes 12 pints

18 cups chopped rhubarb
5 cups granulated sugar
2 (6 ounce) packages of strawberry flavored Jell-O®

In large plastic bowl* combine chopped rhubarb and sugar. Cover with plastic wrap or kitchen towel and let set overnight. Juices from the rhubarb will create a simple syrup from the sugar. (See “before” and “after” pictures below.)

Gather a dozen Kerr® or Ball® pint canning jars and wash in hot soapy water, or run through dishwasher. Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to boil. Add a dozen fresh canning lids and rings to boiling water. Turn off heat, and let lids sit for 5 minutes in the hot water. Now your jars and lids are ready for canning.

Pour rhubarb and sugar syrup into large Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring as it cooks. Stir in both packages of strawberry Jell-O and stir to combine. Remove from heat and use clean ladle to pour jam into prepared jars. Wipe rim of each jar with clean, wet rag to remove any excess jam from jar as it will prevent a clean seal. Top jar with clean, sterilized lid, and tightly screw on band. Invert jar. Repeat process with all 12 jars, turning all of them upside down once filled. Let sit for 5 minutes, then turn all of the jars right-side up and wait for them to “plink.” (As they seal, you will hear the sound of the lid creating a vacuum seal. It may take up to an hour for them to all seal.) Test the tops of jars by pressing lightly in center of lid. They are sealed when the center of lid stays down and doesn’t pop back up. Store in cool, dry place for up to a year.

NOTE: Metal bowls will react with the rhubarb, so it’s best to use a plastic bowl. I use the top of a cake carrier. It’s the perfect size for this amount of rhubarb, and since I never make and take cake, the poor container gets used for something, rather than being ignored and neglected in my basement.



Old Country Potato Dill Bread

FullSizeRenderTo keep homemade bread tasting just-from-the-oven-fresh, do what your great-grandmother did, and add leftover mashed potatoes to the batch of dough. I’ve been making this recipe since 1990-something, after running across it in a Country Home magazine (read while waiting for my son at the orthodontist, if I remember right…), but I rarely have mashed taters leftover from a meal. So I follow the instructions below for boiling up potatoes to make the dough.

(Disclaimer: No, I did not steal a magazine from the orthodontist’s office. I politely asked the receptionist if she’d make a copy of the recipe for me, rather than tearing it out and ruining some other mother’s day by leaving behind a mutilated magazine. The receptionist looked at me like I had two heads, but copied it off anyway. Apparently not a lot of people request copies of recipes while at the orthodontist, huh!)

FullSizeRender-1Now to confess the REAL reason I write this blog. I’m selfish. I want all my recipes in one, handy, organized place, so I don’t have to search through a gazillion cookbooks, and dig in piles of old newspaper and magazine clippings to unearth my tried-and-true favorites. Since I’ve been posting for over a year, I was shocked and surprised when I couldn’t find the potato bread recipe after searching for tags like “potato” and “dill.” How could I not have posted this treasure yet!?! This is far and away my three son’s fave bread. They loved it as an after school snack when they were kids, slathered in peanut butter. They love it with meals as adults, with butter, or without. It’s so moist, it doesn’t even need butter to be the best bread ever.

And what goes perfect with this bread? Sweet-tart Strawberry Rhubarb jam, recipe to come later this week when I make my annual batch.

Makes 3 loaves

Sponge (another name for “starter”):
2½ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ cup all-purpose flour *
½ cup warm water (at least 100° Fahrenheit)

2 medium red potatoes, peeled
3¼ cups all-purpose flour *
2 teaspoons dried dill weed
1½ teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

To make starter: Combine yeast and water in medium bowl, and stir in water until all ingredients are combined and no dry patches of flour remain. Set starter in a sink filled with 2 inches of hot water. Let rise 20 minutes. (Or overnight—the recipe suggests that it makes for a more flavorful bread as it gathers more mold spores that way. I’ve never done this, so I can’t vouch for an enhanced flavor for your efforts!)

To make bread: Fill a small saucepan with enough water to cover the potatoes. Cover pan and bring water to a full boil. Reduce to medium heat and cook potatoes until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove potatoes with slotted spoon, and place in bowl of mixer. Reserve 1 cup of potato water and let cool to room temperature. Mash the potatoes in the mixer bowl, and stir in potato water.

Fit mixer with dough hook. To bowl of potatoes and potato water, add flour, dill weed, salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and bread starter. Stir on 1st or 2nd mixer setting until dough forms into soft ball, riding around on dough hook, and no dough remains on sides of bowl.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and sprinkle top of ball with more flour. Knead dough by hand, adding more flour as dough gets sticky. Continue to knead until dough is smooth and elastic.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a medium-sized bowl, and rotate bowl to coat bottom and sides with oil. Drop dough ball into bowl, then turn dough to coat all sides with oil. Cover bowl with a clean, damp cotton kitchen towel and let rise in sink filled with 2-3 inches of hot water for 1 hour, or until dough is doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Drizzle baking sheet or 3 pie tins with additional olive oil, then use paper towel to spread oil evenly across pan(s). Sprinkle baking sheet or pie tins with a light dusting of corn meal (which acts as ball bearings for your bread as it rises and bakes on pan). Punch dough down, and turn onto lightly floured board. Cut into 3 equal pieces. Sprinkle pieces with flour. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, bring outsides of dough into center and punch down, and continue doing that until nice ball of dough has been formed. Place 3 balls of prepared dough onto baking sheet or 1 on each pie tin. Cover dough with dry kitchen towel, and let rise in warm, draft-free place for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until dough is almost doubled in size.

Once dough has risen sufficiently, slice across top of each loaf 3 times with a sharp, serrated knife, going about 1/4″ or 1/2″ into top of dough. Place dough in preheated oven, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until top and sides of bread is golden brown. Bread should sound hollow when tapped when it’s done. Remove to wire rack to cool immediately out of oven. Cool bread for at least 30 minutes before cutting into a loaf. Cool bread for 2-3 hours before placing in Ziplock bag to store. Do not refrigerate.

*NOTE: Original recipe called for using bread flour, but I’ve never found much difference in taste or texture when I’ve used bread flour over all-purpose flour to make bread.

Brownie Bites

FullSizeRender-1My neighbor Diane sent me this recipe for brownie fake-outs after she heard I was doing the Whole30 cleanse, knowing that giving up chocolate for a month might be a bit of a challenge. (That’s the understatement of the year…) Looking at the short ingredient list, you wouldn’t think you could possibly get a chocolate fix out of these morsels, but they do taste surprisingly rich and fudge-like. I found I needed a ½ cup more dates than the author of the recipe on used in order to get the ingredients to stick together. I also felt more salt was needed for flavor, so doubled the amount.

The oil from the walnuts makes these pretty slippery when you are shaping them, so I rolled half of mine in toasted coconut to see if that absorbed some of the oil, and made them look like truffles. Then I tested the recipe on my book club babes, and they liked the fudge bites both with, and without the coconut. These were best served within 24 hours, as they started drying out and getting crumbly after a day in the frig. If I make these again, I’m thinking it might be a good idea to wrap each one in plastic wrap to keep them moist. I’m also thinking I really, really, REALLY want an honest-to-goodness brownie made with flour and butter and sugar. But this is a nutritious alternative, one loaded with omega-3 fats from the walnuts. If you want something loaded with the other stuff, keep on lookin’. It ain’t here.

Makes 1 dozen

1½ cups raw walnut halves
1½ cups soft, pitted dates
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon water
½ cup shredded, unsweetened coconut, toasted *

I food processor fitted with “S” blade, grind walnuts into a fine meal. Add dates, cocoa, vanilla, and salt, and process until ingredients stick together and start to form a dough. Shape tablespoons of dough into balls, and place in parchment-lined container. Cover and place in frig to set. Once firm, wrap each brownie bite in plastic wrap. Return to frig to keep until serving or grabbing for lunches or snacks.

*NOTE: Toasting coconut brings out the natural sugars, and enhances flavor. Preheat oven to 375°. Place shredded coconut on baking sheet and toast for 5 minutes, then stir and toast for additional 5 minutes, or until coconut is golden brown. Cool before rolling brownie bites in toasted coconut.

Greens, Grapes, and Tuna Lunch Salad

IMG_1615OK co-worker Tom, it’s time to stop drooling over my lunch, and make your OWN salad! The base of this recipe is a fresh take on canned tuna, and was from the Whole30 cookbook. But I’ve embellished it to make a salad that I really love for lunch. It all started when we had inadvertently stock-piled on canned white Albacore tuna, and there were cans and cans of it crowding the cupboards. (Anyone else do that? Think, “Oh, I think we need THAT,” as you spot it at the grocery store, when in fact you’re positively swimming in that item already?) This recipe has been a great way to use up the plethora of tuna. You can just as easily use canned chicken—so grab whatever floats your boat! I like to make 4 of these salads at a time, and then refrigerate the ones I’m not taking for lunch. They keep quite well, and it’s a great time-saver for the morning rush.

Makes 4 salads

Whole30 mayonnaise:
1¼ cups olive oil (not extra virgin), divided
1 egg
½ teaspoon dried mustard
½ teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon

In food processor or blender, combine ¼ cup olive oil, egg, dried mustard, and salt. Blend until combined. Very, very slowly, drizzle in the remaining 1 cup of olive oil with motor running, and process until oil is emulsified (thickened to mayo consistency). Add juice of lemon and pulse until combined. Refrigerate for up to one week, but no longer.

For tuna (or chicken) salad:
15 ounces (or 3 – 5.1 ounce cans) of white Albacore tuna or all white meat canned chicken, drained and flaked
½ cup Whole30 mayonnaise or Hellman’s real mayonnaise
Quarter of yellow onion, minced
1 tablespoon dill weed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Combine all ingredients in bowl, breaking apart meat with fork. Set aside until rest of salad is assembled.

For base of salad, layer on 4 plates or in 4 plastic containers:
1 head romaine lettuce, leaves rinsed and dried, then jullienned
2 fistfuls of spinach leaves, julienned
3 scallions, sliced thin
2-3 stalks celery, sliced
3 slices of jicama (½-inch thick), cut into ½-inch cubes (optional) *
2 cups green grapes, sliced in half

Top greens and grapes with prepared tuna (or chicken) salad. Serve on plates, or cover container and refrigerate.

IMG_1614*NOTE: Jicama is also called a Mexican potato, and it is a deliciously crunchy addition to any salad. You peel off the tough outer skin with a paring knife, and then slice into sticks or cubes. Sticks can be dipped in dressing along with carrots and cukes. Cubes can top just about any salad. The high water content and slight sweetness make it a very refreshing veggie to nibble.