Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fresh Arugula Salad with Bacon, Tomatoes, Feta & Quail Eggs + My Favorite Balsamic Vinaigrette

I've been searching for the perfect balsamic vinaigrette that's easy to make at home and tastes delectable.  I'm thrilled to say that I've finally perfected said recipe and am eager to share it with you all!

This salad was inspired by a trip to our local farmers market a few weeks ago.  I purchased some gorgeous arugula, red & yellow tomatoes, and a dozen cute-as-a-button quail eggs.  That's the thing I adore about farmers markets...I always find something new and exciting that I usually don't cook or bake with.  

When I stumbled upon these quail eggs, I knew that I had to try some.  This is the first time I've cooked with them, and it was a success.  They taste just like a regular egg (surprise!), with a mild flavor.  Just be careful not to overcook them, and you'll be good to go.

A fantastic salad is one of my favorite things to eat during the summer.  The flavor combinations are endless and change with what's in season.  This dressing is a wonderful staple that will taste great on countless salads!

Bon Appetit, my friends!

Fresh Arugula Salad with Bacon, Tomatoes, Feta & Quail Eggs

For the Balsamic Dressing:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup grapeseed oil

For the Salad:
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 quail eggs
4 slices bacon
4 cups baby arugula
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled  
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Make the dressing:
Combine the balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a bowl. While whisking everything together, slowly drizzle in the grapeseed oil.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  

Place chicken in a baking dish and drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil.  Season with salt & pepper (or your favorite seasonings).  Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.  Allow to cool and then slice.

Add the quail eggs to a medium pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 4 minutes. Carefully remove the eggs from the pot and place in an ice water bath. After 5 minutes, peel the eggs and slice them in half.  

Add the bacon to a large skillet (preferably cast iron) set over low-medium heat. Cook until crisp, flipping several times. Drain on paper towels. Once cool, crumble into small pieces.

In a large bowl, combine the arugula, chicken, tomatoes, bacon, quail eggs, and feta cheese. Whisk the balsamic dressing vigorously to combine well and then drizzle over the salad.  Gently toss together, and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Serve with your favorite bread.

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Fresh Strawberry Buttermilk Cake

Today, I'm feeling thankful for time spent with family this past week, flawless weather on this gorgeous Saturday, having the chance to photograph an engagement this morning (Congrats Justin & Jamie!), and I'm also thankful for stumbling upon this recipe at the beginning of summer.  

Why the beginning, you ask?  Well,  one bite of this scrumptious cake will have you dreaming of all the different summer fruits that you can top it with in the coming months.

This recipe is a major new favorite.  The batter bakes up into a delectably moist cake with a great texture (Hello, buttermilk!).  The addition of freshly whipped cream on top lends a strawberry shortcake-ness that you'll love.  Plus, it could be topped off with a wide array of different fruits.  I can't wait to get my hands on fresh peaches and blueberries at the farmers' market soon, so that I can make this again.  

The bottom line?  This cake will make you (and your tummy) very happy!

Bon Appetit, my friends!

Fresh Strawberry Buttermilk Cake
Adapted from:  Macaroni & Cheesecake


1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar, divided
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 lb. strawberries, hulled & halved

2 cups freshly whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9 inch spring form  pan (may also work in a 9 inch cake pan or deep dish pie pan), set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, add flour, baking powder & salt and whisk together, set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter with 1 cup sugar until fully incorporated and light & fluffy. Add in the egg, buttermilk & vanilla and beat on medium speed just until incorporated.

Reduce mixer to low and gradually add in the flour mixture, beat until just incorporated.  Remove bowl from stand and pour batter into prepared pan.

Place the halved strawberries cut side down on to the top of the batter. Arrange them in a single layer, you may not use quite all of the strawberries, but should use most of them. Sprinkle remaining 2 tbsp. of sugar evenly over top of the cake.

Bake cake for 10 minutes, then reduce oven to 325 degrees and continue baking for 50 more minutes, until cake is lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Keep cake in pan and place pan on cooling rack to cool completely.  Once cool, release outside of pan if using spring form pan.  Store cake in airtight container.  Serve topped with freshly whipped cream.

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Gorgeous Strawberry Tart

Tarts are the best.

They're perhaps one of the greatest culinary inventions when it comes to showcasing the summer's best fruity bounty.  You can top them with just about any fruit, and they're always exceptionally yummy. 

A recent trip to the farmer's market resulted in a big, beautiful bucket of some of the juiciest, sweetest and most delicious fresh strawberries finding their way to my kitchen.  With my berry discovery, I knew that a tart was in our near future. 

For this tart, I used THIS RECIPE FOR A BLUEBERRY TART as my inspiration.  By the way, that blueberry tart is without a doubt one of my favorite desserts, like, ever in the history of mankind.  If you're a blueberry fan, you must try it. 

The pastry cream is dotted with little specks of vanilla bean goodness, fresh orange zest, and nutmeg (the secret ingredient!).

The tart shell is easy to assemble, and the ground almonds lend a wonderfully nutty flavor.

If you're looking for the perfect summer dessert, look no further.  Try this gorgeous tart and let me know what you think.  :)

Bon Appetit, my friends!    

Gorgeous Strawberry Tart
Adapted from:   Zoe Bakes

Tart Shell:
1  3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup confectioners sugar
1 large egg beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1  3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground almonds 

To make the crust:  
This makes a very soft/sticky dough, which makes it more difficult to work with. It is well worth the little bit of extra effort. 

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and make sure it is well blended. Add the salt and vanilla, mix until incorporated. Add the flour and almond meal, mix together until there are no more dry patches of flour.

Divide the dough into two equal disks and wrap well in plastic. Refrigerate for at least an hour. If you are only making one tart then freeze the other packet of dough for the next time you want a treat in a hurry.

Take one disk of dough out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes. This will soften the dough just enough so that it won’t crack when you are rolling it out.

Roll it out (preferably on a silpat or other silicon baking sheet) until it is about 1/16″ thick and the right size to fit into a 9-inch tart pan.

If the dough is very sticky and will not easily peel off of the silpat, throw the silpat and dough right into the freezer for about 5 minutes.

When you remove the silpat/dough from the freezer you should be able to peel the dough easily.

 Place the silpat/dough over the tart pan and gently peel the silpat away.

If the dough is frozen, give it a minute to become supple, then you will need to push the dough down into the pan, it might crack a bit, but don’t worry!  You can just press it back together.

Using a knife or metal spatula trim off the excess dough from the pan.

Preheat your oven to 350° and place the tart pan in the freezer while you wait for the oven to heat up.  Once the oven is up to temperature, take the tart shell out of the freezer and line with foil.  Fill the foil with beans and/or pie weights.

Bake the shell for 25 minutes with the pie weights. Lift the foil/weights out of the shell and continue baking until the tart shell is golden brown, about 10 more minutes.

Cool the shell on a cooling rack while you prepare the fillings for the tart. 

Pastry cream:
1 cup milk (doesn’t seem to matter what kind)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold)
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 large egg yolks
Zest from 1/4 orange
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon crème fraîche (optional)

To Make the Pastry Cream:
Bring the milk, 1/8 cup of the sugar, butter, salt and vanilla bean to a gentle boil in a medium saucepan.

Remove from heat.

Whisk together the cornstarch and the remaining 1/8 cup of sugar. Add the egg yolks to the cornstarch and mix into a smooth paste.

Slowly, and in small amounts, whisk a little of the hot milk into a the egg mixture. This is called tempering the eggs, which you need to do to get them to the same temperature of the hot milk in the pan, so they won’t curdle.

Once the egg mixture is warm to the touch, pour it back into the milk in the pan.

Return the custard to the stove and bring to a boil, whisking continuously for 2 to 3 minutes. The pastry cream will thicken almost immediately but it is important to cook out the starch so that it isn’t grainy and so your pastry cream won’t separate. (separating pastry cream is when the liquid releases from the cream, easily prevented by cooking for 2-3 minutes!)  

When the pastry cream is done it will be smooth and glossy.  

Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Set the container in the freezer for 15 minutes (this cools down the eggs quickly) and then refrigerate for up to a few days.
Stir the chilled pastry cream to make it spreadable and add the zest, nutmeg and crème fraîche. Fill the prepared tart shell with the pastry cream. 

Strawberry filling 
3 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
scant 1/2 cup orange juice 
1/4 - 1/2 cup sugar (depending on how sweet your berries are)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch, mixed with 2 tablespoons water.
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
pinch of salt 

Prepare the strawberry filling:
In a medium sauce pan, bring 1/2 cup of the strawberries, the juice and sugar to a boil.  While vigorously whisking add the cornstarch slurry to the pot. Add the vanilla, orange zest and salt.

Continue to cook and whisk until the mixture is very thick and glossy, about 2 minutes.

Remove from heat.  Quickly fold in the rest of the fresh strawberries.  Quickly add the berries to the tart shell, on top of the pastry cream. Spread them into an even layer.  Chill until set, about an hour.

Serve as is or with a dollop of crème fraîche.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Classic Green Bean Casserole

Every good Southerner knows that a deliciously comforting (and probably cheesy) casserole is a must at any potluck dinner.  A classic green bean casserole has always been one of Brad's favorites.  Maybe it's partly because of the scrumptious onion rings that grace the top, or maybe it's because they're just downright yummy.

I stumbled upon Paula Deen's recipe recently and knew that I had to make it for him.  Plus, it's the perfect thing to make when fresh green beans come into season, which wont' be long!

I love this recipe because it incorporates fresh mushrooms into the mix.  It's an easy side dish that would be great to take along to family picnics this summer, or it would be equally perfect for your dinner table tonight.

Bon Appetit, my friends!

Green Bean Casserole
Adapted from:  Paula Deen
***This recipe can be doubled to fill one 9x13" baking dish***

1/3 stick butter
1/2 cup diced onions
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
2 cups sliced green beans
3 cups chicken broth
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1 (2.8-ounce) can French-fried onion rings

Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste  
1 cup grated Cheddar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Saute the onions and mushrooms in the butter. Boil green beans in chicken broth for 10 minutes and drain. Add the green beans, mushroom soup, and onion rings to the onion mixture.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Stir well. 

Pour into a greased 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes, then top the casserole with the Cheddar and bake for 10 minutes longer, or until the casserole is hot and cheese is melted. 

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Gourmet Garden Giveaway Winner


The winner of the Gourmet Garden Giveaway is:

Comment #14 from:

Congratulations and THANK YOU to everyone who entered!!!