Monday, December 30, 2013

Swiss chard crustless quiche

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My family overdid the dessert thing during Christmas week. We were lucky to receive plate after plate of delicious goodies from friends and relatives. Meaning we all ate a ton of cookies, cake, candy, and other snack foods for days on end.

You too? Yep, I thought so.

I went to the farmers market this weekend and loaded up on greens. Beet greens, kale, and a huge bunch of Swiss chard that was so big it didn't fit in the refrigerator.

I stripped the green chard leaves from their ruby-red stems, chopped the leaves, and cooked them for just a few minutes with a little olive oil and garlic. When they were cool I mixed in eggs, crumbled feta cheese, shredded mozzarella, chopped green onions, and a little Bisquick to bind everything together before baking in a casserole dish.

The result: a firm, nutrient-rich snack my family loves. I've served this in squares for breakfast and lunch. I've cut it into small triangles or batons and put it out at parties. No matter what shape you serve it in, I guarantee good results.

P.S. What did I do with the Swiss chard stems? Stay tuned for the most gorgeous pickles you've ever seen....

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Swiss chard crustless quiche
This nutrient-rich snack is packed with healthy Swiss chard. Serve it at breakfast or lunch, or cut it into small triangles or batons as a healthy finger food appetizer for your next party.
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 large bunch Swiss chard, washed, leaves only, chopped roughly (reserve stems for another use)
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup low-moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 6 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1/2 cup Bisquick (or another all-purpose baking mix)
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup milk (optional)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x12-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chard and garlic and saute about 3 minutes, until chard is wilted but not mushy. Pour the chard mixture into a large mixing bowl and let cool 10 minutes.Add the eggs, cheese, green onions, dill, Bisquick, pepper, and salt. Mix thoroughly until well combined. Add the milk only if the batter seems dry or extremely thick. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.Bake about 40 minutes, until the quiche is set in the middle and the top is golden brown. Cool in the baking pan. Cut into squares, triangles, or batons to serve.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 8 servings as a vegetarian main course, or 20+ servings as an hors d'oeuvre

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Easy holiday entertaining with Green Giant {VIDEO}

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Need ideas for easy holiday entertaining? I hope you'll enjoy watching this video, in which I share two quick and simple recipes using Green Giant frozen vegetables.

Green Giant's recipe for Cheesy Broccoli Puffs With Sriracha Sauce is a great appetizer to bring to a holiday potluck or to pass around while your guests are sipping on wine or champagne. You can make the puffs with crumbled bacon as the recipe suggests, or leave the bacon out for vegetarians.

My Cheesy Broccoli Potato Soup is another tasty starter for a holiday party. I love giving my guests something warm to sip as they walk in the door, especially at this time of year.

The video also contains some great advice and easy entertaining tips from my friends (and one from my mother), all experienced hosts and hostesses.

Enjoy the video! (But ignore the weird expression on my face in YouTube's screen capture above. I don't really look like that, do I?)

Note: Green Giant compensated me to produce the Hangout video above and share my Cheesy Broccoli Potato Soup recipe. Definitely one of the most fun projects I've done lately.

Cheesy broccoli potato soup with Green Giant

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When I have a party, I love to hand people little cups of hot, creamy soup as they walk in the door. It gives them something warm to hold onto, gets their appetites going without filling them up, and puts a little something in their bellies to cushion the wine and cocktails to come.

When Green Giant asked me to create a recipe using Green Giant frozen vegetables for our Google Plus Hangout on easy holiday entertaining, I knew this Cheesy Broccoli Potato Soup was the perfect thing.

I always keep frozen vegetables on hand - they're great for last-minute soups, hot dips, or side dishes should unexpected visitors show up for dinner. (And yes, that does happen fairly often in our house.)

I made this Cheesy Broccoli Potato Soup with Green Giant Broccoli & Cheese Sauce Steamers, but you could also use their Cauliflower & Cheese Sauce Steamers, or plain frozen broccoli or cauliflower. You can serve it in small glasses or coffee cups at a party, or just put it in bowls as a first course for a dinner party.

For more easy holiday entertaining tips from Green Giant (and me!), watch our video Hangout.

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Cheesy broccoli potato soup
A simple, creamy vegetable soup that's perfect for holiday entertaining. Frozen Green Giant Broccoli & Cheese Sauce makes this soup a snap to prepare.
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 12-ounce bag Green Giant Broccoli & Cheese Sauce Steamers
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 small potato, diced (about 1/2 cup - peel if desired, but it's not necessary)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • For garnish: shredded cheese, crushed tortilla chips, crumbled crackers, popcorn, or plain yogurt
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute about 2 minutes, until the onion is starting to soften. Add the garlic and saute another 30 seconds.Add the frozen broccoli (with cheese sauce), chicken stock, and potato to the pot. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer uncovered about 20 minutes, or until the potato is very tender. Use a handheld stick blender to puree the soup in the pot (or transfer the soup carefully to a countertop blender). Serve hot garnished with the shredded cheese, tortilla chips, crackers, popcorn, or yogurt.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 6 servings as a first course, or 12 "shooters"

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Idaho® potato mini lasagnas with kale and pesto

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Have you ever tried making lasagna using paper-thin slices of potato instead of pasta? It's a genius remake of traditional Italian lasagna. The potatoes have the same chewy starchiness you get with pasta noodles. Add meat for the carnivores or take it vegetarian as I've done here with kale and pesto sauce.

You can make this recipe as one big lasagna, but I prefer making mini lasagnas in a muffin tin instead. Portion control - it's a good thing.

Note: This recipe was originally published on the Idaho® Potato Commission website. Go look at their amazing collection of potato recipes - I guarantee you will be inspired.

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Idaho® potato mini lasagnas with kale and pesto
Individual mini lasagnas using thinly sliced potatoes instead of pasta. Kale and pesto make these single-serving lasagnas a delicious gluten-free vegetarian entree.
  • 1 bunch curly or Tuscan kale
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 pound Idaho® Russet potatoes, scrubbed (do not peel)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup) ricotta cheese (whole or part-skim)
  • 1/2 cup prepared basil pesto sauce
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan or Romano cheese
Wash the kale well and strip the leaves from the stems (discard the stems). Chop the leaves finely. It’s okay if some water clings to the kale leaves.Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and kale and saute about 5 minutes, until the kale is wilted. Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.Slice the potatoes paper-thin. (It’s easiest to do this with a mandoline, v-slicer or food processor.) Toss the potato slices with the salt and let sit about 5 minutes.In a small bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, pesto sauce and egg together.Preheat the oven to 350° F.Assemble the mini lasagnas: Spray each cup of the muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray, or brush it with olive oil. Build the lasagnas in layers in each muffin cup, starting with a layer of potato slices, then adding a small dollop of the ricotta-pesto mixture, a teaspoon of cooked kale, a sprinkle of shredded mozzarella cheese, and a sprinkle of grated parmesan or Romano cheese. Continue building the mini lasagnas in this manner, finishing each one with a layer of potato slices and a sprinkle of mozzarella and parmesan.Bake the mini lasagnas about 40 minutes, until the potatoes are tender, the cheese is golden brown and the lasagnas are cooked through. Remove from the oven and let sit 5 minutes before attempting to remove from the pan. Use a small offset spatula or blunt knife to unmold the mini lasagnas and transfer to serving plates. Serve immediately.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 12 mini lasagnas

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Antioxidant chocolate bark: My favorite homemade holiday gift

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Every December the members of Food Bloggers Los Angeles get together at my house for our annual Cookie and Cookbook Swap. I love hosting this gathering because everyone's in a great mood (SUGAR! BUTTER! CHOCOLATE!) and it's a festive way to start off the holiday season.

There's only one problem: I don't make a lot of cookies.

This year, short on time and motivation, I defaulted to my favorite chocolate bark. I call this Antioxidant Chocolate Bark because it's full of things that are good for you: very dark chocolate, dried cherries, dried blueberries, and nuts. It's gluten-free, dairy-free (if you choose dairy-free chocolate), delicious, and extremely easy to make. In fact, I put together the super-size batch for our cookie swap last Friday in the 20 minutes between when my alarm clock went off and when we had to leave for the school bus stop.

Feel free to use whatever combination of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit you have in your pantry. Sometimes I even crush amaretti (crisp Italian almond cookies) and add the crumbs in for an extra crunch. Do use salted nuts; the salt brings out the flavor of the bittersweet chocolate perfectly.

Scroll down for links to all the amazing cookies made by FBLA members at our 2013 Cookie and Cookbook Swap!

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Antioxidant Chocolate Bark
One of the easiest and healthiest homemade treats you can make for holiday gifts. Very dark bittersweet chocolate with dried cherries, blueberries, and apricots, plus pistachios and almonds.
  • 1 pound very dark chocolate (72% cocoa solids), chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 3/4 cup dried tart cherries
  • 3/4 cup dried blueberries
  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios, roasted and salted
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, roasted and salted
Line a half-sheet baking pan with parchment paper.Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high 45 seconds, then let stand 1 minute. Stir and microwave again for 30 seconds. Repeat until the chocolate is nearly melted, with just a few little chunks remaining. Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir continuously until the residual heat in the bowl melts the rest of the chocolate. (Alternatively, melt the chocolate in a double boiler on the stove.)While the chocolate is melting, chop the apricots and cherries into smaller pieces, roughly 1/4 inch. You can also chop the pistachios if you like (I usually don't).When the chocolate is melted and smooth, dump in all the dried fruit and nuts. Stir until everything is coated. Pour the chocolate mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and spread into a thin, even layer with a spatula or the back of a spoon.Leave the chocolate bark at room temperature to set. The temperature in the room will determine how long the chocolate bark will take to harden - the cooler the room, the quicker the bark will be done. Don't refrigerate it, though, or the chocolate will lose its glossy shine.To serve, break into pieces, working quickly so the heat of your hands doesn't melt the chocolate (always a problem for me).
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 20+ servings

FBLA 2013 Cookie Exchange Recipes

Non-Cookie Items

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

New Orleans red beans and rice

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My friend Ellen call this her dad's "ancestral" recipe. Ellen's father, who passed away suddenly a few years ago, grew up in the tight-knit Jewish community in New Orleans. Ellen remembers making this with him a few times when she was little. 

Long, slow cooking transforms these simple ingredients into a comforting bowl of winter goodness. Don't skimp on the Tabasco unless you absolutely have to - it makes the dish.

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New Orleans red beans and rice
Long, slow cooking transforms a few simple ingredients into a steaming bowl of comfort food. Serve these southern-style red beans over plain white rice if you want to be perfectly authentic.
  • 1 pound dried red kidney beans
  • 3 quarts water
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound ham hock, beef stew meat, or beef brisket
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or ground New Mexico chiles
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt (start with 1/2 teaspoon and add gradually until the beans are seasoned to your taste)
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
To a large pot add the beans, water, onion, celery, garlic, bay leaves, meat, ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, Tabasco, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer uncovered 3 to 4 hours, until the beans are soft.Add salt and butter. (Do not add the salt earlier as it will toughen the beans.)Serve hot over plain white rice. Note: The beans should have a soupy consistency; if they start to seem dry, add more water.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 8-10 servings

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Potato latke burger sliders for Hanukkah

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Move over, ramen burger. It's Hanukkah, and we're making potato latkes.

Let me introduce you to Potato Latke Burger Sliders.

Take one of those crispy, salty, delicious potato latkes (pan-fried shredded potato pancakes, the traditional Hanukkah dish). Top it with a big meatball or a small hamburger. Add a healthy dollop of your favorite applesauce. Lay a second potato latke on top.

And that's how we make the Potato Latke Burger Slider. Ramen burger, we'll eat you some other time.

Happy Hanukkah to those of you celebrating - may your week be full of light and latkes!

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Potato Latke Burger Sliders for Hanukkah
Move over, ramen burger. It's Hanukkah and we're surrounding our mini-burgers with crispy, salty potato latkes. The fried potato pancakes make an excellent wrapper for your favorite burger or meatball. A fun dish for any Hanukkah dinner.
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1 large Russet potato, peeled
  • 1/2 medium-sized yellow onion
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour or potato starch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup grapeseed or canola oil, for frying
  • applesauce, for serving (my favorite applesauce recipe)
Make the sliders: Divide the ground beef into four small portions and shape into burgers. Pan-fry in a hot, heavy skillet until done. Put the sliders on a plate, cover with foil, and set aside.Make the potato latkes: Grate the potato and onion into a large bowl. (Many people eschew the food processor here, but I go back and forth between the food processor and a hand grater depending on my mood.) Gather the mixture into a ball in the bowl and put a few layers of paper towel on top of it. Squeeze and massage the potato mixture through the towel. When the towel is wet, discard it and use another. When the potato mixture is no longer giving off a lot of water, you have squeezed enough.Add the egg, flour, salt, and pepper to the potato mixture and blend thoroughly with a spoon.Heat the oil in another large, heavy skillet until shimmering. Add the potato mixture, using a very scant 1/4 cup for each latke. Press down the latke mixture in the pan so each latke is round (more or less) and thin. Fry on each side until golden brown, then drain on a sheet pan lined with paper towels or topped with a rack. This mixture should make 8 latkes total.Assemble the sliders just before serving: Place a latke on a plate, then top with a burger. Add a dollop of applesauce and lay another latke on top. Serve immediately (this is very important - the bottom latke will get soggy after just a few minutes.)
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4 sliders

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Very Blueberry Thanksgiving: Pumpkin soup with dried blueberry "dust"

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Pulse freeze-dried blueberries in a food processor to make the blueberry "dust" that decorates this smooth, creamy pumpkin soup (photo: Karen Ard)

My mother told me the other day that she likes my recipes because they're always so simple.

I told her it's because I'm a lazy cook.

And it's true. I hate separating eggs. I rarely sift. I will never use two pots if one will do.

Part of the reason I write simple recipes is because I am often making large numbers of dishes for large numbers of people. That's exactly why this pumpkin soup led off A Very Blueberry Thanksgiving, the blueberry-themed Thanksgiving dinner I made for a couple dozen food bloggers a few weeks ago.

Nothing could be easier: Cook onions in olive oil, add canned pumpkin puree and chicken stock, a few seasonings, a little milk, and you're done. It's a great way to start a festive meal like Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, especially when served in small glasses as a walking-around appetizer.

Because A Very Blueberry Thanksgiving was sponsored by the U.S. Blueberry Council, each of the 10 dishes I served included fresh, frozen, or dried blueberries. See the purple "dust" on the pumpkin soup shooters in the photo above?  Take freeze-dried blueberries and blitz them briefly in a food processor. The tartness of the blueberries combines beautifully with the fragrant pumpkin soup. And it looks gorgeous too, don't you think?

Note: Freeze-dried blueberries are hard and crunchy; don't use the dried blueberries that are chewy and have the consistency of raisins. The ones you're looking for shatter when you bite into them.

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Pumpkin soup shooters with dried blueberry "dust"
There's no better way to start a festive holiday meal like Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner than with this smooth, creamy soup. Freeze-dried blueberries take a spin in the food processor to make the blueberry "dust" that decorates the top of the soup.
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 29-ounce can pure pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup freeze-dried blueberries
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.Add the onion and saute about 4 minutes, until the onion is translucent.Add the pumpkin puree, chicken stock, and nutmeg. Stir the pumpkin mixture and bring to a boil.Turn down the heat and simmer the soup about 30 minutes, until the onions are very soft.Puree the soup in the pot with a hand-held immersion blender, or transfer the soup to a countertop blender and puree until very smooth.Add the lemon juice and salt. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Stir in the milk.Put the freeze-dried blueberries into a food processor. Pulse in 2-second intervals until the blueberries look powdery.Ladle the hot soup into small juice glasses or demitasse cups. Sprinkle each serving with a large pinch of the ground dried blueberries. Serve immediately.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 10 servings

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Very Blueberry Thanksgiving: Pumpkin blueberry trifle

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Add this pumpkin blueberry trifle to your Thanksgiving dessert table (photo: Karen Ard

When I started planning the menu for A Very Blueberry Thanksgiving, the twist-on-tradition Thanksgiving dinner I hosted last weekend for Los Angeles food bloggers, I had no trouble pairing blueberries with pumpkin soup, turkey, roasted butternut squash salad, sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts.

(Yep, that was the twist - every one of the 10 courses served included fresh, dried, or frozen blueberries.)

But I couldn't decide on dessert. I wanted to do something with pumpkin, but pumpkin pie with blueberry sauce felt underwhelming.

It was Julie Stas, the lovely woman who leads the public relations team for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (one of the event's sponsors), who suggested a trifle. I'd never made a trifle before, but it sounded like a good idea: cake or cookies, fruit, custard, whipped cream. Pumpkin blueberry trifle. Sure. Why not?

Give it up for Julie. She is a genius. This pumpkin blueberry trifle came together easily, looked absolutely stunning in the bowl, and tasted heavenly. The warm spices in the pumpkin bread played perfectly off the tangy blueberry sauce and the smooth, creamy vanilla pudding.

And while a decade ago this dessert would have been impossible to pull off at Thanksgiving because fresh blueberries were nowhere to be found, now we can get excellent fresh blueberries from Chile and other South American countries from October until March. The blueberries I bought at my local grocer to top this pumpkin blueberry trifle were plump, juicy, and sweet. Click here to learn more about winter blueberries.

Add this pumpkin blueberry trifle to your Thanksgiving dessert list - you'll be glad you did.

Note: I made my own pumpkin bread (recipe included below), but feel free to use a prepared loaf from your favorite bakery or grocery store.

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Pumpkin Blueberry Trifle
Spicy pumpkin bread and fresh blueberries make this traditional English trifle a delicious and impressive Thanksgiving dessert.
  • 2 cups pure pumpkin puree
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup grapeseed or canola oil
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 32-ounce bag frozen blueberries
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 4 cups vanilla pudding (buy prepared or try this recipe)
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
Make the pumpkin bread: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, 2 cups sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Sprinkle the salt, flour, baking powder, and baking soda on top of the pumpkin mixture, then stir with a large spoon just until combined. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and pour in the batter. Bake about 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool, then crumble the pumpkin bread into large chunks with your fingers. (Alternatively, you can buy a large loaf of prepared pumpkin bread.)Make the blueberry sauce: Put the frozen blueberries, remaining ½ cup sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer about 1 hour, until the sauce is thickened and glossy. Remove from the heat and let cool.Just before assembling the trifle, whip the cream with an electric mixer (or by hand if you’re sturdy) until it is fluffy and glossy.Assemble the trifle: In a large glass bowl, put down a layer of pumpkin bread crumbs, a layer of pudding, and a layer of blueberry sauce. Repeat once more, ending with a layer of crumbs. Pile the whipped cream on top and scatter the fresh blueberries on the whipped cream. Let sit at least 2 hours before serving to give everything a chance to meld.Note: Trifle can also be made in small glasses for individual servings.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 12 servings

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Very Blueberry Thanksgiving: Blueberry butternut squash salad

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A colorful autumn salad for your Thanksgiving table (photo: Karen Ard)

Last weekend I hosted a group of food bloggers for A Very Blueberry Thanksgiving, a pre-holiday celebration sponsored by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council and Wines from Rioja. I made a huge traditional Thanksgiving feast with one big twist: Every dish on this Thanksgiving menu included fresh, frozen, or dried blueberries.

If you've only thought about blueberries as dessert, it's time to consider their savory side. I particularly love the combination of blueberries with balsamic vinegar, as in this autumn salad. I layered roasted cubes of butternut squash, caramelized red onions, toasted pumpkin seeds, fresh blueberries, and crisp green lettuce in a large bowl, then poured over a thick vinaigrette made with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and dried blueberries.

Turkey, schmurkey: Say it's because we're Californians, but this salad was one of the bloggers' favorite dishes at our Thanksgiving celebration.

Here's some good news: Fresh blueberries are getting easier to find in the fall and winter due to thousands of acres of cultivated blueberries recently planted in Chile, Argentina and Mexico. The blueberries we had at A Very Blueberry Thanksgiving were plump, juicy, and sweet. Look for fresh blueberries from the southern hemisphere to add to your Thanksgiving menu - you'll be glad you did.

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Blueberry Butternut Squash Salad
A layered green salad with roasted butternut squash, caramelized red onions, fresh blueberries, and toasted pumpkin seeds with a blueberry balsamic vinaigrette. Serve this colorful, healthy salad at Thanksgiving for a twist on tradition.
  • 1 cup dried blueberries
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup plus 1 Tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 large butternut squash
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 large head green leaf lettuce, washed, torn into small pieces
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
First, make the blueberry balsamic vinaigrette. (This step can be done several days ahead.) Put the dried blueberries and balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer about 30 minutes, until the vinegar is reduced by about a third and the blueberries are plump and rehydrated. Let the mixture cool a bit, then put it in a blender with 1 cup of olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt. Blend until very smooth. If working ahead, store in the refrigerator until you begin the rest of the steps below.Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.Peel the butternut squash with a vegetable peeler and cut the flesh into 1-inch chunks. Peel the onion and cut it into wedges. Put the vegetables on a baking sheet and drizzle with the remaining 1 Tablespoon olive oil and ¼ teaspoon salt. Roast in the oven until brown around the edges and very tender, 30-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool to just warm.Make a bed of lettuce in a serving bowl or on a large serving platter. Mound the squash and onions in the middle. Sprinkle the blueberries and pumpkin seeds on top. Drizzle the entire salad generously with the blueberry balsamic vinaigrette in a zig-zag pattern. Serve immediately.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 10-12 servings

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Two days in La Jolla: The perfect #GirlfriendGetaway

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My wonderful Girlfriend Getaway pals Patti Londre (Worth The Whisk) and Dorothy Reinhold (Shockingly Delicious) looking out over the Pacific in beautiful La Jolla, California

My house is full of MEN. One full-size. One almost full-size. And one well on his way to teenager status. They're all sweet and well behaved and don't smell too bad, but still, this girl lives with a lot of testosterone.

Which means that when I get the opportunity to leave the men at home and take off on a road trip with two excellent girlfriends, I am out the door so fast even my head spins.

A recent "Girlfriend Getaway" to La Jolla marks the third trip I've taken with fellow bloggers Patti Londre (Worth The Whisk) and Dorothy Reinhold (Shockingly Delicious). We travel well together - and what a blessing it is to find compatible travel companions! It actually helps, I think, that we haven't known each other that long. It's the way I imagine dating after divorce: We've all had very full lives, so our pasts are mostly conversational virgin territory. And we still laugh at each other's jokes.

I highly recommend La Jolla as a getaway destination for people who live in or are visiting Los Angeles. It's on the edge of San Diego, but it's nothing like San Diego. It's far enough to feel like another world, yet the drive is manageable (under two hours if you drive the way I drive) and there's no jet lag. You'll find lots to do, great food, and sea lions. Really, La Jolla is the perfect Girlfriend Getaway or romantic weekend destination.

Here's what made our Girlfriend Getaway perfect.

The lobby bar at La Jolla's historic La Valencia Hotel

La Valencia: A first-class hotel by the sea

We were lucky enough to be hosted by La Valencia Hotel, an historic property overlooking dramatic La Jolla Cove. Rambling, covered in pale pink stucco, and oozing Old California charm inside and out, La Valencia is one of those hotels that makes you wish you had a novel to finish (and an impatient editor to pay your bills). Painted beams on the ceiling, brightly colored tiles on the walls and floors, stunning ocean views in every direction.

The long entrance hallway is lined with potted palms and helpful valets

La Valencia's outdoor restaurant has the best view in town

Patti couldn't get enough of the view from the floor-to-ceiling picture windows in La Valencia's lobby

The best scenic breakfast in La Jolla: The corner table of La Valencia's outdoor dining room has an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean

"The Pink Lady" tile portrait adorns the garden terrace, where weddings are performed every weekend

One of the many original hand-painted tiles on the walls of La Valencia 

We arrived mid-afternoon and our hosts at La Valencia showed us to our villas. Can you ever be too pampered on a Girlfriend Getaway? We don't think so. I stayed in Villa 2, with a lovely sitting room, a generous bedroom, and a huge bathroom. Villa 2 is bigger than my first apartment (by a lot) and looks out over the gorgeous La Valencia pool. It has a fireplace, a patio, a wet bar, and a bed that was so comfortable I could have slept for days.

Looking from the sitting room to the bedroom of Villa 2 - I'm still dreaming about that bed

The comfortable sitting room in Villa 2 - see me in the mirror?

Luxurious Frette cotton sheets with the La Valencia monogram - no wonder we slept so well!

We chatted up other La Valencia guests during our stay, and every single one was delighted to be there. La Valencia is definitely a place that makes people happy.

Great food makes a Girlfriend Getaway even greater

We are three food-loving women, so we plan our Girlfriend Getaway meals carefully. Our first night we were treated to dinner at The Med, La Valencia's elegant dining room. This is a special occasion spot, the kind of stately hotel restaurant where you know families have celebrated weddings, graduations, anniversaries, and promotions for several generations. Where you wouldn't be surprised to see heads of state tucked away in the corner outlining trade agreements over filet mignon. Where you look at the couple at the next table and wonder whether the nervous young man has a Tiffany box in his jacket pocket.

But for all that history and tradition, the food at The Med today is modern and breathtaking. Chef Daniel Barron joined La Valencia earlier this year and has taken the kitchen by storm. He is a chef in the truest sense of the word, obsessing over every ingredient, every supplier, every preparation.

Crispy Brussels sprouts with pancetta and parmesan cream at The Med

Food bloggers that we are, we tried to cajole him into sharing a recipe with us - those amazing crispy Brussels sprouts, we hoped. Chef Daniel smiled and politely refused. His food isn't meant to be made in a home kitchen by a home cook, he said. He hinted at molecular gastronomy and walk-ins full of curing meat. We stopped asking. The more we tasted, the more we understood that our job was to enjoy and savor, not to figure out how to recreate his dishes at home. Dinner at The Med is like staying at La Valencia: It's all about being taken care of.

We hit La Med right before some big changes in the menu and decor, so we're looking forward to going back when the renovations are done and the tasting menu is in place. If our meal at The Med was any indication, we're confident Chef Daniel's tasting menu will be one of the great meals in southern California. (The hotel is also putting in a French-style bistro for more casual dining.)

The Med dining room at La Valencia is about to undergo a big renovation - the tiles are staying but just about everything else will look different next time we go back

We found other great food in La Jolla, too. Breakfast at Cody's was the perfect way to start our second day. Cody's was exactly the opposite of The Med: quiet, light, spacious and beachy. I wouldn't have been surprised to feel sand under my feet. My omelet had mushrooms, spinach, and goat cheese, and the grits that came with must have been 50 percent cheese because they stretched when I lifted my spoon. We admired the vertical succulent frames and hanging herb pots on the front patio and, as always, spent a little too much time taking pictures of our food.

Dorothy photographing vegetable hash at Cody's

When our feet hurt later that day we had a quick lunch at Harry's Coffee Shop, a La Jolla institution. The food was only okay, but we love family-owned non-corporate restaurants where the owner's personality shines through. Harry's was the perfect spot for a little pick-me-up. Dorothy and I shared a turkey Ruben and discovered that turkey and sauerkraut are excellent mates.

Harry's Coffee Shop offered six weary feet a decent lunch with lots of atmosphere

On Chef Daniel's recommendation we had dinner at Whisknladle, a loud, buzzy, elbow-to-elbow spot just a block from La Valencia. Everything was divine, including the warm Brussels sprouts salad with snap peas, a local swordfish crudo (seriously right off the boat), and the lamb ragu with gnocchi, but the over-the-top winner was charred bone marrow. Have you ever eaten bone marrow? In this unusual version the bones were split vertically and toasted on the grill. The marrow tasted like the best steak you've ever had; you start to chew reflexively, and then the marrow melts on your tongue like pudding. It left us all speechless - which, for the three of us, is quite a feat.

Whisknladle, from left: Lamb ragu with gnocchi; butterscotch budino; grilled marrow bones

What do three girls do for fun in La Jolla? Play tourist and shop

Exploring La Jolla took us a full day plus an afternoon. The best thing about Girlfriend Getaways is that we have no schedule. No one has to be at football practice. No one has playdates or sleepovers or study groups. No lunches to pack. No laundry to fold. On our Girlfriend Getaways, we do pretty much whatever strikes our fancy.

In La Jolla, that included watching the sea lions flop and bark lazily on the beach at La Jolla Cove. Looking into clothing stores, hat shops, a used book store. Tasting flavored olive oils and vinegars. Listening to a sales pitch for a fancy espresso machine. Wandering through "starfish shops" wondering who actually buys the expensive beach decor chotchkes that crammed every shelf and took up all the floor space. We were tourists, we were on vacation, and we were happy.

A vase? A bowl? We weren't sure but we thought it was cool

Looking for treasures at D.G. Wills Books

Patti playing model at Chico's

A walk through Mary Star of the Sea Catholic church
Cookies for tourists

Descending the small, slippery staircase to the La Jolla Caves

A neglected property near the beach inspired a discussion of real estate prices and feuding families

Tasting olive oils and vinegars at We Olive

California sea lion

A shelf of random (but expensive) beach decor

Starfish for sale

In Sur La Table, we each searched for the cookie cutter that best represented us - this is mine

Preppy clothing

The caves at La Jolla Cove

The best part about exploring La Jolla: The car stayed in the parking garage. Two of us, at least, spend way too much time behind the wheel of a minivan, so a car-free break was most welcome. We hoofed it up and down those hills, earning the calories for our next meal. Exercise!

And then our Girlfriend Getaway tradition: Patti and I always make time for a soak in the hot tub. We still haven't gotten Dorothy into a bathing suit, and I'm starting to doubt we ever will, but she sat on a bench nearby drinking wine and watching our fingers prune up. Girlfriends have good chats in the hot tub. (Psst, husbands and kids - yep, we were talking about you.)

By the time we left La Jolla, each of us had started planning our next visit. Patti would bring Larry. Dorothy thought her husband and son would love a surfing weekend while she and her daughter wandered through the town. And I'd like to take my mom - it's just her kind of place.

Whether you're planning a Girlfriend Getaway, a romantic weekend with your love, or a family outing, put La Jolla on your list.

Disclosure: Many thanks to La Valencia Hotel for providing our hotel rooms and dinner at The Med so that we could experience La Jolla and report about it for our readers.