Tapenade or Pesto - Oven-Dried Tomato, Pecan, Basil Spread

Did I mention I had a freezer full of tomatoes? Well, I do. Oven roasted, slow roasted, and oven-dried. Containers and containers filled with jewel colored, candy tasting goblets of goodness.

 My cart with 4 - 25lb boxes. Seemed like a good idea at the time but when I got home I thought, Wow this might take a while!

My cart with 4 - 25lb boxes. Seemed like a good idea at the time but when I got home I thought, Wow this might take a while!

 This wasn’t even 25 full lbs. I had oodles more of roasting to go!! But I persevered with spectacular rewards.

This wasn’t even 25 full lbs. I had oodles more of roasting to go!! But I persevered with spectacular rewards.

 The tomatoes come out tender with concentration flavor. Sweet like candy but with a savory richness that enhances any dish. These are the oil roasted ones. I used oven dried for this spread recipe. No oil is used when oven drying tomatoes. But as you can see, the oil roasting method uses a ton of oil. I use Oleo, a Spanish Olive Oil from Spain. You can buy it at   Despaña  .

The tomatoes come out tender with concentration flavor. Sweet like candy but with a savory richness that enhances any dish. These are the oil roasted ones. I used oven dried for this spread recipe. No oil is used when oven drying tomatoes. But as you can see, the oil roasting method uses a ton of oil. I use Oleo, a Spanish Olive Oil from Spain. You can buy it at Despaña.

 This is the way to oven dry the tomatoes. No oil is added, as you want them to dry out slowly in a low temp oven for 8-10 hours.   Recipe here

This is the way to oven dry the tomatoes. No oil is added, as you want them to dry out slowly in a low temp oven for 8-10 hours. Recipe here

 To store them, all you need to do is place them in an airtight jar, fill with fresh olive oil and store in the fridge. They last months like this.

To store them, all you need to do is place them in an airtight jar, fill with fresh olive oil and store in the fridge. They last months like this.

I will admit that I went overboard this tomato season but I felt I had good cause. I was stocking up for a family trip in November. Truth be told, even with that trip I was as gluttonous as Violet from Willy Wonka, but instead of turning blueberry violet, I’m a gorgeous shade of ruby red.

In my quest to provide you… and me, with ideas on how to use up your tomatoes, I came up with this spread of sorts. It’s almost like a pesto, but not quite. It’s half tapenade and half pesto. Tapenesto? Pestenade? Ugh, It’s a concoction. How’s that for a name?

Seriously as easy as: blend it up, pour it out, spread it on anything type of recipe.

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Ingredients

5-6 oven dried tomatoes (or sun-dried)
3 oven roasted garlic cloves
4 c basil, loosely packed
2/3 c oil
1 t salt
1/4 t lemon zest
2 T lemon juice
1 1/3 c pecans, toasted

 Toasted pecans

Toasted pecans


Instructions

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  1. Toast the pecans in a pan over low heat or in the oven just until lightly toasted.

  2. In a blender or food processor, buzz up the roasted garlic and oven dried tomatoes until chunky.

  3. Add the basil, and buzz until combined

  4. Add the pecans

  5. Drizzle in oil, add salt, lemon zest and juice and buzz until chunky consistency.

 Basil, so green and fresh, it will add that herbaceous quality to this ‘dip’.

Basil, so green and fresh, it will add that herbaceous quality to this ‘dip’.

 Rich, liquid gold pouring in.

Rich, liquid gold pouring in.

I made this spread without any real need for it but just the desire to test it out. This is me back to my old tricks. Experimenting with no agenda. I’m sure glad I did, ‘cause two weeks later we had weekend guests and it was the perfect compliment to my cheese board. It goes great on bread, perfect on crackers and zippy on cucumbers.

 Cheeses from Spain found at Despaña:   Majorero Pimenton  ,   Zamorano  ,   Mahon Curado

Cheeses from Spain found at Despaña: Majorero Pimenton, Zamorano, Mahon Curado

I’m sure this ‘whatever’ you call it spread would be lovely on grilled chicken or even fish or roasted vegetables. These are the types of ‘whip ‘em up’ ideas I love. The ones that aren’t picky how you use them. They are happy to play on anyone’s plate in any fashion you can think up. And the thing I also learned about this little tapenesto pestenade was that it lasts for 2-3 weeks in an airtight container. How’s that for work horse?

 Up close and personal. Rich and deep in flavor.

Up close and personal. Rich and deep in flavor.

 Name it whatever you like, but it goes with feta cheese, Middle Eastern fare, Italian fare, yada yada yada.

Name it whatever you like, but it goes with feta cheese, Middle Eastern fare, Italian fare, yada yada yada.

 Spread it on bread add fontina cheese and arugula, some dried cured meat and slap the crusty bread… shut…up and eat.

Spread it on bread add fontina cheese and arugula, some dried cured meat and slap the crusty bread… shut…up and eat.

Oh, I’ve fallen in love again. A pesto/tapenade concoction that will have you not caring what you call it. Just as long as you can make it, spread it and devour it.

Tahini-Peanut Dressing

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I am drawn to nutty flavors. So, combining tahini, which is ground sesame seeds, and peanut butter into a dressing, to slather on whatever I can, should be no surprise. It’s a classic combo, and there are many versions out there. I used to make mine with soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, but lately have been steering clear of those ingredients. But you can certainly include them to this dressing, too.

What I adore about this thick mixture, call it a dressing, sauce, dip or relish, is that you can use it for some many dishes. I typically incorporate it into my rice noodle bowl, or as a dressing option to Spicy Slaw. It’s also a tasty topping to pork chops, or chicken. It’s the go to mix for satay dipping, but why not for crudités, too, I say. Go ahead and slather it on a grilled tortilla, then fill it up with grilled fish or shrimp with a good helping of slaw for a Asian style taco.

Whenever you hear about musicians being termed as crossover artists, you understand that they are versatile in their craft. I would venture to say that this dressing has them beat. How many musicians can crossover as much as this little dressing. From pasta to veggie dishes to fish or meats, from Asian to Mexican to Indian dishes, this nutty, savory, tangy concoction is the ultimate of multi-duty. And if that’s not enough, it also can hang out in the fridge for awhile, too. But I usually use mine up fairly quickly.

 The stars, peanut butter, tahini, sesame oil, garlic, lemon, red pepper flakes, scallions and cilantro.

The stars, peanut butter, tahini, sesame oil, garlic, lemon, red pepper flakes, scallions and cilantro.

Ingredients

1/2 c Tahini
1 c Peanut Butter (I like chunky, but smooth is fine)
1/4 c Sesame Oil
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 T Lemon Zest
2 T Lemon juice
1/2 T Garlic, crushed
1/4 c Scallions
1/4 c Cilantro
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 t Salt, or to taste
Peanuts, for garnish (optional)
Jalapeño pepper, (optional)

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Instructions

  1. Cut up the scallions, mince the cilantro and crush the garlic in a press.

  2. Add all the ingredients, except the scallions and cilantro, into a blender or food processor and combine to the consistency you desire. If you want it more chunky, buzz it less. If you want a thinner sauce, you can add a tad of warm water or vegetable stock to thin it out. I prefer mine thick.

 Add the cilantro and scallions on top.

Add the cilantro and scallions on top.

On this particular Tahini-Peanut Dressing day, I mixed mine into rice noodles with a bowl full of greens; sliced scallions, arugula, cucumbers, bean sprouts, more cilantro leaves

 I eat this by the bowl full. It’s so satisfying, I usually go for a refill.

I eat this by the bowl full. It’s so satisfying, I usually go for a refill.

 It’s perfect for slaw. Top with more peanuts to add texture and crunch.

It’s perfect for slaw. Top with more peanuts to add texture and crunch.

As I said, you can vary this base dressing by adding soy sauce, tamari, rice vinegar, jalapeño or toasted sesame seeds on top. You can use it for salad dressing, or a marinade. Put it on noodles or veggies… yada yada yada. You seriously don’t need me to make a list. I trust you find all it’s savory uses.

 
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Dal - Lentil Stew

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No, not dull. Dal. And it’s anything but. If you like lentils, you will love Dal. Why?, because Dal is lentils- a lentil stew.

I’ve made lentils before. Both as a soup and as a side dish. Both using mirepoix for the base. But, I have never made Dal before. I looked up what spices are traditionally used in making Dal and decided I would use my own version. Ballsy, I know, but what the hell.

If you read last week’s blog post, and I hope you did, you know I had an inspiration spurt propelling me to create a complete Indian meal for JC, my sis Jill and myself. It started with the rice. Then moved onto what will go with the rice.

That’s where the Dal came in.

I used a couple of items that might not be traditional Indian ones but they blended beautifully in the dish.

I had roasted tomatoes. Boy, did I have roasted tomatoes since I just finished making 100lbs. of tomatoes. No, that wasn’t a typo; 100 glorious pounds. JC thought I was nuts. (I must admit that after the first 25lbs, I thought I was nuts too!) So, with plenty of roasted tomatoes on hand, I figured why not use them in my Dal. I also had celery and long hot peppers and wanted to use those up. I always taste as I go, so when I cut into the peppers, which I thought were supposed to hot, they didn’t seem to have the heat I expected. So, I added a jalapeño, too. Believe it or not, the spice level ended up being perfect for my palate. Not so spicy that I couldn’t taste anything else or not be able to detect that my tongue was still attached to my mouth. Yet spicy enough to wake up the senses.

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Ingredients

3 c yellow lentils
1/2 c onion, small dice
2 T celery, small dice
1/3 c red & green long peppers hot, sliced
1/4 c jalapeño, minced
1.5 T crushed garlic
3 T oil
1 T turmeric
1 t cumin seeds
2.5 t curry powder
1 t salt
1 c roasted tomatoes + their juices
2.5 c water

 The spice of life. Turmeric, salt, curry powder, cumin seeds.

The spice of life. Turmeric, salt, curry powder, cumin seeds.


Instructions

I chopped everything up into a small dice, slice and a fine mince. I wanted to create a sofrito, if you will. Then sautéd those in a pan with oil.

 Fresh aromatics lightly sauteéd.

Fresh aromatics lightly sauteéd.

Once the fresh aromatics were softened, I added the dried spices and let them get all cozy together until they created a lusciously blended ‘sofrito’ base.

 Dry spices in to truly spice things up.

Dry spices in to truly spice things up.

 Cook down until it all becomes soften and luscious together.

Cook down until it all becomes soften and luscious together.

When you have homemade roasted tomatoes, then that is what you use. They were made with love, so…

(If you don’t have roasted, you can also use whole tomatoes in a can. And then add them in with love.) In went the tomatoes and lentils. Then I added water, covered the pan and let simmer until done.

 Tomatoes and lentils finish off the main ingredients, as they wait for their water bath to gently cook them.

Tomatoes and lentils finish off the main ingredients, as they wait for their water bath to gently cook them.

And that is just how easy it was to make Dal. Again, boasting is not my style, yet two weeks in a row, it’s seems to becoming a trend. Here I am tooting my own horn again, because this Dal dish came out super tasty. I was worried about the spice level having added the jalapeño plus the long peppers, but it was quite on point. Again, I got the thumbs up for Jill and JC, both lovers of Indian food.

 I served it with the Indian Spiced Rice, Spiced Cauliflower, Potato Pancakes and raita.

I served it with the Indian Spiced Rice, Spiced Cauliflower, Potato Pancakes and raita.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m some sort of expert, nor is this a traditional Indian Dal. But I am seriously happy at my first real foray into using Indian spices to create delicious dishes. I’m all for learning the traditional methods, staying true to a cultures cuisine. But I also believe that you have to just dive in and not be intimidated by it’s complexity. And that’s what I did here. Plus my style has always been, get a glimpse then make it my own.

Don’t forget to make the Indian Spiced Rice to go along with this. In the coming weeks, I will post the potato pancakes and cauliflower. Here’s to spicing up your life!

Indian Spiced Rice

It’s no secret I love Italian food, most notably – pasta. But that is just my go to comfort zone. I adore many other ethnic foods. I guess like most of us, when I don’t know what to cook, I lean into my sweet spot. So, in an attempt to not make pasta this particular day, I begged my tummy to give me a sign.

It answered back with a resounding gurgle for spice. And, as if the universe was conspiring with my stomach, forcing me to crawl out of my pasta coma, I just happened to tune into a cooking show where a rambunctious guy was making rice using star anise and a cinnamon stick. Now those are some fierce energy vibes working their magic in the universe; fast and furious. The craving turned into a rushing wave. I was now officially pining Indian flavors.

There was no time to waste, especially given that the day before was a total flop, food wise. The guilt from my lazy Monday of not making a stitch of grub, which left us grazing on some undressed arugula and a can of sardines, compelled me to make us a good meal. It was Tuesday, and no way was I going to let the week continue on this no cook trend. Plus my sister was coming. I seriously needed to get my butt into gear. Taking mental stock of what we had available, the first two items that popped up were string beans and potatoes. I could make Indian food with those.

Now for the spices. Sure, we keep a few interesting ones on hand, and some that land squarely in the Indian spice world. But we definitely didn’t have star anise or cinnamon sticks. Motivation was running sky high, so I hopped in the car and drove to our local market that specializes in Middle eastern spices and foods. I grabbed what looked interesting:

  • Cardamom seeds

  • Cinnamon sticks

  • Cumin Seeds

  • Fenugreek

  • Pepitas

  • Dried Currants

  • Curry powder

As soon as I got home I surveyed my new selections and very quickly realized I never got star anise. No biggie, this was going to be my version of Indian food anyway. Anyone who knows Indian food knows that the art of combining and blending spices is as masterful of a skill as being a Sushi Chef. So I wasn’t going to attempt a miracle on the Ganges. I just wanted some spice.

I knew I was going to make rice. That was a no brainer, since it is the basis for most Indian food. But I needed dishes to go with the rice. With my mind rattling off the different options, I came up with a long, and clearly over ambitious list in my zeal for making Indian food.

  1. Dal, a lentil stew

  2. Chana Masala - a chick pea stew

  3. Potato pancakes

  4. String Beans

  5. Cauliflower

In the end, I did accomplish 4 out the 6 machinations (including the rice) that whirled around in my head. The funny part is that one the food items that motivated me to make Indian food, the string beans, never got spiced up and served. I guess they couldn’t take the heat. So get out of the kitchen.

In order to keep this posting manageable, I will post the recipes for each of the other dishes separately in the next weeks. Otherwise, the photos alone will have you scrolling for days. For today, let’s focus on the rice, which quite frankly is where it all began.

Ingredients

3 c basmati rice
1 cinnamon stick
4 cardamom seeds
2 full T cumin seeds
2 t salt
2 cloves
4.5 c water
4 T oil
scallions, thinly sliced, optional

I use olive oil for most everything. I don’t like using vegetable oil because it has soy in it. But you can use vegetable, canola or olive oil for this recipe.

Also, I was over ambitious and made 3 cups of rice. For two basic reasons. My husband loves rice like I love pasta. And my sister was coming for her every week trip, and she also loves Indian food. All the more reason to load up on this starchy grain. Make the amount you need and divide the amounts according. However, if it doesn’t divide evenly err on the side of using more.

Instructions

  1. First things first, soak the basmati in water for 15 minutes to take out some of the starch. This helps to make the rice fluffy and not sticky.

 You only need enough water to cover the rice.

You only need enough water to cover the rice.

Then measure out all the spices. Since I was making this up as I went, I started out with less cumin seeds and then realized that I was making 3 cups of rice, so increased the amount to what I listed above.

 Mise en place, get everything ready and in place. Salt, cardamon seeds, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cumin seeds.

Mise en place, get everything ready and in place. Salt, cardamon seeds, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cumin seeds.

2. Toast the dried spices in a large pot with oil.

3. Meanwhile, cut up red and yellow onion, then add them to the pot. Let them cook over medium low heat to allow the onions to cook down to right before the caramelized state.

 Cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, cloves, cardamon seeds and salt.

Cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, cloves, cardamon seeds and salt.

 Onions add a sweet flavor.

Onions add a sweet flavor.

 In go the onions to cozy up with the spices.

In go the onions to cozy up with the spices.

 Sauté the onions until just lightly browned.

Sauté the onions until just lightly browned.

4. Drain the rice, add it the onion/spice mixture and let the rice get coated with the all the oil, onions and spices. Just as you would making a risotto, or paella. (I like using this method of cooking rice whenever I am adding other ingredients to the cooking stage.)

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5. Add the water, bring to a boil, then cover and lower the heat. (I use a 1 to 1.5 ratio of rice to water.) Cook for 10-12 minutes. The rice should be light and fluffy and no water left.

You can add sliced scallions, or toasted chopped nuts. You could even roast up more of the cumin seeds and add it to the top. Let your mind and tastebuds be playful.

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The aromatics of this rice will make you want to spoon it right from the pot into your mouth, skipping the bowl. Which is exactly what JC did. He loves him some rice, and Indian rice at that.

I must admit that I wasn’t sure about how much of the spices to use, but not to be boastful, I was really proud of myself. I feel like I nailed the right amount of spice combo to create a flavorful rice to use as the base for my Dal.

 The dinner plate we enjoyed and the lunch sample Lisa did, too.

The dinner plate we enjoyed and the lunch sample Lisa did, too.

Now, I know that anyone who is gifted at making Indian food will have plenty to say about my version. True chefs/cooks of Indian food have a magical hand at spice blending that creates a real depth and flavor adventure. My in-house taste testers and Indian food fans loved it. Getting a pretty dang good, two thumbs up from both JuanCarlos and Jill. Jill thought so much of it that she brought some into work to have one of her co-workers who is from India try it. I must admit I was nervous at the idea. Alas, he wasn’t in the office, so her co-worker, Lisa, got to enjoy a complete lunch. And good for her, because like me she has dietary restrictions. This was gluten free, dairy free and perfect for her.

Once I decided not to be intimidated about staying true to traditional Indian spices laws, I was free to create a dish that was good enough to eat. Try your hand at mixing different spices for your rice. The combinations are endless. If not, try this one. I think you’ll like it. Namaste.

Blush Roses - A Display of Order & Whimsy

I haven’t been traveling into the city lately. Much to my sadness, since the urban jungle definitely energizes me. Things to do. People to see. You know, the pulse. The visual impact. The pace. The unusual. The swirl of life.
So, no city, no train, no Grand Central, no flower buying from Dahlia.
Woe is me.

But wait, no need to fret, if my schedule isn’t cooperating just check on others' availability. “Hello, hubby? What are your plans for today?”

Such was my fortune this past week, when JuanCarlos’ meetings took him into the city. Yeah, hurray for me! I didn’t give him any specifics. No flower type. No color preference. I just shouted out from the car as I dropped him off “Get me flowers!…” Please.

And so he obliged. He has good taste, so I knew his choices would be solid. He is a designer after all, so he had that in his favor. With no flower type in mind, he gazed at his options and as usual sunflowers first caught his eye. He adores their big yellow faces. Yet he knew I would want more than just sunflowers to work with. It was the soft color of the roses that lured him in. Soon after he grabbed some green by the way of Kale cabbage stalks and a pop of purply blue from Salvia.

Lucky me. When I saw his choices, I blushed with glee. They gave me a sense of calm and excitement simultaneously. I was lured in, too.

 Kale Cabbage stems, Salvia, Roses, patiently waiting their purpose.

Kale Cabbage stems, Salvia, Roses, patiently waiting their purpose.

Now looking at these, even JC admitted, that the natural approach would be to leave their stems long and just nicely arrange them in a large, tall vase. But I saw something different. I saw a sense of order with a dash of whimsy. I realize that maybe I get more dreamy about things than most. They are just flowers, right?

To me they are so much more. They are nature. They are beauty. They are colors and shapes and fragrances that touch my senses. I love catching their grace as I walk by them. I get such joy when I see them stand proudly showing off their natural allure and arranged in ways that showcase their special attributes. So for me, it’s not just flowers. And that especially goes for roses. I dreamed of something a bit different for these pale whispers. We have all seen roses in one big bunch a million times. Of course, they look gorgeous like that. They’re roses. Duh, gorgeous.

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I immediately went for my metal rectangular low vessel and knew it would be a good fit.

Using frogs, those spiky plates that help flowers stay exactly where you want them, I placed the cabbage stems in an orderly row that be the center point of the arrangement.

 I have three different types, and used all three for this arrangement due to the long length of the vessel.

I have three different types, and used all three for this arrangement due to the long length of the vessel.

 Like little baby cabbage heads.

Like little baby cabbage heads.

 The ‘stay where I put you’ stand.

The ‘stay where I put you’ stand.

 Standing tall and sturdy.

Standing tall and sturdy.

Once I placed the cabbage stalks into the vessel, I found the right height for the roses so their tops hit just above the bottom of the cabbage leaves. Then using that as a guide, I cut all the rest of the roses to the same length. Next, I began lining up the roses around them like a moat around a castle. Thus, building on that theme of ‘order’ I had in mind.

 Using my first rose to guide me for all the rest.

Using my first rose to guide me for all the rest.

 Different heights create more dimension.

Different heights create more dimension.

Onto the whimsy. By placing the Salvia in and around the entire arrangement, peeking out they created a weeping, breezy feeling, softening the hard lines of all the ‘order’. Plus, added a contrasting color punch.

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Little note; when I cut the Salvia to size, the bottom part of the stems still had greens. I used those to fill in the spaces and create volume.

Nothing wasted.

Everything gained.

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I love this sweet arrangement. Ordered whimsy. I know I am showing a ton of different shots but I can’t seem to get enough of all the pretty angles.

Although I placed it on our dining room, I created the arrangement in the kitchen. All the while I kept getting glimpses of the giant golden LOVE sign my dear friend, Dominique, gave me.

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 See the faint lines of love in the background?

See the faint lines of love in the background?

 Clearly, love shows up often in my home.

Clearly, love shows up often in my home.

I couldn’t help but think of her as I made this pretty in pink beauty and giving thanks to her friendship, her thoughtfulness and feeling blessed to have her in my life. She definitely represents order and whimsy. She gets stuff done and has fun doing it. Top that with a cosmic giggle as I rejoice on sharing this post precisely now, since tomorrow, September 15th, is her birthday. Here’s to blushing with joy on all the goodness you bring to the world, and to my life… with golden LOVE. Happy Birthday, Dominique!

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