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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White Bean Dip

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I am a serial food pleaser. I caught the entertaining bug from my grandmothers and mother while watching them put out dish after dish, platter after platter for holiday events, Saturday BBQs, or a Sunday meal.  There was something about those moments that dug in deep with me.  Preparing and offering up food made with love seemed to awaken a real joy in me. I loved the excitement of it. I love the way it makes me feel. Entertaining is part of my DNA...DANA. 

In my parent's kitchen on Long Island with sumo sized vats of food. Yes, I say from WAY back. That was my brother's bird named Qubiert.

In my parent's kitchen on Long Island with sumo sized vats of food. Yes, I say from WAY back. That was my brother's bird named Qubiert.

Part of my High School gang. I guess I convinced them with more than just wine and cheese. It took 16oz Buds!

Part of my High School gang. I guess I convinced them with more than just wine and cheese. It took 16oz Buds!

From way back when, luring friends and family to come over to nibble on my food experiments has been a constant agenda. I giggle at the memories of my high school years when I would try to convince my friends to gather at my house for wine, cheese and board games instead of their suggestion to go to a bar.  Nerd, or early onset foodie? Either way, it was and still holds true. Given the choice, I much prefer hosting a small gathering than going out.  Seeing as it's been a while since I've used my usual bullet point list, here goes a few reasons to entertain at home:

  • Your guests can stay as long as they like, no one hovering over with a check waiting to seat the next group

  • You can make whatever food you like, and experiment and use them as test subjects

  • You don't spend nearly as much as in a restaurant

  • You don't have to deal with a bunch of people who aren't part of your group

  • You can laugh and dance and play whatever music you want

  • You can move around from room to room, sit on the floor or lie on the couch or be outdoors

  • You can display all your table decorating talents

  • You can wear comfy clothes

  • You can kick your shoes off, although I never do

When I lived in a studio apartment in NYC, my entertaining was contained to having a friend or two over for dinner.  After moving to Miami, I had the space to entertain but with crazy work hours, I barely had the time.  Go figure!  I was left with one option to soothe my aching entertaining soul.  Throw myself birthday parties.  I knew I could at least carve out time for my own birthday, and I also knew friends would make the effort because of that.  Buffet style was mostly how these shindigs went down.  It made it easy to put all the food out and have people fill and refill as they wished, at their pace.  Less fussy that way, too, kept the mood relaxed, informal and moveable.  You've heard me talk about the importance of having some food cold, some room temp and 1-2 options warm.  With these annual parties the guest list was usually my same dear friends. That meant I needed to come up with food ideas that would check all those boxes and as well as be different from the previous year. 

Friends always willing to help. Yay, for me.

Friends always willing to help. Yay, for me.

Dear friends that I still have as a part of my life to this day.

Dear friends that I still have as a part of my life to this day.

My dear friends: Kathy, who sadly is no longer with us, me, Emilce and Helene. Can I blow them out? Sure, I've got plenty of hot air.

My dear friends: Kathy, who sadly is no longer with us, me, Emilce and Helene. Can I blow them out? Sure, I've got plenty of hot air.

I promise to post more of those old favorites in upcoming posts, but today I want to share a white bean dip.  Reason being is that I recently revived this recipe during our latest trip to Miami.  So, it seems only fitting having first made it decades ago in Miami.

While on this trip, we had a few people over our apartment.  Perfect time to feed my need to 'food please'. So I whipped up a few bites.  JC always laughs because he says, "No, biggie we can just put out some cheese" and then I decide we need a few other nibbles, and in a flash we have a spread of food.  

I'm as comfortable as can be in George and John's kitchen.

I'm as comfortable as can be in George and John's kitchen.

On our last night of this past trip we were invited to our friends', John and George, house for dinner.  We  adore them for many reasons but are belly tickled that they are food lovers as well.  We make a perfect complement in the kitchen together.  Their part: the main meal. Our part: the appetizers.

Making the potato topped with with smoked trout & sour cream

Making the potato topped with with smoked trout & sour cream

You don't always have to make all the dishes. Sometimes buying really good prepared foods is just the right answer. Marinated olives & feta.

You don't always have to make all the dishes. Sometimes buying really good prepared foods is just the right answer. Marinated olives & feta.

Leftover heirloom tomatoes from the night before...

Leftover heirloom tomatoes from the night before...

Cut up to make the topping for bruschetta.

Cut up to make the topping for bruschetta.

Talk about an excellent time to revive an old dip. This task was also going to require me tapping into my something from nothing style as we only had a few food items left in our apartment due to our return to NY.  Time to whip up what's available.  I had made the potatoes topped with trout and had extra, so that was on app down.  I had leftover heirloom tomatoes, chopped up made a tasty bruschetta. Lastly, in the cupboard... white beans.  In the fridge, standing by wanting to be needed: scallions and cilantro at your service. Perfect aromatics to jazz up a white bean dip. 

This is a dip that can be modified to use what you have available or what flavor profile you like.  Clearly, not a lot is needed to create this one. You can use a different kind of bean, or basil instead of cilantro. Mix and match to what you have, or whatever will rock your taste buds.

Only a handful of ingredients, so make sure they are fresh.

Only a handful of ingredients, so make sure they are fresh.

Chopped garlic

Chopped garlic

Ingredients

1 15 oz can Cannellini or Great Northern beans
1/3 c cilantro (plus extra for garnish)
2 T lemon juice
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 T olive oil
1/2 t salt
1/8 t pepper
1/3 c scallions, sliced (plus extra for garnish)

Instructions

Drain the liquid from the beans reserving 1 T.  Place the beans, garlic, salt, pepper, oil, lemon juice in a mini food processor.  I used a blender because it was all I had, but found it didn't chop as well as I would have liked.  Buzz them up to your liking.  You can make this dip super smooth and creamy, or leave it a little chunky.  I like it both ways.

 

 

Remove this mixture and place in a decorative bowl.  In same blender, add the scallions, cilantro and reserved bean liquid.  Buzz until you get a chopped mixture.  Dollop this mixture in the center of the bean mixture.  Then slice a few more scallions and cilantro and sprinkle on top.  Serve with crusty bread or vegetables like cucumber slices, celery, carrots, or even blanched broccoli.  

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Dollop the scallion, cilantro mixture on top.

Dollop the scallion, cilantro mixture on top.

My appetizer offerings make with love part in our Miami home, part in theirs.

My appetizer offerings make with love part in our Miami home, part in theirs.

All of the appetizers were a big hit at our friends' house. But the dip got the most ohhs and ahhs. I almost felt I should have made more!  John's sister loved it so much she kept asking for the recipe. Hey, guess what? I have a blog just for that reason.  So, here you go Ann, and for all of you who might enjoy this super simple dip that will please your own guests, or bring to a party and please other guests.  Either way, a crowd pleaser.

Creamy, Cheesy Cauliflower Dip

Creamy, steamy, cheesy and delicious cauliflower dip

Creamy, steamy, cheesy and delicious cauliflower dip

Cauliflower:  the big, white, bulbous veg that is so versatile.  It can be crunchy when roasted, or creamy when pureed.  It's nutritious and delicious. (and even facilitates my propensity to rhyme.) Seriously, what more can you ask of it.  But I did. Please can you be a creamy, cheesy dip for my cocktail party? And the answer was, Sure Thing. 

Since this dip was such a hit for my post Thanksgiving cocktail party I thought it only fitting and quite appropriate to bookend the year by posting another cauliflower dish.  I started this blog with the simple but versatile Faux Creamy Cauliflower Soup and I end the year with another simple but this time decadent cauliflower dish that will help ring in the New Year's Eve.  There is no faux in the creamy nature of this dip. It's real, alright.  And it's cheesy, gooeyness is completely sanctioned when one is kicking out the old and cheering in the new.

Just as with the soup you can add a variety of extras as you desire.  You can even play with different spices, too. This is was my first attempt at asking my cauliflower to be dippable so I didn't venture too far into the experimental.  That said, we did just fine.  Here are the basics.

Ingredients

1 head of cauliflower
1/4 c shallots, minced
1/4 c onion, minced
2 small cloves garlic, minced
Magic 3 (oil, salt, pepper)
1/8 t red pepper flakes (optional, if you like a little heat)
1/2 c sautéd escarole (optional, I had some leftover from the Escarole Rolls so I tossed it in)
2/3 c fontina, grated (or cheese of your choice, Gruyere would be yummy)
Crusty bread, for serving
Endive, gluten free option for serving

Instructions

Break up the cauliflower in pieces and boil it in salted water. 

Remove, reserving 1 cup of the liquid for pureeing.  Set cauliflower aside while you sauté the onion, shallots and garlic, seasoning as they get nice and soft.  Then add the cooked cauliflower and let it get coated with that flavor.

Next step is to make it creamy.  Place the mixture into a food processor and puree, adding a little of the reserved liquid as needed to get the consistency you want.  Remember, you can always add but cannot take away, so go slowly to determine whether you want it chunky or super smooth.  At this point, please taste and adjust your seasonings as you see fit.  As I mentioned, since I had some leftover sautéd escarole, after I removed the mixture from the processor, I folded it in.

cauliflower puree

cauliflower puree

leftover sautéd escarole

leftover sautéd escarole

The mixture awaiting it's cheese partner.

The mixture awaiting it's cheese partner.

Place the mixture into an oven proof baking dish that can also be used to serve. I bought the one pictured from Despaña.  They have terra cotta cazuelas in a variety of sizes, and this one is perfect.  Then comes the best part, the CHEESE. Did I say I like cheese?  If you know me, you already knew that.  Add the cheese into the entire mixture, plus sprinkle some on top. Bake at 350 until nice and bubbly.  

Serve warm with crusty bread, endive or any other vegetable for dipping.  

Here's to ringing in the New Year with Health & Wealth of heart, body and mind.  May you reach for the stars, touch them and be electrified to do great things.  May love and peace show up at your door each day.  And may you know when to have faux creaminess and when it's absolutely necessary to have the real thing.  

Thank you all for your support and onto new food bites in 2017!