Dana's Nuts - Granola and Spiced & Candied Nut Offering

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Well, haven’t we all thought that at one time or another. This time it is true. I’m nuts. Nuts for sharing good things. Nuts for sharing the love. And one that will take you from morning to night time snacking.

Although, the sharing part is a bit ironic since this period marks the first time that I haven’t posted on a weekly basis. It actually felt odd and sad and weird, like something was missing in my life. The lack of posts were not because I haven’t been making a mess in the kitchen and inventing. Exactly the opposite. I have been cooking up things to offer you. A different type of offering. Instead of providing recipes that you may not have a chance to make, I will provide the actual result of the recipe. How’s that for an offering? I realize that some of you enjoy homemade but just don’t have the time for homemade. You appreciate the quality and taste of small batch food made with love but just aren’t always able to do that for yourself. I totally get it. So, I’ve launched an idea that people have been suggesting, asking, begging for for years - offering some of my baked goods for sale. (Of course, some of you have also urged me to open a restaurant. Now, I’m willing to tackle some suggestions… Others, not so much, but thanks for the vote of confidence.)

I have been giving baked goods as gifts for quite a while now, and each time I’ve heard, “I wish you would sell these. I would buy them.” So, I pinch my nose and take the deep plunge, starting small with ideas for growth. I’m keeping things simple just to get the ball rolling. My first offerings are my Crunchin’ Coconut Granola and Dana’s Nuts - Spicy & Candied.

My granola is made with oats, coconut, pepitas and sunflower seeds, oil and honey. Pure and simple. Baked to crunchy toasted perfection.

Crunchy goodness.

Crunchy goodness.

Once you get your bag home, place it in an airtight jar to keep it fresh.

Once you get your bag home, place it in an airtight jar to keep it fresh.

Since I know some of you eat granola regularly, my goal is to offer it on a monthly subscription basis, too. This way you are assured to get your granola every month, just in time to top off your morning yogurt, or evening ice cream. So, I welcome the comments to see if this is a service you would enjoy signing up for. The monthly cost of the granola would naturally be discounted from a single purchase. For now, single purchase is what I can offer, but with your feedback, subscription granola could be on the future horizon.

Enjoy it with yogurt, or milk. Or eat it like my husband does - with a spoon right out of the jar.

Enjoy it with yogurt, or milk. Or eat it like my husband does - with a spoon right out of the jar.

My Spiced & Candied Nuts are a mix of walnuts, cashews and peanuts baked with a spice mix and maple syrup. These nuts are the perfect blend of heat and sweet that keeps your hand grabbing for more. Ideal for a cocktail party or just as a snack. (There will be other nut mixes in the future.)

What goes better with a drink then a handful of nuts?

What goes better with a drink then a handful of nuts?

Ideal for a snack or a cocktail party.

Ideal for a snack or a cocktail party.

I hope you enjoy these treats. As always, I look forward to sharing with you in best way I know how, stirring life with goodness and love.

Please visit the SHOP page for more details. Happy Crunching.

Shop Granola
Shop Nuts

 
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3 Dips a Dipping...

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Life with an obsessive buyer.

Well, I guess that’s the view from hubby, JuanCarlos’, seats. I buy things; be it material scraps, vintage dishes, glassware, and even food ingredients with big ideas. Sometimes with no specific ideas at all, I just love how they look and I’ll figure it out later. Maybe that is what I should have called this blog. Buy it Now - Figure it Out Later.

In the looking good category, I’m often tempted by the olive bar at specialty stores. Or the condiment and cheese aisles. Who wouldn’t? They are stocked with alluring foods. So, it’s no wonder that when you open my fridge you will encounter jars and containers of what JC likes to call stragglers. Annoying stragglers, to be exact. We differ greatly in our view points. I love having these food items around because they come in handy in a pinch. On the flip side, my husband finds these types of jars, containers and “dangling participles’ quite annoying. The main reason: he doesn’t have much use for these ingredients, hence the questioning as to why we need so many of them. Which often leads to him needing to shift, maneuver around and rejigger them in the fridge. Of course, I see the absolute need for these, but I’m willing to consider his point of view; me as condiment hoarder for the ‘just in case’ moment.

In an effort to keep the peace around the holidays (at least that is what I’m telling him), I decided to make him happy and clean the fridge from condiment craze. Yet, we all know the real reason. I’m a serial something from nothing, experimentalist. I can’t help myself from looking at ingredients and seeing what they could be. And what perfect timing, as we look down the barrel of the final few holiday parties and gatherings left in the year, a trio of dips comes in handy. Dips are not just useful for dipping, but great to spread on sandwiches, or on the base of pizza or stuffed breads, dollop on a salad or tacos, or dang near anything else you can think of.

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Here are 3 dips for dipping. Or spreading or whatever you want to name them, for use in whatever way you choose.


Avocado & Sour Cream Dip

Ingredients
1/2 c avocado, cubed
1/2 c sour cream
1/4 c scallions + 1 T for topping
1 garlic clove, rough chop
1 T parsley
1 t lemon juice
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper

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Instructions
In a mini blender, buzz up the parsley, scallions and garlic first. Then add the avocado and sour cream. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper. Buzz again and taste for seasoning. Easy, breezy.

Chop up the scallions and garlic first. It helps to blend them up better.

Chop up the scallions and garlic first. It helps to blend them up better.

Chunks of avocado give it a creaminess.

Chunks of avocado give it a creaminess.

Fresh parsley and lemon give this dip a zip.

Fresh parsley and lemon give this dip a zip.

Avocado & Sour Cream dip. Creamy and tangy.

Avocado & Sour Cream dip. Creamy and tangy.

Roasted Pepper & Goat Cheese Dip

Ingredients
1/2 c marinated roasted red peppers
2/3 c goat cheese
1/4 c walnuts, roasted

Instructions
Roast the walnuts for 8-10 minutes in the oven or in a saucepan on the stove. Then using a mini blender, buzz up them up into small pieces. Remove from blender, then add the peppers and goat cheese and blend until you have a chunky consistency. Add the walnuts back in, and blend only until full combined, or you can simply stir them in. Taste for seasoning. Since I bought the marinated roasted peppers there was no need to add any additional seasonings.

Goat cheese makes it creamy and tangy. Peppers makes it sweet.

Goat cheese makes it creamy and tangy. Peppers makes it sweet.

Walnuts give a crunch. A wonderful combination.

Walnuts give a crunch. A wonderful combination.

Gorgeous bright color, full of tang, sweet and crunch.

Gorgeous bright color, full of tang, sweet and crunch.

Olive & Feta Cheese Dip

Ingredients
1/2 c oil cured black olives
1/2 c green olives
1/2 c feta cheese
1/4 c scallions, rough chop
1 garlic clove, rough chop
1/2 c parsley leaves
1/4 c olive oil
1 t lemon juice

The set up for something special.

The set up for something special.

Instructions
In a mini blender, buzz up the parsley, garlic and scallions. Add the black and green olives and buzz until it creates a paste. Add olive oil and lemon juice and blend until combined. Then add the feta cheese. Since the olives and feta have enough flavor and salt content, this dip should not require any additional seasoning. But always taste to see if you need more lemon juice or oil.

Toss the scallions, garlic and parsley in.

Toss the scallions, garlic and parsley in.

Buzz it up until coarsely chopped.

Buzz it up until coarsely chopped.

Add the olives. Then the oil, lemon juice and feta.

Add the olives. Then the oil, lemon juice and feta.

Olive tapenade with feta is a hearty dip, perfect with boiled potatoes for dipping.

Olive tapenade with feta is a hearty dip, perfect with boiled potatoes for dipping.

Bright, crunchy and super green string beans are a fresh and delightful addition to this platter.

Bright, crunchy and super green string beans are a fresh and delightful addition to this platter.

New and fingerling potatoes are the perfect size and consistency for dipping. They also make for a hearty bite.

New and fingerling potatoes are the perfect size and consistency for dipping. They also make for a hearty bite.

Did you see how easy it was to whip up not one but three dips? These were just one of those days when pulling ingredients out and seeing what works together creates ramekins full of goodness.

In my defense of stocking our fridge with these awesome ingredients, we had one of those ‘just in case’ moments when we needed to bring appetizers to a party. Perfect timing, I’d say, as I just finished making these dips and they were picture ready for the party. Pure evidence that having dangling participles in your fridge isn’t a luxury or a nuance but an absolute necessity. I feel redeemed and justified in my condiment collecting craze.

A colorful medley.

A colorful medley.

Fresh and inviting. So, go ahead and invite someone over. Pop some bubbly and dip away.

Fresh and inviting. So, go ahead and invite someone over. Pop some bubbly and dip away.

Post Note: While I was in North Carolina visiting my nieces, my youngest niece made all 3 of these dips for us to snack on. Then we brought the leftovers to my oldest nieces newly purchased townhouse, which we helped her moved into. These dips were the perfect snack as we unpacked, unwrapped and set up her new abode. Everyone loved them. I guess these 3 dips a dipping are even more handy that I originally thought.!

Chicken Salad with Fruits & Nuts

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Have you ever had a chicken salad that just felt too heavy.  So much mayo that it almost leaves a slick cream streak down your throat?  Creamy is nice but heavy is not.   Especially during the summer months, salad featuring proteins should lift you up, not weigh you down. 

My recent cooking adventures afforded me the opportunity to cater for my Mom's 'Ladies Lunch'. I had proposed a couple of different menu options but they didn't want me to go too crazy, fancy.  Understandably so, they needed food that would have a broad appeal for everyone's palate, which makes total sense given a group of 30. Chicken Salad was suggested.

I must admit that making chicken salad didn't thrill me.  It was my job to give the 'clients' what they wanted but also introduce them to chicken salad with pizzaz. I like to create flavors that pop, and really wanted to make something different for these special ladies.  Instead of creating a new dish, the creating came in the form of how to take bland, regular, mayo slathered chicken salad and make it lighter and more exciting.  Once I realized that they were open to a more zippidity-do chicken salad, I starting thinking: summer, lighter, texture and crunch. That's when I got more excited.  Texture would come by way of adding crunchy, crisp fruits and toasted nuts. And I dare say that the fruits also help to lighten the load. Check off the texture category requirement.  Now how to lighten up the dressing that is typically globs of mayo?  Yogurt is light. It's tangy. It's zingy and is still creamy.  Gosh, if only I could be more like yogurt...
So, that was it.  I would cut the mayo in half using Greek yogurt and add a couple of other zesty ingredients to lighten it up.     

I got the thumbs up from the team leaders, my Mom and Elena. Onto the plan. I went back and forth about whether to use dark and white meat, whether to roast or poach.  In the end, I choose to use organic chicken breasts and to poach them using aromatics to subtly impart flavor.

Ingredients 

(This batch was made for 30 people. And it made about 10 c.  Scale down for your needs.)
For the Poaching
9.5 lbs Chicken Breasts *                                       
4 bay leaves
4-6 lemon slices
2 t peppercorns
1 carrot, chopped in chunks
1 celery stalk, cut in pieces
parsley sprigs

For the Salad
2 c red seedless grapes, thick slices
2-3 red apple, peeled & cubed
5-6 scallions, thinly sliced
1 c walnuts, roasted & rough chopped
* You can also use leftover chicken and add the dressing.  

Dressing
1.5 c Mayonnaise
1.5 Greek Yogurt
2-3 T Lemon zest
1/3 c lemon juice
2 T mustard
salt, pepper
 

Instructions

1. Clean and rinse the chicken well.  In a large sauté pan, add the chicken in one layer in the pan.  Add the aromatics and enough water to almost cover.  Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer for 8-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken.  Use a thermometer to ensure that the interior is 165 degrees.

2. While the chicken is cooking, make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients.

Creamy, tangy and light.

Creamy, tangy and light.

3. Once the chicken is done, remove from the pot and let it cool.  Meanwhile, roast the walnuts for 5-7 minutes and rough chop them.  Cut the grapes, apples, and scallions. (Squeeze some lemon juice over the apples or submerge in lemon water to keep them from turning brown.)

Chicken
Red grapes
Apples

4. Either cut the chicken into chunks or shred.  Your choice. Mix all the ingredients together with the dressing.  Some people like their salad moist, others dry. Dress as desired.

Chicken Salad lighter

You can serve this on rolls, or French baguette.  I decided for summertime, and for a healthier option, to serve them with small romaine lettuce leaves to act as boats.   All the ladies enjoyed this light and tangy chicken salad. 

A huge bowl full of light and crunchy, savory and zesty chicken salad.

A huge bowl full of light and crunchy, savory and zesty chicken salad.

The ladies taking a little bit of all the offerings.

The ladies taking a little bit of all the offerings.

Since I made a ton of chicken salad and had so many other offerings, I had some leftovers.  I brought home some chicken salad, and the Israeli Couscous  and Asian Slaw with Tahini/Peanut Dressing and made a bountiful  lunch plate for JC.  At first he said, "That's way too much food."  Not too much later, I found the plate, empty, not even a grain of couscous left.  Apparently, it wasn't too much. He loved it enough to have the rest the next day.  

And since I had some of the chicken salad dressing leftover and I love to share, I gave some to my neighbors who are a foodies. They just happen to have some roasted chicken.  What serendipity.  They mixed up my dressing with their chicken and loved how the lemon zest and juice really brightened it all up.  Why did the neighbor cross the road?  Ask the chicken.

My plate full of love that I made for JC's lunch. Boston lettuce pockets filled with zingy chicken salad, couscous and peanut slaw.

My plate full of love that I made for JC's lunch. Boston lettuce pockets filled with zingy chicken salad, couscous and peanut slaw.

Why did the chicken cross the road?  To mingle with a few fruits and nuts and slather herself in a light yogurt lemon dressing, of course.

 

Luscious Butternut Cream Crostini with Roasted Walnuts & Honey

Let's state the obvious. We throw a lot of parties.  Entertaining fools;  we love to do it. (Alright maybe me a tad more than JC).  Whether the scale is big or an intimate gathering, you always need good nibbles. And the small bites you offer should be tasty and as exciting to you as they are to your guests. Which is why I'm constantly toying around with ideas in the ongoing quest for a tasty appetizer. 

I'm like everyone else, I have some fan favorites,  and will admit that I recycle them for certain events.  Heck, why not?  If something works then play that tune again and again. But I have flavor curiosity syndrome. so I am forever surfing my brain, and my palate for new bites.  Throw in the fact that I just like to experiment and thus the parade of apps.  (By the way, I am trying to get that syndrome classified as an official disorder. I think there might be some benefits to that.)

Usually when I come up with an idea, I don't pre-test.  I just take the plunge and serve it up to our guests before ever trying it myself.  Bold and brazen, that would be me. Yet on the occasions when I have an idea but don't have a planned party I become impatient and make a batch to test on friends and family.  So the irony didn't escape me when this particular recipe idea popped into my head at the exact same time that we had 5 weeks of revolving door guests in our home. That's right, captive prisoners, yet our sightseeing schedules left us with no time for food experimentation.  Much like a lyric from Alanis Morisette's song Ironic, "It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife".  A perfectly good crop of guinea pigs gone to waste. So, I cooked up a different plan for testing this recipe.  

Because no parties were in the sight, the next soonest taste tester opportunity was our plans to meet up with family at a restaurant in the Bronx.  My plot: bring little samples in tupperware and hand them out prior to entering the restaurant. This is my interpretation of an amuse bouche.  Appetizer BEFORE the appetizer.  (The real meaning of amuse bouche is a bit of food served before the meal to stimulate the appetite.  To amuse your mouth. I think mine did just that.)

First off, Juan Carlos thought I was nuts, (as he often does), and I thought my idea would be met with surprised faces and thoughts of, “who brings appetizers to a restaurant and requests that they be gobbled up like contraband in a dark alley?”  However, as I passed out my little samples, they were happy to oblige. I just love these people!  Once they popped these fluffy bites into their mouths, they didn’t care where they were eating them. 

Tom, one of my biggest fans, ready for his part.

Tom, one of my biggest fans, ready for his part.

Therese testing the pear, gluten free version. Thanks!

Therese testing the pear, gluten free version. Thanks!

Aunt Rosie, being a good sport

Aunt Rosie, being a good sport

Although this experiment went well, I have enhanced the original idea.  Plus I highly recommend serving them at home on a proper platter to your guests.  (Clandestinely handing them out from a plastic container on a Bronx street corner should be your last resort.)
 

Ingredients

1.5 c butternut squash, roasted
1/2 cup ricotta
1/3 c walnuts, roasted
1/3 c pumpkin seeds, roasted
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3 good pinches red pepper flakes
1.5 t salt
1/8 tsp pepper
Parmesan shards
honey, to drizzle
French baguette, sliced
Pear (I used a Red Anjou)
 

Instructions

Place the two halves of butternut squash on a roasting pan and season with salt, pepper and olive oil.  Roast at 375 degrees until fork tender (about 45 min).  Let cool.

Then scoop out the soft squash and put into a food processor.  Add the salt, pepper, red pepper, nutmeg and blend until smooth.  Add the ricotta cheese and blend until combined.

Roasted and ready for becoming a rich creamy delight.

Roasted and ready for becoming a rich creamy delight.

Walnuts
Pumpkin seeds

In a saucepan on the stovetop or in a baking sheet the oven, lightly toast the walnuts and the pumpkin seeds to release their oils and fragrance.  Roughly chop them, keeping them separate.

Place the bread slices on a sheet pan and lightly toast one side, then turn and place the parmesan shards on the other side and toast until slightly melted.

Meanwhile, stir the pumpkin seeds into the butternut/ricotta mixture.  Once the crostini are ready, spoon on the butternut cream mixture, sprinkle the chopped walnuts and drizzle with honey. Serve on your prettiest plate.

If you recall, I don't eat bread.  Neither does my cousin, Therese, who was among the original taste testers. So I needed to come up with delivery vehicle that we both could consume and not feel cheated.  I hate feeling cheated.  Enter the pear for a gluten free version of this app.

Use a nice, thick slice.  We both loved the crisp, freshness of the pear against the creamy, sweetness of the butternut squash, ricotta and honey.  Not only did we not feel cheated, but we felt we had the better version. Shh!

I was really happy with how this ultimately turned out. The folks who had the crostini version liked the crunch of the bread against the creaminess of the butternut squash/ricotta mixture.  Therese and I loved how the pear worked with these flavors.   True confessions, and in authentic something from nothing style, I don't always know all the ingredients up front that will end up in a recipe.  Case in point here, as there was no red pepper in the set up photo. The addition of red pepper flakes came upon tasting it and realizing that the squash and ricotta are quite mild and were desperately calling out for a punch.  AND when I needed to bring an appetizer to a dinner party this past week I decided to make this.  In recreating it I added the pumpkin seeds for addition texture and parmesan for additional saltiness. Neither of which was in the original version. See how it works, my friends. You keep creating, improving and stirring it with more love each time.  

As I suggested earlier, instead of serving this in a back alley, bringing it to a friend's dinner party and serving it on a proper platter, well... It goes without saying that this was an infinitely much better locale!

As I suggested earlier, instead of serving this in a back alley, bringing it to a friend's dinner party and serving it on a proper platter, well... It goes without saying that this was an infinitely much better locale!