Fire Roasted Tomato Minestrone

The combination of chopped onions, celery and carrots, sautéed in olive oil (to make what Italians call soffritto) or in butter (to make what the French call mirepoix) is wonderful for adding flavor to sauces, soups, stews and stuffings. Around the holidays, I keep soffrito or mirepoix in the refrigerator so that I have the aromatic vegetables already prepared to make holiday cooking easier.

I generally use about 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of butter or extra virgin olive oil per cup of raw vegetables, adding a dash of salt and pepper. To the onions, I also add a splash of dry white wine. For this minestrone, I prefer olive oil to butter, but either will work. If you have soffritto already made, you can substitute 3 cups of it for the vegetables in this soup and reduce the olive oil to 1 to 2 tablespoons.

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Fire Roasted Tomato Minestrone

This is a delicious, stew-like minestrone … flavorful and filling for the winter months. If you prefer a more brothy soup, you can thin this with a little vegetable or chicken stock.

Ingredients

• about 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil, divided

• 1 c. diced onions

• 1 c. diced celery

• 1 c. diced carrots

• 1/3 c. dry white or red wine

• 2 28-oz. cans diced Fire Roasted Tomatoes – or 1 can diced, 1 can crushed (do not drain)

• 1 15-oz. can cannellini beans (white kidney beans) or great northern beans, drained and rinsed

• 1 15-oz. can red kidney beans or black beans, drained and rinsed

• 1 T. dried oregano, crushed

• 1 T. paprika or smoked paprika

• 1 t. dried thyme, crushed

• 1/2 t. sea salt

• fresh grated Romano or Parmesan cheese, optional garnish

Directions

(1) If you do not have soffritto already prepared, start by sautéing vegetables in olive oil, one type at a time, using about 1  – 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil, and a dash of salt and pepper, per cup of vegetables. I like to add a splash of dry white wine to the onions. Cook briefly until crisp-tender.

(2) Add prepared vegetables, wine, about 1 T. of the remaining olive oil, tomatoes, beans, and spices to a large pot (6-8 qt). Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the minestrone comes to a simmer. Reduce heat and cook at a low simmer, continuing to stir occasionally, for about 15 minutes. (So that the vegetables remain crisp-tender, don’t overcook.) Taste.  Add more olive oil, wine, or seasonings if desired. Ladle into warm bowls to serve.

Serving suggestion: At the table, grate a little cheese over each bowl of minestrone – but not for vegans. Serve with warm bread and a glass of wine.

And Now for a Change of Decorations

We had a very pleasant Thanksgiving at The Morning Star with good friends and delightful guests; and, of course, we had lots of delicious food. I hope that everyone else had a lovely day as well.

Now it is time to pack away the Thanksgiving decorations …

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… and start thinking about Christmas. We have several tubs worth of lights to string on the porch.

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I’m glad that’s not my job!

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Changing out the throw pillows is much easier to handle … but don’t think that I’ll be getting off easy! Anyhow, I think that’s enough Christmas decorating for today. After all, it has been a busy week. There is certainly a lot more holiday decorating to do and there will be more pictures to share.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Raspberry Peach Grand Margaritas

Raspberry Peach Grand Margaritas

4 parts reposado tequila

2 parts Grand Marnier Signature Collection No. 2 Raspberry Peach

1 part fresh-squeezed juice from ripe Meyer Lemons*

agave syrup to taste, optional

Meyer Lemon slices

fresh raspberries

fresh (or semi-thawed) peach slices

Combine tequila, Grand Marnier, and lemon juice. Stir and then taste. If desired, add agave syrup until desired sweetness is reached. Stir together with ice and chill until serving or shake in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, and serve right away. Garnish with fruit. Serve in margarita glasses or in colorful Mexican glassware. Enjoy! Have a great weekend!

* Note: ripe Meyer Lemons, which are a cross between lemons and mandarin oranges, sometimes look like small oranges when they are ripe.

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Chocolate Bourbon Pots de Creme With Orange Bourbon Cherries

I always need to get an early start on my Thanksgiving planning and preparations. In thinking about what desserts I might want to serve – a month from now – this is one that came to mind. Not only is it completely decadent, but it is also very easy to prepare … which is incredibly nice given all of the work that goes into the holidays. This dish requires only about 15 minutes of work, plus chilling time. The key to its success is the use of fine quality chocolate and bourbon.

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Chocolate Bourbon Pots de Creme

makes 8 servings

Ingredients

• 14 oz. best quality bittersweet chocolate (finely chopped)

I used Ghirardelli Twilight Delight Intense Dark 72% Cacao bars.

• 2 lg. eggs (beaten)

• 3 T. really good bourbon

I used Woodford Reserve Bourbon.

• 1 1/3 c. half-and-half

• Lightly sweetened whipped cream, for garnish

• Orange Bourbon Cherries, for garnish (recipe below)

• Gold-colored decorator’s sugar, for garnish (optional)

Directions

1.Place chocolate, eggs and bourbon in the bowl of a large food processor.

2. Scald half-and-half.

3. While running the food processor, pour hot half-and-half through the feed tube. Process until perfectly smooth. (If you don’t have a food processor, beat ingredients in a large mixing bowl.)

4. Ladle into serving cups. Chill for at least three hours before serving. Cover with plastic wrap if making Pots de Creme more than a few hours in advance.

5. Meanwhile, prepare cherries.

6. Just before serving, whip cream. Garnish Pots de Creme with whipped cream, 3 cherries each, and decorator’s sugar.  (The sugar adds a little sparkle and also a little crunch.)

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Orange Bourbon Cherries

Ingredients

• 1 1/4 c. frozen dark sweet cherries (at least 24 cherries)

• 1/4 maple syrup

• zest from one mandarin orange (or a fragrant-skinned orange), about 1 T.

• 1/4 c. really good bourbon

I used Woodford Reserve Bourbon.

Directions

Place all of the ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan. Gently stir. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a clean glass jar. Refrigerate uncovered until cool, then tightly seal jar. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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Enjoy! Happy Dining!

Persian Lime Pie

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It seems as though every lime pie is named “Key Lime Pie”, and yet fresh Key limes can be much more difficult to find than fresh Persian limes. Since the smaller, yellowish Key limes are considerably tarter than the larger, dark green Persian limes, the two varieties are not perfectly interchangeable. So, I decided to create a pie recipe based on Persian limes. This delicious, citrusy, cheesecake-like pie is wonderful for entertaining because it can be made up to a week ahead of time. Enjoy!

Persian Lime Pie

serves 12

 

Crust

1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs

1/3 c. granulated white sugar

1/4 t. salt

10 T. unsalted butter, melted

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Whisk together crumbs, sugar and salt. Stir in melted butter. Press crumb mixture into a 9” pie plate.
  3. Place pie plate on a baking sheet and bake crust for 8 minutes. (Make filling while crust is baking.) Remove crust from oven.

 

Filling

8 oz. low-fat cream cheese

2 14-oz. cans sweetened condensed milk

3/4 c. fresh squeezed Persian lime juice

1 1/2 t. lime extract (optional, recipe at bottom of page)

  1. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese on medium-high speed until perfectly smooth. Scrape down bowl. Beat in sweetened condensed milk until perfectly smooth. Scrape down bowl. On low speed, beat in lime juice until perfectly incorporated. Again, scrape down bowl.
  2. Taste filling. If desired, beat in lime extract.
  3. Gently pour filling into pie crust and then bake (on baking sheet) for 15 minutes. (Filling should be firm/set, but not browned.)
  4. Remove pie from oven. Cool at room temperature for about 40 minutes.  Chill for two hours before serving. (Cover pie with plastic wrap if not serving within a few hours.)

 

Topping*

3/4 c. heavy cream

2 1/4 T. granulated sugar

1 t. lime, lemon or orange extract

 

  1. Combine ingredients in a deep bowl. Whip on high speed until cream holds peaks.
  2. Scoop into a pastry bag fitted with a large tip to garnish pie slices, or dollop cream onto slices, right before serving.

* Canned whipped cream can be substituted.

 

Garnishes

fresh grated Persian lime zest

12 thin slices of Persian limes

fresh blueberries, blackberries or raspberries (optional)

edible flowers (optional)

 

Sprinkle slices of pie with fresh grated lime zest. Place a twisted slice of lime on each piece of pie. Decorate pie servings with berries and or flowers, if desired. Serve immediately.

 

Lime Extract

make several days ahead of time

1/4 c. vodka

2 t. fresh grated Persian lime zest (green rind only, no white pith)

1 t. granulated white sugar

  1. Combine ingredients in a small glass jar. Seal. Shake well to dissolve sugar.
  2. Store extract in cool dark place. (I use the freezer.) Shake extract well after one day.
  3. The following day, shake extract again. Then strain out lime zest, pressing zest through a sieve. Pour extract back into glass jar and cap tightly.

Blueberry Mint Iced Tea

June is National Iced Tea Month … perfect timing for warm weather refreshment! Flavored iced teas are easy to make and a are a great way to add personal flair to this summertime beverage for entertaining.

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Blueberry Mint Iced Tea

8 c. cold water

6 bags of good black tea (decaf. ok)

3/4 c. loosely packed fresh mint leaves, washed

3/4 c. raw sugar

7 cups ice cubes

3 c. fresh blueberries (or mixture of blueberries and blackberries), washed and stemmed

Frozen blueberries and ice cubes for serving

Lemon slices for serving

Fresh mint for garnish

 

Directions

1. Bring water to boil in a 4-quart pot. Add tea bags, mint leaves and sugar. Cover pot and remove from heat. Allow to steep for 20 minutes. Stir to make sure that sugar is completely dissolved.

2. Place 7 c. ice cubes into a 1-gallon pitcher. Strain tea into pitcher.

3. Place berries in a food processor and pulse until puréed. Press puree through sieve into tea. Stir until ice is completely dissolved and  purée is incorporated into the tea.

4. To serve, fill glasses with ice cubes, frozen blueberries and lemon slices. Pour tea over ice. Garnish with mint.

Enjoy!

More iced tea recipes …

Black Tea “Sangria recipe.

Iced Minted Orange Juice recipe.

Mint Simple Syrup recipe for adding to iced tea.

Salmon Avocado Crackers

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Salmon Avocado Crackers

Easy-to-make hors d’oeuvres for warm weather entertaining.

ripe avocado

fresh-squeezed lemon juice

fresh cilantro leaves, a few minced, the rest coarsely chopped for garnish

salt

rice or almond crackers

smoked salmon

lemon zest

fresh ground pepper

Coarsely mash avocado together with lemon juice, a few minced cilantro leaves, and salt to taste. Spoon onto crackers. Top with salmon, cilantro leaves, lemon zest and fresh ground pepper. Serve immediately. Enjoy!