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Fruit Compote
Yields 6 half-cup servings

Ingredients:
4-5 cups fresh strawberries sliced
1 cup blueberries
1 pineapple, diced, with 1/2 cup of juice
6-8 fresh peaches, sliced
1 tablespoon honey

Directions:
Mix all fruit and honey in a bowl. Allow to chill for at least 6 hours. Adjust sweetness with extra honey or sugar. Gently stir before serving to distribute fruit juices. Serve by itself or over yogurt or ice cream.

Curious about when you can grab your favorite fruit at the market? Wonder no more! Here are peak availability times for fruit in The Natural State.

Summer:
Blackberries, June-July
Blueberries, June-August
Grapes, July-August
Peaches, June-September
Plums, June-July
Raspberries, July-September
Strawberries, May-June

Fall:
Apples, August-October
Muscadines, September-October
Pears, August-October
Pumpkins, September-October

Peach Dessert
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups flour
2 cups plus 2 teaspoons sugar, divided use
1 stick butter, melted
8 ounces cream cheese
8 ounces whipped topping
4 cups sliced peaches
1 1/2 cups hot water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 package peach gelatin

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375° F.
Combine flour, 2 teaspoons of sugar and the melted butter. Press into a 9x13 baking dish.
Bake for 20 minutes. Combine cream cheese, whipped topping and 1 cup sugar. Mix and spread over the crust. Top with the peaches. Combine the hot water, 1 cup sugar and cornstarch and cook until thickened. Add the package of peach gelatin. Pour over peaches and allow to chill.

Sautēed Mushrooms
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
1 pound pink, blue, golden, pearl or black oyster mushrooms
2 tablespoons organic butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup leeks, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
4 cups greens such as kale or spinach
1 tablespoon honey

Directions:
In a large skillet, melt the butter and add the mushrooms, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Sauté mushrooms until they begin giving off their moisture. Add the onion and leeks, cooking until the onions become translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes longer. Add in the greens and mix thoroughly. Cook until greens are tender. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Summer Surprise
Serves 2-4

Ingredients:
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar

Directions:
Mix all ingredients in a mixing bowl and let chill in the refrigerator overnight.

Blueberry Muffins
Yields 16 Standard Or 6 Jumbo Muffins

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350° F. Line 16 2 1/2-inch (standard) or 6 3 1/2-inch (jumbo) muffin cups with paper bake cups, and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add 1 cup sugar and beat until well combined. Beat in eggs, milk and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture until just moistened (batter should be lumpy). Gently stir in blueberries. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each nearly full. In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle sugar mixture over batter. Bake for 25-30 minutes for standard muffins or 35-40 minutes for jumbo muffins, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in muffin cups on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove from muffin cups and serve warm.

Country Good Baked Squash
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
2 pounds small yellow squash
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup butter plus 2 tablespoons melted, divided use
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon, salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon parsley
1/2 cup cracker crumbs

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400° F. Cut unpeeled squash into slices, then cook with onions and water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain the squash mixture and put in a 1 1/2 qt baking dish. Pour 1/4 cup of the butter over squash. Combine milk, eggs, salt, pepper and parsley and pour over all. Combine the 2 tablespoons melted butter with cracker crumbs and sprinkle over the top. Bake for 20 minutes.

Fresh Zucchini Bread

Ingredients:
3 eggs
1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup nuts
3 cups grated zucchini

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350° F. In one mixing bowl, combine the eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla. Mix until blended. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, baking powder, nuts and zucchini. Finally, mix both bowls together. Fill selected bread pan 2/3 full. Bake for 1 hour. Remove bread from oven and let it rest in the pan for 5 minutes before removing. Remove bread from pan and place on a cooling rack until cooled.

Sweet Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
Yields 2 Cups

Ingredients:
2 cups pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Directions:
Preheat oven to 300° f. Spray rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. In a medium bowl, toss pumpkin seeds with olive oil and maple syrup. In a small dish, mix together brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice; sprinkle mixture over seeds and toss to coat. Spread seeds onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through bake time. Allow seeds to cool completely. Store seeds in an airtight container at room temperature.

Fall Bounty Pancakes
Yields 8-12 Pancakes

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup canned or leftover mashed pumpkin, squash or sweet potato
1/4 cup oil

Directions:
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Place remaining ingredients in blender or mixing bowl and combine thoroughly. Fold wet mixture into dry mixture, leaving a few small lumps. Cook pancakes on a hot greased griddle until brown, flipping when bubbles start to form and break on surface. Serve with butter, syrup or jelly.

Queso Blanco With Smoked Poblanos & Goat Cheese
Yields 1 Gallon

Ingredients:
4 poblano peppers
1 cup cherrywood chips, soaked in water
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 white onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup white wine
4 pounds queso blanco, diced
8 ounces goat cheese
1 cup cream cheese
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Soak cherrywood chips in water for at least 30 minutes. Heat a charcoal grill to 225° F. Add cherrywood chips and allow them to smoke. Smoke the poblano peppers for 1 1/2 hours, or until slightly charred and soft. Allow peppers to cool, then remove seeds and chop fine. In a large stockpot, melt the butter and sauté the onions and garlic until translucent and slightly caramelized. Deglaze the pot with the white wine. Add the queso blanco and allow to melt, stirring continuously so that the pan does not scorch. Add the crumbled goat cheese, cream cheese and cilantro, continuing to stir until blended. Add the heavy cream and stir. Add the cumin, paprika and chili powder, then adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Warm water can be added to adjust consistency. Serve with warm tortilla chips.

Fresh Butter With Radishes
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
1-quart mason jar
1/2 quart heavy cream
Pinch of sea salt or flake salt
1 loaf fresh grain bread
1bunch fresh radishes
White balsamic vinegar (optional)

Directions:
Pour heavy cream into the mason jar. Place lid on jar tightly, then shake until butter separates from the buttermilk, about 20 minutes. Slice the fresh bread, then slice the radishes. Spread the fresh butter on the bread, then top with the radishes. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve. For an optional addition, toss the radish leaves with the white balsamic vinegar and place on top.

Winter Garden Paranthas
Yields 4 Paranthas

Ingredients for the dough:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup water
3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil

For the filling:
1 1/2 cups cubed butternut squash
4 cups mixed winter greens
4 tablespoons cilantro
1 tablespoon dry fenugreek
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pinch sea salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice (skip if sorrel is used)

Directions:
In a mixing bowl, combine flour with water until a sticky dough is formed. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, adding a tablespoon of the ghee or oil as you knead. Let rest. Peel, cube and steam butternut squash until soft, then mash. Boil greens in a pot of salted water, boil until tender. In a mixing bowl, add mashed squash, greens and the lemon juice. Salt to taste. Roll dough into an 8-inch disk, add filling to center. Fold the dough over and cook for 3 minutes until underside is browned. Brush with the remaining ghee or oil and flip to cook for an additional minute. Serve with tzatziki sauce or melted herb butter.

Mac and Cheese the side dish to take along

It goes without saying that if you’re going to bring a side-dish, or you won’t get invited back, is not nice to hear - so here’s are a few tips: Try not to bring the same dish everyone else is bringing. Competition will heaviest in the macaroni and cheese field.

There are two ways to make your mac and cheese stand out.

Substitutions

Instead of mascarpone, use 6 ounces cream cheese at room temperature blended with 1/4 cup half-and-half.

For a smokier version, substitute smoked Gouda for the Parmesan.

1/4 cup olive oil or butter (or white truffle oil) can stand in for the bacon.

Whole wheat pasta works, too.

Variations on the theme

Asparagus mac and cheese: Use 1/4 cup olive oil in place of the bacon and add 1 or 2 cups diced fresh skinny asparagus along with the garlic.

Mushroom mac and cheese: Add 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms when cooking the onion.

Spicy sausage mac and cheese: Use 6 ounces crumbled Italian sausage instead of bacon and cook thoroughly. Then stir in1 or 2 roasted and diced banana peppers.

Smoked salmon mac and cheese: Skip the bacon and use 1/4 cup olive oil instead. Stir 1 to 2 cups flaked or diced smoked salmon into the finished dish before serving. Garnish with chopped chives.

Crab or lobster mac and cheese: Skip the bacon and use 1/4 cup olive oil instead. Stir 1 to 2 cups cooked crab meat or lobster meat into the finished dish before serving. Garnish with chopped chives.

Plus: The next two versions were developed in the Tribune test kitchen:

Taco mac and cheese: Skip the bacon and onion. Brown 1 pound ground beef; stir in 1 packet taco seasoning. Sub 2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend for the Parmesan and ricotta, mixing it with the mascarpone. Into the finished dish, stir the taco meat, 1 cup chopped green onions, and sliced black olives and pickled jalepeno to taste. Top with Fritos.

Buffalo chicken wings mac and cheese: Chop 20 boneless Buffalo chicken wings (or use bone-in and debone them yourself) into 1-inch pieces. Skip the bacon and use 2 tablespoons olive oil to saute the onion, along with 1 cup celery (in 1/2-inch pieces) and 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced. Sub 8 ounces blue cheese crumbles for the Parmesan and ricotta. Add 2 to 4 tablespoons hot sauce (such as Frank’s) to the cheese mixture before stirring in the chicken, celery and onion.

Plenty of friends volunteer to “help” when I’m testing recipes. When macaroni and cheese is on the menu, everyone shows up. They bring opinions on everything from the sharpness of the cheese to the pasta shape. Crumb toppings? Crisped in the oven? Some say yes, others want their comfort food straight from the saucepan.

Most cooks in my circle look beyond the blue box when serving company. They’re willing to shred cheese, create a sauce, seek out imported pasta, pair wine with a revved up version.

We might believe that mac and cheese is quintessentially American. However, Wikipedia (don’t judge, I like my food history light — like my cheese sauce) tells us that casseroles of pasta with cheese date back to the 14th century in Italy. Pasta with bechamel sauce and cheddar cheese can be found in 18th century English cookbooks. Then President Thomas Jefferson reportedly ate it in Paris and served a version at a state dinner.

This country has embraced this perfect combination ever since. Today, macaroni and cheese features in some form on restaurant menus, in cookbooks, on food television and most of our dinner tables.

At home, start with good pasta. For the best texture, I look for imported pastas made from durum wheat. Warm, melty cheese sauce clings best to tubular shapes — with or without ridges. Small, bite-size penne or shells, spring-like fusilli, rotini, farfalle, even wagon wheels stay al dente when sauced. Casarecce and cavatappi prove gorgeous; look for them in Italian specialty shops. I avoid the little ear-shaped orecchiette for mac and cheese because they nest together too readily. Elbow macaroni bores me.

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water in a large pan, stirring often, until al dente. That means firmer than you might think. So set the timer 2 minutes earlier than the package recommends, then taste a noodle — it should have just a bit of resistance when bitten. Scoop out and set aside about a cup of the cooking liquid in case you need it to loosen your cheese mixture. Then drain the pasta and sauce it while still hot.

For the sauce, I start with olive oil or bacon over butter for flavor variety. Chopped onions and fresh garlic add texture. I am especially fond of replacing milk with mascarpone. Hailing from Italy’s Lombardy region, mascarpone is buttery-rich, soft and beautifully unctuous. Made from cow’s milk, mascarpone is set with citric or tartaric acid instead of rennet, so it’s not technically a cheese. Cream cheese blended with a bit of milk or whipping cream makes a suitable substitute.

For cheese, I opt to shred my own. Pre-shredded cheeses save time, but the cellulose added to prevent caking means the cheese won’t melt as nicely as block cheese. I like freshly shredded Parmesan rather than spongy orange cheese. Use the best imported Parmesan you can afford, but the less expensive grana Padano makes a fine stand-in. I like to add ricotta for a tangy flavor and hearty texture.

America’s favorite comfort food becomes a gourmet, Italian-style first course when made with imported casarecce pasta, shallots and pancetta. Served as a primo, the recipe will yield 8 servings. Family style, you’ll have 6 hearty portions.

Creamy Bacon Mac and Cheese

3 or 4 thick slices smoky bacon or 4 ounces pancetta

1 small onion or 2 large shallots, finely diced

1 or 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups coarsely shredded Parmesan, plus more for serving

1 cup mascarpone, at room temperature

1/2 cup ricotta

1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon each: freshly ground black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, optional

1 pound tubular pasta shapes, such as casarecce, small rotini, fusilli, penne or cavatappi

Sprigs of fresh thyme

  1. Heat a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat.

  2. Meanwhile, cut bacon into 1/2-inch pieces. Put bacon and onion into a 10-inch nonstick skillet. Cook over medium heat until bacon is golden and a little crispy, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and remove from heat.

  3. Meanwhile, put Parmesan, mascarpone, ricotta, salt, pepper to taste and crushed red pepper in a large bowl. Use a rubber scraper or wooden spoon to thoroughly blend the mixture.

  4. Add pasta to the boiling water. Stir well and boil uncovered until al dente (nearly tender), usually 10 to 12 minutes. Set a timer and then start tasting the pasta near the allotted time. Al dente pasta has a toothsome texture (not at all soft and mushy) and tastes fully cooked. Scoop out and reserve about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.

  5. When pasta is done, drain it in a colander and then add it to the cheese mixture. Top with the bacon mixture. Use a large spoon to stir to coat all the pasta with the cheese mixture. Add a little of the reserved pasta water if needed to loosen the mixture.

  6. Serve right away garnished with sprigs of thyme. Pass extra Parmesan, if you wish. Serves: 6 to 8

Healthier Mac and Cheese

1 small onion, finely diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 cups mixed baby kale

1 cup coarsely shredded Parmesan

1 cup nonfat ricotta

1/2 cup 0 percent plain Greek yogurt or light sour cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon each: freshly ground black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, optional

1 pound whole wheat rotini or penne pasta

Heat a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat.

Saute onion in olive oil in a large skillet until tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in garlic; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in kale to coat with oil.

Meanwhile, put Parmesan, ricotta, yogurt, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper in a large bowl. Use a rubber scraper or wooden spoon to thoroughly blend the mixture.

Add pasta to the boiling water. Stir well and boil uncovered until al dente (nearly tender), usually 8 to 10 minutes. Set a timer and then start tasting the pasta near the allotted time. Al dente pasta has a toothsome texture (not at all soft and mushy) and tastes fully cooked. Scoop out and reserve about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.

When pasta is done, drain it in a colander and then add it to the cheese mixture. Top with the kale mixture. Use a large spoon to stir and coat all the pasta with the cheese mixture. Add a little of the reserved pasta water if needed to loosen the mixture. Serve right away. Serves: 8

Coconut Lime Shrimp with Zoodles
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Servings: 4

1/4 cup Thai Kitchen Coconut Milk (regular or lite)
1 teaspoon McCormick Ground Ginger
1/2 teaspoon McCormick Garlic Powder
1/4 teaspoon McCormick Crushed Red Pepper
1/4 teaspoon McCormick Pure Lime Extract
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 small zucchini, cut into thin noodles with spiralizer
1 medium yellow squash, cut into thin noodles with spiralizer
1 medium carrot, cut into thin noodles with spiralizer
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon McCormick Ground Black Pepper

Heat oven to 375 F.
In large, re-sealable plastic bag, mix together coconut milk, ginger, garlic powder, crushed red pepper and lime extract. Add shrimp; turn to coat well.
Refrigerate 15-30 minutes. Remove shrimp from marinade. Discard any remaining marinade. In center of large, shallow, foil-lined baking pan, arrange shrimp in single layer.
In large bowl, toss vegetable noodles and oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat well. Spread noodles around shrimp in pan.
Bake 10-15 minutes, or until shrimp turn pink and are cooked through and noodles are tender. Serve shrimp over vegetable noodles.
Test kitchen tip: For faster prep, use 4 cups store-bought spiralized vegetable noodles instead of spiralizing them yourself.

Orange Chili Sheet Pan Salmon
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Servings: 8

Nonstick cooking spray
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons McCormick Pure Orange Extract
2 pounds salmon fillets, skin removed
1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 package McCormick Original Chili Seasoning Mix
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

Heat oven to 375 F. Spray foil-lined, 13-by-9-inch baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
In small bowl, mix together oil and orange extract. Place salmon and vegetables on separate sides of baking sheet. Brush vegetables with 1 teaspoon extract mixture. Brush both sides of salmon with remaining mixture.
In small bowl, mix together seasoning mix and brown sugar. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons seasoning mixture over vegetables. Sprinkle both sides of salmon evenly with remaining seasoning mixture.
Bake 20 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork and vegetables are tender.

Shrimp with Red-Pepper Cream Sauce

Servings: 4.

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

2 red bell peppers, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 cup seafood stock

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 cup heavy cream

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a large heavy sauce pan, heat oil and butter. Sauté red peppers, onion and garlic until tender.

  2. Add the seafood stock. Bring to a boil and cook for 8 minutes.

  3. Stir in the flour until the sauce thickens.

  4. Stir in the cream and return to a boil and cook another 8 minutes.

  5. Add shrimp and cook until plump and pink, about 5 to 7 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  6. Serve warm over fried green tomatoes.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Servings: 4.

½ cup coconut oil or shortening

2 eggs

½ cup milk

2 large green tomatoes

¾ cup cornmeal

½ cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon sugar

  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat.

  2. Whisk milk and eggs together in a medium mixing bowl.

  3. Slice tomatoes, about ¼-inch thick. Soak them in the egg mixture.

  4. In a separate shallow bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, seasonings and sugar.

  5. Remove tomatoes from egg mixture then dredge in the cornmeal mixture.

  6. Fry in batches in the oil until golden on both sides. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Top with shrimp and serve.

Grand Isle Skillet Shrimp

Serves 8.

4 pounds headless shrimp (about 20 count per pound)

Juice of 1 lemon

Worcestershire sauce, to taste

Hot pepper sauce, to taste

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Red pepper, to taste

Garlic powder, to taste

1½ sticks light margarine

French bread

  1. Preheat oven to 500 F. Peel the shrimp back to the last joint, leaving the tails on.

  2. Place the shrimp in a 15-inch black iron skillet, lining them up to make an attractive display. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over them, then sprinkle with Worcestershire and pepper sauces. Then sprinkle salt, black and red peppers, and garlic powder to taste over the top.

  3. Cut the margarine into pats and place around and over the shrimp. Cook in the oven for exactly 7 minutes. Do NOT broil. Remove from oven. Turn off oven, then put your favorite French bread in for about 2 minutes. Serve, using the bread to soak up the gravy.

Chicken Pot Pie

Serves 6 to 8.

1 (2½-lb.) fryer or chicken pieces

Water

Salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

1 bay leaf

1 rib celery, coarsely chopped

1 small onion, coarsely chopped

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

1 (10-oz.) pkg. frozen mixed vegetables

2 medium red potatoes, peeled and diced

1 or 2 carrots, peeled and sliced

½ cup frozen peas

3 tablespoons flour

¼-½ cup milk (enough to make a smooth paste with flour)

For the topping:

2 cups biscuit mix prepared according to package directions for topping. Make into lattice or round biscuits.

  1. Place chicken in large pot or Dutch oven; cover with water (about 2 quarts). Season with salt, black pepper and cayenne to taste.

  2. Add bay leaf, celery and onion. Bring to boil; cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for about 1 hour or until chicken is tender.

  3. Reserve broth but remove chicken to plate to cool and debone.

  4. Strain broth, discarding vegetables and bay leaf. Measure out 3 cups of broth and put back into Dutch oven. The remainder of the broth can be frozen for later use.

  5. Season broth with ¼ teaspoon dried thyme. Cook mixed vegetables, potatoes, carrots and peas in broth until tender.

  6. Place flour in small bowl and gradually stir in milk, making a smooth paste. Slowly, while stirring, add to vegetable mixture. Stir and heat until mixture thickens. Taste and correct seasoning if necessary.

  7. Fold in deboned chicken. Pour into 2½-quart casserole dish.

  8. Prepare 2 cups biscuit mix according to package instructions. Roll out and cut into rounds or a little thinner for lattice strips for the topping. Bake in preheated 375 F oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Stuffed Roasted Squash Blossoms

Yields 4 servings.

7 ounces plain goat cheese, softened

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon cream

¼ teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 fresh squash blossoms

  1. Heat oven to 400 F.

  2. Beat together goat cheese, honey, cream, salt and pepper.

  3. Cut a slit in the side of blossom. Remove any pistil or stamen, wash and pat dry.

  4. Stuff a teaspoon or two of the cheese mixture into the blossom and twist its petals closed.

  5. Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Season with more salt and pepper, if desired.

  6. Roast for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Spring Fling Julep

Yields 2 cocktails.

3 ounces bourbon

2 ounce elderflower liqueur

6 dashes bitters

4 ounces floral simple syrup (see below)

2 tablespoons orange juice

A few edible flowers for freezing in ice cubes

In a shaker filled with crushed ice, pour in all cocktail ingredients and shake well. Strain into two double old fashioned glasses. Serve with flowers frozen in ice cubes and garnished with an orange slice and more flowers.
Floral Simple Syrup

Yields 1½ cups syrup.

½ cup edible flowers

1 cup sugar

½ cup water

  1. Place the flowers in a small glass or stainless steel bowl, set aside.

  2. Dissolve sugar in water over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it reaches a simmer.

  3. Pour hot syrup over the flowers in the bowl and let stand for at least 30 minutes. Strain syrup and discard flowers. Store any leftover simple syrup in fridge for up to 2 months.

Tarragon Chicken Salad

Serves 6. The celery and toasted pecans add a nice crunch, while the grapes lend a hint of sweetness. And the fresh, herbal tarragon brings the flavor up a notch. While delicious on its own, it is also perfect in sandwiches and wraps or on a bed of lettuce.”

Oil mister or cooking spray

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

½ cup chopped celery

1 cup red or white grapes, halved

½ cup chopped pecans, toasted (see tip)

1 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

  1. Lightly spray a 6-quart slow cooker with oil. Arrange the chicken in the slow cooker, cover, and cook on high for 4 hours.

  2. Remove the chicken from the slow cooker, reserving any drippings for another use or discard, and cut into ½-inch cubes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the celery, grapes and pecans.

  3. In a 2-cup measure or small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, salt, and pepper. Stir the mixture into the chicken. Gently fold in the tarragon. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Lighten up: Replace all of the mayonnaise in the dressing with Greek yogurt for a lighter version that tastes just as good.

How to toast pecans: Preheat the oven to 300 F. Spread the pecans evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until browned and fragrant, stirring halfway through, about 10 minutes. Let cool.

Mildly Mexican Breakfast Bake

Makes 8 (1-cup) servings.
Nutritional Nugget: For extra anti-inflammatory benefits, look for omega-3 fortified eggs.

8 ounces ground breakfast turkey sausage

1 onion, chopped

1 red, green or yellow bell pepper, cored and chopped

2 cups baby spinach

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies

4 eggs

6 egg whites

2 cups fat-free half and half

2 teaspoons chili powder

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1½ cups reduced-fat shredded Mexican blend cheese

5 (8-inch) 98 percent fat-free flour tortillas, cut into quarters (use corn for Gluten-free option)

½ cup chopped green onion

  1. Coat 13-by-9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

  2. In large nonstick skillet, cook and crumble sausage until it starts to brown. Add onion and bell pepper, cooking until sausage is done and vegetables tender. Add spinach, garlic and green chilies. Cook until spinach wilts, about 2 minutes.

  3. In large bowl, whisk together eggs, egg whites, half and half, chili powder, cumin and cheese.

  4. Spoon one-third of sausage mixture into baking dish. Top with one-third tortilla quarters and one-third cheese and green onions. Repeat layers, ending with green onion. Pour egg mixture evenly over casserole and refrigerate, covered, at least 6 hours or overnight.

  5. If using glass baking dish, place in cold oven, otherwise, preheat to 350 F and bake 50-60 minutes or until bubbly, golden brown and knife inserted into custard comes out clean.

Shrimp and Peppers with Cheese Grits

Makes 6 (¾-cup) servings.
Nutritional Nugget: By choosing low-fat dairy products, you are actually getting more calcium, since the fat replaces the calcium in whole milk and cheeses. Look for pre-chopped white, yellow and green onions, and bell peppers in the produce department to save time.

3 assorted bell peppers, (red, green, yellow) seeded and chopped

1 cup chopped Roma tomatoes

1½ pounds peeled medium shrimp

½ cup chopped green onion

2 cups skim milk

1½ cups water

1 cup quick grits

1½ cups shredded reduced-fat sharp Cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

  1. In large nonstick skillet coated with nonstick cooking spray, sauté bell peppers, tomatoes and shrimp, cooking until shrimp are done, about 7 minutes. Add green onion.

  2. Meanwhile, in nonstick pot bring milk and water to boil. Stir in grits. Return to boil, reduce heat, cover and cook about 5 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in cheese and Worcestershire sauce.

  3. Serve shrimp over cheese grits.

Blueberry Muffins

Makes 20 muffins.

Terrific Tip: If using frozen blueberries, don’t defrost. If you haven’t used whole-wheat flour, introduce yourself by using it in combination with white flour.

1 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs

⅓ cup canola oil

1 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup whole-wheat flour

2½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 cups blueberries

  1. Preheat oven 400 F. Coat muffin pans with nonstick cooking spray or paper liners.

  2. In bowl, whisk together brown sugar, eggs, oil, buttermilk and vanilla.

  3. In another large bowl, combine both flours, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Add egg mixture, stirring just until mixed. Fold in blueberries.

  4. Fill muffin pans about ⅔ full. Bake 17-20 minutes or until tops are golden brown.

Pomegranate Champagne Punch

Makes 8 (1-cup) servings.

1 bottle Champagne

1 cup pomegranate juice

1½ cups sugar

3 cups water

1 cup lemon juice

  1. In large pot, combine all ingredients and bring to boil. Cool and refrigerate until serving.

Sautéed Fresh Asparagus

Yields 4 servings.

1 pound fresh asparagus

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

  1. Rinse asparagus and snap off the woody part of the stems. Cut asparagus in 1-inch pieces.

  2. In a heavy skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.

  3. Add asparagus and toss to coat. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper.

  4. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until asparagus is crisp-tender, but still bright green.

  5. Serve warm.

German Chocolate Cake

Makes one (9-inch) four-layer cake.

Single-bowl Cocoa Cake Batter:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar

3 large eggs, room temperature

2½ cups cake flour

¾ cup cocoa powder

1 tablespoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1¼ cups buttermilk, room temperature

½ cup hot brewed coffee (or hot water)

Cake Wash, optional (see recipe)

Coconut-Pecan Frosting (see recipe)

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Butter two 9-by-2-inch cake pans. Line bottoms of pans with parchment paper and butter top of paper. Coat sides of pan well with flour or cocoa powder.

  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar on medium mixer speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating 1 minute between each and scraping bowl sides down as necessary.

  3. Turn off mixer. Over bowl of butter mixture, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir by hand until dry ingredients are well incorporated. Beat on medium mixer speed 3 minutes.

  4. Turn off mixer. Add vanilla, buttermilk and coffee. Gently stir by hand until ingredients are well incorporated. Beat on medium mixer speed one minute.

  5. Divide batter between pans and spread tops flat. Bake in center of oven until cakes spring back when touched lightly in the middle and come away from the sides of the pan, about 40-45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pans. Run a knife around the inside edges of pans. Remove cakes from pans and peel off parchment paper. Cool layers on a rack.

  6. To assemble: Slice each cake layer horizontally into two. Brush tops of layers with optional cake wash before spreading coconut-pecan frosting between layers and on top of cake. If refrigerated, bring to room temperature before serving.

For the cake wash:

1 cup white sugar

¾ cup water

⅓ cup pecan or coffee liqueur

In a small saucepan over low heat, simmer sugar and water until sugar dissolves completely. Remove from heat and stir in liqueur.

For the coconut-pecan frosting:

1 (12-oz.) can evaporated milk

¾ cup half-and-half

1 cup white sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

5 egg yolks

½ teaspoon salt

2 sticks unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon almond extract

1½ teaspoon vanilla extract

2½ cups chopped pecans

1 (14-oz.) bag sweetened flaked coconut

  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring milks, sugars, egg yolks, salt and butter to a boil over medium heat. Stirring constantly, cook until mixture is thick and slightly caramel-colored, 10-12 minutes.

  2. Remove from heat and stir in extracts, pecans and coconut. Stir until the frosting is spreadable but still warm.

Stuffed London Broil

Serves 4.

1 small onion, caramelized

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 tablespoon butter

2 cups fresh kale or spinach, chopped

1 teaspoon Steen’s Cane Syrup vinegar

5 ounces goat cheese, herbes de Provence

2 tablespoons fig preserves

2 tablespoons heavy cream

2-3 pound beef London broil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 300 F.

  2. Slice onion into strips and sauté in 1 tablespoon olive oil and butter over medium-low heat until tender and brown, but not burned, about 20 minutes.

  3. Add kale and vinegar to the onions. Sauté until wilted, about 5 minutes.

  4. In a food processor, blend cheese, preserves, cream, kale and onions until all ingredients are incorporated.

  5. Slice the London broil across the long side to make a pocket or fold it back like a book. Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the beef. Roll it up gently and secure with twine.

  6. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Season the pan with some of the salt and pepper, place the stuffed beef down in the hot skillet and season the tops with the remaining salt and pepper.

  7. Brown one minute on each side. Place in the oven for 20 minutes or until the beef reaches about 130 F for medium–well. Serve warm.

Green Beans and Potatoes

Serves 8.

2 pounds green string beans

1 pound small potatoes

2 strips of bacon, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

2 teaspoons thyme leaves, minced

  1. Wash green beans and trim ends. Wash potatoes and cut into quarters.

  2. In a large stock pot, brown bacon, onions and garlic.

  3. Add broth and heat to boiling.

  4. Add green beans and potatoes and stir.

  5. Season with salt, pepper and thyme.

  6. Cover and cook for 20 minutes or until potatoes are cooked and beans are tender.

  7. Serve immediately.

Shrimp and Corn Soup

Makes 8 to 12 generous servings.

2 quarts water

Salt and pepper

Lemon juice

2 pounds small to medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 stick butter or margarine

3 tablespoons flour

2 medium onions, finely chopped

3-4 stalks celery, chopped

1 bell pepper, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 can Ro-tel tomatoes (or 1 can diced tomatoes, if preferred)

1 (8-oz.) can tomato sauce

2 (16-oz.) cans cream-style corn

1 (16-oz.) bag frozen shoepeg corn or 1 (16-oz.) can shoepeg corn

1 quart shrimp stock

2 tablespoons cooking sherry

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce for chicken or seafood

Salt, cayenne, garlic powder to taste

Garnish: chopped green onion tops, parlsey

  1. Bring to a boil 2 quarts water seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

  2. Add shrimp and boil about 5 minutes.

  3. Remove shrimp with straining spoon and reserve stock.

  4. Set shrimp aside.

  5. In saucepan, melt butter and sauté vegetables until wilted.

  6. Stir in flour until well blended.

  7. Add tomatoes and tomato sauce and simmer 5 to 10 minutes on medium heat.

  8. Add corn and stir, then add stock and raise heat until soup comes to a gentle boil, then add sherry and Worcestershire. (If you prefer a thin soup, add more stock or a little water until you get the desired consistency. If you prefer a thicker soup, add a small amount of instant potatoes or seasoned bread crumbs until you get the desired consistency). Add shrimp. When ready to serve, garnish with chopped green onion tops and parsley if desired.

Strawberry Cheesecake Parfaits

A fabulous no-cook dessert, this berry-and-cheesecake combination creates an explosion of flavor.

Makes 8 parfaits.

Terrific tips: Any berries or a combination of berries may be used. Any time a recipe calls for yogurt or Greek yogurt, either is fine.

1 pound strawberries, stemmed and sliced

1 tablespoons sugar

1 (8-ounce) reduced-fat cream cheese

½ cup plain or vanilla nonfat Greek yogurt

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon almond extract

1½ cups frozen nonfat whipped topping, thawed, divided

⅔ cup graham cracker crumbs

Mint garnish, optional

  1. In bowl, sprinkle strawberries with sugar, toss and set aside

  2. In mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, yogurt, confectioners sugar and almond extract until smooth. Fold in ½ cup whipped topping.

  3. To assemble parfaits, in small dish or glass, layer graham cracker crumbs, cream cheese filling and strawberries. Repeat layers if big enough dish and end with dollop of whipped topping. Garnish with mint, if desired.

Sweet and Spicy Brussels Sprouts and Sausage

Serves 4-6.

1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

½ pound smoked sausage

1 garlic clove, minced

1 small onion, cut into strips

¼ cup pepper jelly

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Wash sprouts and remove any damaged outer leaves. Cut the sprouts in half lengthwise.

  2. Place sprouts on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes.

  3. Heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy skillet over medium heat.

  4. Cook sausage, onion and garlic in the oil until onion is tender. Stir in roasted sprouts. Add pepper jelly. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  5. Serve warm.

Broccoli Salad

Serves 4.

¼ cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

4 cups (about 1 head) broccoli florets

1 yellow bell pepper, coarsely chopped

1 small sweet or red onion

¼ cup toasted pecans, chopped

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and sugar.

  2. Season with salt and pepper.

  3. Add broccoli, bell pepper, onion and pecans to bowl with dressing. Toss to coat.

  4. Serve immediately or chill and serve later.

Creole Meatloaf

Serves 6-9.

2 pounds lean ground beef

1 pound lean ground pork

1 medium onion

½ green bell pepper

3 stalks celery

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3 slices toasted bread or 3 toasted French rolls

2 eggs

½ cup milk

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon Tabasco

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons brandy

Creole Sauce recipe follows

  1. Mix the beef and pork well.

  2. Grate the onion, green bell pepper, celery and crushed garlic and combine with bread, which has been toasted and shredded in the food processor. Add to meat mixture.

  3. Beat eggs and milk. Add salt, black pepper, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and brandy. Add to meat mixture.

  4. With clean hands, blend together the ingredients and form into 2 medium or 3 small meatloaves. Place molded loaves in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Cover meatloaves with Creole Sauce.

  5. Bake, uncovered, at 350 F for about 40 minutes or until meat is done.

Creole Sauce

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 green bell pepper, chopped fine

1 medium onion, chopped fine

2 cloves garlic, chopped fine

2 stalks celery, chopped fine

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

½ teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt

1 (14- to 16-ounce) can chopped tomatoes

Chopped parsley

Chopped green onions

  1. Make roux of flour and vegetable oil on low heat, stirring constantly until it is a chocolate brown color, about 30 minutes.

  2. Add chopped bell pepper, onion, garlic and celery. Stir until onion is tender.

  3. Add Worcestershire sauce, cayenne, salt and tomatoes and simmer, uncovered, about 20 minutes. Then add parsley and green onions and turn off heat. Mix sauce well and ladle over meatloaves before baking.

SPICED TURKEY MEATBALLS WITH AVOCADO CREAM SAUCE
Ingredients

1 C. sour cream
1 ripe avocado
1/3 C. cilantro leaves, loosely packed
2 cloves garlic, quartered
2-3 Tbsp. lime juice
3/4 tsp. salt, divided
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 1/2 lb. ground dark meat turkey
1/4 C. minced red onion
Olive oil
1 lb. cherry tomatoes, halved

Instructions:

  1. Place the sour cream, avocado, cilantro, garlic, lime juice and 1/4 tsp. salt into a blender, puree until smooth, cover and refrigerate until use.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, cumin, oregano, paprika, cayenne pepper and ground black pepper, set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the ground turkey and onion, sprinkle meat evenly with the seasoning mixture and mix together to incorporate everything, form into walnut-sized meatballs, set aside.
  4. In a large skillet heat up some olive oil over medium high heat, place several meatballs in the pan, but not overcrowded and cook for 6-8 minutes or until meatballs are cooked through, repeat until all the spiced ground turkey is gone.
  5. Place a cherry tomato half onto a mini skewer cut side down, then add a meatball and place on a platter that has the avocado cream sauce spread onto it; repeat until all meatballs are on skewered and on the platter.

GRILLED CHICKEN, STRAWBERRY & ARUGULA TOAST

Ingredients
3 C. ripe strawberries, diced
1 small shallot, minced
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/3 C. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. honey
1 loaf Multi-Grain Tuscan loaf, sliced and toasted
8 oz. Feta or goat cheese
2 C. Arugula
2 grilled chicken breasts, thinly sliced

Instructions

  1. Place the strawberries, shallot and fresh thyme leaves into a medium bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, Dijon, salt, pepper and honey, pour over the strawberries, toss to coat and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the strawberries, minced shallot and fresh thyme.
  4. To serve, spread some cheese on a slice of toast, topped with some arugula, chicken breast slices and top with the marinated strawberries right before serving; repeat with remaining ingredients.

SWEET & SPICY MANGO GRILLED SHRIMP

Ingredients
1 1/2 lb. jumbo raw shrimp, thawed and peeled
4 Tbsp. butter, divided
Salt & Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 C. sweet red chili sauce
1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 large fresh mango, diced

Instructions

  1. Preheat grill to 350 degrees.
  2. Place shrimp on a few paper towels, dab off extra water then place shrimp on mini wood skewers that have been soaked in water.
  3. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and using a pastry brush, spread both sides of the shrimp with melted butter, season with salt and fresh cracked black pepper then place in a shallow 9x13 baking dish, cover and refrigerate until use.
  4. Next place the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat, add the garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes then whisk in the red chili sauce, vinegar and diced mango, simmer for 8 minutes or until mangoes are softened.
  5. Meanwhile, grill shrimp skewers on preheated grill for 3 to 5 minutes per side until opaque and pink.
  6. Serve grilled shrimp skewers with the sweet & spicy mango sauce.