Friday, May 27, 2011

chard lasagna & lemon ricotta

Bitter, leafy greens are one of those produce options that I don't jump for joy to eat or cook with.

Until now...

Gorgeous swiss chard is currently in season and was an impeccable starring role in this simple lasagna recipe delicately layered with fresh herbs, lemony ricotta and creamy fresh mozzarella.

Your mouth will be watering while you're waiting for this baked treat to cool...

Swiss Chard Lasagna with Fresh Mozzarella

yields approximately 4 servings

Not only is this lasagna simple to make, but the recipe list is quite simple as well. No side salad is even necessary with this veggie-packed Italian delight.

1 bunch swiss chard, washed and dried
1 can diced tomatoes with basil & oregano
1 eight ounce ball of fresh mozzarella
1 cup ricotta
1 t herbs de provence, plus additional to sprinkle
1 T lemon zest
6 "n0-boil" lasagna sheets
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes plus additional to sprinkle
salt and fresh-cracked pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9x5x3 loaf pan.

Start by trimming woodsy red stems at the bottom of each swiss chard leaf. Usually, I would trim the bitter stem within the membrane but the bitterness lends a lovely flavor complement in this particular dish.

Stack a few leaves at a time, roll them like a cigar horizontally, then slice into uniform ribbons.

Heat a large saute pan to medium-high heat. Add a swirl of olive oil, sliced swiss chard, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper (as shown).

Saute and wilt for a few minutes then add can of diced tomatoes (as shown). Simmer approximately 10 minutes to slightly reduce liquid. Re-adjust seasonings if needed.

While swiss chard mixture is simmering, mix herbs de provence, lemon zest, salt and pepper with ricotta. Slice fresh mozzarella (as shown).

Take swiss chard mixture off the heat and have all ingredients ready to layer lasagna.

Begin with a small amount of swiss chard mixture on the bottom of pan followed by 2 lasagna sheets, 1/3 of ricotta mixture, half of fresh mozzarella slices, 1/2 swiss chard mixture, 2 more lasagna sheets, next 1/3 of ricotta mixture, remaining swiss chard mixture, remaining lasagna sheets, remaining ricotta mixture and last slices of fresh mozzarella.

Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and herbs de provence (as shown).

Bake at 375 degrees approximately 30 minutes then raise temperature to 425 degrees and bake an additional 15 minutes until golden brown and bubbling (as shown).

Let cool 15 minutes before cutting into portions and serving (pour a glass of wine while you're waiting anxiously).

Oh, those gorgeous layers!

Enjoy your bubbling creation.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

cheese straws & lemon bars

It's shower season!

I love putting a fun twist on traditional baby shower, bridal shower or teatime bites.

For my most recent afternoon baby shower for 30 lovely ladies, I concentrated on pairing familiar flavors and preparations with unexpected colors, textures and ingredients to engage guests and tickle their taste buds.

My menu included:

Two refreshing non-alcoholic punches that were perfect alone or with a splash of champagne:

White Sangria with Lime, Raspberries and Kiwi
Grapefruit Ginger Punch with Fresh Thyme

For the drink station, a few bottles of assorted vino were set out (red, white and bubbly), along with wine glasses, mixed nuts, water with lime slices, an ice bucket and the punch vessels. Guests could mix and match their own beverages with ease.

For those interested in an afternoon snack...

Buttery and indulgent puff pastry cheese straws with pecorino cheese and herbs de provence.

Melon skewers topped with fresh mozzarella and a sweet, yet earthy, simple syrup with fresh rosemary from my patio.



and Cantaloupe, of course.

Chilled Peach & Yogurt Soup Shooters with frozen peaches simmered in white wine, honey and vanilla bean paste finished with the perfect pistachio garnish.

A light and delicious panzanella salad with homemade herbed croutons, crisp vegetables (English cucumbers, yellow peppers & orange peppers, red & orange cherry tomatoes), house-pickled red onions, kalamata olives, fresh oregano and small cubes of salty feta cheese.

The vinaigrette was a simple swirl of Italian olive oil and lemon rind with kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper.

And finally, an assortment of three tea sandwich varieties.

Cucumber & Radish with Fresh Lavender Butter on Pumpernickel

Bruschetta with Herbed Ricotta, Fennel Salami and
a Shaved Asparagus Salad with Lime Rind

and my personal favorite:
Black Forest Ham & Brie on Rye with a Rhubarb Fennel Chutney

All menu items were to be served chilled or at room temperature making event service a breeze!

A few weeks before, I also collaborated with a TCU friends to plan an intimate Bridal Shower for my close girlfriend, Lindsey.

Prosecco, Italian fare and a scratch-made dessert...what could be better?

We arranged the shower to be held at a quaint local Italian eatery in Fort Worth: Piola Restaurant and Garden. My friend Jessica and I both played hostess and arrived early to decorate the patio table on a gorgeous spring evening.

Jessica was in charge of decorations and I took care of invitations and a made-from-scratch dessert perfect for a bridal shower: Lavender Lemon Bars.

We arranged the lemon-bars with some lemon-hued tulips for a beautiful shower centerpiece that speaks for itself.

Jessica (a huge decorating and craft guru), outdid herself with these hand-crafted tiny boxes perfect for place setting party favors.

Blue flowers for the shower guests and a white flower for the bride-to-be.

Jessica also made a whimsical "Cheers!" banner to aptly celebrate the occasion.

For gifts, we settled on a wine-theme for the bride-to-be. I decided to put together a "Champagne & Chocolate" basket with a lovely array of gifts from World Market.

I nestled stemless champagne glasses with a split of champagne, cocktail napkins, a glass wine stopper, orange peel dark chocolate and ingenious cheese spreaders made from wine corks.

For dessert, I decided on a sweet and tart hand-held treat turned elegant with a touch of French Lavender.

Lavender Lemon Bars


  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon French Lavender


  • 6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup flour
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
I was careful to use a controlled amount of lavender-- too much and you can get an overly floral, almost soapy taste. Half a teaspoon will do.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough into a foiled and greased 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet, then delicately press dough into sheet building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides (as shown). Chill for 5 minutes.

Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.

Cut off those grumpy, "too brown edges" then slice into desired rectangles or triangles. Using a sifter or small strainer, add a light sprinkling of powdered sugar (confectioner's sugar for you fancy pants), then dot each bar with a small sprinkling of lavender.

These bars are perfect for dessert, afternoon tea or
a naughty impromptu breakfast...

Monday, May 9, 2011

a birthday affair & tarte tatin to share

I love having my birthday on Cinco de Mayo.

Although my special day wasn't full with mariachis or margaritas, I had a lovely evening full of fine wine and local fare.

I was treated with a special 5-course menu and wine pairing dinner at Ellerbe's Fine Foods (known for their Louisiana-influenced dishes and locally-sourced ingredients).

We sat on the patio with rustic, paint-stripped wooden chairs, blue and white linen napkins, and milk bottles dotted with single pink flowers. Our first course was oh-so-simple and full of bright flavors:

Louisiana Blue Lump Crabmeat with
Texas Citrus, Tarragon and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The unique aspect of this dish was the orange powder dusted atop the crab.

The culprit? Dehydrated grapefruit rind that was turned into a sweet powder.

For our next course, I was full of bliss to sample this rustic salad with local roasted beets (I'm one of those crazies who adores obscure veggies like beets, brussels sprouts and celery root).

Roasted B&G Farm Beets with Local Honey, DMC Goat Ricotta,
Cox Farm Arugula, Bee Pollen and Pralined Millican Pecans

The fourth of the five courses was my favorite. It appeared rich and heavy, but was oh-so-light and full of flavor-- I almost licked the poor bowl.

Tomato Braised Lamb Shoulder with a Warm Israeli Couscous Salad,
Latte Da Feta, Curry Vinaigrette and Texas Citrus Powder

After a delicious birthday evening, I whisked off to Austin for the weekend to further celebrate my sweet 26 and also pay homage to my hip mother for Mother's Day.

I was graced with some lovely gifts from friends and family-- some of my favorites (this shouldn't surprise you), were meant to perch right in my pantry.

[Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste, French Lavender,
Meyer Lemon Peel, Cardamom Pods, Wild Capers with Sea Salt]

After basking in the glow of an assortment of thoughtful gifts, my Austin girlfriends and I assembled to sip bubbling rosé and snack on a simple cheese platter before an evening out on the town.

Our assembly-only platter included Drunken-Goat Cheese with a Red Wine-Soaked Rind, Walnut Cheddar and Gruyere with Greek Green Olives and Rosemary Focaccia Crackers all from Whole Foods Austin.

For dinner, we took a quick taxi to the east side for funky, French bistro-inspired fare from Justine's Brasserie. We began with potent French 75's with champagne and gin for our pre-dinner cheers.

Dinner was simple and delicious: Escargot with Garlic Butter, Beef Tartare, Mussels and Frites, Snapper with Haricot Verts and Chilled Shrimp Salad with Tarragon & Cucumbers finished with a few bites of Apple Tarte Tatin with coffee.

After an eventful evening full with Moscow Mule's, a Russian big band and swing dancers, I was ready for a quiet Sunday with my parents to celebrate Mother's Day.

My mom had beautiful tomatoes, fresh herbs and Wild Alaskan Halibut on hand so I planned a menu around that. She also has a definite sweet tooth so a made-from scratch dessert was a must. Our menu included:

Grilled Halibut with a Tarragon Pea Puree, Grilled Asparagus,
Brown Rice Pilaf with Pine Nuts and Tomato Salad with Vinegar

While sipping a glass of chardonnay, I prepped components for dinner including a room temperature tomato salad with sea salt, fresh-cracked black pepper and champagne vinegar.

While my dad started the charcoal grill, I dressed fresh asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper then delicately seasoned the halibut filets with the same dressings.

To accompany the grilled fish, I made a healthy and vibrant sauce of green peas, vegetable stock, lemon rind and fresh tarragon. For a side dish: toasted rice pilaf with pine nuts.

While I finished my sauce and rice, my Dad set out for the grill (the man is an expert griller--although he denies it). The halibut was cooked to perfection boasting its buttery layers and the asparagus was al dente with gorgeous charred flavor from the grill.

All three of us finished this dish with pleasure-- the only naughty inclusions were from a swirl of heavy cream to finish the pea sauce. I was then on to dessert...

My mom loves fruity desserts-- strawberry shortcake was the natural choice especially since this is peak season for fresh strawberries.

Strawberry Shortcake with Cinnamon Sugar Biscuits

While I prepped dinner, I measured my biscuit ingredients, washed and sliced strawberries and had my cold cream chilling and ready in a bowl.

When I was ready to make the biscuits, I preheated my own to 400 degrees and started on these flaky delights:

Cinnamon Sugar Biscuits

yields approximately 12 biscuits

2 cups AP flour
2 T sugar, plus an additional 2 T to mix with cinnamon
1 T baking powder
1/2 t kosher salt
12 T cold unsalted butter, diced
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c cold heavy cream, plus an additional 2 cups to whip
1 t pure vanilla extract
1 egg beaten with 2 T water, for egg wash
1 T cinnamon
1 pint strawberries, sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together flour, 2 T sugar, baking powder and kosher salt together in a large bowl. With hands, mix in dice cold butter and combine with dry mixture until pea-shaped butter chunks remain. Add beaten eggs and 1/2 c heavy cream. Combine quickly with hands until a dough forms.

Transfer dough ball to a floured board. Top with more flour then press down to a 1/2 inch thick square, working quickly to keep butter chilled. Slice into 12 biscuit squares (as shown), then transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet with a spatula. Brush lightly with the egg wash then finish with a sprinkling of cinnamon and remaining sugar.

Bake approximately 15 minutes until biscuits are lightly browned, yet moist and tender. While biscuits are baking, whip 2 cups whipping cream with vanilla until soft peaks are formed. Serve in between hot biscuits with sliced strawberries.

Enjoy this not-t00-sweet confection with some fine decaf coffee or a chilled glass of crisp, white wine.