Hello Fun Seekers

The Passionate Pursuit of Delight

Maple Walnut Crostini

Maple Walnut Crostini with Goat Cheese-2Note: This post contains affiliate links*

Crostini are always on my appetizer short-list when I am planning a party. For those that aren’t sure, crostini are an Italian appetizer consisting of toasted bread with toppings. Crostini are great appetizers because you can toast the bread and make the toppings ahead of time. As the holiday season is upon us, I wanted to incorporate some seasonal flavors into the topping. Thus, the Goat Cheese and Maple Walnut Crostini was born!

Let me lay down the process of making these crostini for you. First, you are going to make a batch of maple walnuts. You can do this step a few days in advance of when you want to serve the crostini. To make the maple walnuts, you will combine butter and maple syrup with spices. After adding the walnuts you will stir to coat and the sauce is reduced. You will want to cool the walnuts on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Be careful transferring the walnuts from the pan to the baking sheet. They are hot! I speak from experience.

Maple Walnut Crostini with Goat Cheese-2

The second step is to slice the Chiogga beets very thinly. Chioggas are sometimes called candy cane beets, not because of their flavor but because of their beautiful red and white striped interior. You can peel and slice the beets the day before you plan to serve the crostini. If Chiogga beets are your thing (as they are mine) you may want to check out my Smoked Salmon Beet Bites too.

If you have a mandoline, slicing the beets very thinly is a snap. I love, love, love my mandoline (to be clear, I am talking about a Japanese-style slicing tool not the musical instrument). I use it all the time when I need food sliced very thinly or very evenly or both! The XOX Brand Mandolin is my favorite. It is super affordable, dishwasher-safe, and easy to store. A word of caution: the V-shaped blade in mandolins are very sharp and you should always use the included food holder to protect your fingers from the blade. Again, I learned this the hard way. Twice.

The last do-ahead tip I want to share is to make the crostini up to three days before you want to serve them. I typically buy a baguette for crostini. I like the small size of the bread. It is the perfect bite. Slice your baguette into about 1/2’’ slices. Drizzle the slices of baguette with olive oil and a sprinkle or salt and pepper.

You can either make your crostini on the grill or under the broiler. Whichever way you decide to make your crostini, be sure to keep your eye on them. They can go from just about there to burnt mess in no time at all.

How to Make Goat Cheese and Maple Walnut Crostini

Once you have all your components ready, you just need to assemble the crostini shortly before you want to serve. Place crostini on a platter, place one slice of Chiogga beet on the crostini, top with a dollop or slice of goat and top with a maple walnut. I recommend taking the goat cheese out of the refrigerator an hour before you want to prepare the crostini.

Maple Walnut Crostini pin

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Cranberry Nut Bread

Cranberry Nut Bread overhead shot

Why do we only eat cranberries between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Why? They are delicious and nutritious! Dried cranberries broke through years ago to enjoy year-round glory but fresh cranberries still haven’t been able to escape the holiday niche. Enter Cranberry Nut Bread which is delightful in the morning with a cup of coffee or equally delicious in the afternoon with a cup of tea.

In recent years I have gotten a little bit better about stocking up at the grocery store on fresh cranberries in November and December but I have to admit that last weekend while doing a freezer inventory I found one unused bag of cranberries from last year. Sigh. Why? I love them. How did I let them linger in the freezer for nearly a year?

Cranberry Nut Bread sliced

I don’t know. I have no excuse, only the promise to myself to do better and to ask you to join me. Let’s liberate the cranberry to a year-round fruit. We love cranberries, right? Tangent: I want to make this Cranberry Lime Ginger Sauce for Thanksgiving this year! Doesn’t it sound amazing?

Did you know that cranberries are only harvested for 6-8 weeks per year? I learned that watching the video below. It’s fascinating to watch.

Okay, let me tell you about this cranberry nut bread. I have lightened it up using apple sauce instead of oil in the recipe. The result is a light, moist loaf. There is also a swirl of cinnamon, sugar, and pecans in the middle of the loaf which adds a nice crunch and sweet balance to the tart cranberries.

I would love to hear if you serve cranberries at Thanksgiving and how you serve them. Does your family like cranberries? Do they prefer homemade cranberry sauce or the canned stuff? Do you have a favorite recipe? If you do, drop it in the comments section below.

How to Make Cranberry Nut Bread

Cranberry Nut Bread Pin

Wild Rice Salad

Wild Rice Salad overheadHow much time do you spend thinking about rice? I mean, where does it come from? Do you know how it grows and is harvested? I must admit that I hadn’t given it much thought until I read Amy Thielen’s Give a Girl a Knife and she talked about her husband harvesting wild rice near their home in Minnesota. Be sure to check out the video below that shows two guys in a canoe harvesting wild rice. You will never look at wild rice the same again.

Inspired by the harvesting process, I picked up a bag of wild rice at Trader Joe’s. Wild rice is low-carb and gluten-free, so this wild rice salad might be a welcome addition to your Thanksgiving table. Which brings up a topic that I am endlessly curious about, Thanksgiving menus. Are you a traditionalist or do you like to mix it up with new recipes?

I have always been a new recipe kind of girl and didn’t realize how contentious that could be for people. Who knew that replacing the traditional green bean casserole with haricots vert with a lemon almond gremolata could have ruined Thanksgiving for some of my family members a few years back? Oops!

Wild Rice Salad Vertical ShotWild rice has a chewy texture and nutty taste and makes a hearty base for this salad. Truth be told, when I created this recipe recently it was because I needed a dish to bring to a potluck gathering. My goal was to make a dish using only ingredients that I had on hand so I wouldn’t have to go to the grocery store. The good news is that most of these ingredients are pantry items that you might have in your kitchen.

I will cut to the chase, this wild rice salad got great reviews!  The dried fruit adds a little bit of sweetness to the salad while the green onions and parsley add freshness. The almonds lend some crunch.  Whether you make this for a potluck or for Thanksgiving, the good news is that you can make it a day ahead of time. I think it tastes better after sitting for a day. If you make it ahead of time, I would reserve a little bit of fresh parsley to garnish the salad just before serving.

How to Make Wild Rice Salad

If you are looking for other holiday recipes, check out:

Wild Rice Salad Long Image for Pinterest

Salmon Salad with Avocado

Salmon Salad with Avocado overhead shot

There is nothing like a plate of salmon and greens that just makes you feel healthier for eating it. I sometimes feel as if I deserve a medal when I make this Salmon Salad with Avocado. We all know how important it is to increase the amount vegetables in our diets but did you know that salmon has its own set of health benefits? Just enter the search terms ‘salmon’ or ‘omega-3’ into Google Scholar to see how salmon can reduce inflammation, has anti-oxidants, improve the vascular system, among other benefits.

But we aren’t here to talk about nutrition and health benefits. We are here to talk about deliciousness and this salmon salad with avocado does not disappoint. I like to cook the salmon in a cast iron skillet. Check out my recipe for Pan-seared Salmon for details on the technique. Or, you can also cook the salmon outside on a BBQ. When I prepare salmon, I typically just season the fillet with salt and pepper to let the flavor of the fish shine through.

Salmon Salad with Avocado side view

For the greens, I love the flavor and texture of a spring or mesclun mix. When I make a salad, I like to think about incorporating various flavors and textures. The avocado adds a rich creaminess to the dish. The cucumber and sprouts bring freshness to the recipe. The red onion provides a bite and almonds give the salad some crunch.

While salmon is the star of this dish, green goddess dressing is the leading lady. It is super easy to make and tastes so incredibly fresh when you make it at home. Use a mixture of herbs to maximize the taste of the green goddess dressing if you make it yourself. I love chives, parsley, and basil but use what you have. I typically use this recipe for green goddess dressing when I make salmon salad with avocado but you can use whatever dressing you favor.

Salmon Salad with Avocado single plate

I would love to hear about what ingredients you like in your salmon salad. Let me know in the comments below. I am always on the hunt for inspiration.

How to Make Salmon Salad with Avocado

Check out these other salmon recipes:

Salmon Salad with Avocado long pin

 

Beer Cheese Soup

Beer Cheese Soup-1

You probably know that Wisconsin has the lock on any beer cheese soup recipe. Heck, Wisconsin most likely has the lock on anything to do with beer or cheese in general. But, here I am, offering up my own version of beer cheese soup with a little bit of western flair. Please forgive me Midwesterners, we just want in on some of the beer cheese soup fun.

Beer cheese soup is a fall essential. It is perfect to have on cool autumn weekends whether you have just finished raking leaves, picking apples, or watching football. I make a pot of soup every weekend and enjoy having leftovers for the work week ahead. For me, a bowl of soup is ideal for a quick weeknight dinner or equally awesome to take to work for lunch.

Beer Cheese Soup-5

Sometime during my 30s, my body decided that it no longer could handle milk or cream in any form. So, instead of using half and half to add a creamy element to the soup, I made cashew cream using this recipe. If you are not bothered by cream you can use it instead but I really do love cashew cream.

You can choose your favorite cheddar for beer cheese soup. I typically go with sharp cheddar because I love the flavor but if you or your people prefer a more mild cheddar by all means go with that. I do feel as though having some sort of bread to dip into the soup is essential.

Beer Cheese Soup-7

I was wowed by the photogenic quality of this beautiful baguette but also think soft pretzels would be fantastic to serve with beer cheese soup. I have used this recipe to make soft pretzel bites before and they were delicious and perfect for dipping. But, I am eyeballing this recipe for everything soft pretzel bites. Don’t you think they would be fantastic with beer cheese soup? I love everything that is everything flavored. By the way, have you tried the ‘everything but the bagel’ seasoning at Trader Joe’s? Recommended.

How to Make Beer Cheese Soup

Beer Cheese Soup pin

Pan-seared Salmon

Pan-seared Salmon in skillet

The last quarter of the year always means decadence, celebration, parties, events, and on and on. While I enjoy it immensely, sometimes you just need to take it all down a notch and do your body a favor. So, I like to have some easy-to-prepare, healthy recipes in my back pocket for times when all the abundance is too much.

Salmon fillets perfectly fit the bill for those times. One of my favorite techniques for cooking salmon is to pan-sear it in a cast iron pan. The technique is simple and results in a picture-perfect sear on the fish. There are just a few key steps to successfully searing salmon.

Pan-seared Salmon on a plate

First, you want to pat dry both sides of the salmon, moisture is the enemy of a good sear. Secondly, heat a neutral oil such as vegetable oil or avocado oil in a cast iron skillet until the oil shimmers. I used to feel intimidated by the idea of using a cast iron skillet. There’s the seasoning of the pan, the no soap cleaning, and oiling it after use. It seemed to be more bother than it was worth for me. But, my sweetie changed my mind about cast iron and showed me the ropes. Now, I love cooking in it.

Here is a short video from Bon Appetite’s Test Kitchen which shows how to care for cast iron.

 

The last step for a perfect pan-sear is to place the fish in the hot oil and use a flexible spatula to press the fish down for 10 seconds. The fish will start to curl when it hits the hot pan. You want to make sure the whole surface stays in contact with the pan. That is what ensures a nice sear.

Pan-seared Salmon close-up

To accompany pan-seared salmon, I choose whatever veggies are in season.  In the fall and winter, I like to steam broccoli or broccolini topped with a splash of lemon. In the spring, asparagus is a lovely accompaniment and during the summer I will use green beans or squash. I often will oven-roast potatoes to round out the meal.

Pan-seared salmon pin

Smoked Salmon Beet Bites

Smoked Salmon Beet Bites

This recipe is sponsored by Alaska Seafood Select

Do you know what you need in your life? You need five minute appetizers. Tasty little bites that you can throw together when friends stop by or a little something to whet appetites before a dinner party. These smoked salmon beet bites are killer and they take five minutes to assemble.

I swear, even if you think you don’t like beets these paper-thin slices of Chioggia beets are mild in flavor and high on crunch. Chioggia beets are sometimes called candy cane beets because of their distinctive pink and white stripes. The thinly sliced beet is not only beautiful but practical too. The beet slice is sturdy enough to hold a little schmear of whipped cream cheese, a pinch of smoked salmon, and an herby cap like dill or parsley.

Smoked Salmon Beet Bite Close up

Viola! Could anything be easier? Plus, this appetizer is a bit of show-stopper, don’t you think? If you really cannot wrap your head around slices of beet, you could also use cucumber slices or crackers.

But, let’s get back to the flavor bomb in this appetizer. Smoked salmon is one of my favorite ingredients to have on hand. It keeps well in the refrigerator and can be frozen. The smoky salty flavor packs a punch in so you don’t need to use much to impart terrific flavor.

Smoked Salmon Beet Bites

If you will indulge me a little tangent, I want to tell you about a fun and interesting event that I went to last week. Nick Lee, fisherman and owner of Alaska Select Seafood was in town. He shared his story about how he became a fisherman and his passion for fresh, sustainable seafood was evident.

I learned that 2/3 of the salmon that US consumers eat is farmed rather than wild. I also learned that 90% of the seafood that Americans eat is imported from other countries. He brought samples of salmon, smoked salmon, black cod, and snow crab for us to try. If you want to know more about Nick and Alaska Select Seafood check out this video.

As you may know, seafood is one of my favorite things to eat. So, I was in heaven getting to try the seafood that Nick brought to the event. Susie from the blog, Hey Grill, Hey, was on hand demonstrating her favorite recipes using salmon, shrimp, and black cod.

At the end of the evening, we were given swag bags that contained two portions of sockeye salmon and two portions of smoked salmon. With these goodies in hand, my challenge became how to create a recipe that showcases the beautiful wild salmon. Thus, the smoked salmon beet bite was born.

How to Make Smoked Salmon Beet Bites

Smoked Salmon Beet Bites Pin

This post was created in partnership with Alaska Seafood Select. I was given salmon and smoked salmon and compensated to develop a recipe using Alaska Seafood Select’s product.

Mussels with Cider, Shallots, and Bacon

Mussels with Cider, Shallots, and Bacon

If you have a large pot and a few pounds of mussels, you can have a dinner party worthy meal on the tables in no time at all. Mussels are one of the easiest meals to prepare. All you need to do is give the mussels a quick scrub and soak, cook up a few aromatics for a broth to steam the mussels in, and five minutes cooking time. For Mussels with Cider, Shallots and Bacon, I decided to add some autumn flair but using apple cider instead of the more typical white wine as the base of the broth.

The website Serious Eats has a more detailed article on cleaning mussels if you would like a step-by-step guide. I have also included a video below. But, I promise, it is really easy and takes no time at all. Once you get the hang of it, you will be preparing mussels all the time!

While mussels and French fries (frites) are a popular combination in Belgium and France, I prefer to serve mussels with slices of nice bread. My favorites are a beautiful baguette or ciabatta. You will want to use the slices of bread to soak up the delicious broth.

So, let’s walk through the process. Heat a large pot over a medium flame and add oil olive and butter. When the oil and butter start to bubble, add the chopped bacon and cook for a few minutes.  Next you will add the shallots, garlics, and thyme and cook until they are soft. Finally, add the cider and mustard. Bring the broth to a boil before adding the cleaned mussels. The only need a few minutes to cook. Seriously easy, right?

Mussels with Cider Shallots and Bacon-2

If you would like a tasty beverage to accompany your mussels, I recommend either a crisp white wine, sparkling wine (bubbles go with everything), or a Belgian beer.  I love to serve this meal not only because it is delicious but it is a slow-paced meal which encourages conversation as you work your way through the mussels. Slow food at its best!

How to Make Mussels with Cider, Shallots, and Bacon

Mussels with Cider, Shallots, and Bacon Pin

Roasted Squash and Pear Sandwiches

Roasted Squash with Pear

Fall = Gourdfest. Well, around my house anyway. Each fall, we host a party where all things gourd-related are celebrated. I am talking about pumpkin beer tasting, butternut squash soup, pumpkin hummus, and roasted delicata squash with red onions. All the fall flavors make me so happy but having some of my besties in the house puts it over the top.

What my friends may not know is how many recipes I test before Gourdfest. I want the food to be as memorable as the laughs and good times that we enjoy. This year, one of my first test recipes is this Roasted Squash and Pear Sandwich. Doesn’t that sound like perfect fall food? Yet, such an unusual sandwich idea.

Roasted Squash with Pear

Let’s talk about butternut squash. Are you a fan? I was a little bit intimated by butternut squash at first. I mean, could winter squash BE any more difficult to cut through? But, I learned a little secret about butternut squash. When you are shopping for butternut squash, look for one that has long neck compared to its bulbous end.

Then, just cut through the stem end and cut again at the end of the long neck before the bulbous end. From here, all you need to do is peel the skin with a vegetable peeler. For this recipe, slice the neck into 1/2” slices.

Roasted Squash with Pear

After that, you have a decision to make, do you want to tackle the bulbous end or just chuck it into the compost bin? No judgment here no matter what you decide. Sometimes I will peel the skin off with the vegetable peeler and then use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Other times, I won’t be feeling it at all, and will just quarter it and throw it into my compost bin.

The next component is a perfectly ripe pear sliced thin and a red onion also thinly sliced. The surprise ingredient is the miso mayo. Are you a miso fan? My first experiences with miso was in soup form at Chinese restaurants.  Miso is made from fermented soy beans. You know anything fermented is good for you, right? Gut health and all that. Miso paste can be found at Asian markets and sometimes in the ethnic food aisles or produce section of some grocery stores. Miso adds that umami flavor which is rich, deep flavor.

If you decide to buy miso paste (and you should) here is a recipe for miso soup so you can use up your stash. The video below is from The Happy Pear where twin Irish brothers post articles and videos featuring easy vegan recipes.

How to Make Roasted Squash and Pear Sandwiches

Want more sandwiches?

Roasted Squash with Pear Sandwich

Veggie Pot Pie

Veggie Pot Pie

Who can resist taking a fork and plunging it through a light flaky crust into a warm, flavorful gravy that is filled with vegetables? Not this girl. There is something so satisfying about assembling this Veggie Pot Pie, warming up the house with the oven while it bakes, and then hovering around the stove inhaling deeply the delicious scent while waiting for the pot pie to finish baking.

As I have mentioned before in the recipe for Tomato Galette, homemade pie crusts and I seem to be in a battle of the wills. I will cut to the chase here, I lose that battle over and over again. Because of that, I always keep a prepared pie crust from the refrigerator section in my freezer. I cannot wait for the day where I change that narrative for myself and start making pie crusts from scratch. I know that day is coming, I am just not sure when.

Veggie Pot Pie

Veggie Pot Pie is quick and easy to make. You can use any veggies that you and your family like but I typically go with onion, carrot, garlic, celery, peas, and mushrooms. If you eat meat you can add leftover rotisserie chicken from the store to the pot pie filling mixture.

A few ingredients that I like to add to my filling are a splash of soy sauce and a teaspoon of miso paste, if you have it on hand. Both of those ingredients add so much flavor to the filling.  You can make the pot pie in a pie-sized baking dish or if you prefer, you can make individual servings in smaller ramekins. If you make individual servings I would place the ramekins on a baking sheet so the pot pies are easy to place in and remove from the oven.

Veggie Pot Pie

I only use a top crust for this Veggie Pot Pie and as you can see from the photo the top crust is pretty basic. Someday, I aspire to be pie fancy like the crusts in this video.

How to Make Veggie Pot Pie

Veggie Pot Pie

 

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