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Just finished reading The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome/the Pope because he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Appetizers, Salads, Vegetarian, on May 21st, 2017.

georgia_cracker_salad

How many superlatives can I use here – oh my, fantastic, off the charts, amazing, is it possible, so good!

The other day I was looking through my to-try recipes for a salad to take to a function. I paused at this recipe I’d downloaded some time ago. I read it through. So easy. Could it really be that good? It doesn’t LOOK all that wonderful – kind of bland looking, really. And considering the ingredients (saltine crackers, tomatoes, green onions, hard boiled egg, mayo, salt and pepper) you might wonder. So I went to Paula Deen’s webpage and there is a video clip of her making this, with her son. She talked about its origins (Albany, Georgia) and that occasionally they feature this at the salad bar at their restaurant.

BUT – the reservation here is that it MUST be eaten immediately after you toss it together. Well, I could do that. All you have to do it chop up some fresh tomatoes (use good tasting ones, please) and chop up some green onions. Oh, and make 1-2 hard boiled eggs. And scoop out some mayo to add at the end. And crush a sleeve of saltine crackers (do it while it’s still in the paper sleeve). Nothing about this is hard. I had this all figured out in about 2 minutes. As I write this I haven’t taken it to the luncheon yet, but since I bought the ingredients, I just bought more and served it for a dinner I did here at home with friends.

OMGosh! This salad is just so crazy good. I made one recipe (using one sleeve of saltine crackers), one heirloom tomato, 2 hard boiled eggs, 3 green onions (using most of the tops too), pepper, maybe some salt, and the last thing you do is add the mayo. Have everything all ready ahead – I’d chopped the tomatoes and green onions, plopped the eggs in on top and just let that sit. I’d also put out about the amount of mayo I thought it needed and at the very last second it got tossed. I served it as a side salad. Paula Deen says where this recipe is from it’s served as an appetizer (or light lunch) with cold shrimp all around it. I think this would be hard to eat as an appetizer unless you served it with small plates and forks to eat it.

When I made it, I used about a cup of mayo. The recipe called for 1 1/2 cups, and I noticed in the video they added more as it was needed, and they may not have used a full portion either. I’d start with 1 cup and only add more if you think it really needs it.

When I take this salad to my function, I’m going to add a couple more chopped eggs on top (sliced, that is) instead of shrimp. What it will look like is a potato salad. But definitely it’s NOT! I can’t wait to make this again!

What’s GOOD: every single solitary smidgen of this is delicious. Worth making. Don’t eat a lot of it, then you won’t feel guilty for all the fat grams you’re eating. I’ll definitely be making this again soon.

What’s NOT: nothing other than the calories!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Georgia Cracker Salad

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Paula Deen
Serving Size: 6

2 medium tomatoes — chopped
3 green onions — chopped (including most of the green tops)
2 large eggs, hard-boiled — finely chopped
pepper to taste
32 saltine crackers — (a sleeve)
1 cup mayonnaise — add more if needed, up to 1 1/2 cups

1. In a medium sized bowl combine the chopped tomatoes, green onions (use most of the dark green tops too as they add nice color), and the hard boiled egg(s). Grate in some pepper.
2. Crush the saltines in the sleeve until they are coarse pieces. Don’t overdo it – it’s nice to have a few larger pieces. Add it to the bowl, then add only enough mayo to make it moist – toss it well, then taste as you go. It may need another tablespoon or two of mayo. Mix well and serve immediately. Do NOT let it sit as it gets soggy.
SERVING: scoop into a bowl just slightly bigger than the salad. Serve as a side salad or with cold shrimp it would make a lunch serving.
Per Serving: 369 Calories; 35g Fat (81.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 442mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on April 2nd, 2017.

cauliflower_tapenade

Cauliflower isn’t exactly at the top of my vegetable “like” list. Not that I dislike it. That’s not it. It just doesn’t have all that much flavor – to me anyway. I know it’s good for me, though. I’d probably never have made this dish except it was served to me. It’s wonderful. Really delicious.

At the moment, cauliflower is the new “IN” vegetable. There’s cauliflower everywhere, including the new riced cauliflower at Trader Joe’s and Costco. When I’m served that ubiquitous mixed vegetable at a restaurant – with broccoli, maybe a red pepper strip or two, and some zucchini, perhaps, if there is cauliflower I may scoot it around my plate, thinking I’m going to eat it, but often I don’t. Steamed cauliflower just holds zero interest to my palate. I like cauliflower mashed to resemble mashed potatoes – with all kinds of good stuff in it like butter and sour cream. And I don’t dislike roasted cauliflower on occasion – the roasting (caramelization) makes it much more interesting and edible to me. And one of my very favorite green salads (Garlic VIP Dressing) has some tiny cauliflower florets (and toasted, sliced almonds too) in it. Coated with salad dressing, I love cauliflower. I think I prefer raw cauliflower, as long as it’s cut into fairly small bites.

If you like to make an appetizer, and you’d like it to be a bit more healthy, try this one. Normally a tapenade is olives – mostly olives. This has some, but it’s mostly cauliflower. You might be able to taste the cauliflower, or not. Surely people will ask you what it is. It does not look like hummus. It’s kind of light dirty brown (from the Mediterranean olives in it).

The cauliflower is tossed with some olive oil and a spice rub of some kind (Tarla used a blackened seasoning rub on it), then roasted until the tops were crispy brown. They they were combined with some pitted black and green olives, green onions, lemon juice, S & P. And more olive oil to make it smooth. Tarla used some olive bread (large baguette shape) and toasted the slices, then she scooped some of the cauliflower tapenade on top and served it with a salad. It could be served that way, or also as an appetizer. It’s also sprinkled with some smoked paprika on top – it wouldn’t be necessary to do that, but the smoked paprika adds a lovely little smoky taste to it.

What’s GOOD: it’s sort of healthy (though it has a goodly amount of olive oil in it) and you’ll get in a small portion of veggies when you serve it. It’s really delish.

What’s NOT: only that you do have to roast the cauliflower (about 15 minutes or so) first. Otherwise, it’s very easy to do. Do buy pitted olives if possible!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Cauliflower Tapenade

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor, chef, 2017
Serving Size: 12

3 cups cauliflower — cut into 1″ florets
2 teaspoon blackened seasoning — or other spice rub
2 tablespoons EVOO
1 cup Mediterranean olives, mixed — pitted
2 green onions — sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup EVOO — or more if needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Smoked paprika for sprinkling on top
Olive bread or Baguette slices — for serving

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. On a rimmed baking sheet toss the cauliflower with 2 T of EVOO and the spice rub. Bake until golden brown on some of the edges, about 15 minutes. Turn the florets once during the baking time. Remove and let cool.
2. In a food processor, combine oil, olives, green onions, and lemon juice; blend until mostly smooth. Add cauliflower and about 1/2 teaspoon salt plus pepper to taste; blend until smooth, stopping and scraping down the sides at least once. Taste for seasonings. Refrigerate until cool. Makes 2 cups.
3. Toast the olive bread or baguette slices, spread each piece with the tapenade and sprinkle lightly with smoked paprika.
Per Serving (tapenade only): 126 Calories; 14g Fat (89.4% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 45mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on November 22nd, 2016.

maple_sriracha_oyster_crackers_appetizer

Addictive? Well, yes. Tasty? Oh my, yes. Salty and sweet and everything you want in a little tasty nibble to serve with drinks or other appetizers.

I think I saw this recipe on Pinterest awhile back and visited the website, The Cookie Rookie. I made a decision, right there and then, that I’d make these. I bought the oyster crackers and made these little beauties. It’s really VERY easy to do.

You heat up a mixture in a large, wide frying pan – canola oil, unsalted butter, sriracha sauce (use your discretion as to how much – I used 1 T. for the recipe size below and it was lightly hot/spicy from the sriracha), maple syrup, honey and seasoning salt. Becky, the blogger who devised this recipe, uses Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, but I think you could use any kind of seasoned salt of your choice. Once the mixture is melted and simmering, turn off the heat and pour in all the oyster crackers.

You’ll stir it and stir it so the crackers absorb the liquid. DO mix it continuously and until ALL the liquid is gone. You need to do this, otherwise you’ll have a puddle of sauce later on. Eventually all that liquid will be absorbed as you stir. Then you pour them out onto a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for an hour at 200°F, stirring the crackers every 20 minutes. If you decide to do a double batch, use two baking sheets – you want the crackers to have some room around them so they dry and get crispy.

What’s GOOD: Oh gosh, these are so very good. I gave some to 3 close friends of mine at a breakfast one morning and they could hardly keep their hands out of the baggies. I served them with appetizers to some guests one night. Loved them. A lot. They’re crispy. They’re crunchy, kind of. They’re sweet. They’re hot. All at the same time. Altogether delicious! A keeper.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. An easy recipe to make and do a day ahead if you want to. I think they’d keep for a week or so. Becky thought 2 weeks.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sriracha & Maple Syrup Oyster Crackers

Recipe By: The Cookie Rookie blog
Serving Size: 8

1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce — or more if you like it hot
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon Lawry’s Seasoning Salt — or other seasoning salt
8 ounces oyster crackers — (I used Trader Joe’s)

1. Melt the oil and butter in a wide, large skillet. Add Sriracha, syrup, honey & salt. Bring to a low boil then turn off the heat.
2. Add the crackers and mix until the crackers are evenly coated. Continue to stir until all the liquid has been absorbed by the crackers (otherwise there will be a little puddle on the baking sheet).
3. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 200 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Cool and place in plastic ziploc bag to keep them crispy and fresh. Eat within a few days.
Per Serving: 251 Calories; 16g Fat (56.7% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 228mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on October 7th, 2016.

artichoke_crostini

Such a fun appetizer – artichoke hearts (frozen, defrosted) with garlic and a bit of fresh spinach, then pureed with lemon juice, Parmesan, Feta. THEN, the best part, served with a light sprinkle of lime salt (fresh lime zest mixed with flake salt). I absolutely loved it.

My assignment for the dinner group was an appetizer. Someone else was bringing gazpacho, so the hostess asked for something else, finger food of some kind. I scanned through my many recipes and found this, that I’d recently read from Valerie Bertinelli’s cookbook One Dish at a Time: Delicious Recipes and Stories from My Italian-American Childhood and Beyond. If you haven’t caught it, she has a show on the Food Network. Every dish I’ve prepared from the show, and now from the cookbook (at the library) has been gosh-darned good.

artichoke_puree1First, I defrosted a 12-ounce package of frozen artichoke hearts (Trader Joe’s), drained them, then lightly sautéed them in a little olive oil, then added the garlic and fresh spinach (just a few handfuls). That mixture got pureed in the food processor with a light amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, some Feta, fresh parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper. It is improved with a bit of sitting in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, I made the LIME SALT. Nothing but a zested lime (the juice is not used in the dish) and some good flake salt. Some fresh, tasty radishes were thinly sliced, a baguette was sliced and the pieces lightly toasted, and it’s all done.

lime_saltMy friend Sue was visiting and she helped me make this, then we assembled them at the host’s home just before serving. One side of each baguette slice is rubbed with a raw half of a garlic clove (the mixture is fairly heady with garlic – it took about 2-3 garlic cloves to rub all the bread slices), then you pile the artichoke mixture on top, and wedge a slice or two of radish on top and sprinkle with the lime salt. See photo at right of the lime salt .

What’s GOOD: For me, this dish was just fabulous, and the lime salt is what makes it. You definitely taste the lime and the salt, but it enhances the subtle artichoke and garlic flavors. The crunch of the fresh radishes is also a big boost of flavor and good mouth-feel. I’d definitely make this again. Do note, if you’re interested, this is very low fat but high on flavor. If I’d had sufficient left overs, I was going to add a bit of olive oil and add it to some hot pasta. But no, didn’t have any left overs!

What’s NOT: There is a bit of prep to this, but it’s not excessive. It helped that I had a friend to help me with it and we got it done in less than 30 minutes. It takes very few minutes to assemble it if you have all the parts done ahead.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pureed Artichoke Crostini with Lime Salt

Recipe By: Adapted from “One Dish at a Time by Valerie Bertinelli
Serving Size: 12

1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts — thawed and patted dry
2 cups baby spinach
2 cloves garlic — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice — plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
3 tablespoons feta cheese — crumbled
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
LIME SALT GARNISH:
2 tablespoons sea salt flakes
1 lime — zested
SERVING:
1 baguette — sliced into thin rounds and toasted lightly
2 cloves garlic — halved
4 radishes — very thinly sliced, for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the artichokes, spinach, chopped garlic and 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice and saute until the spinach begins to wilt and the garlic becomes fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to a food processor. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, feta, parsley and the remaining tablespoons lemon juice and pulse until smooth. Add the kosher salt and season to taste with pepper.
2. SALT: In a small bowl, combine the sea salt flakes and lime zest with your fingers. Set aside.
3. Cut the remaining garlic cloves in half and rub, cut side down, onto one side of each slice of toasted bread. Spread the artichoke mixture generously among the slices, place on a platter and serve with radishes standing up in the artichoke mixture and sprinkled with a tiny pinch of the lime salt (so you can see it on the radishes); or, spoon the artichoke mixture into a serving bowl and serve with the bread slices on the side. Garnish with the radishes and lime salt.
Per Serving: 139 Calories; 3g Fat (19.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 1385mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on September 29th, 2016.

Yoghurt & Spinach Dip, 'Borani Esfanaaj', in the Persian Manner

A really fabulous yogurt and spinach dip. Not hard to make. I forgot to take a picture of the finished dish, so am using the one from the original recipe. Photo: Food52

Every summer my family gets together to celebrate 4 birthdays within a 2-week period (used to be 5 birthdays in a 3-week span when my DH was alive). I offered to have it at my house providing everybody brought dishes to round out the menu. I dug into my freezer and brought out various chops, sausages and steaks to grill. Sara brought a mango chutney and a lovely salad which I’ll write up soon. Karen brought a farro salad and her home made tomato-cashew jam. I ordered a big, fancy decorated cake (lemon with strawberry filling). Barbara brought a kale and cabbage salad. I made this delicious spinach/yogurt dip and I made pineapple salsa to go with the various grilled meats.

Since I knew we were eating heartily, I wanted to make an appetizer that was somewhat healthy, and this recipe seemed to be the one. I’d read it over at Food52, as I mentioned above, and it won one of their contests as “Best Spinach Recipe.” So that gave this one a leg-up over any number of other spinach type appetizers I might have made. Commenters said it was just SO good.

persian_yogurt_spinach_dip_ungarnishedExpecting 10-12 people for dinner, I knew I needed to double the recipe, which meant 24 ounces of baby spinach (just that was $8.00; yikes), and it’s amazing once it wilted down how little there was of it! I chopped it up first (so I wouldn’t have to do it afterwards when it was wet). I suppose you could use frozen spinach – it would simplify this dish some, but I wanted to make it authentically.

It’s a Persian recipe called Borani Esfanaaj. I found similar recipes at other websites with other slight variations in ingredients and in name, but they’re all very similar. What makes this one different, I think, is the crushed walnuts on top AND the use of dried mint. According to the background on this recipe, Shayma, the recipe’s author, said:

“A borani is a cold yoghurt-based dish from Iran. But that is a bit of a boring piece of info, right? Well, apparently, it has been said that Poorandokht, the daughter of the Sassanian Persian King Khosrow Paravaiz, loved cold yoghurt-based dishes. When she was proclaimed Queen, the name Poorani was given to yoghurt-based dishes. Later on Poorani turned into Borani. I so do like to believe this story 🙂 I love spinach and how it melds so well with yoghurt.”

persian_dip_mixingShayma suggests in the recipe that the use of dried mint gives this a more earthy, woodsy taste – I like that aspect of it. I sprinkled some of the mint IN the mixture, then more on top with the walnuts. You can certainly use your own discretion. I added one ingredient – a bit of lemon juice.

There, at left, is the mixture before I mixed it up very much. I used very little oil to wilt the spinach, so I added in a couple of T. of oil into the dip itself and put just a tiny drizzle on top to serve it. I could just kick myself for not taking a photo of my finished dish, with the sangak bread I served with it.

Do try to make this a few hours ahead so the flavors can chill and get friendly before you pull it out to serve it.

What’s GOOD: this was SO tasty. Loved the spinach, and using Greek yogurt (thicker than regular) gave the dip a nice consistency. Although you can’t taste the garlic, there are some added flavors in this (lemon juice for sure, the walnuts and definitely the dried mint). Well worth making. Easy to mix up ahead too. My family devoured it. Definitely one to make again.

What’s NOT: really nothing. A bit of a nuisance to chop up and wilt all the spinach, but it doesn’t take all that long to do.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Persian Yogurt & Spinach Dip, ‘Borani Esfanaaj’

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a recipe at Food52
Serving Size: 6

12 ounces baby spinach
1 clove garlic — minced and divided into two separate batches.
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 ounces Greek yogurt, full-fat
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
GARNISH:
1 tablespoon dried mint — do NOT use fresh mint
1 handful walnuts — crushed
EVOO to drizzle on top
Flatbread, crackers, or Middle Eastern soft flatbread, like sangak, to serve

Notes: do use regular inexpensive olive oil for the cooking and to add into the dip; for the garnish, use EVOO, your best stuff, to drizzle on top. The spinach quantity seems like a lot – it’s not, as it wilts down to next to nothing! This dip must have dried mint – it imparts a woodsy kind of flavor to this, which makes it very authentic.
1. Chop the baby spinach finely.
2. Heat a very large saute pan, add a drizzle of olive oil, then add the small amount of garlic. Do not brown it. Add the chopped spinach and over low-medium heat toss until the spinach is completely wilted. Add a bit of salt. Drain well, then using your hands, squeeze out all the liquid.
3. In a bowl, add yogurt, the remaining minced garlic, a bit more olive oil, the squeeze-dried spinach and lemon juice; stir gently. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Transfer to the bowl you are serving it in (shallow, round bowl) and sprinkle with dried mint, crushed walnuts and a lazy trail of olive oil. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours for the flavors to blend.
7. Serve with sangak bread, flatbread, pita chips or flat crackers.
Per Serving: 255 Calories; 22g Fat (75.4% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 19mg Cholesterol; 68mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Veggies/sides, on July 31st, 2016.

artichoke_harissa_cream

Do you like artichokes? They’re not available everywhere, I know, and some folks just can’t seem to wrap their arms (or their mouths) around scraping the essence of the stem-end of each artichoke leaf through their teeth to gain this little tiny half a teaspoon of artichoke essence.

Growing up, my mother prepared artichokes frequently. They’re available many months of the year at the grocery stores here in California. They’re grown in abundance in the Salinas Valley, in the north end of the central part of California. And they grow well in other NoCal climes. My mother always put out a little bowl of mayo and we dipped each end into the mayo and scraped away. As I recall, my mom made ONE artichoke and the 3 of us shared it. It was never enough in my book.

When I married my DH, Dave, I soon discovered that he was an artichoke and BUTTER guy. He wanted a little bowl of melted butter to dip his artichoke. But after awhile he stopped using the butter and used nothing. He definitely didn’t like the mayo dip at all. My DH adored the artichoke heart, so I usually let him have my half too. He used to tell the story about his wonderful dog, Woof (a collie) who was a very bright dog. She died long before I met Dave. Dave taught her to scrape the artichoke. He’d hold the leaf and she’d ever so gently pull off the little bit of it. She LOVED them.

Recently I craved an artichoke, and saw some really pretty ones at the store. I pressure-cooked it for about 15 minutes. Just now I went on the ‘net and found recipes suggesting everything from 6 minutes (Kalyn’s Kitchen) to 22 minutes on one other, with several others suggesting times in between. Me? I added about a cup of water to the pressure cooker, squeezed half of a lemon into the water, cut the artichoke in half, leaving the choke intact, put them on a rack and pressure cooked them for the 15 minutes. Once cooled some, I used a spoon to remove the choke and let the artichokes cool to room temp. If the artichoke you buy is really big, use a longer cooking time; shorter if they’re smaller, obviously. Half an artichoke is a good-sized serving. I ate it with my dinner, but it also makes a nice appetizer too.

Then I mixed up the dipping sauce: nothing more than mayo, harissa sauce (if you want to know more about harissa, read my 2012 blog post about using it on lamb kebabs), a little bit of bacon jam (some high end markets carry this, it’s a refrigerated little jar, costs the moon, but it lasts forever), plus a little squeeze of lemon juice.

What’s GOOD: well, now, I love artichokes, so there’s no question any mayo-based sauce would taste great in my book, but if you want to make it special, try the addition of harissa and bacon jam. Delicious.

What’s NOT: nothing really, except the harissa is spicy; probably not to children’s tastes.

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Harissa Bacon Mayo for Artichokes

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 2

1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon harissa — or more to taste
1 teaspoon bacon jam
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice — or more to taste

1. In a small bowl combine all ingredients. If time permits, let rest in the refrigerator for an hour or so for the flavors to meld.
2. Serve along side a cooked artichoke.
Per Serving: 271 Calories; 32g Fat (97.6% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 14mg Cholesterol; 227mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Desserts, Veggies/sides, on June 29th, 2016.

moms_pear_pie

It’s been decades since I made this pie. And it’s SO easy to prepare (well, IF you have frozen pie crusts standing by). You can buy Bosc pears year ‘round now, so anytime could be pear pie season.

A few weeks ago I made an astounding pear cobbler I wrote up about just a few days ago. I don’t exactly post my recipes in order as I make them, but that pear cobbler made me think about a recipe I hadn’t made for decades, my Mom’s pear pie. I had to go hunting for the recipe – it was in my little orange binder that I used when I first began to have enough recipes to save. Some of the recipes in there are in my mother’s handwriting, though this one was not – my mom must have kind of dictated it to me. It’s hardly a recipe, so I had to write it a bit better for posting here.

The pear cobbler is long gone – I served it to a group and it all disappeared except for one serving that’s in my freezer. But it certainly did resonate in my palate, telling me to eat more pears. Then, in the interim I either read or heard from somewhere that when you’re baking pears, the best ones to use are Bosc. Well, it was too late; I’d already bought 4 Bartlett pears with the thought that I’d make this pear pie. I also bought a package of 2 Marie Callender’s pie crust shells (frozen). I know they’re good; good enough for this pie, for sure. I don’t bake pies very often – always because making the crust is just such a nuisance. That will forever be changed now that Marie’s pie shells are available. Whoopee! I have a number of pies I’d like to make, some that date back to the 60s that I’ve never bothered to include here on my blog. I’d also like to update two pies that are old favorites.

crust_with_raw_pearsSo, this pie. I don’t know the history of it, other than I know it was my mother’s mother’s recipe. My grandmother’s name was Isis, and she was a very good baker. She and my grandfather lived all their lives on a farm in the central valley here in California – in Stanislaus (pronounced STAN-is-law) County, near Modesto. My grandmother cooked 3 meals a day for the entirety of their marriage, I imagine. There were years when there was almost no money (my mother went to junior college, then worked and HAD to send money home to her parents because they might have lost the farm altogether). She had 2 older brothers and 2 sisters, and I expect they may have sent money home too if they had extra during those skim depression years. I have a number of recipes from my grandmother Isis. I recently bought some apricots, thinking I’d make an old time recipe for an apricot cobbler. That recipe might have belonged to my great aunt. Not sure.

Anyway, this pear pie is just so easy to make. I had 4 Bartlett pears (use Bosc if you have them) and after peeling them I just sliced them directly into the frozen pie crust. See photo above. They were quite juicy – maybe too juicy. Then I mixed up the “filling,” which was merely sugar, a little bit of flour, an egg and a jot of vanilla. That was stirred up and topping_pear_piedrizzled all over the top of the pears. See photo at right. I used a spatula to kind of help the topping/filling to cover most of the pears. Then I dotted the top with butter and into a hot oven it went for about 10 minutes. Then the temp was turned down to 325° and baked for another 35-45 minutes, until the filling was golden brown and set.

Letting it cool was essential, and it held onto the heat for quite a while. My mother almost always served this with whipped cream, but you could also use vanilla ice cream. I intended to sprinkle the top of the pears with cardamom, but forgot in my rush to get the topping on the pears. I did use almond flavoring rather than vanilla, however.

Photo here shows the pie with butter dotting the top, ready to go into the oven. pear_pie_ready2bakeI thought this might have been a Betty Crocker recipe, but no. I just searched for it and this is nothing like any of Betty’s pear pies. I’d guess it’s a depression-era recipe because it calls for no other ingredients like sour cream or even any spices. The sugar mixes with the egg and the presumption is that any of the juices from the pears will firm up with the flour added into the filling/topping. The eggy mixture does slip down between the layers of pears and surrounds the pears.

I enjoyed 2 slices, then gave the rest of it to my neighbors, who have 2 little girls with hungry appetites. Both girls do swimming and water polo – the mom is a full time “bus” driver for the girls.

What’s GOOD: if you’re looking for straight-forward pear taste, this is it. Nothing else, really, to distract your taste buds – pears, sugar, a little flour, an egg, flavoring and butter dotting the top. That’s all there is to it. It’s very juicy – if you use Bosc they may not be quite so much so. I actually liked it plain with no topping at all.

What’s NOT: really nothing – it’s easy to make if you have already made pie  shells, or will buy frozen ones. It took about 10-15 minutes to put it all together and stick it in the oven.

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Mom’s Pear Pie

Recipe By: My Mother’s recipe, handed down from her mother.
Serving Size: 8

1 pie crust (9 inch) — unbaked
4 whole pears — Bosc, preferably
3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract — or almond extract
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. Peel the pears (if using Bartlett it’s not necessary to peel, but it will look nicer if you do), quarter, core and slice the pears into the pie shell. The pears should gently mound the pie shell (they shrink during baking).
3 In a small bowl combine the sugar and flour, mix well with a fork. Crack the egg into the middle, add the flavoring (almond or vanilla extract) and mix well. Using a spoon or fork, dab the mixture all over the top of the pears. There may be a couple of spots where pears aren’t covered, but do your best. Using a spatula, gently try to spread it over all the filling.
4 Cut tiny pieces of the butter and sprinkle over the filling.
5 Place the pie on a metal baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Then reduce heat to 325° and continue to bake for another 30-45 minutes or until the top is golden and the filling looks set. Cool. Serve warm or at room temp with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. If desired, add a tiny jot of almond extract to the whipped cream instead of vanilla. You can also sprinkle the top of the pears with about 1/2 tsp. of ground cardamom (not in my mother’s recipe).
Per Serving: 266 Calories; 9g Fat (30.4% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Veggies/sides, on June 21st, 2016.

roasted_carrots_platter

Can I just say, this was one of the best-est dishes I’ve eaten of late. I feel like I’d like to devour that entire platter. What is it? Multi-colored carrots roasted, then tossed with a unique kind of dressing that contains raisins, hazelnuts and thyme. It’s serve with Greek yogurt and sumac flecked pita chips (at left on the platter).

Some weeks ago I attended a cooking class where this was prepared. I took pictures, but they didn’t come out all that well, so lo, and behold, another blogger, Adde of thisishowicook.com made this lovely dish and kindly has let me share HER photo she took when she made it. I’ll be making this sometime soon, then I’ll take my own photos. Thanks, Adde.

This masterpiece isn’t hard. But it does take a bit of time to do – the carrots need to be prepped (easy) then tossed with oil and spices and they’re roasted for about 30 minutes. Also not hard, but then you want to make the pita chips slathered with some oil and peppered with sumac and baked/toasted in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Then, the mixture you eventually toss with the carrots must be prepped – raisins, nuts, thyme, sumac cooked in a bit of butter. Once the carrots are done, you toss them with this raisin mixture and you platter them. Now, I think Adde did it according to the original Sunset recipe – yogurt on the bottom, then the carrots and pita chips. Our instructor put the carrots down first, then plopped Greek yogurt on top. Your choice as to how you do it.

spiced_carrots_yogurt_pitaWhat I will tell you for sure – this dish is off the charts. The carrots become soft and succulent and take on such a lovely sweetness from the caramelization going on during the roasting. The combo of raisins and hazelnuts is brilliant – I’d never have put those two together, nor combine them with carrots! Then you complement them with the yogurt and pita chips. Oh yum.

This can be served as an appetizer, using the sumac pita chips as your scoop, but it would be best to have small plates and forks as the carrots might be a bit difficult to eat. Or, in the class I attended, the chef served it as a side dish with chicken, which was also very lovely.

What’s GOOD: Oh my gosh. I just couldn’t get enough of this – probably it’s the sugar/sweet taste of the carrots, but complemented by the raisins and hazelnuts just makes this dish unctuous.

What’s NOT: well, you can’t throw this together in 30 minutes – it takes a bit longer. Hopefully you have hazelnuts on hand, and Greek yogurt AND the sumac. And pita bread rounds and multi-colored carrots. For me, this will require a special trip to the grocery store to make sure I have everything.

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Roasted Carrot Platter

Recipe By: Sunset Magazine, 12/2014
Serving Size: 8

5 tablespoons olive oil — divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt — divided
2 1/2 teaspoons ground sumac — divided
4 pita bread rounds — 6″ across
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound carrots — medium sized, peeled and sliced diagonally 1/4″ thick and 2 to 3″ long
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup hazelnuts — very coarsely chopped roasted
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves — divided (fresh)
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt, full-fat
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley — coarsely chopped

NOTES: Buy the multi-colored carrots if you can find them – they make for a beautiful platter.
1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, combine 3 tbsp. oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. sumac. Cut pitas in half and split them horizontally. Brush all over with sumac oil. Stack, cut into 4 wedges, and arrange on 2 rimmed baking sheets.
2. Bake pita chips, turning once, until deep golden and crisp, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool.
3. Increase oven to 450°. In bowl used for pita oil, combine 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. sumac, the lemon zest, coriander, cumin, and remaining 2 tbsp. oil. Add carrots; toss to coat. Spread evenly on 1 rimmed baking sheet. Roast carrots, stirring once, until browned at edges, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool.
4. Cook butter in a medium frying pan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, 5 to 8 minutes. All at once, add raisins, hazelnuts, 1/2 tsp. thyme, and remaining 1/2 tsp. sumac. Cook, stirring, until raisins puff, 45 to 60 seconds. Let cool.
5. In a bowl, combine yogurt, 1/4 tsp. salt, and remaining 1/2 tsp. thyme.
6. Spread yogurt on a platter. In another bowl, toss carrots with nut mixture and parsley. Spoon over yogurt and serve with chips. Add more salt to taste. Or, alternately, spread the carrots on the platter and then spoon the yogurt on top, sprinkling a little zaatar on top, and surrounding the edges with the zaatar pita chips you’ve made.
Make ahead: Through step 5, up to 5 hours; chill yogurt and carrots separately. Bring carrots to room temperature, about 1 1/4 hours, before continuing.
Per Serving: 332 Calories; 21g Fat (56.1% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 568mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on June 17th, 2016.

roasted_chickpeas_zatar

Oh, I want to just reach right into that picture and grab a small handful. Don’t you? They look oiled and maybe even mushy, but trust me, they’re crispy and just tossed with a tiny bit of oil and all the spices just before serving.

A few weeks ago I went to a cooking class – with a French chef – although she made a dinner of what she called Mediterranean food. Mostly I’d say the dinner was Moroccan. She cooked with a lot of zaatar, sumac, baharat and a tiny bit of fennel pollen. And one dish that was accented with apple cider molasses, which I’d never even heard of before. You’ll have the recipes eventually. All except for the pilaf she made, which was okay, but I think my own recipe, for Mujadara is better. Mujadara is a Lebanese version of pilaf. Hers was called a lentil pilaf with baharat (an herb & spice mix) and then she sprinkled some very pricey fennel pollen on top. I don’t think I got any on my portion – at least I couldn’t see any.

So, back to these chickpeas. Start off with 2 cans of garbanzos (chickpeas), drained, rinsed, and then you must let them rest and dry for an hour or so on paper towels – to DRY. Then the beans are spread out onto rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment – don’t crowd them – you’ll need at least 2 trays to do this right. They they’re roasted for quite awhile. If you’re using both trays in one oven then switch them back and forth and front to back so they all get dried and toasty. It takes about 35-45 minutes depending on your oven. Taste one now and then – you don’t want to to taste like corn nuts – that’s too much baking. But you definitely want them crispy all the way through. I’ll try this on convection bake and see how they do. Definitely don’t let them burn – that would be a total waste of them! Once they’re finally done, you need to remove a few of the skins that will have fallen off – you don’t want to serve those. The roasted beans are then tossed with a tablespoon or two or three of extra virgin olive oil and some Zaatar.

zaatar_componentsNow then, the Zaatar. I think I’ve posted a recipe for it before, but I can’t find it, if I did. At this class we got Caroline’s recipe for it, which is in the recipe below. It’s a combination of sumac, dried thyme, dried marjoram, dried oregano, roasted sesame seeds and salt.

You can see the parts of the mixture at left – Caroline made a big batch of it because she used it in several dishes. You can buy already-prepared Zaatar (also written as za’atar and zatar). Penzey’s has it, and at some better markets you’ll likely find it. You DO need sumac, though, and that’s not exactly something everyone has. In the photo, the sumac (the red stuff) is the largest component. You may find some zaatar without sumac, but I truly don’t think it would be authentic. Sumac has a kind of lemony taste – tart – but altogether delicious. It’s used in lots of Mediterranean cooking, but mostly from the southern side, like Syria, Morocco and Egypt. I’d guess sumac bushes must grow profusely in that climate.

The recipe below makes more than you’ll need for this appetizer – you can halve the recipe, or just use the rest of it for something else within a few months. You can prepare the zaatar a few days ahead of time.

What’s GOOD: loved the crunchy texture and the combo of the zaatar on them. They’re addicting, just so you know . . .

What’s NOT: nothing other than you’ll need to source the zaatar somewhere or make your own, in which case you’ll need sumac. Don’t try to make this without the sumac.

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Roasted Chickpeas with Zaatar

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Caroline C., Califrench Cuisine
Serving Size: 6

28 ounces chickpeas, canned — rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Zaatar — (see recipe below)
1/2 teaspoon salt — plus a little
ZAATAR:
1/4 cup sumac
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, roasted
2 tablespoons dried marjoram
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt

NOTES: The Zaatar recipe makes more than you’ll need for this recipe – make half a recipe if you don’t think you’ll use it for other things.
1. Spread rinsed and drained chickpeas on paper towels to dry for at least an hour.
2. Preheat oven to 400F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place the chickpeas on the pan.
3. Bake in the center of the oven for about 45-50 minutes, stirring and rotating them every 10 minutes. Taste a chickpea to see if it’s drying enough. If they’re crunchy, they’re done, but they should be crunchy all the way through. Do not over bake, however. Taste as you go.
4. Remove from oven and remove any loose skins that have broken loose during roasting.
5. Place hot chickpeas in a bowl and drizzle with the oil, Zaatar and salt. Serve hot or warm.
Per Serving: 197 Calories; 6g Fat (27.1% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 575mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on June 13th, 2016.

edamame_hummus

Healthy, but you’d never know it. Rich and creamy. Slightly green because edamame are green. No dairy in it at all – just oil and seasonings. Divine.

A few weeks ago I spent Mother’s Day with son Powell (and family) at his wife’s sister Janice’s home. They did a fabulous full-on Indian dinner catered by a great restaurant here in my neck of the woods called The Royal Khyber. Janice’s husband, though English by birth, is Indian and he’s on a first name basis with all of the staff and owners at the restaurant. When we go there we usually just tell Julian to order for us. He always orders lamb vindaloo (one of his favorites). I was particularly enamored with the ground lamb appetizer skewers. Am not sure what they were called, but they were tender, juicy and fabulous. I ate some of everything.

Janice had made this hummus with edamame which she served with a variety of fresh vegetables for dipping. She said she’d tried several similar recipes and finally settled on this one – I think it may have come from the food network, though I’m not sure. In any case, I really, really liked it, so asked Janice for the recipe, which she kindly sent.

I made this in the late morning and had that little plate full for my lunch, though I didn’t quite finish all the hummus in that bowl. I have heaps left for another day. I particularly liked it with the Persian cucumber slices, and with the more tender interior of the celery hearts. The last few bags of celery I’ve purchased have been particularly chewy and stringy. I buy organic celery because the stuff contains so much water and I want it to be non-influenced by pesticides, etc. I had to de-string several of the outer stalks and even then they were tough. Throw that bag out except for the very center.

The hummus – well, just to recap – usually it’s made with garbanzo beans – and it would be yellow. This, made with edamame was made from cooked and frozen beans (Trader Joe’s), merely defrosted and plopped into the blender along with all the other ingredients and whizzed up. I added more oil and water, and more salt and lemon juice, so I added those notes to the recipe below. I didn’t exactly measure the edamame – I think the 12 ounce bag contained about 2 cups, so I used most of it. A half a pound of cooked edamame is about 1 1/2 cups, exactly what was needed for this recipe.

I’m sure that tomorrow it will taste better once the flavors have melded together. It was so refreshing and filling. Amazingly filling, I thought. It probably would freeze okay too, just in case you need to do that. This is a really great recipe and it makes me feel good to know that I ate a very healthy lunch today. Thanks, Janice!!

What’s GOOD: the flavor, first and foremost. Very clean, tasty, creamy and filling. I particularly liked it with the cucumbers, but any veggies would be fine, even cauliflower. I don’t know about broccoli, but maybe. Carrots for sure, and celery. It might even be good in a sandwich with some lettuce, tomato and sliced mild, white cheese. It might ooze, however, just so you know.

What’s NOT: nothing I can think of – easy to make, healthy for sure. It makes a lot, so reduce the quantity if you are feeding a small group or your small family. Am sure it will keep for a several days.

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Edamame Hummus

Recipe By: From a family member, Janice G
Serving Size: 10

1 1/2 cups edamame — (green soy beans), 1/2 pound = approx 1 1/2 cups
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest — freshly grated
3 tablespoons lemon juice — or more if needed
1 clove garlic — smashed
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil — or more if needed
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley — chopped fresh
2 teaspoons flat-leaf parsley — for garnishing the serving bowl
Suggested serving: Sliced cucumbers, celery, carrot sticks and olives

1. If the edamame is raw, cook it in boiling water for about 4 minutes.
2. In a blender combine the tahini, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt, parsley, spices and the edamame.
3. Drizzle in the oil and continue to blend until it’s the consistency you prefer. Add more water or oil and/or lemon juice to taste. The mixture should be soft, not overly thick. Taste for seasonings [mine needed more lemon juice, salt and oil].
4. Sprinkle with more parsley when serving with vegetables of your choice.
Per Serving: 117 Calories; 9g Fat (66.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 151mg Sodium.

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