Sweet Inspirations: Linzer Cookies

Raspberry & Nutella Linzer Cookies

Did You Know? Outselling every brand of peanut butter combined, the amount of Nutella produced worldwide in one day is equivalent to nearly three times the weight of the Statue of Liberty.

The bakery has really been a lot of fun for me and Chris, and we can't help but to spend our days dreaming of the future of the business. Sweet Inspirations had its largest order to date over the weekend (8 dozen cookies), and it couldn't have gone smoother. Salvage Chic, an antique store located in Bryantville Center (Pembroke), contacted me a few weeks ago, in hopes of ordering something special for a sale they would be having this past weekend. I knew their logo involved price tags, so we set out to make some pretty impressive cookies for the event. Linzer cookies were our choice, giving us the ideal recipe to get creative with. We could cut out price tags for the base, and include the initials of the store for the jam to show through. Although the dough was by far the toughest I'd worked with, they turned out wonderfully, and tasted even better.

Raspberry & Nutella Linzer Cookies

Raspberry & Nutella Linzer Cookies

The dough was made with ground up hazelnuts, and for some reason, all it wanted to do was tear, and fall apart. I knew from the comments left by others that it wasn't the most cooperative recipe, but I thought I might have better luck. In the end, it all worked out, and I found that freezing the dough for a little before cutting out the initials worked the best. Just make sure to roll the dough between parchment paper, or you'll never get it off the rolling pin. And don't let my troubles scare you from trying this recipe, it was a huge success among everyone who tried them, and they only get better as the days go on - a great cookie if you're looking for something to make ahead of time.

Raspberry & Nutella Linzer Cookies

Raspberry & Nutella Linzer Cookies

If you live in the South Shore, and have not yet stopped by Salvage Chic, I highly recommend you do so. Christine and Claudia, the two owners, could not be any nicer, and the store itself is something out of a magazine. Each room is set up like a different room in a house, filled with items both old and new. I recently picked up a beautiful glass juicer and a set of vintage cookie jars with my sister and Maddie, and plan on going back to scan through their fabulous aprons. It's always our first stop when we're antique hunting, and we never leave empty handed. They even have a blog, so if you don't live nearby, you can check out all their finds over there.

Raspberry & Nutella Linzer Cookies

Raspberry & Nutella Linzer Cookies
Adapted from Gourmet via Epicurious

2/3 cup hazelnuts (3 oz)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 12-oz jar seedless raspberry jam (or Nutella)
Confectioners' sugar (for dusting)

Special equipment: a 2- to 2 1/4-inch fluted round cookie cutter and assorted 1/2-inch shaped cookie cutters or aspic cutters

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Toast hazelnuts in a shallow baking pan until fragrant and skins begin to loosen, about 6 minutes. Rub nuts in a kitchen towel to remove any loose skins (some skins may not come off), then cool to room temperature.

Pulse nuts and 1/4 cup brown sugar in a food processor until nuts are finely ground.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl.

Beat together butter and remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a stand mixer (preferably fitted with paddle) or 6 minutes with a handheld. Add nut mixture and beat until combined well, about 1 minute. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

With floured hands, form dough into 2 balls and flatten each into a 5-inch disk. Chill disks, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 2 hours.

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F.

Roll out 1 disk of dough into an 11-inch round (1/8 inch thick) between 2 sheets of wax paper (keep remaining dough chilled). If dough becomes too soft to roll out, rewrap in plastic and chill until firm. Cut out as many cookies as possible from dough with larger cookie cutter and transfer to 2 ungreased large baking sheets, arranging about 1 inch apart. Using smaller cutters, cut out centers from half of the cookies, reserving centers and rerolling along with scraps (reroll only once). Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are golden, 10 to 15 minutes total, then transfer with a metal spatula to racks to cool completely. Make more cookies from second disk.

Dust the windowed cookies with confectioners' sugar. Spread about 1 teaspoon jam (or Nutella) on flat side of 1 solid cookie and sandwich jam with flat side of 1 windowed cookie. Sandwich remaining cookies in same manner.

Cookies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment, and chilled in an airtight container, 2 weeks.

Salvage Chic Antiques


Ice Cream Sundays: Strawberry-Vanilla Bean

Strawberry-Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Did You Know? Strawberries are the only fruit with seeds on the outside.

I did a guest post for Cooking Books recently, and in case you missed it, I thought I'd post what I wrote here today. I thought it might be fun to do an ice cream recipe every Sunday for the rest of the Summer, mainly for the play on words (Sunday/Sundae), but also because who doesn't like ice cream? And don't forget to check out Andrea's blog, she has a lot of interesting things to say, especially if you're into art, and her recipes are always perfection...

When Andrea asked me to guest post during the month of June for her "Off the Shelves" series, I was so flattered, and immediately knew I wanted to do an ice cream recipe. Perhaps one of the greatest culinary creations, ice cream is terrific anytime of the year, but when June rolls in, and the grills are rolled out, there's no better way to end an evening BBQ than with a bowlful of sweetened cream piled high with all your favorite toppings.

I know the task at hand was to be inspired by a favorite cookbook, but to be honest, I haven't opened any of my cookbooks in practically months, so this recipe is what I consider a Buff Chickpea original, but more likely adapted from numerous recipes around the web. I've never been a fan of strawberry ice cream that boasts chunks of the big red fruit, so I pureed the strawberries here before adding them to the vanilla bean-specked base. I love the aroma the vanilla imparts in the ice cream, and the wonderfully tiny beans it leaves in its place. The custard itself is almost too pretty to freeze, almost.

Vanilla Bean Custard

Strawberry-Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Strawberry-Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Strawberry-Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Churning ice cream is like magic in my mind. It happens so quick, and the results are always spectacular. The deep red custard froze into a lovely pale pink, billowing out of the ice cream maker like cotton candy. Drizzled with hot fudge and doused with whipped cream, how can you go wrong? Thanks again Andrea for thinking of me. I hope I did Cooking Books justice, and I'd love to guest post again sometime!

Strawberry-Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Strawberry-Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
More (up to 10) or less egg yolks may be used depending on the richness you are after.

1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 lb strawberries (16 oz), trimmed and quartered

Combine cream, vanilla bean and seeds, and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat.

Whisk egg yolks with 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl, then add hot cream in a slow stream, while whisking. Pour back into saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened and an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F (do not let boil).

Remove vanilla bean (do not discard*), and immediately pour custard through a fine sieve into a metal bowl, then cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Chill, covered, at least until cold, about 2 hours, and up to 1 day (I stuck mine in the fridge overnight).

*Vanilla bean can be rinsed, dried until brittle, and tucked into your sugar bowl for some fragrant vanilla sugar (adding wonderful aromas to baked goods and future ice creams).

While custard is chilling, purée strawberries with remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a blender until smooth, then force through fine sieve (to remove seeds) into chilled custard. Stir purée into custard.

Freeze in ice-cream maker, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

Makes about 5 cups. This ice cream is best the day it's made.

Strawberry-Vanilla Bean Ice Cream


Vanilla Layer Cake with Bittersweet Buttercream

Vanilla Layer Cake with Bittersweet Buttercream

Did You Know? The history of birthday cakes come from the Greeks, who would take their round, moon-shaped cakes to the temple of Artemis-the Goddess of Moon. The tradition of placing lit candles on these cakes signified the glowing moon, and many believed the smoke of the candles carried their wishes and prayers to the Gods who lived in the skies above.

It was my Mom's birthday last month, so I went with the usual 'I'll-cook-for-you-since-I-have-no-money-to-buy-you-anything' present. A yellow cake with chocolate frosting is what she requested, so that's exactly what I made, jazzed up with a little heath bar of course. I love baking for birthdays, and cooking up dishes that are unique to the tastes of who they're intended for. For my mom, I went with the classic 1,2,3,4 cake. I mean it's all over the web for a reason - it's good, really good. The whipped buttercream frosting on Smitten sounded amazing, so I topped it off with that, and sprinkled some toffee bits all over the top.

The day I made this was unbelievably hot and humid, so I had a hard time keeping the frosting from melting. It wasn't a problem for too long, as we ate our fair share of cake pretty quickly, and shared the rest with our neighbors. If you're tempted to refrigerate this cake, I strongly urge you not to. I put a few pieces in the fridge overnight, and they dried out terribly. I later read that butter cakes should never be chilled for that specific reason. Other than that, this cake will definitely be one of my go-to recipes. Next up will be a cupcake version for sure.

Vanilla Layer Cake with Bittersweet Buttercream

In other news, my bakery has been pretty successful these past few weeks, and me and Chris couldn't be more excited. We have an event at Felt Night Club in Boston on July 8th, so we're really looking forward to that - a lot of great advertising. They host girl's nights every Wednesday, and the 8th is chocolate-themed. I've already got our menu planned out, but if you live in the area, I'd love to meet some of you, so contact Felt for all the details. I've also set up a Facebook page for Sweet Inspirations, so check that out, and make sure you become a fan! We can use all the support we can get. I've put a Facebook widget on the bottom of this page, so click over from here or there. Thanks!

Vanilla Layer Cake with Bittersweet Buttercream
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 cups sifted self-rising flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Bittersweet Buttercream, recipe follows

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 9-inch round cake pans*, set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream butter until fluffy. Add sugar and continue to cream well for 6 to 8 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and milk alternately to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla and continue to beat until just mixed.

Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Level batter in each pan by holding pan 3 or 4-inches above counter, then dropping flat onto counter. Do this several times to release air bubbles and assure you of a more level cake. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

*You'll notice only two layers in my cake. I used two 9-inch pans, along with 5 or so cupcakes.

Bittersweet Buttercream
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar

Melt the chocolate with the cream in a double boiler or metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk to blend well. Remove from heat and let stand, whisking occasionally, until the chocolate mixture thickens to the consistency of mayonnaise.

Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, and on medium speed, whip the butter until light and fluffy. Add the chocolate cream and whip until lighter in color and somewhat stiff, about three minutes. Add in the confectioners sugar, whip again, and continue to add until you have reached your desired consistency.

Vanilla Layer Cake with Bittersweet Buttercream


The Chewy...Almost

Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies

Did You Know? In 1937, Ruth Wakefield (owner of the Toll House Inn) was making butter cookies, and thought she would make them all chocolate instead. She cut a bar of Nestle chocolate into tiny pieces and added them to the cookie dough. When the cookies came out of the oven, the chocolate hadn't melted at all! Instead, the "chocolate chips" had kept their form. Ruth decided to go to Nestle with her recipe for "Chocolate Crunch Cookies." Nestle liked the idea, and they got permission from Ruth to put her recipe on the back of their chocolate bars. In return, she got all the chocolate she wanted to keep on baking those cookies.

Two popular cookie recipes have been circulating the internet for quite some time, and ever since hearing of both of them, I've been wanting to taste what all the hype was about. Unfortunately, I had no bread flour left at my house, and no car to drive to the store to get some - which doesn't mean I didn't make cookies, but that my original taste teste would have to wait. I went with Alton Brown's recipe this time, substituting all-purpose flour for the bread flour, and throwing in some chopped pecans and walnuts.

Coincidentally, Caitlin also had cookies on the mind, and baked up her own batch of "Chewies" while my Mom and I made ours. But unlike my version, Cait had read the ingredient list beforehand, and made sure her kitchen was stocked. I was just pumped I would be able to try the real deal, bread flour and all.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies

Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies

Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies

The batch I made with all-purpose flour were really good, but in my opinion, no where near as tasty as Cait's. The all-purpose flour turned the supposedly "chewy" cookie into a much more cake like treat. Cait's bread flour creation was everything the name had implied: chewy, chocolately, and definitely the best cookie I have ever eaten. She even sprinkled the tops with sea salt, which always makes for the best dessert. There's nothing like sweet and salty when the craving strikes. So if you like a cakey cookie, swap out the bread flour for all-purpose. But if you're looking for a chewy one, go with Alton's word, just throw in some pecans for good measure. Thanks Cait!

Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies
Adapted from Alton Brown's "The Chewy"

2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (Original recipe calls for bread flour)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (Original recipe calls for 2 cups)
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped (I threw in some chopped walnuts, too)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom medium saucepan over low heat. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.

Pour the melted butter into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the sugar and brown sugar. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed. Add the egg, yolk, 2 tablespoons milk and vanilla extract, and mix until well combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.

Chill the dough (I did for 30 minutes, but I hear 4 hours is called for), then scoop onto baking sheets, 6 cookies per sheet (I did 12). Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown, checking the cookies after 10 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet for even browning. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies


Balsamic Vegetable Stir-Fry

Balsamic Vegetable Stir-Fry

Did You Know? In its early days, balsamic vinegar was available only to the nobility and the artisans who made it. It was believed to be a miracle cure for everything from a sore throat to labor pains, and even used as protection against the plague.

I'm trying to break up all these cupcakes with some real food, but it's been pretty hard when graduation parties and cookouts have become the norm. I made this pasta dish the other day for lunch, trying to get myself out of a sugar coma. We had spent the night before baking cupcakes and frying doughnuts (which I promise to share soon), and my stomach could not take one more ounce of frosting or sprinkles.

I pretty much scanned my fridge, and grabbed whatever seemed appetizing at the time, trying to use up some produce before we had to throw it away. Bell peppers, carrots, onions, and peas are what I used here, but definitely just use this recipe as a guideline, tossing in whatever is convenient for you. A large handful of torn basil, and some chopped scallions rounded out the flavors, and added some much needed green. I've been pretty hooked on feta these days, so I tossed a few large spoonfuls of that in too. I love the sharp flavor you get from such a small amount. Finished with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and you have yourself a pretty satisfying lunch or dinner. I enjoyed it the next day with some pan-fried tofu chunks, and highly recommend that route as well.

Green Onions

Balsamic Vegetable Stir-Fry

12 ounces penne pasta (I used Basil & Garlic Penne from Trader Joe's)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 cup shredded carrots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup fresh basil, chopped or torn
4 green onions, white and pale green parts sliced thinly
Balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Cook pasta until al dente. Drain, and empty into a large serving bowl.

Meanwhile, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add onion, cover and let cook until translucent, 5 minutes or so. Add red pepper, and season with salt and pepper. Cover again for another 5 minutes. Remove cover, lower heat a bit, and saute until onion begins to caramelize and turn golden, another 10 minutes. Add shredded carrots, and cook for another few minutes. Add chopped garlic, and cook for 2 minutes more, making sure not to burn the garlic. Remove from heat, add the frozen peas, and spoon over pasta. Add the basil and green onions, a few drizzles of olive oil and a few drizzles of balsamic, and toss together to distribute flavors. Sprinkle with feta, toss again, and enjoy!


Sweet Inspirations: Daisy Cakes

Daisy Cakes

Did You Know? Daisies are not one flower. A Daisy is made up of two types of flowers - disk florets and petal-like white ray florets. The Disk florets are at the center and the ray florets are at the periphery, arranged to give the impression of being a single flower.

Chris and I had our second cupcake order over the weekend for Sweet Inspirations, and this time it was for a bachelorette party. The bride is a huge fan of daisies, so one of her friends requested daisy cupcakes from us to go along with the theme of the wedding. After throwing back a few ideas between the two of us, we settled on these, and couldn't have been happier with the result. And from the looks that we got when we delivered them, we were reassured that the bride would absolutely love them.

A vanilla cupcake with vanilla buttercream was asked for, so with a little gel coloring, we tinted the centers yellow, and piped creamy white petals around them, but not before applying a thin layer of frosting to the base beneath. I love how the petals fan out around the soft serve-like centers, giving the cupcakes a bit of height. The only thing left to do was to come up with one of our signature quotes, and Chris was all over that aspect.

Daisy Cakes

Daisy Cakes

Being a philosophy major, Chris thought it would be a unique touch to deliver all of our baked goods with a personalized quote to fit the occasion. This time around, he went with one of his originals, channeling his "inner girlfriend" to come up with something special. He pretty much nailed the whole sisterhood thing down with this one. And like I said before, if you live in the South Shore area, and are looking for something special for your next party, send me an email, and we'll think of something to fit your tastes, quote and all.

Bachelorette Quote

Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream
Adapted from the Joy of Baking

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
Vanilla Buttercream, recipe follows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream the butter and sugar, in the bowl of an electric mixer, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Using an ice cream scoop, fill the muffin cups with batter about 2/3 to the top. Bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, frost with the vanilla buttercream, and decorate as desired.

Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes.

Vanilla Buttercream

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
6-8 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/4 cup milk

Cream the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low, add the confectioners' sugar, scraping down the bowl halfway through. Add the milk, and the rest of the sugar, and continue to beat until you've reached your desired consistency. Be sure not to whip too long, or the frosting may begin to separate.

Makes enough for 2 dozen cupcakes.

Daisy Cakes


Cait's Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Did You Know? As in the Neiman-Marcus cookie legend, a woman is reported to have asked for the recipe for the delicious red velvet cake she was served at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel restaurant in NYC, only to find that she had been billed $250 for the recipe. Indignant, she spread it to all her friends as a chain letter.

With graduation season comes graduation parties, and usually a few dozen desserts. Caitlin baked up these red velvet cupcakes for her best friend's party last weekend, with no help from me, but I thought they were too cute not to show them off here. After pouring over far too many cupcake decorating books, Cait and I thought a piped icing topped off with rainbow sprinkles would be best for this occasion - fun and not too fancy. And of course they were a huge hit at the party, especially with the guest of honor.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

I've never been a fan of red velvet cake. I really only thought girls liked it because it was the cake Jessica Simpson chose for her wedding. But I guess it has a pretty large following, especially down South ("The Chocolate Cake of the South"). The recipe Cait chose turned out quite successful among the devotees, and topped off with the traditional cream cheese frosting, it was the perfect treat to follow the standard cookout eats.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Food Network

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup buttermilk
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon red gel food coloring
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two (12-cup) muffin pans with cupcake papers.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the oil, butter, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. Add in the dry ingredients all at once, and mix until well combined and smooth.

Using an ice cream scoop, divide the batter among the pans, filling about 2/3 to the top of the papers. Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through cooking time. Remove from the oven and cool for about ten minutes in the pans. Remove the cupcakes from the pans, and cool completely.

When completely cool, frost with the Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting, and enjoy!

Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Joy the Baker

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, very soft
2 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, softened overnight
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
Pinch of salt
6 cups powdered sugar
2-4 tablepoons milk, depending on consistency

Cream the cream cheese in an electric mixer for one minute. Scrape down the bowl and add the butter, beating for 1-2 minutes, until well incorporated. Add the brown sugar, pinch of salt, and vanilla extract, and beat until combined. Turn off the mixer and add 3 cups of the powdered sugar. Turn the mixer to low, and slowly add more sugar, alternating with milk, until you have reached your desired consistency.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting


Sugar-Crusted Fennel & Pear Salad

Sugar-Crusted Fennel & Pear Salad

Did You Know? Today, pears are available in grocery stores 10 months out of the year, but they weren’t always so easy to find. In the 1800s people were willing to pay over $20 for just one pear because they were so rare and delicious.

After a few dozen cupcakes and muffins, I think I'm due for some fresh fruits and vegetables here on Buff Chick. We had my Grandparents and Uncle over yesterday afternoon for a late lunch, and while my Mom simmered away the entree, I worked on a side salad for her. I love introducing new foods to my relatives, and salads are a great way to combine a ton of unique flavors into one satisfying dish. I'm always surprised at the flavor combinations that work in salads. You can basically throw in anything and know it's going to taste good. And no matter what kind of greens I go with, I always add in some type of fruit.

Sugar-Crusted Fennel & Pear Salad

Sugar-Crusted Fennel & Pear Salad

My sister first introduced me to this mix after watching Giada toss it together a few weeks ago. She's made it on many occasions, but each time, we had finished the bowl before I had the chance to photograph any of the remains. Giada used pancetta as the protein, but being vegetarians, we opted for toasted pecans and some feta cheese. And sticking with my 'always throw in fruit' rule, I added some diced anjou pear. This mix has quickly become my go-to salad these days, and even my standard iceberg-and-tomato grandfather went for seconds on this one.

Sugar-Crusted Fennel & Pear Salad

Sugar-Crusted Fennel & Pear Salad
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

1 bulb fennel, halved, cored, and sliced; Reserve about a tablespoon of chopped fronds for garnish, if desired
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup pecans, toasted
1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons feta
1 pear, cored and diced
10 ounces mixed salad greens
Red Wine Vinaigrette, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, toss together fennel, onion, garlic, brown sugar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place the ingredients on the baking sheet in a single layer. Cook until the fennel is caramelized, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, place the salad greens, caramelized fennel and onion, pecans, pear, and 1/4 cup of feta. Toss the salad with the Red Wine Vinaigrette and garnish with the additional couple tablespoons of feta and the fennel fronds. Serve immediately, and enjoy!

Red Wine Vinaigrette

2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Mix the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper in a blender. With the machine running gradually blend in the oil. Season the vinaigrette, to taste, with more salt and pepper, if desired.

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