plumsaladI love plums. Love them. They are so versatile, good both savory and sweet. I also love a good salad and am always willing to try something new in this arena as well.

The key to a decent dressing is good olive oil. There is no question it elevates the salad to new heights. It can also mercilessly drag it down when not up to par. A good extra-virgin olive oil is key to this Grilled Plum Salad with Brandy-Mint Vinaigrette. The ingredients are few, so quality matters.

When I made the dressing, I sort of felt like it needed something else, another flavor. But then I stepped back and looked at the other ingredients going into this salad; bacon, grilled plums, goat cheese, toasted pecans and peppery arugula. I decided to hold off adding anything and I’m glad I did.

This salad exploded with flavor. A bite with plum, cheese, arugula, nut and vinaigrette….yum. However, it’s definitely a grown up salad with the brandy addition. The perfect starter for a special dinner.

Try it for yourself when you have some time. 

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keittmango.jpgKeitt Mangoes

Last year in the steamy Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden of South Florida I tasted about 15 different types of mangoes. I discovered that some are sweet, while others are tangy and refreshing. Some have subtle floral aromas, others have hints of citrus, spice, even nuts as well as tropical fruit. The world of mangoes is luscious and delicious to explore and I was one enthusiastic taster!

While most mangoes in the US are grown in Florida, there are some grown in California like the organically grown Keitt. It's in season and in stores until the end of October and you don't want to miss it. The Keitt is one of my favorite mangoes, it's green on the outside and very large with a particularly thin seed. While more expensive than some mangoes, I think they are still a good value because they yield a ton of fruit. I recently had one that was almost 2 pounds and yielded several cups of diced fruit, 2 or 3 times as much fruit as a typical mango.

The delectable Keitt has no fiber, a buttery juicy texture, vanilla aroma and a delicate peachy flavor. If there was ever a melt-in-your-mouth mango, the Keitt is it. One serving provides over 75% of your daily requirement of Vitamin C and 25% of Vitamin A. Pick Keitt mangoes that are still a bit firm with no soft spots. The fruit is delicious on it's own, but even better on top of pancakes, crepes, in fruit salad or salsa.

walnuts.jpgI like foods that add a touch of luxury, where a little goes a long way. I'm thinking of things like caviar, smoked fish, truffles, whipped cream, chocolate. Nuts fall into that category for me too, maybe it's their association with the holidays or with desserts like cakes and cookies. Or maybe it's because they are so rich.

Walnuts have a richness due to their fat content. They have an inherent sweetness but also a slight bitterness. That bitterness is actually what complements so many foods. The flavor of walnuts is more mellow and buttery when toasted which is great for baked goods and desserts. But when it comes to strong foods like beef, bitter greens, cheese and herbs like basil, un-toasted walnuts add another more complex dimension. If you've made pesto you might have noticed that most pesto recipes call for un-toasted nuts, so clearly I'm not the first to realize this.

In experimenting with different kinds of nuts, I have found walnuts to be the most versatile of all due to their buttery, rich, sweet and bitter flavors. I also found that lemon almost always complements walnuts, toasted or not. The possibilities are endless, salad topped with walnuts and tossed with a lemon dressing, lemon tea cake with walnuts, lemon walnut biscotti, lemon peel and walnuts as a topping for green beans...

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proscuittotriplecreamfigconfitThe best appetizers are full of flavor, fun to look at, and, ideally, take very little effort to prepare. Vegetable crudites fit those requirements but they aren't exciting.

A delicious appetizer--albeit one for those without caloric restrictions--is a piece of prosciutto with a slice of triple cream and a topping of fig puree. The key to this dish is using high quality ingredients: Saint Andre triple cream, a good Italian prosciutto, and ripened farmers' market fresh figs.

The prosciutto can be rolled up but leaving it open is visually pleasing. Anyone picking one up will naturally do the rolling themselves.

Delicious any time of day: for breakfast, a light lunch with a salad, or in the evening with cocktails and wine.

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brusselspearsEat your vegetables! Mom's famous words. Just like everyone else, I too hated many vegetables when I was a kid. Brussels sprouts were at the top of my list with peas not far behind. It was many years later that I realized I couldn't figure out why I hated sprouts. I had never even tasted them, but I was told by other kids that the taste and smell was revolting. But what's the point of hating a food if you haven't even tried it? When I finally did try Brussels sprouts for the first time, I was completely taken aback at how good they were. I was converted and from that point on I think I became the adventurous eater I am today. That's what a little sprout can do to a person.

Roasted or sautéed, Brussels sprouts can be simply amazing. The key to cooking them is to not overcook them. That's when they develop a sulfuric smell and taste. Boiling them does no good either because the good flavors are cooked right out and all that remains is bitterness. Sautéing is the easiest and most rewarding method for cooking sprouts. A little oil, bacon fat, or duck fat is all that's needed to make them taste exceptional. In this recipe, warm sautéed sprouts are brought together with complementary flavors and textures. The crispy Asian pear adds sweetness, the savory bacon crunchiness, and the dressing is a decadent finishing touch. It's the perfect salad for an appetizer or side dish. And leftovers are even better for tomorrow's lunch.

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