Blueberry Pomegranate Dressing over Salad Greens, Dried Cranberries and Candied Pecans

 

Toss pecans with a touch of brown sugar, a sprinkling of cinnamon, an infusion of vanilla and a few zests of orange for a indescribable candied pecans for this   salad. The dressing features blueberry pomegranate dressing. Salad greens can be baby field greens, spinach or a mixture of lettuces.SONY DSC

It takes only 1 1/2 to 3 minutes in the microwave for the nuts to caramelize and become toasted.

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Stir the pecans often and watch them carefully. If a smell is wafting from the microwave, chances are the pecans are  burning in the center.  Salvage them by quickly turning them out onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Spray the foil with butter to help the candied pecans to release easily. SONY DSC

Once the pecans are toasted, just add crumble blue cheese, dried cranberries and sliced green onion.  The dressing is blended in the blender and is a great contrast with the salty, tangy cheese.SONY DSC

Above,  the dressing is drizzled over each salad but it can be tossed with the entire salad to coat everything well. SONY DSC

Blueberry Pomegranate Dressing over Salad Greens, Dried Cranberries and Candied Pecans

8 ozs washed salad greens
3 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup candied pecans (recipe follows)
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 cup shredded red cabbage
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3  cup Blueberry Pomegranate Dressing (recipe follows)

Toss dressing with all the ingredients just before serving.

Candied Pecans

1 cup pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a small glass bowl. Microwave on high for 1 1/2 to 3 minutes or until pecans are toasted and syrup hardens when tested in cold water. Spoon out onto a foil lined tray that has been coated with cooking spray. When cool, break into pieces and sprinkle over salad.

Blueberry Pomegranate Dressing

3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup blueberry pomegranate infused red wine vinegar
1-inch piece of onion
1 cup salad oil
2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Combine all ingredients in blender and process until blended, making sure onion is completely pureed.  Toss with salad just before serving.

Macaron Recipe for Andria

My daughter Andria called in a state of confusion and said, “These macaron recipes make them sound like they are so hard. Is that true?”

“Not at all. They are actually really simple.”

“They have all kinds of rules!!! Which ones do I have to follow?”

“Only a few of those rules are really important.” All of those other rules make even a seasoned food scientist question this simple combination of egg whites, sugar and almonds. Here is a recipe that gives perfect results every time. You will also find a run down of some of those rules and which ones made a difference in my experiments.

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A rubber spautla is the best tool and this is the correct motion for folding the dry ingredients into the egg whites. Some recipes say to add the beaten egg whites to the dry ingredients so the egg whites a are on top and are not deflated. I gently added the dry ingredients to the side of  the egg whites so I would not dirty another bowl and did not see any difference. I also dumped them on top without adverse results, but I don’t really recommend the dump method.SONY DSC

 

A wire wisk can be used for beating egg whites but it is not the best tool for folding in egg whites. It smashes through the batter, deflating the air that was so carefully beaten into the egg whites.SONY DSC

A pastry bag or a baggie with the corner cut off works great for forming macarons.SONY DSC

Here is the test comparing parchment paper, plain baking sheet and a silipat mat. I baked them in the oven just like you see in the picture so the cooking time, temperature etc. would not vary. All worked, but I like the parchment paper for easiest removal.SONY DSC

After I piped the white macarons, I added red food coloring to the rest of the batter and gently folded it in.SONY DSC

The red macaron batter was the same batter as the white but the red food coloring and extra manipulation made the batter slightly thinner. The thinner batter actually made a more perfect macron. I tried paste food coloring but it was difficult to stir into the batter without deflating the egg whites. I made liquid food coloring out of paste by adding a little of paste to 1 teaspoon of boiling water. SONY DSC

A look at the bottom of the macarons baked on the different surfaces. Not much difference. Notice the air bubble in the macaron on the left. The air bubbles stayed in the thicker batter even after I tapped the baking sheet on the counter. The viscosity would not allow the air bubble to rise to the surface and dissipate. I did not have a problem with air bubbles in the pink batter which was thinner.SONY DSC

The height of the macarons is noticeably different. The pink macarons had food coloring and increased stirring to make them uniform in color which made the batter thinner and they spread more when pipped.SONY DSC For the Chocolate Ganache, use a yummy tasting chocolate. Sometimes I add a  flavoring which can be stirred in at the end. SONY DSC

I heat 2 tablespoons of whipping cream in the microwave for 20 seconds or until steaming hot.  It will heat faster in a small dish than if you use a big bowl.  2 tablespoons of cream in a big bowl might take twice as long. If using light cream or milk, decrease the amount since they will thin the chocolate more.SONY DSC

The chocolate pieces are melting from just sitting in the hot cream. Stir until completely melted.SONY DSC

Smooth as silk chocolate ganache.SONY DSC

It is quick and easy to spread the ganache on the shells. Other popular fillings are jam, buttercream, salted caramel or flavored frostings.

The food science of macarons:

1. Egg whites do achieve a better volume if they are at room temperature. Warm the egg in your hand or water if you forgot to take them out a few minutes early.

2. “Do I have to weigh the ingredients? ” Andria asked.  I don’t and have never had a problem. I do use large eggs and measure accruately.  The humidity in the air makes a bigger difference than the precision of the measurements. I always make meringue, macarons or divinity on a dry, sunny day.

3. Egg whites need a mixer with a metal bowl for the best volume. (Andria is an engineer for Whirlpool who makes Kitchenaid Mixers so she will love that one). A bullet, a blender or a food processor won’t work.  Also, the oils left behind on plastic bowls prevent the egg white from beating up to full volume. Beating them by hand takes a lot of muscle, having help is essential to share the beating.

4. Andria asked, “Do I have to sift the powdered sugar and almond flour (almond meal).” I knew she didn’t have a sifter so I tested this one and the macarons came out just as well if I sifted, ran the mixture through the food processor to combine or just stirred the sugar and almond flour well with a spoon before folding into the egg whites.

5. “Do I have to use a silipat mat?” I knew she didn’t have one of these in her kitchen either so I tested it.  My preference is to use parchment paper. Silipat mats work but the sometimes the macarons did not release as well. The old fashioned method of baking right on a baking sheet works too but the hot baking sheet needs to be placed on a wet dish towel to create steam that allows the macrons to lift off the baking sheet. With this last method,  the macarons have to be removed from the baking sheet while still warm but if they are too hot they have a tendency to fall apart.

6. “Do I need to tap the baking sheet against the counter?” It does help burst the air bubbles but the macarons will still taste wonderful.  A thinner batter will not have as much of a problem with the air bubbles and you might not even need to tap the pan.

7. “Do I have to let them sit for an hour before baking?” Technically they will form nice little caps if you let them sit but humidity and the thickness of the batter are even more important. Thin batter needs to dry slightly so the hour of resting before baking improves the macarons.  A thick, drier batter sets up perfectly and really does quite well when the 1 hour resting time is eliminated.

8. Some recipes say macarons taste better the next day and my experiments showed that they definitely are just as good the next day when filled with chocolate ganache.  Some fruit fillings with lots of moisture can change the texture slightly when stored overnight.

 

 

Macrons

2 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup almond meal (also labeled as almond flour)

Beat egg whites and sugar until stiff peaks, add almond extract and beat for about 10 seconds later.  Mix powdered sugar and almond meal together (or sift or mix in food processor to combine well) and gently fold with egg whites until no longer any dry ingredients. Add food coloring if desired.

Pipe onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Let stand about an hour. Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes.  Let cool 2 to 3 minutes and remove from pan.  Fill with Chocolate Ganache.

Chcolate Ganache

2 tablespoons cream
1/2 cup (4 ozs) good quality chocolate

Heat cream in a small glass cup in Microwave  for 20 seconds until steaming hot. Pour over chocolate and stir until smooth. Spread between macarons.

 

 

Mini Desserts

20141203_Christmas party 2014_9999_4It was such a fun Christmas party and the Mini Desserts were a hit. We made Carrot Cake, Coconut Cream Pie, Rocky Road Brownies, Cherry Cheesecake and Raspberry Shortcake using cubes of Angel Food Cake.

Here are all the luscious desserts.

20141203_Christmas party 2014_9999_12-002And here is our Mom’s Prayer group at our Progressive Dinner Christmas Party.

Mini Desserts

Cake
Frosting
Whipped Cream
Pecans
Cheesecake and other favorite fillings

Layer the cake or a crust in the bottom of a small glass. Fill with layers of chocolate, frosting, or cheesecake. Garnish with whipped cream, coconut and pecans.

Turkey and Pie are nice but what I am truely Thankful for are those things that only God can give us.

I think of the homeless, those in poverty and those without family and pray Jesus’ love and hope for them. I remember that feeling from when I was 8.  My mom was a single mom with 6 kids. She worked hard during the day and went to school in hopes of getting a better job. Our house burned in April and we lost just about everything. But then in November when my mom died, my world was turned upside down and I really felt like I had lost everything. It was the day that life changed forever for me. I remember swinging on a playground and wondering where an 8 year old could turn. It was a small, still voice that reminded me that my hope is in Jesus. I needed that reminder that day and many times since. Our circumstances can change for the better or the worse but no one can take away what God has planned for each of us. Everything I am truely thankful for are gifts from God and I try to treasure each blessing he sends our way, no matter how small. Thanksgiving is a time to remind ourselves to be thankful no matter what our circumstances because our hope is in Christ.

My mom was wonderful. She was full of love and fun and lots of crazy ideas. Baking smells would fill our kitchen. We had all kinds of root vegetables from the garden. The recipe is as simple as cubing squash, rutabaga, parsnips and sweet onions. Saute it all in cast iron skillet until lightly browned, tossing with a dash of olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh rosemary and thyme. Serve over pasta, rice or let it stand on its own as a side dish.

SONY DSCDown on the Farm Butternut Squash

1 lb. butternut squash, cubed
1 lb. onions, coarsely chopped
1 lb. rutabaga, cubed
2 tablespoons fresh thyme and rosemary, minced
2 tablespoons walnut oil or other favorite oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Toss squash, onions, rutabaga, herbs, oil, syrup, salt and pepper until vegetables are lightly coated.  Spread over a foil covered pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until tender, turning twice during cooking.  Serve warm as a side dish. Macy’s also serves vegetables prepared like this cold on their salad bar, so make enough for your salad tomorrow.

Roasted Root Vegetables with Crystallized Ginger

        I make lots of different combinations of roasted vegetables, but they often follow my golden formula: roasted vegetables = root vegetables + olive oil + herbs + sea salt (usually topped off by a variation of a balsamic vinaigrette, my favorite).  Here I roasted beets, carrots, brussel sprouts and sweet onions  for dinner for a group of guys working on a late night bid at my husband’s office.  The next day I used the left over roasted beets, sliced thin in a salad.  A sprinkle of Raspberry vinaigrette made with walnut oil and a few shavings of hard cheese was perfect.
            Fresh sage goes well with roasted root vegetables such as beets, brussel  sprouts and carrots. Other vegetables like rutebaga, turnips, green beans and butternut squash can be roasted too. Toss vegetables with a sprinkling of olive oil and crystallized ginger.

raw ginger cropped

Peel and slice fresh ginger. Place the slices on a paper towel to remove some of the moisture.

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Ginger takes several hours to dry. A rack with a bowl under it is nice to catch the drips.

Ginger crystalsBeautiful crystals ready to be used as they are or pulverize and sprinkle over the roasted vegetables.

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Sage or ginger are great to season roasted beets. I served these roasted vegetables with grilled chicken breasts and smashed potatoes (watch for my next post for smashed potatoes. They were awesome.)

Roasted Vegetables with Crystallized Ginger

8 cups cut up vegetables
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Sprinkling of sea salt
1 teaspoon crystallized ginger (see recipe on this blog)

Place vegetables on a foil-lined tray. Toss with olive oil and salt. Roast in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 1 hour, turning several times during cooking if vegetables are getting too brown.  Serve with a sprinkling of crystallized ginger or 1 teaspoon of fresh sage.

 

Pumpkin Cake with Caramel Sauce and Black Walnuts

A four-layer cake might sound a little intimidating, but this one goes together really quick.  A luscious filling of pumpkin and cream cheese is smoothed between the layers and a caramel sauce is drizzled over the top.   Black walnuts are easy to spot in the woods. They have a huge greenish black husk surrounding the nut that when removed, reveals a black shell. Cracking the shell and picking out the meat of the black walnut is work but the flavor they add to baked goods is well worth the work. Black walnuts are a delicious way to add a special flavor to Pumpkin Cake but pecans or English walnuts which are easier to find in stores can also be used.

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I call this a “pumpkin” cake but I actually used this winter squash that has deep orange flesh and a bumpy green exterior. Most winter squash can be used interchangeably with pumpkins and are often sweeter and less watery.

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Each baked layer of pumpkin cake is sliced in half and filled with a mixture of whipped cream, pumpkin, spices and cream cheese.

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Leave the last layer plain. This is where the black walnuts and caramel topping are drizzled on the top and over the sides of the cake.

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This cake might look like it has to be eaten right away, but I saved it for our church Pot-Luck and it was just as beautiful as this picture the next day. The filling in the cake keeps it moist and the pumpkin flavor is even better the second day.

Pumpkin Cake With Caramel Sauce and Black Walnuts

2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup fresh or canned pumpkin

1 recipe of filling

1 recipe of caramel sauce

1/2 cup toasted black walnuts

Combine sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla in mixing bowl; beat until combined.  Add remaining ingredients and beat until well mixed.  Divide batter between  two 9-inch cake pans that have been sprayed with non-stick coating.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.

Let cool about 5 minutes. Remove cake from pans. Cut each layer into two layers. When completely cool, spread filling over a cake layer and place another cake layer on top. Repeat with remaining layers and filling. Do not spread filling over top layer of cake. Sprinkle toasted nuts over top of cake. Spoon caramel topping over nuts and allow to drizzle over the sides.

Filling:

1/3 cup fresh or canned pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 package (8 ozs) cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar

Mix pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla  in mixing bowl until soft and well mixed. Fold in whipped cream until fluffy and smooth. Spread over each layer of cake as directed in the cake recipe above.

Caramel Topping:

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup light cream
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all topping ingredients in a 4-cup measure. Microwave on high for 3 to 4 minutes or until mixture boils and thickens slightly, stirring two or three times.

Pumpkin Puree from fresh Squash or Pumpkin

Prick a 3 to 4 pound pumpkin or other winter squash with a sharp knife, making sure it goes at least 1/2-inch deep into the pumpkin. Place pumpkin on a paper towel and place in microwave. Microwave on high for 18 to 21 minutes or until it yields to finger pressure (6 to 7 minutes a pound for larger or smaller pumpkins). Allow to cool and cut open.  Remove seeds and scoop out puree for use in pumpkin cake or other recipes calling for pumpkin.

Toasted Black Walnuts

Combine 1/2 cup black walnuts or other nuts in a small microwave-safe dish. Add 1/2 teaspoon olive oil. Microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes or until nuts are lightly toasted, stirring twice. Let stand until cool enough to handle. Use as directed in recipe.

Seafood Stuffed Artichoke Hearts

I traveled the United States this summer visiting Farmer’s Markets all along the way. You might guess I have an obsession with Farmer’s Markets.  Big ones, little ones, tiny ones and all the others. But,  my favorites were the smallest, most remote farmer’s markets tucked back in the mountain valleys. The farmer’s market in a little town close to me has two or three card tables and I love it. One of the vendors introduced me to her mom as “my most enthusiastic customer”.  I also love the huge city farmer’s markets like the Mill City Museum market in downtown Minneapolis and of course the Pike Place Market in Seattle, but the  little ones with a few card tables of artisanal produce have my heart.

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Wild mushrooms come in more shapes and colors than I ever imagined.

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And berries come in luscious flavors, all natural and just picked that morning.

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Beautiful breads of every shape and made from all different types of grains.

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Tasting these and talking to the bee-keeper gave me a wonderful education in understanding the art of honey-making.

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These artichokes were being sold right along the road as I drove down the Washington coast. Talk about fresh produce!! It doesn’t get much better than that?

Artichokes Stuffed with Mushrooms and Buckwheat

4 whole artichokes
1 cup sliced mushrooms, a mixture of varieties works well
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 clove garlic,minced
1 teaspoon oregano leaves
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup lump crabmeat
1/4 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
Salt and Pepper

Trim artichokes by cutting off the top 1-inch of each artichoke with a serrated knife. Also trim the stem and about 1-inch of every artichoke leaf. Rub the cut leaves with a lemon wedge. Scoop out the fuzzy choke from the center of each artichoke, removing the purple leaves with it.

 

Place artichokes in a microwave- safe 8 x 8-inch dish. Add 1/4 cup water. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap.  Microwave on high for 10 to 12 minutes or until artichokes are tender and a leaf can be easily pulled. Drain water.

To Make Stuffing:

Combine mushrooms, butter and garlic. Microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Stir in remaining ingredients.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons of stuffing into the center of each artichoke and  place about 1 teaspoon of stuffing between each leaf. Microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes or until heated through.

 

 

The Farmer’s Market Bars

Take all my favorite foods and put them into a bar and is it any surprise that my new favorite food is this Lara Bar look-a-like? I have not ever actually tasted a Lara Bar since I refuse to buy a purchased granola bars but I did taste a wonderful granola bar at a farmer’s market in a rural mountain community in Oregon. They told me it was like a Lara Bar, so I think my bars must be like one too. Anyhow, they were so wonderful that I memorized the ingredient list (not very difficult since it included all my favorite foods) and made it as soon as I flew the 1000 miles to my little kitchen where it took me about 10 minutes to make a super-fabulous bar from super fabulous ingredients.

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All those super-fabulous ingredients go straight into my food processor for about 30 seconds.

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I cooked the mixture for a couple of minutes and spread it out on parchment paper and formed a big rectangle so bars were super quick to cut.

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All the chewy goodness of macadamia nuts, coconut and dried fruit make these waaay better than any of those granola bars that I never buy. And that is exactly why I never buy them.

The Farmer’s Market Bars

1 cup dates
1/2 cup dried mango or apricots
1/2 cup whole almonds, macadamia nuts or pepitas
1/2 cup flaked coconut
2 tablespoons ground flax
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons honey
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
Optional ingredients:
1/2 cup dried aronia berries, dried cranberries or dried cherries

Combine all ingredients except  crystallized ginger and dried berries in a food processor. Process about 30 seconds or until chopped and well mixed. Microwave on High for 3 to 3 1/2 minutes or until hot and steamy, stirring twice. Stir in ginger and dried berries. Spoon onto parchment paper and shape into a square. Cool a minute or two and cut into bars. Let cool completely before wrapping.

Making Pickled Banana Peppers at Gracie’s

The best ever banana pickles have to be those from your own garden.  And the best ever day of canning is when it is done with a friend. Gracie and I took an afternoon to do just that. Some canning takes lots of long, hot work or time consuming, tedious preparation  and cleaning. Banana Peppers are nearly ready while still on the vine. Banana pepper are typically used for pickling while still yellow-green. If left in the garden to mature, they will turn orange and then red. The red peppers are great to dry by tying with a string and hanging in the kitchen until ready to use. The crisp, immature peppers are perfect for making rings of peppers for sub sandwiches, and salads.

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A bowl of unblemished peppers shinning in the morning sun. It is always a good idea to pick, prepare and process produce all on the same day.  The produce will be crispier and more flavorful once canned. One nice thing about peppers is that they are easy to grow in just about every part of the country. They are usually free of pests so can be grown organically with very little effort.

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Slice the peppers into beautiful little rings. The seeds can be included in the jar for more flavor. Sterilize the jars and lids by boiling in water.  Then you are ready to fill the jars. I pack the jars by hand, filling the jars as full as possible.

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Wipe the rims of the jars with a towel to make sure they are clean, dry and free of any pickling residue.

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Pull the hot lids from the boiling water and place on each jar.

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The rings are hand tightened. Turn the lids 1/2 turn past the point you first feel resistance. This assures that the rings are tight enough to form a seal, but can still be easily removed when cool.

Pickled Banana Peppers

2 lbs. yellow banana peppers
3 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
4 cloves garlic

Stem and slice peppers. Combine vinegar,  water, salt and sugar in a 2-quart glass measure. Microwave for 10 to 12 minutes or until boiling, stirring twice. Pack peppers into hot sterilized jars. Pour vinegar mixture over pepper rings, leaving ½-inch head space. Add 1 clove of garlic to each jar.  Remove any air bubbles by running a utensil inside each jar. Wipe rim of jars and place hot lids and rings on  jars. Hand tighten rings and place in a boiling water bath. Process for 10 minutes, making sure that water is at least 1-inch above jars. Allow to cool, undisturbed for 24 hours. Store up to 1 year.

Makes 4 pints

 

Prickly Pear Cactus at Your Local Farmer’s Market?

I have traveled across the United States visiting Farmers Markets this summer, and they all have such wonderful regional specialties.  I really enjoy the produce that is unique to each area,  such as prickly pear cactus. It is a delicacy found at most of the large city markets.  I thought it grew only in more arid parts of the country until my father-in-law showed me a huge patch he planted in his Minnesota yard several years ago. It has gone crazy and taken over the space, so  it might be best to keep it contained if you decide to plant it. He said that a friend had given him three little “starts” from his own Minnesota prickly pear patch.prickly pear cactus growing in Minnesota

Prickly pear cactus blooms in the spring and can be picked and served in a wonderful fresh salad called Napolito.

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You might want to wear heavy gloves when dealing with the prickly pear.  Remove the blooms by pulling them off and be sure to get all the “prickles” off by using a vegetable peeler.IMG_0787 (3)

 

Tomatoes, cucumbers, and other seasonal produce combine for a really unique salad.

Napolito Salad

4 medium prickly pear cactus leaves
1/4 cup water
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup diced tomato
1/2 cup diced cucumber
½ green pepper, chopped
½ cup diced yellow bell pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh green onion
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup vinegar
¼ teaspoon fresh snipped thyme
1/8 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Clean, remove stickers, and slice the cactus leaves into 1/8 inch x 1 inch strips.

Microwave the cactus strips and water on high for 6 to 8 minutes or until tender but still crisp. Drain and cool. Combine cilantro, parsley, tomato, green pepper, yellow pepper, and green onion in a serving dish. Combine remaining ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake until mixed and pour over salad ingredients. Serve garnished with the extra cilantro.