Cookie Niçoise


It’s dawned on me that we’ve not talked about anything tasty in quite sometime. Not since we tried to decide if I was a vanilla connoisseur or, hummmm, a lush. And by the way, those “vanilla to be” bottles are “fermenting” nicely thank you very much (see post Vanilla Extract or is cookie a lush)—You know you’ll want some when I make that decadent chocolate torte with my rum vanilla. But until the time that the fermentation period is complete, we must fill the void.

The other day I was privileged having a dear dear friend over for lunch. I am blessed with a wonderful close circle of good and dear friends. This particular friend means a great deal to me. She is probably the best example I know of what it means to truly “live one’s Faith.” Her’s is an honest Faith—a “suck it up and go on ’til you can go no more Faith.” She has exemplified what unconditional Love is all about and she has believed in me when I had lost all belief in myself—never allowing me to slip out of not only her grasp, but that of our Heavenly Father’s grasp. Loving me when I was loathing me.

We have known one another for many many years. And even as our paths have diverged over the years, weaving us in and out of constant contact, she is still there…always. I count it a blessing for moments, when our schedules and lives are such, that we can actually spend some real time together as I am constantly learning from her. Her Christian Faith is raw and I am fortunate to have her as a source of strength and knowledge in my life.

So on such an occasion, I always want to have something wonderful as the meal. I believe that taste and appearance are equally most important when it comes to food. I also believe strongly in the “feast and fellowship” school of thought. Communing together over good food and drink can be so cathartic to one’s very being.

This day should be no different. The weather has certainly warmed up so something light yet fulfilling–tasty and satisfying, without being overtly filling as my friend had to return to work following our little lunch. It dawned on me—one of my all time favorite meals—a salad niçoise. That most delightful amalgamation of Mediterranean taste sensations—from Provence to the Isle of Capri—everyone seems to have their own special take on this salad.

Anchovies or no anchovies, egg or no egg, tuna or shrimp, to or not to add crumbled cheese….it is a canvas just waiting for an artist to throw what he or she will at it with the end results always the same—a bite of sun and sea in one’s mouth…..

Here is how I made mine this particular day—it is up to you to mix it up for your own tastes—or for what happens to be available in the ol cupboard at the time:

One fresh Tuna steak–grilled or pan sautéed med rare (sorry but that is how fresh tuna should be prepared) When there was not tuna I opted for shrimp.

a bunch of mixed lettuce—I used a baby spring mix from my yard and some baby romaine

beets—I actually roasted my own golden beets and marinated them with white balsamic vinegar or you can choose jarred pickled beets.

sliced tomatoes or whole baby grape tomatoes

corn, cut fresh from the cob

blanched french green beans (chill after blanching)

boiled and sliced baby new potatoes tossed lightly, while still warm, with part of the vinaigrette

Kalamata olives pitted

crumbled hard boiled egg is you wish (I did not)

crumbled fresh feta or goat cheese

you may add marinated hearts of palm or artichokes if you have any on hand.

First make the vinaigrette dressing:

Mince one clove of garlic on a cutting board and sprinkle heavily with salt; using a knife, scrape garlic and salt together to form a smooth paste. Transfer paste to a bowl and whisk in 1/3 cup olive oil, a teaspoon of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar or champagne vinegar, 1 teaspoon of coarse grind dijon mustard, a minced shallot if you have one, and salt and pepper; set aside. I also chop up fresh herbs and add these to the dressing—whatever you have…basil, thyme, savory, parsley, chives……

On a pretty platter place your torn up lettuce then decoratively, or not, add the potatoes, sliced beets, chilled green beans, sliced tomatoes, olives, sprinkle with corn kernels (adds a nice sweet crunch), add slice tuna or shrimp, sprinkle with crumbled cheese, pour dressing over the entire salad and voila—–


Here’s a previous salad made for another special lunch gathering–same salad, just different additions and presentation:


Here are my beets ready for roasting (wash, cut off the tops, place in heavy aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, lemon zest, cracked pepper and salt. Roast at 400 for an hour–cool and peel–slice, dice or leave whole–toss with balsamic vinegar and refrigerate):


This makes for an easy but elegant entree for any luncheon. I served it with a fresh fruit salad, and a toasted rustic rosemary loaf of bread.

Fresh pound cake with a warm blueberry compote for desert.

Finish off with refreshing lemonade—or if possible a light and refreshing prosecco.

Happy and wonderful times to be shared deserve equally wonderful foods—Bon Appetite

Switching gears to Chocolate Cake

Okay, I suppose all of my writings for the last couple of posts, which keep making reference to the eating chocolate for breakfast and the memory of those” to die for” chocolates at Sprunglis, forced me (yes forced me) to make something chocolate yesterday. Therefore we must put aside the art, the history, the spirituality, the heavy thoughtful posts all for today and concentrate on chocolate.
(and no, I am not advocating eating Chocolate for breakfast, however on those rare occasions, it can be oh so decadent and memorable).

Being pressed for time, I couldn’t delve into something too complicated—I needed something with a little instant gratification. It was already 4 PM, almost time to concentrate on the “remains of the day”…say, like, supper and of course Teatime (that’s for another post– the importance of Teatime)… I needed something that was a “go to” success of chocolately goodness.

A chocolate pound cake –a safe, almost guarantee for success. Yes, I agree, a little boring and perhaps too safe, but enough to satiate a quick chocolate need fix. I’m not a big fan of cake, but I knew my husband would be really happy—and what’s better…chocolate AND a happy husband :), can’t get better than that!!

I found a recipe I liked, did a little “cookie” tweaking, and boy was I pleasantly surprised–WOW! This is not your typical pound cake; in fact, I wouldn’t even call this a pound cake. It’s so light, and yet fudgey tasting. The taste is richly chocolate and the texture, or crumb if you will, melted in my mouth.
Below is the original roll call of ingredients and procedure. I’ll recap my tweaks at the end.
Follow the tweaks

Chocolate Pound Cake
1 ½ cups butter, softened
3 cups white sugar
5 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules dissolved in ¼ cup hot water
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan. Mix together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the dissolved coffee and buttermilk. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes our clean. Let cool in pan for 20 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Cookie Tweaks—follow!!

–I used cake flour rather than the all purpose flour called for

–my butter was still cold so I zapped it for 30 seconds in the microwave, watch that because you do not want the butter to melt, just get soft—if it melts it can change the whole end product. Careful whenever putting butter in a microwave–it can ruin a recipe, your microwave and it’s velvety goodness. I used a cup of unsalted Plugra and half a cup of salted Plugra, cutting back on the salt to just a shake.
(Yes I know it’s on my Lenten list—I don’t use it directly but I do include it in recipes)

***–I used Hershey’s Special dark cocoa. I think this really helped to add that extra chocolate punch—if you can find it, I highly recommend it.

***–I used Espresso powder rather than regular instant coffee. This also provided a great extra kick

I put the flour in a bowl. I did not sift it. I added the cocoa, baking powder, and a shake of Real Salt sea salt fine crystals, then whisked to incorporate.

In a separate bowl, I added the sugar to the butter and used my hand held mixer verses the behemoth Kitchen Aid monster. I mixed the butter and sugar on a med- high speed for about 3 to 4 minutes then added the eggs, one at a time. I do not measure the vanilla, just splash in what looks to be the required amount—the real deal now, none of that fake crap. Next, I lowered the mixer speed to medium and added some of the dry mixture. Then added the espresso powder that was dissolved in the ¼ cup of warm water. Then I added more of the dry, half of the buttermilk, more dry, the rest of the buttermilk and then the rest of the dry mix. Turn off the mixer, get a spatula, scrape the sides, incorporating anything on the sides not mixed in–then pour it into the bundt pan that you previously sprayed with Bakers Joy!!

I cooked mine in my preheated convection oven at 325˚ for the suggested 70 minutes. I checked it at the 70 minute mark, determined it needed about 10 more minutes. I pulled it out and let it sit for about 5 minutes and turned it out on a wire rack. Once it cooled down slightly I dusted it with powdered sugar. To die for!!! Best when warm as it captures that fudgey goodness–you may serve by itself or add some ice cream (isn’t everything better with ice cream?!) or whipped cream (ditto on everything being better with whipped cream—ahhhh cream–I digress 🙂 ).
My husband ate two pieces 🙂 I hope it works for you as well as it did for me.
If you gave up chocolate for Lent, put this on the to do list for later.