How to Build a Cheese Board

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I love a good cheese board. A perfect meal to me is a simple as a nice glass of wine and a bunch of different cheeses. A gorgeous cheeseboard is also a great centerpiece for entertaining because it allows guests to customize their own appetizer. People often ask me how to build a cheese board so I thought I will share my go to tips on how to build the perfect cheese board.

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-An easy way to start building a cheese board is by starting with a goat, cow and sheep’s cheese.

-I also like to vary texture by choosing a soft, hard and creamy cheese and if there are a lot of people sharing the cheeseboard, I will also serve a blue cheese.

-When shopping for the cheese, I estimate 1 – 2 oz of cheese per person.

-Don’t just put cheese on the board – add flavor and color by serving things like almonds, candied walnuts, honey, quince paste, slices of fresh fruit, cured meats and olives along with the cheese. I also like to serve with different crostini, crackers and sliced vegetables.

-Make sure to let the cheese sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving, this will allow the flavors of the cheese to shine through.

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Enjoy!

Honey Roasted Figs

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The recipes I am cooking these days are simple and easy. Mostly because summer produce is in full swing and less is more when you have ripe, juicy, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. One of the most seasonal fruits are figs. Figs don’t travel well and are best eaten within a couple days of being picked. I had some extra figs floating around my kitchen so I decided to roast them with honey and top some vanilla ice cream with these delicious warm treats.

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Whenever I have a fruit or vegetable I can’t eat before it is past its prime, I either pickle them or roast them. Since pickled figs didn’t sound too appealing, I decided to roast my left over figs with honey – the result is a deliciously warm caramelized treat that goes perfectly with ice cream. Come to think of it, these honey roasted figs would also go well in a breakfast bowl with greek yogurt, granola and some toasted walnuts.

If you can’t get your hands on figs, feel free to swap any seasonal ripe fruit. I love roasted strawberries and roasted peaches.

Enjoy!

Honey Roasted Figs
  • 1 pint ripe figs, cut in half and stems removed
  • 2 Tbs. canola oil (or any flavorless oil)
  • ¼ cup honey
  • vanilla ice cream, pistachios and mint

Pre-heat oven to 400F.

In a large bowl, toss figs halves with canola oil. Place figs on a baking sheet. Drizzle honey over figs and place in oven. Roast figs for 10 -15 minutes or until figs are caramelized and slightly wilted.

Serve with ice cream, chopped pistachios and mint.

http://www.alifewelllivedblog.com/2015/07/23/honey-roasted-figs/

S’mores Ice Cream Sandwiches

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The taste of s’mores is quintessentially summer. Melted chocolate, gooey marshmallows and crisp graham crackers just screams summer, right? It is amazing that something so simple can be so delicious. I think it is part nostalgia( I am pretty sure I have eaten s’mores every summer my entire life) and part perfect flavor combination. Although s’mores are nearly perfect as is, I am kicking it up a notch just in time for 4th of July by adding in vanilla ice cream and taking this summertime treat to a whole new delicious level.

When I think of summertime food I first think of ice cream. Cool and creamy ice cream. My next thought then goes to s’mores and memories of eating s’mores around a fire. By combining the two I created the ultimate summer treat.

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The recipe below calls for making homemade ice cream. Feel free to skip that part and use your favorite store-bought ice cream and soften it before “smushing” (yes that is a technical term) it between the graham crackers. I froze my ice cream in a square shaped pan then cut it and placed it between the graham crackers. But a scoop of ice cream straight from the container works just as well.

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The best way to get melted marshmallows indoors is to carefully place them under an oven broiler for a minute or two on a parchment lined sheet tray. Warning they get pretty sticky when you do this, but when are melted marshmallows not sticky?

Have a great long holiday weekend.

Enjoy!

S’mores Ice Cream Sandwiches
  • 1 ¼ cups heavy cream
  • 1 ¼ cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • A pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 18 graham crackers
  • 9 large marshmallows
  • 6 oz semi sweet chocolate, chopped

In a medium sized saucepan combine, heavy cream, whole milk, pinch of kosher salt and vanilla bean. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes.

In a large bowl combine egg yolks and sugar. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup warm cream mixture. Whisk cream/yolk mixture into the saucepan with the remaining cream mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, 2-3 minutes and the mixture has turned into a silky custard. Strain the custard into a medium bowl and refrigerate until cold. Process custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

Freeze ice cream overnight. When ready to assemble the sandwiches, place marshmallows on a parchment lined sheet tray. Place tray under the broiler and toast marshmallows for about 1 minute or until they have begun to melt and have started to brown.

Place a scoop (or square) of ice cream on one graham cracker square. Top with a melted marshmallow and one graham cracker square. Repeat with remaining ice cream, graham crackers and marshmallows. Freeze for 30 minutes. While sandwiches are freezing, melt chocolate in a double boiler or a microwave. Remove ice cream sandwiches from freezer and dip half of the sandwiches in the melted chocolate. Repeat with remaining sandwiches. Freeze on a parchment lined sheet tray for another 15 to 20 minutes. .

Makes 9 ice cream sandwiches.

http://www.alifewelllivedblog.com/2015/07/01/smores-ice-cream-sandwiches/

New York Weekend

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I feel like I have been a little absent from these parts recently. If you ever need to find me, head on over to Instagram to get the latest. The summer has been off to a great start so far but I can’t believe it is already the end of June. Where did June go? Part of it was gobbled up by a whirlwind trip to New York. It was a quick 4 day trip filled with eating, drinking and some serious East Coast summer sunshine and heat. Here are highlights from the trip.

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– Lots and lots of food was eaten, including a pilgrimage to Baby Cakes, Big Gay Ice Cream and Lady M Cakes (where my love of crepe cakes started)

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– I checked out the new downtown Whitney (which was stunning I loved their Upper East Side Space, but I have to say the new downtown space is pretty great as well. It is definitely worth checking out) and had lunch at their cafe, Untitled which was gorgeous and delicious. (I had this kale and chicken two-way salad that might have been the best dish of the trip! It had rotisserie chicken AND fried chicken in it)

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– I ate dinner at the much talked about Marta restaurant in the Martha Washington Hotel. All the food is cooked over an open flame or in a wood fire pizza oven. It was delicious.

– I caught a Broadway show, hit up the Metropolitan Museum of Art and went down to the 9/11 Memorial.

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After a packed two days in the city, we hoped on a train to Long Island. The time spent out there was a little slower pace than the NYC pace but just as fun. I miss East Coast summers, especially since the San Francisco fog has been blanketing the Bay Area this summer, and being out there I definitely got my fill.

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It was a whirlwind trip. I always love visiting NY, especially in the summer. I might go so far as to say that being there in the summer makes me want to move back. But then I think about the very cold winter and what I wimp I have become living in California and my mind is quickly changed. So bi-annual trips to NY are going to have to work.

Summer Panzanella Salad

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The title of this recipe is a little misleading. When I think of a salad I think of lots of leafy greens and vegetables, right? Well this salad doesn’t have either of those ingredients but I promise it is the most delicious salad you will ever eat. Seriously. How could it not be with crispy breadcrumbs, fresh fruit and burrata cheese?

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A panzanella salad is just a fancy word for bread salad. It is a great use of older bread and is delicious when paired with fresh fruits or vegetables, mint and of course some creamy cheese. I like to use fresh summertime fruit in this salad because it is an unexpected pairing. The sweetness from the fruit pairs well with the fresh herbs, the savory shaved red onion, the creamy burrata cheese and the tangy red wine vinegar in the salad dressing. When combined, the bread gets a little soggy and crunchy all at the same time. Heavenly.

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If you don’t have stale bread laying around cut up a fresh loaf and toast it a couple minutes before combining it with the salad

I use apricots, cherries and peaches in this salad but feel free to use whatever fresh in-season fruit you can find.

Head on over to my column on Sacramento Street for the recipe. 

Banana Pudding

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I lived in New York City right when the cupcake craze began. The time where Magnolia Bakery was the queen of all cupcakes and people stood in lines that wrapped around the block in order to get their hands on a cupcake. Don’t get me wrong, Magnolia cupcakes are delicious (especially that frosting) but I was standing in that loooong line just to get their banana pudding. Layers of creamy vanilla pudding mixed with bananas and Nila wafers  – it is close to being the perfect dessert. Since I live a long way from Magnolia bakery these days and only get to NY a couple times of year, I have developed my own recipe for this nostalgic dessert that (dare I say) might just be better than the real thing.

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The key to this banana pudding is the Nila wafers. Don’t get imitation vanilla wafers, make sure to get the Nabisco Nila Wafers. I tried it once with the Whole Foods 365 brand of vanilla wafers and it was a little off. There is something in the original Nila wafers that screams banana pudding. The smell, the texture and the taste of those vanilla wafers are what makes this dessert. This is also one of the few desserts that actually get better as it sits. The wafers get all soggy and infused with the banana and pudding flavors. Delicious. I could eat it straight out of the bowl in heaping spoonfuls.

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The below recipe calls for making your own pudding from scratch. But if that is not your jam, then feel free to buy instant pudding and use that instead. One box should be all you need.

Enjoy!

Banana Wafer Pudding
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split in half and seeds removed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • Approximately ½ box Nila Wafers
  • 2 ripe bananas, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup salted caramel (optional)

Make pudding:

In a medium saucepan, add the milk. Place the vanilla bean on a work surface. Using a small, sharp knife, cut the bean in half lengthwise. Using the knife tip, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean, then add the seeds and bean halves to the milk. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain and discard vanilla bean.

In a medium size bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk in ½ cup warm milk mixture into the egg mixture. Once the bottom of the bowl is warm, slowly whisk in the remaining warm milk. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and whisk constantly over medium-low heat until it thickens and becomes a pudding texture, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the pudding back to the bowl and whisk in butter. Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for 4 hours or until pudding is cool.

Assemble dish:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Fold in ¾ of whipped cream into pudding. Set aside remaining whipped cream.

In a large bowl or trifle dish, assemble the banana pudding by adding a layer of Nila wafers, followed by ¼ of pudding mixture. Top pudding mixture with a layer of banana slices and a drizzle of salted caramel (if using). Repeat layers 3 more times. Top dish with one layer of Nila wafers, remaining whipped cream and garnish with crushed Nila wafers.

http://www.alifewelllivedblog.com/2015/05/28/banana-pudding/

Spring Salad with Fava Beans

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Spring has officially sprung and I can’t help myself from eating all of the vegetables I missed during the colder months, especially fava beans. Fava beans or broad beans are super seasonal vegetables that arrive in April and are usually gone by May. Because favas are a little time intensive to shuck the easiest way to eat them is to roast them in the oven (or on the grill) whole with a little olive oil for about 5 – 7 minutes until soft. But if you have the time, they are delicious and gorgeous in a light and fresh spring salad.

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The best way to shuck favas is to remove them from the pods, blanch them for a couple seconds in boiling water, plunge in ice water, then pop them out of their skins. They are time intensive but totally worth it, I promise.

In this salad I mixed the favas with some quinoa, sugar snap peas, red onion, mint and feta cheese. It is the perfect salad to welcome in the warmer weather and longer days. Plus I am sharing my all time favorite salad dressing with this recipe. The secret is in the honey and a large pinch of salt.

If you can’t find favas you can swap in English peas or even de-frosted frozen edamame.

Head on over to my column on Sacramento Street to get the recipe. 

Strawberry Mascarpone Tarts

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One of my first food memories as a kid is picking strawberries. I grew up in South Florida where strawberry and tomato farms flourished (not to mention citrus groves as well). I remember long rows of strawberry plants and racing around picking as many as possible, at the same time shoving an equal amount in my mouth. Although I haven’t been strawberry picking in a long time, I still get excited when I start to see strawberries make their appearance at my local farmer’s market. So in honor of these gorgeous berries I thought I would share one of my favorite ways to eat them, on a tart with mascarpone cheese, honey and pistachios.

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This seems to be my go-to desert, especially in the spring and summer when fruit is in season and is the perfect thing to eat when it is warm and sunny out. Any seasonal fruit would work but strawberries are always my favorite.

Another great part about this recipe is that the crust is a cinch – it is ground up pretzels with a little melted butter and brown sugar. That is all. Totally easy and totally delicious.

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So the next time you see some gorgeous strawberries at the store or local market (or even pick them yourself) serve them in this easy tart that is perfect for the warmer weather that is headed our way.

 Head on over to my column on Sacramento Street to get the recipe.