Stake Your Claim: Hand-Made Gourmet Pizza Pie Dough-At Home~!

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Who said a Pie couldn’t be savory? If you’ve got an oven, a grill and the will, then you can master a perfect thin crust pizza dough! There is a bit of a learning curve to mastering pizza dough; but don’t panic! Give this recipe a try, and if you still have issues, check your fear at the door and take my pizza class! Look for classes to begin soon in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles. In the meantime, give it a shot . . . what have you got to lose?

Hand-made Pizza dough:

2 1/4 tsps. instant dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/2 tbl. sugar
3 cups bread flour (or as needed: recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups in the mix, and the rest to be used sparingly for kneading)
2 tbls. olive oil
1 1/2 tsps. table salt

Add the water, yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup of the flour into a mixing bowl. Stir well and let sit for 20 minutes. It should bubble and rise, showing you that your yeast is well and active. Add the olive oil, salt and 2 cups of the flour; mix with a wooden spoon or preferably, a dough hook on a Kitchen Aid Mixer, until dough is together enough to turn out onto a lightly floured surface to knead (silpat mat works well here). Knead the dough for about 8-10 minutes, adding only enough flour on your hands if needed to prevent sticking, until you have a soft, elastic and slightly still sticky dough product (hence, you will not need the entire 3 cups of flour). Do not add too much flour!!!! Form the dough into a ball, and place it into a large oiled bowl. Drizzle a few drops of oil and coat the top of the dough to prevent the surface from becoming dry. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, place in a warm spot for 2 hours, until dough doubles in size. Then, punch down the dough, and divide it into 2 equal balls and place in the refrigerator wrapped in saran wrap, then into a Ziplock, overnight preferably. When ready to use, remove from the fridge, and let dough come to room temperature before using, about 15 minutes. Form pizzas by rolling the dough 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick i.e., really, really thin, on a floured piece of parchment paper; prick with a fork or dock with a pizza docker, and brush with olive oil; gently lift and place unoiled side of your pizza on your medium heated grill for about 5 minutes (just until it firms and grill marks appear on the underside). Remove the pizza, flip it over on a work surface, brush with olive oil lightly, sprinkle with salt, and you can take it from there. I smear it with fresh garlic lightly, add either red or white sauce and cheeses and toppings, and return it to the grill to continue baking, about 6-8 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and melted; don’t undercook, but watch underside for hot spots and shift pizza around on your grill for even cooking! Remove the pizza when done to an elevated baking rack, and let rest for 5 minutes to firm. Slice the pizza with a pizza cutter and enjoy! Cook’s Note: Remember that this is relatively fast cooking time; so things like pepperoni or sausages, you will want to pre-cook a little bit. Vegetables seem to work great with an al dente texture. And as for basil, add it on last, while the pizza is resting; the temperature will be hot enough to lightly wilt the basil, without cooking it into an ugly green/brown oblivion color! Cook’s Note 2: Sprinkle your finished pizza with a combination of some type of pizza sprinkle for added zest and flavor; remember, the sky’s the limit on the toppings! If you need pizza ideas, similar to what we make in class, e-mail me via the pie belle gmail, and I will respond accordingly with additional ideas and recipes.

Crockpot Creations: Tri-Tip Street Tacos “Company Style”

Street Tacos 1

Got a crockpot? Then you’ve got dinner! While I normally only use the crockpot for a few dinner creations, with the busy schedule of late it was high time for some good food slow cooked on its own for about 9 hours yesterday! I call these “Company” Tacos, because while they originally were a creation resembling the flavor of restaurant chain street taco, with a few tweaks they became good enough to serve while entertaining and it seems that all “Company” who have them, love them! A cross between a cheesy carnita and pulled beef taco, add whatever additions and toppings you like to make them your own; then use any leftover meat to make philly cheesesteak sandwiches, beef enchiladas, tri-tip pot pie, and whatever else your imagination can muster up. Retain the juice for French Onion Soup – the base is already there and you can freeze it until you need it. This is the true beauty behind being passionate about food – the choice is yours! I prefer the use of the smaller corn tortillas here, because by the time you add all the fixins you like, they turn into so much more than a “tiny” taco. They can be assembled ahead but for the cold additions, and kept warm in the oven to retain their crunch when serving to company or entertaining. See previous blog posts for recommendations/recipes for guacamole and pico de gallo; or add your own! No matter what you use this juicy, tender, melt in your mouth meat for, dinner is at your disposal and your fingertips in minutes; so let’s get c-rockin folks! *Cook’s Note: I usually serve these alongside home-made seasoned fries – awesome combination!

1 tri-tip, fat mostly trimmed
Lemon Pepper (Lawry’s, recommended), Garlic Salt, Pepper, to taste while searing meat
Lipton Onion Soup Packets, 2
One white onion, cut into thin slices
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
2 cans Beef Consumme
1 bottle Chaka’s MMM Sauce, Mild or Zesty
1 can (1/2 cup) water
Several dashes of Worcestershire sauce
Pickled Jalapenos

Corn tortillas
Guacamole
Pico de Gallo
Shredded Lettuce
Cheddar or Mexican Cheese Blend, shredded
Parmesan Cheese, grated, not shredded!

Give your crockpot a rub with a little bit of olive oil; set aside. Meanwhile, get a saute pan smoking hot; season the tri-tip with lemon pepper, garlic salt and black pepper; sear in a little bit of olive oil in the hot pan on both sides, just until a crust develops (2-3 minutes). Remove directly to the crockpot; sprinkle the tri-tip with the onion soup, add in the Chaka and consumme fluids, add in about 10 dashes of Worcestershire sauce, throw on the minced garlic and give it a stir. Place the sliced onion over the top (the tri-tip should be submerged). Cook on high for 2 hours, then on low for 7-8 more hours; beef will shred when you try to remove it with a fork. Retain a little juice for placing over the meat in the tacos; retain the rest for use as mentioned above.

Shred the beef; fry the corn tortillas just until barely stiff, drain and set aside. Stuff the tacos with plenty of cheese and beef and sprinkle a little bit of cooking fluid over it; sprinkle in some pickled jalapenos; close, and “dry” fry in a hot pan just until a little charred and cheese is oozy, melty (I typically make the taco shape, place the beef in and add cheese to both insides around the beef for that extra cheesy crust that will develop when frying); remove immediately and sprinkle on parmesan cheese. Keep warm until serving; repeat with rest of ingredients. When ready to serve, set out toppers, i.e., guacamole, pico de gallo, shredded lettuce and additional hot sauces such as Crystal, Sriracha, or other tomato or tomatillo based hot sauces. Serve with rice or beans and enjoy them in good “company”!

Hail To The Chief: Caesar Salad With Blackened Salmon & Spicy Red Chili Pepper Aioli

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Salmon Caesar

Salmon 1

Caesar salad has long been one of my favorite salads – I find myself trying them wherever I dine because they end up being virtually just a tiny bit different in flavor and texture no matter where you have them. There’s no question why; it’s all about the dressing and in this case, the topping! You will want to have this salad a few days in a row – so make plenty. If the dressing separates in the refrigerator overnight, simply re-whisk or re-blend it and it will be as good as new. As for the Cajun seasoning, try a storebought brand, or make the one here or a bump up of a little bit of both (which is what I did). Salad, or any food for that matter, is all about the presentation; use the Red Chili Aioli to add an additional level of flavor for “dipping” purposes and over the bed of Asparagus that worked so well with this salad dish. So get busy, get the ingredients, and let the art of deliciousness lead you into heavenly food discovery. Enjoy!

Spicy Aioli:

1 cup mayonnaise
Dash cayenne pepper
Dash tabasco sauce
Dash of paprika
Dash of salt and pepper
Dash of lemon juice
Several squeezes of Sriracha sauce
Dash of chili powder
1 garlic clove, pressed
Dash of water if needed for thinning

Combine and mix well; set aside.

Cajun Blackening Spice:

1 tbl. kosher salt
1 tbl. sugar
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp. granulated garlic
1 tbl. granulated onion
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. minced onions

Caesar Dressing:

4-5 tbl. extra light olive oil
1 tbl. lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/4 tsp. garlic salt or regular salt
1/4 tsp. anchovy paste
Splash of red wine vinegar
Splash of tabasco
Splash of Worcestershire sauce
2 tbls. mayonnaise (if creamier dressing desired)
Fresh cracked black pepper
Parmesan cheese if desired (2 tbl.)

2 salmon Filets (about 5 oz. each, skin off)
1-2 large heads romaine, trimmed and torn into bite sized pieces (buy the real stuff here – a much better taste factor than packaged!)
1 cup homemade croutons
1/2 – 3/4 cup cheese blend (Asiago & Parmesan) shredded
Grape or Cherry tomatoes
1 bunch of Asparagus, steamed al dente (with lemon in the steamer to keep it green!)
Green onions or chives, garnish

Place a little bit of oil in a cast iron skillet; get the skillet as hot as possible. Meanwhile, coat the salmon fillets on both sides with the Blackening spice; add to the pan and do not disturb, for roughly 6-8 minutes, flip and then sear second side undisturbed. Remove to a plate and keep warm to let the juices re-distribute; the salmon will be perfectly done, pink and moist. Assemble the salad ingredients and dressing and toss. Plate the asparagus, drizzle with some of the aioli, and add the salmon on top; garnish with green onions and extra dabs of aioli on the plate for dipping. Serve the salad on the side (or alternatively, chop the asparagus, mix into the salad, top with salmon and aioli and then garnish with green onions or chives). Yum!

Spring Forward Into Serendipity: Life Is Good – Back To Posting Tuesday!

Cherry Crostata

While I have often said to my classes and on this Blog, that Fall & Summer foods are my favorite seasons for recipe inventions, there’s also something about Spring that speaks volumes to me for the baking/cooking season with the impending availability of fresh ingredients on the heels of Summer, but also as well on a personal note. With the official “Spring has Sprung” timeline, this is my time to “clean house” so to speak and get re-energized for the rest of the coming months which culminate with the busy holiday season at year’s end. In previous posts, I have indicated that I would be more detail oriented about my move to Los Angeles; and with the addition of many new recipes and upcoming posts such as Grilled Asparagus Subs with French Dressing, Shaved Raw Asparagus Salad with Parmesan Dressing, Grilled Apricots, Burrata and Country Ham not to mention dozens of fresh fruit crisps, crumbles and pies, there will be small revelations, hints and peeks into the life I now lead. As far as the Cherry Crostata pictured above, I will be posting this recipe on Tuesday, and will be making both this and an Apple Crumb Crostata with Toffee Bacon Sauce for a friend’s event this weekend – both awesome recipes and one of my most favorite classes to teach. Watch for classes soon in the Eagle Rock area – and until then, Spring forward, re-energize, and re-claim the kitchen and let out your passion for cooking and baking; so many recipes, so little time! See you next week all! Serendipity!

Yep – It’s Delicious! Leek Mac & Cheese, That Is!

leek mac and cheese

Let’s get straight to the point . . . i.e., the title of this post, Yep – It’s Delicious! While the standard macaroni and cheese dishes call for cheddar or a mix of cheese, it’s the underestimated leek flavor and nutty manchego cheese that make this dish truly sing with flavor and uniqueness. Although I haven’t had the opportunity since my move to Los Angeles to get back into full swing in the kitchen, look out Chez Deco, because here comes the food! If you haven’t experimented with leeks yet, please do; they are truly a flavor wonder; just rinse them well to remove any grit and sand, and while we usually reserve the tough leek greens for stock, here, they are sauteed until soft and supple, and folded into the luscious macaroni and cheese. Watching calories? Make these into individual ramekins for portion control; everything in moderation, and you CAN have it all!

4 tbls. unsalted butter
1 bunch leek greens (from 1 1/2 pounds of leeks), thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbls. all purpose flour
3 cups half and half or whole milk
10 oz. manchego cheese, shredded (2 1/2 cups roughly)
1 pound elbow macaroni
Crumbled cooked pepper bacon, garnish, if desired
Fresh Parmesan cheese, sprinkled on top before baking, for extra “crunch” and wow, if desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease or spray with cooking spray the baking dish you will use (see below). Melt 2 tbls. of the butter in a large skillet; add the leeks and cook over high heat, stirring just until slightly wilted, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Cook over low heat until very tender, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tbls. of butter. Add in the flour and cook over moderate heat, whisking for 2 minutes (you are making a white sauce); add in the half and half and bring to a boil, whisking constantly until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; add 2 cups of the cheese, season with salt and pepper again, and whisk the cheese sauce until it has melted. In a large saucepan of salted, boiling water, cook the macaroni until nearly al dente. Drain well; add the macaroni and the cheese sauce to the leek greens and stir until combined. Transfer the macaroni to an 8 by 11 inch baking dish or individual ramekins; sprinkle on the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Bake about 40 minutes, until bubbly. Turn the broiler on and broil the mac and cheese until golden on top, about 3 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving, with garnishes of choice! *I highly recommend pepper bacon crumbles!

Some Like It Hot: Grilled Lemon Rosemary Chicken & Balsamic Mushrooms

lemon chicken

Chicken . . . it’s what’s for dinner tonight! Move your old, boring, run of the mill chicken dishes over, and fire up your grill for a taste of something fresh, new, and completely awesome . . . this grilled Lemon Rosemary Chicken. It is a lemony, light, fresh tasting chicken wonder, complimented with earthy fresh Rosemary, which can stand alone on its own, but is best served with the Sauteed Balsamic Mushrooms all over the top and the delectable sauce they provide! Got a side of asparagus around? Then you’re set; there’s something about the flavor combination that just works here. If you really want to kick up the heat, an additional side of mashed potatoes or garlic and butter angel hair pasta are awesome also. And the movie? Who doesn’t like Marilyln Monroe? Perfect summer evening movie night, watching a great old film while dining on this great meal! Be sure to grill your chicken at nearly room temperature for the best result, and then let it rest while the juices redistribute back into that flavorful meat. This chicken makes a great salad topper sliced into strips with the addition of the mushrooms and blue cheese crumbles, or next day “chicken sandwich” – either with melted swiss or white cheddar and a scoop of those mushrooms . . . plus a smear of garlic mayonnaise and a huge slice of red onion . . . got your mouth watering yet? Make extra if that is your intention, and feast away, and enjoy the show!

3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, slightly pounded
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup extgra light or virgin olive oil
2 tbls. Emeril’s Original Essence Spice
1/4 tsp. crushed fresh Rosemary
1-2 cloves of Garlic, whole or crushed
Freshly cracked black pepper, for use while grilling
Dash of garlic salt, for use while grilling
Fresh Rosemary sprigs for garnish
Chives for garnish

Sauteed Balsamic Mushrooms:
3 tbls. unsalted butter
3 tbl. minced shallots
1 tsp. crushed garlic
1 lb. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced into medium thickness (your choice here, white, button, or baby bellas work well)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt, dash of black pepper
1/4 cup of good balsamic vinegar

Clean chicken and dry completely; lightly pound out to flatten breasts a bit. Mix marinade ingredients – lemon juice, olive oil, essence, garlic and rosemary; pour into a Ziploc and marinate all day or at a minimum, 4-5 hours. Grill chicken, discarding marinade, with a dash of garlic salt and black pepper, about 20 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts, turning every 5-7 minutes; remove from grill, tent with foil, and let juices redistribute back into the meat!
While chicken rests, saute mushrooms. Add butter to skillet over medium heat; add in shallots and garlic, stirring constantly, so garlic does not burn. Salt and pepper before adding mushrooms – adding salt to mushrooms brings out the water which we don’t want here until they are carmelized; add in mushrooms, and cook, stirring continuously. Add balsamic vinegar once mushrooms and onions and garlic are carmelized, give it a stir, and let mixture cook down until slightly thickened, about 5-8 minutes; entire mixture will carmelize, and produce a bit of saucy, concentrated, yummy juice. Re-taste and adjust seasonings to your liking, if additional salt and pepper are needed. Serve over chicken placed on a bed of mashed potatoes or asparagus, and garnish with chives and fresh rosemary sprigs. Yum!

Italian Stallion: Fresh Tomato Basil Sauce Over Pasta

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Move over canned tomato sauce, freshness is in the house tonight! With spring/summer produce fast approaching, and for that matter, so readily available nearly year-round now, why hassle with finding that perfect “canned” based sauce? Don’t get me wrong, I have a great Spaghetti Sauce made with a “canned” tomato base; however, that for me is more of a winter dish and I look forward to all the fresh flavors in this Tomato Basil Pasta – Italian Style. Feel free to add in kalamata olives, or crumble a little feta cheese over the finished product in lieu of Parmesan shavings; and it never hurts to add in some garlicky rock shrimp, grilled chicken or asparagus to the final toss – yum! Pair it up with nothing more than some hot crusty french bread for lapping up those juices in the bottom of your dish and your favorite glass of wine (or three!) and vampires beware: a whole lotta garlic is in this pasta! Enjoy!

4-6 Roma or other sweet ripe, summer tomatoes, finely chopped
8 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 – 3/4 red onion (red a must here), finely diced
6-9 leaves of fresh basil
Thin Spaghetti or Angel Hair Pasta, Cooked al dente (1/2 cup of pasta water reserved)
2-3 tbls. extra light or virgin olive oil
Kalamata olives, if desired
Kosher salt
Black Pepper
White wine, if needed (see below)
Feta crumbles, if desired
Steamed asparagus, chunked, if desired
Rock shrimp or small shrimp, sauteed in garlic and olive oil
Chives, garnish
Red Pepper flakes, garnish

Here’s the deal: Cook your pasta and set it aside, keeping it warm and reserving 1/2 cup or more of pasta water. In a separate pan, saute the onion, garlic and tomatoes in the olive oil, with generous pinches of kosher salt and pepper, and then over low heat for about 30 minutes; add in some white wine if it gets a little dry, but the tomatoes should put off enough juice (this sauce is chunky, not saucy!); you may also use some of the reserved pasta water (secret trick to creamy tasting pasta). When the onions are soft and the sauce appears to move together, add in the basil leaves and stir (you may want more basil). Spoon over the pasta, and give it a toss; use your add ins here if desired, and garnish the plate with fresh basil, chives and red pepper flakes! Give the plate a sprinkle of salt and few shakes from the pepper grinder and you are set!

Go For The Green For Your Pot Of Gold: Irish Mudslide Caramel Sauce & Irish Coffee

iRISH MUDSLIDE SAUCE

St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching, but just who was Saint Patrick? The patron saint of Ireland, remains one of Christianity’s most widely known figures. Storytelling over centuries has left many wondering, just why is it we celebrate this day with emerald green, corned beef and cabbage and Irish whiskey and spirits set to joyful Gaelic music? St. Patrick was born in Britain to wealthy parents near the end of the fourth century. He died on March 17, 460 A.D. He was once taken prisoner at a young age by a group of Irish raiders who attacked his family’s estate. He spent six years in captivity in Ireland, and escaped by foot to the Irish coast; he became ordained as a priest, and was sent back to Ireland with a mission – to convert the Irish to Christianity. He remains a powerful Irish figure, and we celebrate his life and ultimate death on March 17, with the green symbol of Ireland, the Celtic cross, and corned beef and cabbage which was widely available and used to celebrate Irish holidays. The spirits? Well who wouldn’t celebrate escaping captivity and becoming a Christian model and saint! So gather your shamrocks, kiss the Blarney Stone, and send your leprechauns on a mission to make these smooth Irish favorites to ring in your celebration right. Who knows? You just might find your proverbial pot of gold at the end of a rainbow – thanks to lucky St. Patrick!

Sauce:
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 pinch, kosher salt, to taste
1 ounce, fluid, Irish Cream Liqueur
1 ounce, fluid, Coffee Liqueur

Melt the sugar in a pot over a low to medium flame. Keep an eye on it and do not walk away! When the sugar has completely melted, remove it from the heat and add the heavy cream. The mixture will bubble up. Return to a low heat and stir vigorously until all of the lumps are gone and the sauce is a light golden brown (whisking works well). Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the salt, and coffee and Irish cream liqueurs. *A great, sweet, slightly boozy sauce, to pour over ice cream or your favorite desserts!

IRISH COFFEE

Coffee:

1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tbls. Bailey’s Irish Cream Liqueur
1/2 cup Irish Whiskey (rum can be substituted)
4 tbls. brown sugar
4 cups strong hot coffee
Splash of Cognac or Courvoisier

With an electric mixer, whip the cream and Bailey’s together until stiff; set aside.

Into each of four large coffee mugs, add 2 tbls. whiskey, 1 tbl. brown sugar, and 1 cup coffee. Top with a very generous layer of Bailey’s whipped cream. (Almost 1/3 of the cup should be whipped cream!) Garnish with green sugar sprinkles and drink away!

Throw-Back Thursday: Marvelous Savory Italian Minestrone – Make it!

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Think it’s too warm for a spring soup supper? Think again! I made a pot of this Savory Minestrone Soup yesterday; what a light and satisfying meal paired with a salad – good for the waistline, ultra pleasing to the palate but more than that, soothing for the soul! If you think that soup is all about winter comfort, step out of that box and into making this sensational, down-home satisfying soup meal. Minestrone is so versatile; take the base recipe here, and get creative with your own add-ins – i.e., beans, pasta, and other vegetables you like. Remember to layer your seasoning along the way, and the final product will be one you will be ever so happy with. Serve with a chiffonade of basil, some fresh basil leaves as well, and plenty of Parmesan cheese plus a crusty baguette and butter (or good old-fashioned crescent rolls!). So get your soup on folks, it’s a one-pot meal, and it’s yummy!

2 Containers, Beef Stock (32 oz.)
1 Can, Beef Consumme plus 1 can of water
Morton & Bassett Italian Seasoning, to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
One medium white onion, grated, juices included
1 stalk celery, diced
5-6 garlic cloves, smashed to release oils, and finely diced
1 small can petite diced tomatoes and juice
1 small can tomato sauce
1 tsp. baking soda
One package of beef stew meat, chuck roast, or new york steak, cut into small cubes (a combination works well here for flavor and tenderness)
2 carrots, cut into thin coin shapes
1 zucchini, cut into chunks
1/4 head of cabbage, shredded
1/4 cup Italian Cannelini Beans (garbanzos, red and the like work well here also)
1/4-1/2 cup Salad Macaroni noodles (or pasta of your choice, Ditalini works well also) uncooked
2 bay leaves
1-2 tablespoons of white or dark balsamic vinegar
Basil, garnish
Parmesan cheese, garnish

Base:

In a little bit of extra light olive oil, brown the cubed meat over high heat, until charred on the outside, with generous amounts of salt, pepper and Italian Seasoning (and garlic salt if desired); remove from pot and set aside. Add in a little more oil, and saute the onion and celery until lightly golden, about 2-3 minutes (when you have grated onion, it doesn’t take very long); add in garlic, and stir about 1-2 minutes more, adding in salt and pepper to taste as needed. Over high heat, add in beef stock, consumme plus one can of water, tomato sauce and diced tomatoes; bring to a boil, stirring, and add in baking soda (this will remove any acidity from the tomatoes and keep the soup from tasting bitter). Reduce heat to low-medium, and simmer the soup, adding back in the browned cubed meat and the bay leaves, for about 2-3 hours. Add in the remaining vegetables, beans and uncooked macaroni noodles, and cook for 20 minutes; remove from heat, add in the balsamic vinegar, and cover for 2 hours. When ready to serve, put back on stove on low, check for seasonings and thin/thickness (add in a bit of water if you want it thinner), and serve in a bowl garnished with basil and parmesan cheese. Don’t forget the crusty baguette for dipping!

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Mixed Media Monday: Blueberry Nectarine Crisp (And Thoughts on Pink, Wizard Of Oz, My “To Don’t List” & The Oscars)!

Pink

Happy Monday readers! The title of my post today is aptly named Mixed Media Monday, because of all of the bits and pieces of things it contains; an eclectic mix of thoughts and yes, a pie recipe of sorts, which all came to mind bright and early this sunny Los Angeles day. Let’s start out with last night’s performance by Pink, of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, during the 75th Anniversary Tribute to one of my all-time favorite movies, The Wizard Of Oz. Stunning. Not only did her vocals carry the tune with grace and expertise, but as Pink often does, she put her very own minor twist on the melody much to my liking. And the ruby slippers? Adorned in dress form in a gown equally visually stunning. You go Pink! Skipping to the rest of the Oscar show, while I only saw bits and pieces of the extravaganza, I have heard from others that although Ellen DeGeneres was her awesome and usual comic self, the rest of the show lacked in form and substance. What did you think? I may have, just saying may have, had a little too much Champagne in between Oscar viewing parties, to really know! Moving onward, I am posting a “TO DON’T” list that should and can belong to everyone who reads this post. Bottom line? If you are someone who gets decent value from making “TO DO” lists, you will also get significant returns (i.e., in productivity, improved relationships, emotional stability and heightened levels of happiness) from adding certain things to your “TO DON’T” list. Your greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding in life at all the wrong things . . . so read on through this “TO DON’T” list, and then your reward will be the scrumptious recipe for Blueberry Nectarine Crisp (which can be made with frozen nectarines since we all have cabin fever and can’t wait until spring/summer for those juicy fruits) which you can make now, or save a few months for fresh summer fruit – either way, it’s yummy; it will take you up and over the rainbow on flavor, and make you sing like a happy little bluebird. Think I still have Wizard Of Oz on the brain? You bet. Enuf said.

“TO DON’T LIST” -
1. Don’t be lazy – the world doesn’t owe you anything, you owe yourself to the world. Stop daydreaming and start DOING. Develop a backbone, not a wishbone, and replace laziness with sheer determination.
2. Don’t cower from life’s necessary challenges; we all have them, and all must deal with them!
3. Don’t just take the default path – be a voice, not an echo. Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes. Find the courage to bring your ideas and dreams to life – period.
4. Don’t wait for the perfect time – there never is one!
5. Don’t put on a mask. You can’t let people scare you. You can’t go your whole life trying to please everyone else, by being something you’re not, or someone else everyone else wants you to be.
6. Don’t hide your humanness. You are human! You will make mistakes, own them!
7. Don’t make everything seem like a chore; life is a privilege, act like it.
8. Don’t try to conquer everything in one single step. I.e., isn’t it funny how day by day nothing really changes, but when you look back, everything is different? Remember the journey of a thousand miles begins with just one single step; take it, today.
9. Don’t focus on past problems; your past was never a mistake if you learned something from it.
10. Don’t think about what could have been – chances are, if it should have been, it wouldn’t have been. But alas, there are second chances – I have proof!
11. Don’t let stupid little things get to you. Redirect the focus of how stressed you are to how blessed you are – gratitude and manners are everything.
12. Don’t try to hold on to everything. Life changes; everything is not meant to stay as is. When things aren’t adding up in your life, start subtracting!
13. Don’t neglect your present joys. If you don’t appreciate what you have now, your greatest regret will be how much you focused on the future, at the expense of every present moment in your life.
14. Don’t just take . . . give; your wealth, your time, your love, your heart.
15. Don’t wait for someone else to do something about it. Our lives begin and end the moment we silence and restrain ourselves from addressing the issues that matter. So speak up; don’t hide thoughts and feelings, especially when they can make a difference. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and twice as capable as you have ever imagined!
16. Don’t always try to be right. There are many, many roads to rightness! Pick your battles; oftentimes peace and compromise feels far better than being right.
17. Don’t judge before you actually know. Period.
18. Don’t hold on to hate.
19. Don’t place irrational conditions on your love. When you do something out of true love, you don’t count the cost; it’s unconditional.
20. Don’t neglect close friendships. Hang in, even when it’s not convenient; stay connected, and fight for them. Friends are part of the glue that holds all of our lives together.

And finally, the recipe!
DSCN7240_berry-nectarine

1 1/2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup cold, unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
4 cups fresh blueberries
4-6 fresh nectarines, peeled, pitted and sliced (or frozen, Trader Joes has them!)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup Cognac
1 tsp. vanilla
Dash of cinnamon
Squeeze of lemon

Blend flour and brown sugar with your pastry blender; cut in butter and pecans for a coarse mixture; sprinkle in pinch of salt; set aside.
Dice nectarines and combine with blueberries in a large bowl. Blend Cognac with cornstarch, vanilla, and granulated sugar until sugar dissolves. Pour over fruit; gently toss; sprinkle with cinnamon and a squeeze of lemon. Pour fruit into a greased 9 x 9 inch baking pan; top with crust/crumb topping. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven on middle rack for about 40 minutes; serve warm with Vanilla Ice Cream and Whipped cream.