The Ardent Epicure

An Ode to the Pleasures of Food

4:22 PM

Happy New Year

Posted by Magic of Spice

Happy New Year and Welcoming 2011

We wanted to wish everyone a delightful celebration to end 2010...
Whether you are celebrating with a simple farewell or as an extravagant event.
We wish you all a blessed and amazing New Year!

In addition we would like to highlight a few things here today...
The first being our entry into our friend Nancy's YBR on Spicie Foodie  pictured above,
 this recipe was chosen to celebrate one of our favorite recipes featured in 2010.
The original recipe can be found here. Stop by and check out everyones favorites :)

Stop by to see some amazing 2010 favorites on YBR, and save the link to
enter your own favorite for January 2011...

And next celebrating with another friend~ Priscilla of She's Cookin
invited me to share a Guest Post to close out 2010. If you are looking for
some wonderful treats to spruce up your celebrations or start of your
New Years morning jump over and look around...or just stop by to say hello :)

To close here I have to share something from another lovely blogger and friend
Deana of Lost Past Remembered  shared a post with us about a very touching
but disturbing issue. Her plight is to raise some awareness for a situation currently
 plaguing  Dublin, and I am sure many other areas in the world.

Have a beautiful, prosperous and endlessly joyous 2011...
From The Ardent Epicure
Adam, Grely and Alisha

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12:46 PM

What's on the side? Mini Mushroom Croustades

Posted by Magic of Spice

Mini Caramelized Mushroom Croustades
with Spiced Liqueur & Balsamic Glaze

To start off, I hope everyone had a lovely Holiday and are now looking
 forward to a wonderful New Year... I am sure that many of you may be
celebrating the end of this decade with food, loved ones and friends...
So today we will be preparing Croustade.
If you are unfamiliar, Croustade [kroo-stahd] is a French term for an edible
container, typically of pastry and then filled with savory ingredients or sweets.

I prepared these mini hors d'œuvre or appetizers over the Holidays and of
course they can be filled with a variety of  lovely ingredients. For these particular
croustades I had some organic Bunashimeji or Beach mushrooms, and decided
to caramelize them along with some shallots. And since ricotta basically makes
everything better, I have paired the two flavors together here. To top these off we
are going to make a glaze of balsamic and B&B liqueur. If you are not familiar with
this liqueur...B&B Liqueur is a delicate blend of spiced Benedictine Liqueur
 and fine French Cognac. And for a non-alcoholic version you could easily
replace the liqueur with an apple cider and still retain a similar flavor. 

What you will need:
*Note: This recipe is based on approximately 
8 mini croustades

For the glaze
1/4 cup high quality balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup B&B liqueur
Reduction pan or pan with high flared sides

For the filling
1/2 pound bunashimeji mushrooms
2-3 medium shallots
2 tablespoons butter
a splash or two of B&B liqueur
Freshly ground pepper
8 tablespoons ricotta cheese

For the pastry cups
9 sheets phyllo dough
melted butter for basting
pastry brush
mini muffin tin

Let's get cooking:

For the glaze
Place balsamic and liqueur or cider in a small reduction pan.
Bring liquid to a low boil then quickly reduce heat to low.
Continue to simmer on low until your liquid begins to have a
syrupy consistency and is reduced to about 1/4th. This should
take about 40 minutes. Note: Time for glaze will depend on both
the amount of liquid used as well as the size of pan used.
So adapt accordingly, and if using cider allow for a longer
 reduction time. And will thicken as it cools.
This can be made ahead of time and stored in a jar or
squeeze bottle and reheated in container with warm water.
This recipe should yield about 1/8th cup.

For the mushrooms and shallots
Melt butter in a medium sauté pan, then add shallots and mushrooms.
Continue to sauté over medium/high heat until shallots begin to brown.
Add a few plashes of your liqueur of sider for non-alcoholic version.
Continue to heat, stirring frequently until your liquid is reduced to thickened
sauce. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl, set aside.

For the pastry cups
Thaw phyllo dough as instructed on package.
You will want to work quickly and using three sheets at
a time. Place one sheet on a clean working surface and
brush with melted butter. Take second sheet and repeat the
process, then lay atop of first sheet. Now repeat with the
third sheet. Cut the stack into equal thirds. Now take each third
and cut in half. You can now take 2 of these halves and stack
buttered side down on top of each other...creating 8 points.

Get this look:
Taking a prepared mini muffin tin, place squares buttered side down
into muffin tin. Now add about 1 tablespoon of ricotta then equal amount of
caramelized mushrooms and shallots. Once you have filled your pastry cups
take the upper portions of your dough and squeeze together over the filling.
With culinary shears cut of excess dough above the filling.
Starting in the center fan out dough in a similar pattern a a flower blooming.
Continue this process until desired amount of pastry cups are created

Brush tops with additional butter and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven.
Bake until edges have browned, approximately 10 minutes or so.
Drizzle with glaze and serve warm ;)

Alisha~Magic of Spice

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5:35 PM

What's for Dessert - Holiday Butter Cookies

Posted by Sugar and Spice

Holiday Butter Cookies

Here are some delicious cookies that have a nice buttery almond flavor, and are coated with powdered sugar.  These cookies are perfect for Christmas, or any other time of the holiday season.

1 stick of butter
1 1/2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of almond extract
1 teaspoon of salt
3/4 cup of powdered sugar (plus enough to roll the cookies in)
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 cup of nuts (chopped)

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Mix the butter, sugar, vanilla, almond extract, and salt together.
Blend in the flour, baking powder, and the pieces of nuts.
Next, scoop out a small amount of dough, and form into balls on an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake the cookies for about 22 to 25 minutes, or until just golden brown.
Roll the cookies in powdered sugar, and allow to cool.


Posted by Sugar and Spice (Grely)

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8:25 PM

What's on the side? Individual Insalata Caprese

Posted by Magic of Spice

Individual Insalata Caprese

The Insalata Caprese is traditionally served by layering fresh ripened tomatoes,
fresh mozzarella and fresh basil leaves then dressing with high quality olive oil and
a bit of salt and pepper...Although you have more than likely seen this salad arranged
in various ways and dressed in as many. Including being served as an appetizer atop
 fresh bread or crostini. Or perhaps for your non-vegetarian guests you could serve as
 an antipasto salad by adding a bit of cubed salami and prosciutto?
 The possibilities are quite varied as are the options for serving. But for purposes
of this post we are going on the assumption that you are madly in~love
with my execution and plating :)

So we will just move on with a few words about our ingredients, and in my opinion
some important factors pertaining to this classic dish. So let us begin with the tomatoes
a very important and key ingredient...make sure that you use nice ripe tomatoes, and
avoid refrigeration as this can cause your tomatoes to become mealy. Another
factor in the choice of tomatoes is that your dressing is based off the juices of your
tomatoes and the olive oil, so the riper, the more juicy the better.

Now lets talk cheese...we are using fresh mozzarella which can be purchasable
in brine or water . This is a semi soft cheese that is traditionally served the day
 it is prepared, however packaging can add to its longevity when refrigerated.
This cheese is not aged and meant to be consumed as fresh as possible. The
texture should be wet and smooth with a soft, mild flavor. This cheese will be
of either buffalo or more commonly today, cows milk.

Next, your olive oil...this is an occasion to bring out the good stuff. As our salad
is dressed based on our juicy tomatoes with the add of olive oil, well you get the point.
For me I like the extra virgin, cold pressed and unfiltered variety.

What you will need:
4 small to medium ripened tomatoes
*Note: I used black or mahogany heirloom
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, cubed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup basil chiffonade
A handful or so of arugula, or other garnish lettuce
Sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

Get this look:
Start by carving your tomatoes into individual bowls. Making sure
to carve out over a bowl to retain juices. Now take your mozzarella ball(s)
and cut into small cubes. Add the majority of your olive oil (or to taste) to your
tomato juices, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Toss in your cubed mozzarella,
and thoroughly coat the cheese.
Fill each tomato bowl to brimming with the mozzarella.
To create your basil chiffonade, take your fresh basil leaves starting with the largest
 and stack them. Now roll them beginning at the widest end until you meet the
narrowest end. Take your roll now and slice the width with a sharp knife to
 create ribbon like slices of basil. Adorn the top of your tomatoes with your
basil chiffonade. Now you can create small nests of arugula then place
your tomatoes on top of each nest. Drizzle with additional olive oil and a bit
of cracked pepper.

Alisha~ Magic of Spice

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3:59 AM

What's for Dessert - Holiday Peppermint Cookies

Posted by Sugar and Spice

Fluffy Peppermint Cookies with Lemon Glaze

These are delicious, cake-like cookies that are great for the holidays.  Make them with the kids, or give them out as gifts for Christmas!  They use candy canes to give a minty crunch, and are dipped in a luscious lemon glaze.

3 cups of flour
1/2 box of confectioner's (powdered) sugar (about 15 ounces)
1 1/4 cups of butter
1 egg
3/4 cup of granulated white sugar
1/4 + 1/8  teaspoon of salt
1/8 cup of fresh lemon juice (about half a medium-sized lemon)
1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Approx. 1/2 cup of candy canes or hard peppermint candies, crushed finely (and a bit more to sprinkle on top if desired)


Place 1/4 cup of the butter, the powdered sugar, the lemon juice, the lemon zest, 1/8 teaspoon of salt, and the vanilla extract in a mixing bowl, and beat on medium speed for about two minutes, until the glaze is thickened and fully combined.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
If your candies are whole, crush them well, until they are in small pieces.  Larger pieces will create a poor texture in the cookies.  You can crush the candies by double bagging them in plastic, then smashing them with a hard, heavy instrument, such as a rolling pin.  This is a great place for older kids to help!
In a mixing bowl, beat the granulated sugar and  1 cup of butter together, than stir in the flour and the 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
Mix in the peppermint candy, saving enough to sprinkle on top if desired.
Roll the dough into small balls, about a tablespoon each, and place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake the cookies for eight to ten minutes, until they firm and just start to become golden on the bottom.
Allow the cookies to cool for a minute, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.
When the cookies are no longer warm, dip each in the glaze, then sprinkle with the residual candy pieces (optional).
Allow the glaze to dry before eating.


Note: personally, I enjoyed the cookies with no peppermint on top a bit better.  The candy is nice inside, but a bit too crunchy of a texture on top for my personal taste.  However, feel free to adjust it to fit your desire!

Thanks to for the original peppermint cookies recipe, altered here.

Posted by Grely (Sugar and Spice)

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8:40 PM

Organics - Why Bother?

Posted by Food Pear-ings


What is an organic product?
The term organic refers to a product that has been grown or manufactured without the use of any unnatural or synthetic materials. In a society where processed foods pumped up with chemicals has quickly become the norm, the organic market offers a refuge from the pumped-up world of things like "processed cheese product" and "potted meat food product". Organics offer us what nature provides: real food.

What foods can I find that are organic?
Today, the trend of organic foods is catching on at a quick pace. Therefore, you can find many types of products boasting the organic label.
Meat, Poultry, and Fish
Animal products that are certified organic indicate that the animals are fed only organic feed (or feed in the wild), and the use of hormones or other non-organic substances. Since no synthetic materials are entered into the animals, the end product is therefore organic and natural.
Many fruits, vegetables, grains, and other products may also be found in organic varieties. These foods have been grown without the use of synthetic additives, non-organic pesticides, and other non-agricultural products. This simply means that the plants are grown naturally, and nothing synthetic is added, resulting in natural foods.
Other Products
Many other food products may be found sold in organic varieties. From spices, to oils, to coffee and tea, to entire dishes and manufactured foods, organics are becoming popular all over the world. 
Many non-food products may also be labeled organic, indicated that no synthetic materials were used in the production of those products. For instance, organic cottonclothing, or organic soap.

How can I find organic products?
Today, organics are available in most any supermarket. While the ratio of organics to non-organics is still small, the more we buy (and thus the more popular the organic market becomes), the more we will see over time. Eventually, we may be able to live in a world where processed, synthetic foods are the minority, and people value the fresh, natural taste of organic foods.
Specialty food stores are likely to carry more organic products than your local supermarket. Either way, look for products that are labeled "organic". There are strict regulations in place in the manufacture of organic foods, as well as in the labeling of foods as organic, so organic food companies will display their organic nature with pride.
If you have trouble finding something in an organic variety, try searching online.  Most food products today can be found in organic form.

Why bother?
Organic foods promote the use of natural, safe products, and promote growing and farming without the use of harmful chemicals and additives.  Organic products are foods as nature intended.  And since organic products are made naturally, they are safe for people and the environment.  In addition, the more we purchase organic products, the larger the organics market will grow, and the more natural growing we will see; this leads to a better, cleaner Earth.
And perhaps most importantly, the strict regulations regarding organic food production create more humane standards for handling animals.  The torturous conditions often found in animal breeding and processing centers are not permitted with organic foods.  Therefore, the animals are treated in a more humane fashion.  This means no pumping cows full of steroids, no cramming hens into cages so small they can't even turn.
In addition, organic farms and processing facilities produce less waste, and consume less energy than standard systems.

Why don't we just use all organic products?
The main issue with organics is the cost.  Some organic products can be cost-prohibitive to many people, when compared with standard processed products.  The more popular organics become, however, the lower the cost becomes.  So common organic products may be closer in price to a normal supermarket product, while more rare organics (something you usually don't find as an organic) may cost much more than the standard brands.
So, you have to balance what is important to you with your budget.  However, whenever possible, I highly recommend organic products.  I think you will find that you will not only feel better about yourself by using them, but they will often also taste better too!

For more information on organics, check out the USDA Web site.

Article- Adam~Truffle Shuffle
Photos- Alisha~Magic of Spice

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Peanut Noodles with Spiced Brandied Butter 
and an Award

I decided to try a dessert made from pasta. I did an experiment
using peanut flour rather than wheat flour and created both linguine
and Nutella stuffed Ravioli...And I am entering this into the
Quickies Noodle Challenge
The Challenge
Any a noodle dish of your choice.
A main dish, side, dessert or snack. Just be inventive and show some serious food love.
They will choose the most appealing and interesting or unexpected entry to win.
And what do you win? The most amazing cookbook "Quickies Morning Noon & Night"
*See the prize and link at the end of this post :)

What you will need:

For the pasta
2 cups peanut flour
3 eggs
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
a small bowl of warm water
Pasta machine and rolling pin
Nutella for the ravioli

For the sauce
1/2 cup brandy
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons raw agave

1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1/4 teaspoon cloves, ground
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, ground

Let's get mixing:

For the pasta
On a lightly dusted wooden cutting board or work surface,
create a well in your flour. *See photo above.
Add eggs to center of your well and gently work flour into eggs.
Once your eggs and flour have incorporated you can begin to work
the dough with your hands. Continue to kneed your dough until it has become
firm and shinny, about  5 to 6 minutes. If your dough seems too dry,
add a bit of warm water. If it seems sticky, add more flour.
Set your dough aside and cover loosely with a dry cloth. Allow to rest for
 about 20 minutes. Now cut dough into 3-4 sections, working with one
section at a time and leaving remaining sections covered.
On your floured work surface, begin to shape your dough into a long rectangle.
Get it thin enough to fit to the widest setting of your pasta machine. You will
want to trim of your edges to fit to your machine. Run the rolled dough through
the machine, and repeat the process lowering the setting on the machine each time.
Continue until you have the thinness desired. For ravioli of stuffed pasta you will
want it as thin as possible.
Notes: You can set your pasta on a drying rack or over the back on a chair.
When making stuffed pasta you will want to use immediately and skip the drying step.
To prepare the stuffed pasta, cut to desired shape and brush one side of each with
warm water. Add a dollop of filling on the other cut out pasta piece. Gently lay the
damp side over the top of the sheet with filling. Press pasta sheets together being
careful not to trap any air between. Leave just about a finger width
 between filling and edges.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil, once boiling a a pinch of salt.
If making both types of pasta use  two large pots. Place pasta into boiling water.
Cook stuffed pastas until the begin to float to the surface. For other pastas for about
3 minutes to al dente depending on thickness.

For the sauce
Combine butter and agave or sugar in a sauce pan with high walls. Allow butter to melt
at a low to medium heat. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until liquid is reduced
and sauce begins to thicken.

Serve immediately... I also dipped some lovely red organic pears in
85% cocoa. With some cayenne and cocoa tinged fresh whipped cream :)
Serves 4

The Award

Now onto the award...
We revived the One Lovely Blog Award from
Michael of Me, My Food and I
Michael has a most wonderfully written site, with delicious delights
at every turn. He takes us along on his journey with food, and takes us to
London with him sometimes too :) If you have yet to meet Michael, I encourage
you to stop over and say hello. There is always something enjoyable waiting :)
We thank you so much for this honor Michael...
Adam, Grely and Alisha~ The Ardent Epicure team

As usual I am not going to supply any rules here, but will be paying forward
this award to a few other bloggers that I find to be wonderful for many reasons.
Sara of Caffe Ina
Catherine of Living the Gourmet
Christo of Chez What?
Anna of Anna's Table
Nisrine of Dinners and Dreams

Quickens Challenge Prize

Quickies Noodle Challenge
Entries are open until 12:00 am EST December 14th
Presented by Denise of Quickies on the dinner table 
and Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks

Alisha~Magic of Spice

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Christmas Bean and Wilted Greens Salad
with a White Balsamic Reduction 
and Cranberry Dressing

Left over cranberry sauce anyone? I have prepared for you a salad
using my produce from a resent Farmers' Market finds. I also had in
my possession some exquisite Christmas Lima Beans and Persimmons.
For my greenery I used my carrot top greens and  pea shoot greens,
then shredded up a few of those gorgeous Heirloom Young Carrots.
 For the dressing I made a simple balsamic reduction and added leftover
 cranberry sauce with a bit of fresh sage and ground white pepper.

*Notes on the carrot greens...Pick young and organic carrots, the more
 mature the carrots are at harvest, the more bitter of a green they will yield.
 And if they are not organic, you will most likely encounter pesticide residue
that may not be easily rinsed away. As the greens are not as commonly
consumed, the concentration of pesticides with non-organics may be
concentrated in the greens above the root vegetable.

Christmas Lima Beans...
Are these not gorgeous? I am going to make a confession here, and aside from
maybe my parents, I doubt anyone know this...I hate Lima Beans! I mean the green
ones my parents were shoving at me since I can remember.
 Hate, hate, hate them!!!
I do alright with the white version that I blend with other beans, but I usually pick
 around those as well. But these babies are a joy for me. They are not only lookers,
 as far as beans go, but they have the most wonderful creamy nutty flavor.
 I can understand just why they were granted the name Christmas Lima Beans,
 and if you have never me you will once you have tried them :)

What you will need:
(Directions for 4-5 small starter salads)
6 ounces Christmas Lima Beans (soaked overnight)
8 young carrots, reserve tops
3 handfuls pea greens or shoots
1-2 persimmons, sliced in triangle wedges
*Note: you can replace above greens with any wilting green

The dressing
4-5 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
4-5 tablespoons cranberry sauce
2-4 leaves fresh sage
White pepper to taste
Sunflower or other oil to taste, on the side

Let's get cooking:
Soak your bean over night in enough water to cover the beans plus about 2 inches.
The next day simmer your beans on the stove top, again with enough water to cover plus.
Simmer for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until desired tenderness. Note: They should be firm
and if your skins are pealing away you may be over cooking.
Now we will need to start our balsamic reduction, pour into a small sauce pan.
Reduce your vinegar until slightly thickened, about a third or less. Purée your
cranberry dressing with sage and white pepper until smooth.
Add your purée to the reduction with heat off, and mix throughly.

Get this look:
Arrange greens in a small bowl, alternating greens around the sides.
 Place warm beans in the center and top with shredded carrots.
Place triangles of persimmon  or other fruit between the greens and carrots.
Serve warm balsamic and purée ingredients in a separate bowl on the side.
Have sunflower or oil of choice available. Allow each person to add oil to dressing
 for desired individual preferred consistency.  The greens will wilt at
the point the dressing is introduced, but the initial introduction of the salad will
be at it's most pleasing visually prior to wilting :)

Alisha~Magic of Spice

This is going over to  Seasonal Saturday at la bella vita 

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