The Ardent Epicure

An Ode to the Pleasures of Food

 Homemade Spinach Manicotti
 with Fresh Tomato Sauce

Ah, manicotti with homemade pasta and tomato sauce...
I mean, pasta stuffed with spiced up ricotta, then covered in garden fresh
herbed tomato sauce. This makes me happy :)

What you will need:

For the sauce
3 pounds fresh tomatoes
(I used 1 1/2 pounds mini and 1 1/2 pound medium)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large sweet onion, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup vegetable stock
1 large bunch fresh basil, leaved coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
1/2 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
1 tablespoon agave or honey
Blender and heavy stock pot

For the pasta
3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached flour
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 large eggs
1 tablespoons olive oil
(Note: I doubled this and made fettuccine as well)
Large cutting board, rolling pin, pasta machine (optional)
and extra flour for dusting

For the filling 
15 Ounces ricotta cheese
2 cups fresh mozzarella, grated
2-3 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
(for topping)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
Pinch of flake salt, or fine sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons juniper berry, dried and ground
or freshly ground pepper
1 large bunch baby spinach, leaves

Let's get cooking:

For the sauce
To start with we are going to take our tomatoes, placing them in a large stock pot
 of water. Bring water to a boil and allow to a rolling boil. Reduce heat just slightly to
 prevent an over-boil at this point. Continue to gently boil until you see the skins of your
tomatoes begin to wrinkle and peel. Remove your tomatoes and place in a large bowl
 of chilled water and cool to the touch. Meanwhile take your butter and oil and place
 in a sauté pan, heating until butter has melted. Now add your onion and garlic,
allowing them to come to a nice deep golden brown.

Once you have peeled/seeded your tomatoes your, place them in a medium to large
French/Dutch oven (or crock if cooking overnight). Now add your herbs, wine, agave,
salt and pepper. Then allow to simmer for several hours.
  Note: If using several on the smaller tomatoes like I did, you can Purée these
 with skins intact, then add to your sauce.

For the pasta
Begin by placing all of your flours and salt in the center of your cutting board.
With a fork, mix these up a bit. Then create a mound from your flour, now
create a creator by using your fist in the center of you flour mold.

Add eggs and oil to the center of your creator and gently start
to fold your flour over the eggs with the fork. Continue to do this until
just incorporated. Flour your board and hands a bit and begin to
kneed until your dough becomes stiff and stretchy. Cover with a cotton
 towel or cheese cloth. Let it sit for about 30 minutes or so.

Place your dough on a dusted flour board and kneed again 3-4 times or
until it feels workable. Taking a floured rolling pin roll out to a disk shape
and cut into 2 or 3 more workable sections. Roll these sections out into
long thin strips and cut sides to fit to the pasta machine. Starting with the
highest setting, pull through the machine. Continue to do this until you
have reached the second to last setting.Then lay out flat on a clean
surface to prepare for filling.

For the filling
Place all of your ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
Stir until mixture is completely incorporated.

Assemble your manicotti by placing 3-4 tablespoon in the center of your
prepared pasta, add a layer of fresh spinach starting at the edge and leaving an
inch or so edge. Pulling up that edge gently roll or fold until the edge meets the
other side. Leaving an additional inch, the cut away this section from your length
of pasta sheet. Tuck or fold the ends to create a tube.

Place stuffed manicotti in a lightly greased baking dish.
Cover with sauce and fresh mozzarella slices.
Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
Allow to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 6-8

Alisha~Magic of Spice

Remember to stop by and check out April's Your Best Recipe 

This is going over to Fresh, Clean and Pure Fridays 

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Ginger-Lavender & 
Spring Vegetable Soup 

As with many things you go back and forth about exactly what may be your favorite
so and so...This is the case with this soup. Each and every time I prepare this I swear
that it is indeed my favorite soup of all time, then I make another and wonder. So
what I am going to say is that this soup is high on the favorites list...very high.

Aside from the heavenly taste that each bite awards your pallet with, is the aroma
oh my, absolutely indescribable. Now I would love to take credit for something so
wondrous, but in truth only nature can provide such a wonder. I did however place
them all together to be enjoyed as a soup :)

As with all of my soups there is a tea or herbal tea base and I will share here
the components of this tea, however you may have a favorite that would work
just as well. The list here are dry herbs and flowers along with a small amount of
white tea. These ingredients are added along with our fresh lavender and candied
ginger to create our spicy yet floral notes. Trust me when I say, unless you hate
lavender or ginger...this is an absolute must experience. The ingredients will be
listed in largest quantity first, but just use a pinch or so of what pleases you most.

The herb and flower tea mixture:
hibiscus flower
chamomile flowers
apple mint
black current
licorice root
cactus flower
orange rind
white tea

Note: If cooking over a long period of time avoid green or black teas,
and only use a small amount of white. As teas can produce a highly bitter
taste if cooking is prolonged. However if you are preparing a soup with
a faster cook time you will not get the full flavors, so I suggest preparing
as a tea by steeping 5-8 minutes in a cup of water then adding shortly
 prior to your dishes completion. This recipe is cooked over a longer
piriod of time so a small amount of white tea was used.

What you will need:
2-3 large shallots, roughly chopped
8-10 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons +1 teaspoon butter
(1 teaspoon for sauté)
6-8 sprigs of fresh lavender
(or 6-8 teaspoons dried lavender, crushed)
3-4 tablespoons dried herbal tea mixture
3 tablespoons candied ginger
3 quarts vegetable broth
2 cups dry white wine
1 tablespoon honey
12 ounces baby heirloom carrots, large dice
1 head celery, large dice
2 small medium heat peppers, dried
4 medium zucchini squash, large dice
2 yellow crookneck squash, large dice
3 ounces shiitake mushrooms, quartered
3-4 Roma tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons sea salt
5 quart stock or soup pot

A pinch each of the following dried herbs
or seasoning mix of choice
celery seed
mustard seed

Let's get cooking:
Now that you have everything chopped and chunky, start by sautéing your shallot
and garlic in a heated sauté pan with your teaspoon of oil and butter. Continue to
sauté until fragrant and shallots become opaque. Create your bouquet garni bags
with the tea mixture and lavender herbs. Add everything to your stock pot
except squashes and mushrooms. Cook on a medium heat until just boiling,
reduce heat to low and cover. Continue for about 2 hours or so or until
carrots and celery are just barely tender. Now...

Adding the mushrooms a squash about an hour to hour and a half
into the cooking process. Continuing to cook covered on low until
all vegetables are tender. Note: total cooking time can vary depending
on size of vegetables and cooking pot. Generally 3-5 hours on low, or
if using a slow cooler/crockpot about 8-10 hours.

Serves 6-8

Alisha~Magic of Spice

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9:46 AM

What's for breakfast? Ricotta Omelet Rolls

Posted by Magic of Spice

Ricotta Omelet Rolls with Spinach, 
Sun-dried Tomatoes and Basil

Today is Earth Day 2011, and of course we are featuring all fresh and
organic ingredients here today. Not that, that is a new thing, but I do
not always mention it :) So a very Happy Earth Day to you all!

This is a simple and relatively quick breakfast or brunch dish that can
spruce up a favorite classic dish, The Omelet. The filling can be adjusted
to any of your favorite omelet fillings, as long as you keep them on the
thinner side...

What you will need:
Per Serving

For the egg mixture
2 extra large eggs
2 tablespoons half and half
1/2 tablespoon herbs de provence
1/8th teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
Large sauté pan
Baking dish

For the filling
5 ounces ricotta
1/2 ounce sun-dried tomatoes
2 large basil leaves, torn
1 ounce spinach

Let's get cooking:

Place eggs, half and half with seasoning in a mixing bowl Whisk until
completely incorporated. Heat butter and oil in your sauté pan on a
low heat. Add egg mixture and cook until your egg mixture just begins
to firm. Remove from heat and gently slide your egg sheet onto
a cutting board or clean working surface. With a spoon or other
utensil spread the ricotta as if icing a cake. Layer on your sun-dried
tomatoes, then leafy greens. Gently starting on one side, begin to
roll until you have reached the farthest side.

Lightly grease your baking dish and place roll inside.
and place in a pre-heated oven at 300 degrees for 10-15 minutes, this
step is not required but it will aid to slightly wilt your spinach. 

You can now slice your omelet roll in rings like shown, or plate in any fashion desired.
 Serve with fresh fruit, salsa or any number of your favorite egg dish sauces.

We would like to take a quick moment to with all of those whom celebrate a
very Happy Easter!

And as a side note mention that we have some awards coming up soon :)

Alisha~Magic of Spice

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5:22 AM

Parmigiano Reggiano - Cracking Battle!

Posted by Truffle Shuffle

The Big Crack - 
Parmigiano-Reggiano Cracking Battle
Huntington Beach, CA Whole Foods Market

We recently visited our local Whole Foods market for a very special event being held in Whole Foods stores nationwide, and internationally.  Whole Foods is a specialty market that specializes in health food, organics, international food, and sustainable food.  
During this event, hundreds of stores cut into wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese all at the same time, attempting to beat world record cheese-cracking times.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is a special cheese that is created only in the Parma region of Italy.  It is a hard cheese that is encased in wax and aged for a minimum of one year.  Some wheels, such as the ones shown here, are aged for two or even three years.  These are called Parmigiano-Reggiano Vecchio (old) and Stravecchio (really old).

This cheese has a distinct, nutty  and buttery flavor, and a unique texture that works well crumbled or shredded, and is great for a variety of dishes, including pasta dishes and sauces.  While many Americans are familiar with cheese sold as "Parmesan" in the States, there is really no comparison between this and real Parmigiano-Reggiano.  For more information on this cheese, check out this post.

Parmigiano-Reggiano comes in large wheels that can weight upwards of eighty pounds.  To be cut into slices that are suitable for sale, the cheese monger must "crack" the cheese, continuing to break it into smaller pieces using a set of specialty cheese tools. 
For this event, two cheese masters faced off in a battle to see who could crack the cheese the fastest!  The battle consisted of three parts: cracking the cheese in half, cracking one half into two quarters, and cutting one quarter into pieces suitable for sale. 
While this store did not beat any world records, both gentlemen managed to break down their wheels with impressive speed, and finally, the store manager, Pat, came out victorious.

I have purchased this cheese many times, and when it comes to Parmesan, there really is no substitute.  While this may be more expensive than cheaper imitation Parmesan cheeses, the expense is more than worth it, and you will not regret your purchase. 
It was great fun seeing entire wheels broken down, and this is an event that I will not soon forget.  Thanks to the wonderful people at Whole Foods for putting on this show for us, and for continuing to offer a great selection of healthy, environmentally-friendly foods at fair prices. 
If only they could have given us one of those half-wheels...

In the end, Parmigiano-Reggiano is one of the greatest cheeses ever invented, and that is saying quite a bit, coming from a long-time lover of cheese. 
If you have never tried Parmesan in its true form, get up, run to your local specialty foods market or cheese monger, and pick up a piece today.  I guarantee you will not regret it!

Whole Foods Market
7881 Edinger Ave Suite 150
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

Also check out this store on Facebook

Posted by Adam (Truffle Shuffle)
Pictures by Grely (Sugar and Spice)

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 Shaved Spring Vegetables with Feta Cream

Although I did not make it out to Farmers Market this week, I did
have a lovely organic veggie spree at a local health food store. The
only goodies from the garden today are the mint leaves. I was looking
for the a pure fresh flavors of ginger tea and meyer lemon on this one.
Combined with the creamy feta we have created, we have a lovely
marriage of flavors to highlight our fresh vegetable selection.

What you will need:
Per entrée sized serving

For the vegetables 
3 fresh baby zucchini, shaved
5 fresh baby rainbow carrots, shaved
4-5 medium fresh asparagus, shaved
1 ounce fresh haricots verts, split lengthwise
(French green beans)
1/2 bell pepper, shaved
(red, orange or yellow)
1 heaping tablespoon loose ginger tea
(or one tea bag)
1/8th cup sunflower oil
(or other light oil)
1 1/2 small meyer lemons
(1 juice, 1/2 for garnish)
1 handful of baby spinach
Small bunch of sunflower greens
2-3 leaves fresh mint, chopped

For the feta cream
5 ounces greek yogurt, plain
2 ounces sheep's milk feta
1 ounce half and half (more or less
depending on desired consistency)
Juice of 1/2 meyer lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparing your vegetables:

*Note: because we are blanching our vegetables we are not "thinly shaving" them,
this is delightful as a raw vegetable salad and I suggest a thinner shave for this...

For the majority of your vegetables here I suggest a mandolin. This will allow for
an easy uniformity in thickness as well as the wonderful "shaved look". As we are
looking to slice our vegetables thinly I used the #2 setting on the mandolin. I used
this too for all of our sliced vegetables here with the exception of the haricots verts
and the asparagus. For these two I used a small sharp pairing knife. This is optional
and depends on your comfort with a pairing knife.

For the asparagus, I first trimmed of the bottom third or so, then using a vegetable
peeler I trimmed the stem bellow the head on all sides. For the haricots verts I
sliced in thirds lengthwise, or if using a larger green bean you may prefer the mandolin .

Let's get cooking:

For the vegetables
Start by bringing a medium sauce pan filled with water along with you ginger tea
to a boil. Once this is boiling add your carrots and cook until firm but just tender,
about 10-12 minutes. Strain and set aside in a small bowl. Next place your asparagus
and haricots verts (or green beans) in the boiling tea water, and remove your tea bag.
Continue to cook at a boil until asparagus starts to tender, about 8-10 minutes. Again,
strain and set aside in a separate bowl. Last we add the baby zucchini to the boiling
tea and cook until just becoming tender, about 5 minutes, drain and set aside.
*Note: All vegetables should be just cooked to a firm but slightly
tender state, do not over cook.

In the meantime, take a small mixing bowl and add your oil and lemon juice.
Whisk mixture until incorporated. Gently toss each section of your vegetables
one at a time. Return vegetables to separate bowls and repair to layer.

For the feta cream
Place yogurt and feta in blender with a small amount of cream or half and half.
Blend until smooth add juice of 1/2 meyer lemon and continue to blend until
creamy, adding more cream if needed.

Get this look:

Begin with a layer of trimmed baby spinach, then add layers of vegetables as follows-
Baby zucchini, baby rainbow carrots, asparagus and  haricots verts, bell peppers
and arrange sunflower greens around vegetables. Top with feta cream with
additional salt and pepper if desired. Garnish with chopped mint :)

Alisha~Magic of Spice

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7:38 PM

What's for Dessert - French Toast Bread Pudding

Posted by Sugar and Spice

 French Toast Bread Pudding

This is an nice variation of a bread pudding that uses whole slices of bread, along with strips of croissants, and cinnamon, for a delicious breakfast dish or dessert.

12 slices of cinnamon bread (regular white bread or raisin bread may be used as a replacement)
1/2 cup of butter (softened to room temperature)
2 croissants
6 eggs
1 cup of granulated white sugar (plus a bit more)
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 quart of half and half
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon (ground)
1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg (ground)

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
Slice your croissants length-wise, into quarter-inch strips.
Butter the bottom of a nine-by-thirteen inch baking pan.
Butter one side of each piece of bread, and layer them in the bottom of the pan, alternating with strips of croissant.
In a mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the eggs on medium-high speed until they become somewhat thickened (about five minutes).
Add the sugar and vanilla, and continue to beat until combined.
Next, lower the speed, and add the half and half, mixing until smooth.
Pour the wet mixture over the bread in the pan slowly, until the bread has absorbed the mixture, and all of the mixture is in the pan.
In another bowl, mix the cinnamon and nutmeg with 1/8 teaspoon of granulated sugar (the extra mentioned above).  Sprinkle this mixture over the bread.
Find a larger baking pan, and fill it half-way with hot water.  Place this pan in the oven.
Carefully place the baking pan into the larger water-filled pan, and bake for 45-50 minutes at 325 degrees.
Throw out the water, and chill the bread pudding until cooled (at least a couple of hours, or overnight).

Enjoy with maple syrup, a sweet sauce, preserves, whipped cream, or mascarpone cheese.

Grely~Sugar and Spice

YBR April Issue

Going over to Bread Pudding of the Month Club

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8:32 AM

Announcement ~ We've gone mobile

Posted by Magic of Spice

Mobile Blog Reader - powered by Notice Orange

We have some very exciting news to share with you today...
As I am sure you have already figured out by the title,
we now have an App for your Smartphone!

To be more accurate I suppose I should say we are now
A Smartphone App... If you see it here, you will see
it there. Needing a recipe idea while on the go is now
at your finger tips :)

The Ardent Epicure has now gone mobile! 
Go to 
to get an app for your phone.

It's free and it has alerts so that you'll know whenever
The Ardent Epicure has anything new. 
 What could be better?

Enjoy~ The Ardent Epicure Team

Open in Mobile App Get it now!

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Roasted Asparagus with 
Tomato,Mango and Ginger Relish

This is a very tasty side dish that is unbelievably easy and 
another that really reminds me of Spring. I went for a chunky
version of a relish this time, and used organic mini heirloom
Tomatoes along with an organic ripe mango with chopped
 candied ginger. I made the relish a couple of hours ahead of
time to get the full benefit of these flavors.

What you will need:
For the relish
1 pound mini tomatoes, quartered
1 fresh mango, chopped
3 sage leaves, finely chopped
2 small shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon, finely chopped candied ginger
Slash of white balsamic vinegar
1/4th cup light olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
For the asparagus 
1 1/2 pounds medium asparagus
1 medium fresh ginger root, sliced into stripes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
(I used half lemon and half clementine)
1/2 teaspoon large grind sea salt
1/4 ground black pepper
Large baking dish

Let's get cooking:
For the Relish
We are not going to be cooking just mixing.
Place tomatoes, mango, sage and ginger in a large mixing bowl.
Toss ingredients a few times, then add oil, lemon juice and ginger.
Toss again and then add a splash or two of the vinegar,
 salt and pepper to taste. Allow to sit refrigerated 1-2 hours
for best results.
For the asparagus
Lay trimmed asparagus in a single row, use two pans if necessary.
Place ginger slivers randomly between asparagus spears. Drizzle with
olive oil and juice, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 400 degrees until tender and
beginning to crisp slightly, about 15 minutes.
Serves 4-6

Alisha~Magic of Spice

This is going over to Creative Concoctions 
At Greek Hospitality

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2:26 PM

What's on the side? Brandy Dipped Citrus Salad

Posted by Magic of Spice

A Brandy Dipped Citrus Salad with
Fresh Fennel and Avocado

The citrus of choice here includes Blood Oranges, Clementines and
Kumquates...I also had some fresh fennel that I added to this sort of
grown up salad, along with some ripe avocado...A lovely blend of
flavors and textures that I find so delightful and hope you do as well. I
added a quick grind of cardamom, white pepper and pinch of sea salt.

A note about the flavors:  The fennel has a quaint licorice sent and flavor
similar to what you would akin to anise. The Kumquats are quite small and
have a sharp tangy citrus flavor, quite tart in fact. The Clementines are
 tangy like a  Tangerine but a bit sweeter, depending on Season of course.
 The Blood Orange has a deeper flavor and somewhat reminiscent 
of a berry. They are all a lovely combination but whatever 
you have available works... 

What you will need:
Per salad
1 blood orange, sliced
1/2 clementine, sliced
2 kumquats, halved
1/8th avocado, sliced
Small bowl of brandy for dipping
Spray bottle of grapeseed oil
A pinch of cardamom, white pepper and sea salt

What you do:
Slice both the blood oranges and clementines removing rind. Slice fennel
to about 1/8th inch cross wise of the bulb. Halve kumquats lengthwise.
Dip each piece of citrus into a small bowl containing brandy. Layer on individual
plates with fennel being the first layer. Then the larger citrus coming next, should
be the blood oranges, etc. Top with you kumquat slices then avocado slices.
Spray the salad with grapeseed or other light oil.

So color yourself Spring, whatever colors they may be!

Alisha~Magic of Spice

YBR April 2011

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