Spring Greens with Candied Walnuts, Sauteed Pears, Gorgonzola and a Raspberry Pomegranate Glaze

The Poached Pears, Candied Walnut and Gorgonzola Salad is my all time favorite! I was first introduced to this yummy delicacy a few years ago at my favorite Italian restaurant here in Temecula,"Gourmet Italia". So it's no wonder I make it for every holiday meal.. sometimes changing it a bit with pecans or pine nuts.. or subbing the fruit for strawberries or apples. But this weekend I decided to play with the Balsamic glaze and pears.

I was a fortunate recipient of a case of POM wonderful pomegranate juice. I have loved using this juice in a variety of recipes and look forward to posting some more of them here later. But over the weekend with a few extra bottles on hand, and a newly purchased bottle of Raspberry infused Balsamic vinegar I thought I would change the glaze for my salad, and saute my pears instead of poaching them in red wine. I really like poached pears but they are a little more time consuming and I wanted our weekend Easter dinner to be less complicated and free from me being in the kitchen for days. I have to say, I think I will saute my pears more often now.. the caramelization of the pears sauteed in wine and butter were excellent! They didn't need anything else, although I think a sprinkling of cinnamon might be a nice addition next time to go with the earthy flavors of the walnuts.

The reduction of POM wonderful with the Raspberry Balsamic was also a great combination. Alone, the balsamic was still a bit too tart and the sweetness of the pomegranate juice heightened the flavor and thickness perfectly.

I doubled the recipe for the candied walnuts because a salad like this for just one day is never quite enough and you need so little of the glaze drizzled on your dish to enhance your salad that leftovers extend for a few days in my household. I hope you all had a wonderful Easter celebration! Spring is here and I can't wait to start lighter cooking fare.
Ciao and Buon Appetito!

Raspberry Pomegranate Balsamic Glaze
Mix 1 bottle Raspberry infused Balsamic Vinegar with 1/2 bottle POM Wonderful into a small stainless-steel saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to medium low at a constant slow simmer. Reduce to 1/4 cup, or until the vinegar turns to a glaze.
Leave at room temperature for a few minutes to slightly cool before pouring in a plastic squeeze bottle. Keep in the refrigerator.
Before use, set the squeeze bottle of the reduced vinegar out until it comes to room temperature. To decorate, drizzle the balsamic vinegar reduction around the plated food or over the plate.

Candied Walnuts
1 cup walnut halves
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 325° F .
2. Place walnuts on a baking sheet and toast 10 to 15 minutes or until golden.
3. Combine honey, water and oil in a skillet and bring to boil.
4. Reduce heat to medium and stir in walnuts. Cook, stirring frequently until all liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute.
5. Transfer nuts to a bowl.
6. Combine sugar and salt and toss with nuts. Spread nuts on a cookie sheet to cool and dry.
7. Store in an airtight container.

Gorgonzola Cheese
Gorgonzola is usually served as a dessert cheese, but there are some local culinary specialities that it goes well with. For instance, it may be melted into a risotto in the final stage of cooking. Another fairly traditional dish sees Gorgonzola served alongside polenta. Because of its savory flavor, it is often used in salads as this recipe calls for, and makes an awesome accompaniment with such fruit as pears.

Sauteed Pears
3 almost ripe Bartlett Pears
1 tsp. butter
2 Tbsp white wine

It's important that the pears aren't too soft. They should be a little on the firm side so that they do not get to soft during cooking.
Cut pears into cubes. Heat up a saute pan. Add butter and pears, saute until a glaze forms and they start to color. Add wine and saute for a few more minutes till liquid is evaporated.

Salad Mix
5 oz. Spring greens
1/2 cup torn radicchio

Thank you Quaker and Foodbuzz!!

I'm really exited and here's why!

I entered a recipe contest with one of Foodbuzz's Sponsors, "Quaker Oats", and I won! The recipe requirement was to create a dish utilizing an ingredient from one of Quakers newest granola bars, "True Delights". I had the opportunity first to try the product that had not even hit the grocers shelves yet by taking part in a program offered by Foodbuzz for their publishers called Tastemakers, and then writing about in in a review type format on my site here.

The prize for this event are two round trip tickets to Chicago, Illinois to attend the nationally acclaimed event called Outstanding In The Field. This is a farm to table dinner hosted at an organic farm. Chef Jim Denevan began staging Outstanding in the Field dinners in his hometown of Santa Cruz, California back in 1999, and to date the event has traveled not just nationally, but to Canada as well. The idea to dine at the source has gained the excitement and interest of some of the top chefs in the Country. This is alfresco dining at it's best in a kitchen among the fields! It is a stretched out table dressed in white linen that seats 100 guests and I am honored and privileged to be among them in August, at the City Farm in Chicago, Illinois.

My entry for this contest was the "True Delights" Pineapple Rum Cake with a Pineapple Banana Macadamia Nut Crust filled with a Tropical Rum Zabaione . I know the title is long, but it was fun to create and utilizing Italian classic styling by incorporating rum and a creamy zabaione filling plus a delicious crust of truly delightful granola bars, I think you'll get past the title and just savor the surprising flavors of a truly delightful cake. The ingredients, colors and flavors make this the perfect cake for an Easter celebration too. Plan ahead and make the zabaione filling a few days in advance, the cake the day before and the whip cream topping can be made early the morning you plan to put it all together. You can find the recipe here.

Again, I am so honored and exited to have won a "recipe contest".. and to have this awesome opportunity to travel to Chicago, Illinois to attend the Outstanding In The Field dinner. Thank you so much Foodbuzz for creating events like this with sponsors such as Quaker and for giving us tools to grow as writers, bakers, cooks and culinary creators in our own minds.. especially when they extend off of the paper and into reality!

Thank you Quaker for your sponsorship and your wonderful products. It was fun to create a cake that "truly" was enhanced by such a "delightful" granola bar!
Hugs to you all..

In sincere appreciation,
Laurie V.

Panna Cotta
with a Cherry Custard Sauce

I love Spring.. the color's as they unfold in my garden scapes, the beams of light as they come through my windows, the light breeze and the crispness of the air with the undetones of dry heat caressing my face. Have you ever heard of the term, "Prelude to a Kiss"? For me Spring is just that, something is just beyond the horizon, around the corner the unexpected.

This caramel topped Panna Cotta is a prelude to an experience with your senses. The texture of Panna Cotta is so creamy, it's smooth like yogurt but has a firm consistency like a flan. It's another one of those desserts that are versatile with the flavorings and toppings. In my Regional Italian Cookbook, the gelatin is diluted in Marsala before adding it to the heated cream. This is where I play with flavors. I did use Marsala here, but you can get so creative and use rose water, lavender essence, diluted honey or your favorite liqueur. If you are making chocolate flavored Panna Cotta I would add the cocoa to the cream and use water to dilute your gelatin. Have fun with it, taste, create, design.. but most of all enjoy!


1 quart heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean split lengthwise, seeds scraped
2 1/4 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
3 tablespoons *Marsala

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds. Bring the mixture just to a simmer over moderate heat. Remove from the heat, cover and let steep for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the *Marsala and let stand until evenly moistened, about 5 minutes.

3. Uncover the cream mixture and bring just to a simmer over moderately high heat. Remove from heat, add the gelatin and stir until dissolved. Remove the vanilla bean and save for another use. Pour the panna cotta mixture into eight 4-ounce ramekins and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the panna cotta is set but still jiggly, at least 3 hours. Serve in the ramekins, with berries.

4. *If you do not have a preference for Marsala you can surely replace the liquid here with water or another liqueur of your choice.

Make Ahead
The panna cottas can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. In my experience they firm up nicer after 12-24 hours.

When you make your caramel, don't get freaked out when you add your cream and it crystallizes.. keep stirring at medium low heat and the crystals will melt back into a creamy thick caramel. And the cherries in the caramel.. to die for!! This recipe was adapted from Epicureous and called for canned pumpkin but I subbed it with my own canned fruit choice. It worked wonderfully!
Ciao and Buon Appetito,

Cherry Custard Sauce
adapted from Epicureous online

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup canned pitted cherry pie filling
2 tsp. Sherry

Melt butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar and cook until mixture is deep amber, stirring constantly, about 8 minutes (mixture will be grainy). Reduce heat to medium-low. Add cream. Mixture will bubble and crystallize. Stir until till crystal caramel bits dissolve, about 8 minutes. Add sherry to cherry filling. Add cherry filling to caramel; stir until heated. Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)