Italian Rice Pudding Tarts (Budini di Riso)

This week we celebrate my husband, Brion’s birthday. In previous years I would be able to post a ‘birthday pic‘ with a wonderful holiday background …. you know the kind with tropical plants, ocean, and such. Due to the covid pandemic keeping us close to home for the last year or so, my birthday picture of Brion is in our back yard but notice we have a tropical Canna close by!! During the interlude away from being able to travel, Brion has had to wear another ‘hat’, and has been there for me through numerous surgeries. I am incredibly grateful for that and the speedy recovery that comes through such love & care.

I had read about this little treat sometime back but had put it on hold for a special occasion and today’s the day!

Named after the principal ingredient used in the filling, budini di riso is a typical pastry coming from Siena, a medieval city in the region of Tuscany, located in the north of Italy.

Every summer, from May to July, until the 1960’s (and even 1970’s in some places), thousands of female seasonal workers would make their way to the Po Valley in northern Italy. Here, in the rice fields, they went to work as ‘mondine’. Their task was to remove weeds that could stunt the growth of the rice plants.

The compensation of these women consisted not only in money but also 1 kg of rice for each day of work. Hence the wide spread use of rice throughout the region in both savory and sweet preparations.

This rice custard tart is a combination of a creamy, vanilla scented rice pudding with a caramelized top, all baked in a crisp shortbread pastry crust. There are many variations for this Italian classic. Some like to make it with a crust, others prefer it without. Other recipes may also add fresh squeezed lemon juice for a citrus flavor.

Today, rice is the world’s most widely consumed cereal grain, which means that virtually every culture has a rice pudding they call their own.

Part pie … part rice pudding, these little tarts can be eaten for breakfast, as an afternoon snack or for dessert, they are just plain good anytime.

BIRTHDAY WISHES TO MY LOVE, YOU’RE THE BEST!

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Italian Rice Pudding Tarts (Budini di Riso)
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Short Crust Pastry Shells
Rice Pudding
Raspberry Topping
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Ingredients
Short Crust Pastry Shells
Rice Pudding
Raspberry Topping
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Instructions
Tart Shells
  1. In a bowl, sift together flour, rice flour, powdered sugar, salt & baking powder. Add butter & rub together with fingertips to make soft crumbles.
  2. In a small bowl, beat egg; add to flour mixture & work into a smooth ball of dough. DO NOT OVERMIX. Flatten dough ball & wrap in plastic wrap; chill in refrigerator.
Rice Pudding (Filling)
  1. Place rice in a saucepot. Cover with water & bring to a boil. Rinse rise; return blanched rice back in saucepot & cover with milk. Add cinnamon stick & lemon zest. Cook over low heat, stirring often until rice has absorbed most of the milk & rice mixture becomes soupy.
  2. Remove rice-milk mixture from heat & add butter; stir well. Place rice mixture in a bowl to cool. Stir & cool for about 20 minutes. In a bowl, combine eggs, sugar & vanilla; add to cooled rice mixture.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  4. Roll out the chilled pastry to a 1/8-inch thickness. Traditionally these little rice tarts have straight sides. The fastest way to do this is to cut out pastry disks with a glass or lid as big as the bottom of the muffin tin & press them gently in. Next cut with a knife some pastry strips to line the sides of the muffin tins. Press the pastry lightly with your fingers to seal the bottom with the side strips.
  5. Spoon the rice pudding into the pastry shells & bake about 30-40 minutes or until golden brown on the edges. Prepare raspberry topping.
Raspberry Topping
  1. In a saucepan, place frozen raspberries & heat until thawed. Stir in the sugar & bring to a slow simmer. In a cup, dissolve the cornstarch in water & stir into raspberry puree. Bring to a boil & simmer for about 1-2 minutes or until thickened. The mixture will thicken a bit more as it cools.
Serving
  1. Serve rice tarts warm or cold with raspberry topping & yogurt, whipped cream or ice cream. If you would prefer, just a dusting of icing sugar or as is works just as well.

Salmon Zucchini Parcels

When it comes to zucchini, there is virtually nothing it seems it can’t be made into. To be honest, my love affair with this vegetable spans many years. Long before the internet and Pinterest gave us access to any recipe you could ever want, print cookbooks were the go-to. So to make a long story short, I actually have a recipe book solely devoted to zucchini that is still relevant in today’s cooking and baking procedures.

The blog recipe I want to share today is a dish suitable to be prepared all year round. Baking the salmon parcels in the oven only takes a short bit of time, making it feasible even on warmer days. The thin slices of zucchini are first grilled & then woven together to form parcels of seasoned salmon.

A versatile meal in that you can vary the ingredients of the filling by choosing other types of fish or seafood. Although it could be made into an appetizer size we enjoyed ours as a main course with rice.

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Salmon Zucchini Parcels
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Slice the zucchini lengthwise into long, thin strips. You will need 16 good slices.
  3. Trim the salmon pieces into pieces approximately 2.5-inches square. Count on 2 pieces per serving. On a plate, combine spices, grated parmesan & panko crumbs.
  4. In a hot, non-stick skillet, grill zucchini strips quickly. You're only trying to soften them a little bit as well as giving them some color.
  5. Lay 2 strips of zucchini out on a work surface. Take 2 more & weave them into the center of the first two.
  6. Dredge the salmon pieces in seasoned cheese/panko mixture. Place a piece of salmon on the woven part (it should be about the same size as the interwoven section of the zucchini).
  7. Bring the sides up & around & weave them over the top. Turn parcels over to show the weave. Brush the parcels with olive oil & sprinkle the remaining seasoned cheese/panko mixture evenly over the 4 parcels. Pat the breading gently to help it adhere to zucchini strips.
  8. Bake for about 15 minutes; remove from oven & serve immediately.

French Mussels w/ Bacon & Leek Risotto

Thanks for the memories! This phrase says it all when I think back to the wonderful time we spent in France. Although this holiday is now 20 years past, the memories remain very vivid and special.

My sister, Loretta had joined Brion & I on this French vacation which had made it even more special. Our journey began in Paris where we had rented a car, then travelled south (about 613 km/380 miles) to the sleepy little village of St Thibery. For this segment of our trip we had rented an apartment to use as ‘home base’ during our time in this part of France. Many of these houses are from the 14th,15th & 17th century. The apartment was quaint but adequate even having a roof top patio.

St Thibery is situated between the larger towns of Agde & Pezenas and is just a short distance from the Mediterranean Sea. On one of our day trips we visited the town of Agde. It is one of the oldest towns in France and is captivating by its maze of narrow streets. Agde was built of black basalt from a volcanic eruption thus the black color of its buildings.

It was here we discovered a nice restaurant where we enjoyed some classic French steamed mussels. It would be an understatement to say how much the three of us enjoyed this feast of fresh seafood.

During the time we spent in the area, we made the 20 minute drive from St Thibery to Agde just to have some more mussels on numerous evenings.

Brion & I decided to revisit the taste of those ‘French’ mussels today with our supper meal. Of course, nothing compares to the ‘taste of a memory’!

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French Mussels w/ Bacon & Leek Risotto
Instructions
Risotto
  1. Bring vegetable broth to a boil in a saucepan, then turn heat to low & keep at a simmer.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat; add bacon & sauté until crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain & set aside.
  3. Remove all but 2 Tbsp bacon drippings from skillet (add extra olive oil if necessary to equal 2 Tbsp) then add leeks, mushrooms & shallot. Turn heat up to medium-high; season with salt & pepper. Sauté until vegetables are tender & starting to turn golden brown, about 7-8 minutes. Add garlic & sauté for 1 minute. Add rice; stir to coat & cook for 1 more minute.
  4. Turn heat back to medium; add wine & stir until absorbed by rice. Add hot vegetable broth; stir near constantly until rice is tender & all the broth is absorbed, about 25 minutes. If broth gets to a hard boil, turn heat down. Remove skillet from heat; stir in thyme, parmesan cheese & cooked bacon. Keep warm until mussels are ready.
Mussels
  1. Heat olive oil & butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Sauté the onion & garlic until softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the mussels, wine, cream, butter & parsley. Season well with salt & pepper to taste.
  3. Mix well, cover pot with a lid & cook until mussels are cooked through & opened, about 12-15 minutes.
  4. Serve mussels along with the juices in the pan with risotto & crusty or garlic bread.

Pistachio Limoncello Cookies

Its hard to say if its the bright color of the fruit or the crisp flavor …. lemons just remind me of spring. I think, when you incorporate some limoncello liqueur into dessert recipes it takes them to a whole new level. Its tangy, refreshing and balances the sugary sweetness of cookies, cakes and many other confections.

Our first introduction to the taste of some authentic limoncello was in the town of Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. In 2013, Brion & I had a wonderful holiday travelling throughout Italy. The Amalfi coast is known for its production of limoncello liqueur. It is only here, thanks to the Mediterranean climate, lemons grow with a thick skin that is rich with essential oils, fragrant and with a strong aroma. The lemon skin is the most important ingredient when it comes to making limoncello.

Stunning Amalfi , with its electric blue sea, terra cotta rooftops, bright white sand beaches, emerald hillsides and lemon tree lined streets, will be forever etched in our memories.

The hint of limoncello in the icing gives these simple little shortbread cookies such a nice flavor.

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Pistachio Limoncello Cookies
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Limoncello Shortbread
Limoncello Icing
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Limoncello Shortbread
Limoncello Icing
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Instructions
Shortbread
  1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch & salt.
  3. In a large bowl, beat butter & sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy & aerated, 4-5 minutes. Add milk & limoncello liqueur; beat for 1 minute.
  4. Sift in half the flour mixture, then fold in with a spatula until just combined. Repeat. Spoon half of the shortbread batter into a piping bag fitted with a large, open star tip.
  5. Pipe batter into 1 1/2-inch wide rosettes, 1 inch apart on a prepared sheets.
  6. Bake shortbread ONLY until edges are lightly browned, 15-16 minutes. Let cool for 3 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool.
Limoncello Icing
  1. While shortbread cookies are baking, combine powdered sugar & limoncello. Drizzle over warm cookies. While icing is still wet, sprinkle the chopped pistachios over the tops. Allow to set before serving.
Recipe Notes
  • Trace 1 1/2 inch circles onto parchment paper. Flip the paper over & use circles as a guide when piping rosettes.

Christmas Turkey Pizza

In 2019, Boston Pizza, a Canadian pizza chain created a Christmas pizza which literally consisted of a turkey dinner on top of a pizza crust.

The most notable aspect of their Christmas pizza was the ‘singing box’ it came in. The company had an advertising agency create a caroling delivery box. Using a play on ‘Carol of the Bells’, the jingle ran through the components of the holiday menu item: ‘cranberry sauce, gravy on top, turkey as well and also cheese. Why the cheese? Cause we love cheese, turkey & cheese, four kinds of cheese’.

Like those musical greeting cards that emit tinny tunes when you open them, the ‘Chorus of the Pizza’, playing box reportedly operated using a light senor device. When the box was opened, the music played, as soon as it closed, silence.

The singing box was to replicate carolers coming to your door, but it was better because they brought pizza and you didn’t have to stand awkwardly listening to people sing to you.

I’m not sure if Boston Pizza is using this kind of promotion in 2020, but based on their ad from 2019, I developed a Christmas pizza ‘copy cat’ recipe. Great taste and a nice way to use some leftover turkey.

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Christmas Turkey Pizza
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Instructions
Pizza Dough
  1. Cook potato, peel, mash & cool. In a small container, combine yeast with lukewarm water; whisk until yeast is dissolved. Let stand about 3 minutes until foamy.
  2. In a large bowl, combine yeast/water, butter, salt, sour cream & potato; mix well.
  3. Stir in flour, one cup at a time. When dough is completely blended, turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough about 5-10 minutes, until smooth & elastic. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a draft-free place until doubled in size, about an hour.
Herb Sauce
  1. In a skillet, melt butter; add herbs & cook for 2 minutes. Pour in your choice of either heavy cream OR chicken broth. Heat until hot, about 2 minutes more. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Set aside to cool slightly.
Assembly
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. On a large sheet of parchment paper, roll or press dough into a 16-inch circle. Transfer with paper to either a 14-inch pizza pan or a flat baking sheet.
  3. Carefully spread the 1/2 cup herb sauce over the bottom of the pizza (leaving the outside ring without sauce). Sprinkle a bit of the cheese over sauce then layer with turkey & stuffing. Drizzle with turkey gravy & top with remaining cheese. If you prefer, brush the outside edge of the pizza ring with egg wash.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven & slice.
  5. When you are ready to serve, dot pizza with cranberry sauce or just let everyone put on their own.
Recipe Notes
  • As an alternate to the herb sauce, using 1/2 cup bottled lite Alfredo sauce w/ Parmesan cheese makes a good choice.

Anise Citron Biscotti

When most people mention biscotti, they actually mean a specific type of Italian cookie called ‘cantuccini’. Italians use the term biscotti to refer to any type of crunchy cookie, round, square and otherwise as the British use the word biscuit. Here in North America, biscotti refers to a specific type of Italian cookie, derived from the ‘Tuscan cantuccini‘, which is a hard, almond flavored cookie that is baked twice and usually served with the sweet Italian dessert wine, Vino Santo. This wine is loved for its intense flavors of hazelnut and caramel. When paired with biscotti, Vino Santo is inarguably Italy’s most famous welcoming tradition. What makes this wine truly special is the natural winemaking process which gives it a unique taste.

The word biscotti derives from ‘bis’, Latin for twice, and ‘coctum’ or baked (which became ‘cotto’, or cooked).

The original biscotti was created by a bakery in Prato, Italy. Cantuccini became a staple in the Tuscan cities of Florence and Prato then spread throughout the Italian peninsula. Tuscan biscotti are flavored with almonds from the plentiful almond groves of Prato. From the original recipe it expanded to lemon flavored dough as well as other flavors and spices with additions such as raisins, dried fruits and peels to chocolate morsels and nuts.

Biscotti have been baked for centuries and its iconic texture was the perfect for for sailors who were at sea for months. In modern times, biscotti range in texture from very hard to somewhat spongy and more cake-like. First, the sticky dough is shaped into a log and baked until firm. After a short cooling period, the log is sliced into diagonal pieces and baked again to cook out the moisture and produce the crisp, dry-textured cookie with a longer shelf life. The classic recipe has no butter or oil, using only eggs to bind the ingredients together. They are typically made in a 3, 5 or 7-inch size.

I have to be honest, biscotti has never been one of my ‘go-to’ cookie recipes. But, for something quick and easy, I decided to make a small recipe using two of my favorite ingredients …. anise seed & citron peel. Brion & I tried dipping them in wine and we realized we have been missing out on something real good!!

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Anise Citron Biscotti
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 300 F.
  2. In a bowl, combine oil & sugar followed by vanilla & eggs.
  3. In another bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder & anise seed then gradually stir this mixture into the egg mixture. Lastly, fold in citron peel.
  4. Divide dough in half & form into two logs (about 6"x 2"). Place logs on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  5. Bake for about 30-35 minutes; remove from oven & set aside to cool for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 275 F.
  6. Cut logs on the diagonal into 3/4-inch thick slices. Lay the slices on their sides on lined baking sheet.
  7. Bake for another 20-25 minutes, turning halfway through baking time.
  8. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Store in an airtight container.

Marinated Chicken & Artichoke Pizza

Pizza is one of the easiest meals you can make at home. I most always prefer to make my own crust but nothing wrong with a purchased one or some focaccia bread pizza crust. Once that crust part has been taken care of, its really just a matter of topping the pie with all your favorite ingredients and waiting for it to come out of the oven.

But of course, there are a number of things that can go wrong even so. You might think that there’s no such thing as too much cheese …. but there is. Cheese normally means a lot of grease, your pizza could fall apart under the weight of all that dairy.

Too many toppings can cause overly cooked crust or under-cooked toppings. Another thing I find super important, is making sure the toppings are sauteed so they are not releasing too much moisture into the crust.

Since Brion & I are both lovers of marinated artichokes, putting them on a pizza sounds real good. Artichokes are technically the flower buds of a thistle plant that hasn’t blossomed yet. Its kind of amazing to think we can enjoy these odd little culinary treats in so many ways.

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Marinated Chicken & Artichoke Pizza
Instructions
Pizza Dough
  1. Cook potato, peel, mash & cool. Combine yeast with lukewarm water; whisk until yeast is dissolved. Let stand about 3 minutes until foamy. Add butter, salt, sour cream & potato, mix well.
  2. Stir in flour, one cup at a time. When dough is completely blended, turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough about 10 minutes, until smooth & elastic. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap & let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Pizza Topping Prep
  1. Slice chicken into strips, saute in some drained artichoke marinade until most of it evaporates. Set aside.
  2. Saute mushrooms & onions in a teaspoon of butter until moisture evaporates. Set aside.
  3. Shred cheese. In a small dish combine spices.
  4. Drain sun-dried tomatoes & black olives, blot on paper towel & slice tomatoes.
  5. Cut each piece of (drained) artichoke in half.
Assembly
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. On a large sheet of parchment paper, roll or press dough into a 16-inch circle. Transfer on paper to a baking sheet.
  3. Carefully spread the 1/2 cup marinara sauce over the bottom of pizza. Season with spice mixture. Sprinkle with a bit of cheese then layer with mushrooms, onion, chicken, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, olives & remaining cheese.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven & slice. If you prefer, brush the top of the outside (dough) ring with artichoke marinade either before or after baking.
Recipe Notes
  • If you like, press pizza dough into a 16 X 12-inch rectangle instead of a circular shape.

Creamy Mushroom & Sausage Orecchiette

Orecchiette pasta originates in the sunny, southern province of Puglia, Italy. This pasta’s round concave shape led to its name, which means ‘little ears’ in Italian. The rigid exterior and cup-like interior captures chunky sauces and scoops up small vegetables, making orecchiette perfect to serve with sautes. I should mention that I didn’t find orecchiette on the regular supermarket shelves. We are lucky to have some real good Italian grocery stores in our area which definitely have them available.

You will notice, another ingredient I used in this meal is Italian sausage. Sausage is so common that people rarely stop and think about how and why they are made the way they are. Every country has a unique sausage tradition and puts their own twist on the classic meat.

Italian sausage is one of the more popular sausage varieties available, but its origins in Italy are actually different from what we are accustomed to in North America. The true Italian sausage or ‘salsiccia’ (sahl-SEE-tchay) is made of meats that have been seasoned heavily with chili and other hot ingredients and allowed to marinate and change the flavor of the meat overnight.

The more common Italian sausage that North Americans know, is a pork sausage with a fennel and anise mixture as a base seasoning. It is packaged as either HOT or MILD, the difference being in the amount of red pepper flakes that are used.

If you choose to try this meal, I think you will find it real tasty. We just loved it and I have to say it was actually the first time we had ever tried Italian sausage. I have always thought it would be too spicy hot for our liking. Needless to say, I went with the mild version.

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Creamy Mushroom & Sausage Orecchiette
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Instructions
  1. In a saucepan, cook sausage with a splash of olive oil, until browned & cooked through. Set aside.
  2. Add butter to saucepan & saute onions until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Mix in garlic, cook another 2 minutes. Add mushrooms & zucchini, sauteing until tender-crisp, about 5-6 minutes. Return sausage meat to pan & keep warm.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add salt. Cook orecchiette pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta & return to pot. Fold in cheese, sausage/vegetable mixture, fresh parsley & pepper to taste. Slowly add chicken broth until preferred consistency is reached. Serve garnished with red pepper flakes & Parmesan cheese.

Stuffed Mushrooms in Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce

Stuffed mushrooms are one of those items that can be an appetizer as well as a main course. They are as versatile as you can get. The number of different fillings are endless and can be anything from a simple bread stuffing to seafood, veggies or any kind of meat.

Portobello mushrooms are big, meaty and the ideal vessel for stuffing, creating a dish that is a meal unto itself. Few things can match the flavor of stuffed mushrooms.

Depending on the source, this unique dish has been around since the late 19th century or early 20th century. The fact that they resemble stuffed zucchini, it is likely that the Italians should receive credit for their creation.

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Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms in Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce
Instructions
Mushrooms
  1. Trim stems from mushrooms & finely chop them; reserve for sauce. Whisk the egg lightly in a shallow bowl. In a separate shallow bowl, combine flour, salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, paprika & garlic salt.
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high. Dip the mushrooms in the egg then in the flour mixture. Coat the outside of the mushrooms, trying not to get too much flour inside the 'cap'.
  3. In a skillet, fry mushrooms on both sides until lightly golden. Use a tongs to help fry the sides as well. Remove mushrooms to a plate. To the skillet, add a splash of water & Swiss chard leaves. Sprinkle with salt & pepper & saute until leaves are wilted, about 1 minute.
  4. Divide cream cheese between the 4 mushroom caps. Top with wilted Swiss chard; sprinkle with grated Parmesan & paprika. Set aside, keeping warm.
Sauce
  1. In a skillet , heat oil. Add onion & cook for 2 minutes until it starts to soften. Add reserved mushroom stems, garlic, oregano, paprika, sun-dried tomatoes, red peppers & zucchini. Cook for 2 minutes while stirring with a spatula. Add wine (or chicken broth) & allow to bubble for 2 minutes then add vegetable broth, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil & simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Stir the cream & Parmesan cheese into the sauce, then nestle the mushrooms on top. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley. Nice to serve with pasta or potatoes and/or a meat item.

Honey Balsamic Glazed Salmon

Being a fig lover, I am always attracted to recipes with this tasty little fruit in them. Some years ago, I started using the Kraft Fig Balsamic Dressing and it became one of my favorites.

Salad dressings have started catering to consumer demand for thoughtfully crafted products made with natural ingredients. Fig balsamic dressing can be used in numerous ways. It has a tangy and delicately sweet, caramelized fig flavor that works as a glaze for roasted or grilled pork, sauteed chicken and baked salmon. You can brush it on in the last few minutes of cooking or add a little to the skillet, just to coat your saute.

This balsamic vinaigrette has enough flavor to dress a salad on its own or use over roasted veggies, aged & soft cheeses or in soups. For dessert try drizzling some over fruit & Greek yogurt or ice cream. It’s amazing!

This glazed salmon is an excellent meal served with rice or roasted potatoes.

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Honey Balsamic Glazed Salmon
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Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add vegetables; cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spoon vegetables to one side of skillet. Add salmon, flesh side down, to other side of skillet; cover. Cook on medium heat 8 minutes or until fish flakes easily with fork, turning after 4 minutes.
  2. Transfer fish & vegetables to a plate; cover to keep warm. Add dressing & honey to skillet; cook & stir 30 seconds or until heated through.
  3. Pour dressing mixture over fish. Top vegetables with Parmesan & fresh basil.