Welcoming Appetizers

DSC_0497 When I have guests visiting, I like to serve them two special house appetizers because they are so good and easy to make. Both appetizers can be partially made ahead of time, and then quickly assembled before serving.  Enjoy!


Goat Cheese with Marinated Olives
Recipe Type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Author: Chef Jenn
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-6
A simple to make tapenade that is a crowd pleaser. I always double the recipe.
  • 1/2 cup assorted olives (such as Kalamata, Gaeta, and Picholine)
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tbsp orange zest
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 4 oz goat cheese
  1. Drain olives if in brine.
  2. If olives still have pits; with the back of the knife, lightly crush the olives and remove pits.
  3. Combine all ingredients for marinated olives and mix well.
  4. Cover and refrigerate for 2 days, turning and shaking several times.
  5. To serve place goat cheese onto a plate and pour marinated olives over the top.
  6. Serve with warm pita bread cut into wedges or rustic crackers.
  7. *Can be made 5 days ahead. Keep refrigerated until ready to use. Let olive mixture come to room temperature and pour over goat cheese.



Six-Layer Bombay Cheese Spread
Recipe Type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Indian
Author: Janet Leutel
Serves: 6-8
  • 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/4 tsp curry powder
  • 1/3 cup mango chutney
  • 2 tbsp shredded coconut
  • 2 tbsp scallions
  • 1/4 cup toasted pecans
  • 1 1/2 tbsp currants
  • 2-3 apples, cut in thin wedges
  1. Combine cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and curry powder in the bowl of an electric mixer. (A food processor works as well)
  2. Mix until well blended.
  3. Shape the mixture into a disk 5-1/2 inches in diameter and one inch high.
  4. Refrigerate until firm, at least 45 minutes or overnight.
  5. To assemble, place cheese on serving tray.
  6. Spread mango chutney on top.
  7. Sprinkle with coconut flakes, nuts, scallions, and currants over the chutney.
  8. Arrange apple slices and crackers around the cheese to serve.



White Bean, Pasta and Swiss Chard Soup

DSC_0368 "China tea, the scent of hyacinths, wood fires and bowls of violets--that is my mental picture of an agreeable February afternoon." --Constance Spry I agree, Constance, and what about soup to take the chill out of you, such as one of my favorites, White Bean, Pasta, and Swiss Chard Soup. I saw this recipe in a Williams-Sonoma catalog years ago. It is adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Soup, by Diane Rossen Worthington.

It is a nice hearty soup laden with carrots, greens, and thick egg noodles. I use Swiss Chard or kale, interchangeably or combined for this recipe, straight out of my kitchen garden this time of year, carefully rinsed, and cut into julienne strips. So good for you, and tasty is this soup. Garnish it with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, and a thick slice of toasted whole grain bread. It is so easy to make, it is a perfect winter soup to keep you going and glowing.

Please share if you have a favorite winter soup. Please comment if you are a fan of Diane Rossen Worthington and her cookbooks.

Classic Basil Pesto

Classic Basil Pesto With an abundance of ripe heirloom tomatoes and Italian basil this month, the two flavors are naturals to be enjoyed together. Doesn't this pesto look like green gold? I started my basil from planted rows of basil seed tape. This was a new method, which looking back worked out well. It took a while for the seedlings to rev up, but with our recent heat, all the basil took off.

I had an abundance of vine-ripened Sun Gold and Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes from the garden. The vibrant color alone is so beautiful.  These tomatoes are  ripe, sweet and ready to eat. I halved the cherry tomatoes, and added a little coarse sea salt and pepper. I then set the tomatoes aside, until the pasta was cooked.

I made the Classic Basil Pesto recipe out of the new The Sunset Edible Garden Cookbook: Fresh, Healthy Cooking from the GardenSunset mentions that they originally published this recipe in 1959, and back them suggested serving it over sliced fresh mozzarella slices. When I made this recipe, I doubled it. I would not suggest doubling the garlic amount, when doubling the recipe.

I have really enjoyed this new edible cookbook, and would highly recommend it. It is a great natural step for the gardener, and how to best use one's harvest. I like the recipes, the format, and the photos. There are many more tempting pesto recipes to try, too. Parsley-Mint Pistachio Pesto, Swiss Chard Pesto Pasta, Arugula Pesto Farfalle anyone?

Please share  your favorite pesto recipe from the garden.


Insalata Caprese

Do you have an abundance of tomatoes right now? The best recipes from the garden are the simplest--letting natural flavors shine on their own. Insalata Caprese is all about fresh, natural flavors of summer. If you have a plethora of tomatoes now, try this Insalata Caprese recipe from Red, White, and Greens : The Italian Way with Vegetables. It is also available online through epicurious, Insalata Caprese.

Created on the island of Capri, Italy sometime in the 1950's at the Trattoria de Vincenzo, it is a simple, yet sensational tomato and mozzarella salad. This salad demands the freshest sun-ripened tomatoes, cow's milk mozzarella, and the finest extra virgin olive oil. It is as divine to bring to your table, as it is to taste. It just doesn't get any better than this.

I used my ripe summer heirloom tomatoes, Kellogs Breakfast (Orange) and Black Carbon (Smoky), from tomato plants I started this spring. Out of my herb garden, I picked fresh basil leaves. I drizzled my favorite Trader Joe's extra virgin olive oil sparingly over the salad. I purchased fresh mozzarella from Costco, conveniently pre-sliced in 1/4" rounds.

Please comment if you have made Insalata Caprese before. Please share what you make with your abundance of tomatoes from your garden this time of year.

A Gorgeous Head of Cauliflower

Home Grown "A cauliflower is a cabbage with a college education."-- Mark Twain.  My first attempt growing cauliflower has been very surprising and rewarding. Last November I started a winter vegetable garden and ventured into the unknown. I had never grown many of the winter vegetables, including cauliflower.

Cauliflower seedlings can be found at local nurseries. Look for varieties that are self-blanching, which means you don't have to tie leaves overhead as soon as the center white curd forms to protect them from sunlight. Cauliflower seedlings are easy to grow, but need space. Plant seedlings 16"-18" apart and in rows 2 1/2' apart. Water regularly and soon you will have a large white cauliflower head to harvest. Cauliflowers are ready to harvest when edges begin to loosen.

The exquisite flavor of a home-grown cauliflower makes it really worth growing in your own garden. Harvest a cauliflower by cutting the center white head at its base. Rinse your cauliflower head. It is delicious raw, cut up in bite size pieces. Why not serve it, with the original Green Goddess Dressing as a dip. What a treat, that just doesn't get any better.

My chickens love cauliflower leaves as a treat. Please share if you grow cauliflower in your garden. Please share your favorite recipe for cauliflower.


Green Goddess Dressing

This is a classic dressing, just as popular and versatile today as the year it was created. It is thought to have originated at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in 1927. The only difference now, is we use a food processor, rather than mincing and mixing all of the ingredients by hand. It can used as a dip, with seafood, and as a salad dressing. I was introduced to this recipe when I attended Georgeanne Brennan's "Provence in California Culinary Weekends" in February 2011.

1 cup mayonnaise

1 clove garlic, chopped

3 anchovy fillets, chopped

1/4 cup chopped chives

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped tarragon

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup sour cream or creme fraiche

Combine all ingredients in a food processor; puree until a luscious green and blended. Makes about one and a half (1-1/2) cups. Yum.


Garden Trug at the Buffet Table

Garden Trug Re-Purposed For Buffet Table Look  for all of your tucked away garden trugs,  and use them for entertaining, like this one re-purposed for a fall buffet.

A vintage garden trug, dated 1962, and purchased at a flea market a few years ago, adds "oohs" and "aahs" when guests start serving themselves to a little morning brunch. Turned upside down, and strategically placed on the table, this trug gives a special occasion dish added height, interest and character. Clipped branches of bay laurel leaves garnish the corners.

Garden trugs are traditionally a shallow basket usually made out of strips of wood, intended to hold cut flowers or fresh produce. They can be re-purposed for many uses, from garden to home.

Goat Cheese, Smoked Ham, and Artichoke StrataBon Appetit 1997, is the dish highlighted on the vintage trug. This recipe is supreme for any special occasion from Christmas morning to Easter Brunch. This recipe is a favorite among my garden friends, and my first introduction to it.

It requires quite a few different ingredients, and time assembling, but well worth it at the first bite. To help a hostess further,  it can be made a day ahead and chilled. For vegetarians, smoked ham can be replaced with fresh spinach.

Please share how you use your garden trugs. Please comment on your favorite trug.


VintageGardenGal Tidbit Thyme....

Timber Press has a new book out,  Concrete Garden Projects. This book offers up an inspiring array of creative projects that can be made for next to nothing. Follow the easy, step-by-step instructions to make containers of all sizes, benches and stools, ponds and birdbaths, pavers and stepping stones — and even a barbecue.

Celebrating the release of Concrete Garden Projects, Timber Press is hosting a two-week long giveaway from October 11-21, 2011, where entrants can win a copy of the book, a $25 gift certificate to Home Depot, and a set of molds. Readers can enter by submitting their email address at, Concrete Garden Projects. Good luck!


Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula

It seems like the simplest recipes are the best, especially when it comes to tantalizing summer flavors. I recently found in my "recipe archives" a recipe I had saved from The New York Times, July 2008, by Martha Rose Shulman, Recipes for Health, Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes and Arugula. This recipe is easy, simply delicious, and healthy for you.

If you have an abundance of cherry tomatoes in your garden and fresh basil, you must try this recipe. The secret to this recipe, is combining all of these fresh ingredients-- arugula, cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic, sea salt,and olive oil in a bowl, and let them meld and infuse for 15 minutes. Make your pasta, and then toss with your tomato-arugula mixture. Add your cheese. Heaven!

Cherry tomatoes grow well in my kitchen garden, and often times as volunteers out of the compost. One of my favorites is Sun Gold Cherry Tomato, so sweet, it is like candy.

Please share your favorite cherry tomatoes you like to grow. Please comment on how you like to use your fresh tomatoes in your summer cooking.

Blueberries for Breakfast

Blueberries are one of the easiest and rewarding fruits to grow in your garden. Blueberry bushes look great in your landscape. Blueberries are so good for you, and tasty. In a previous post, Feed Your Blueberry Bushes Coffee Grinds I write about my blueberry bushes.

A recap on blueberry basics. Blueberries like sun, water, and good drainage. They do best with two different varieties planted near each other. Grow blueberries that are best for your climate. Some of the varieties that do well in Southern California are O'Neal, Misty, and Sunshine. They are acid-loving plants that thrive with added cottonseed meal, or like I do, coffee grinds to their soil at regular intervals. It is easier in Southern California to grow blueberry bushes in wine half barrels. Grow varieties with different harvests times for a longer blueberry season. Harvest your blueberries when they turn blue, and are sweet to your taste. Blueberries are so good for you, full of antioxidants. Blueberries can be used in sweets and savories.

I have the biggest thrill harvesting my blueberries from "bush to table." My blueberries are such a treat. I use them in many ways, but one of my favorites is to make weekend Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes. I found Martha Stewart's recipe years ago, and it is hard to beat, Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes. Enjoy!

Please share if you grow blueberries. Please share your favorite recipe using your home-grown blueberries.


VintageGardenGal Tidbit Thyme...

Attention Chicken Lovers! Spruce up your chicken coop for VintageGardenGal's Annual Chicken Coop Photo Contest. Send in your photos this coming May!

Encinitas Garden Festival is Saturday, April 30, 2011. For more detailed information and tickets, please visit Encinitas Garden Festival.



Cooking With Georgeanne Brennan

Pork Loin Roast With Young Turnips, Savoy Cabbage and Potatoes Maybe I should have titled this post, cooking with one of my favorite authors. When Sunset magazine, May 2010 issue, featured a wonderful "taste journey" about Georgeanne Brennan's new "Provence in California Culinary Weekends," I was ecstatic.

I have an affinity for Provence, and so does Georgeanne Brennan. I satiate my Provence fix with "two week stays" in Provence, while Georgeanne Brennan has lived off and on in Provence for over thirty years. Now mainly residing in Northern California on a beautiful 10 acre farm, she shares her Provencal cooking expertise in day, and weekend classes.

I thought I had read most of Georgeanne Brennan books until she mentioned in our cooking class she has authored and co-authored over 30 books. Hearing that, reinforces my esteemed opinion of her as a forceful food visionary, placing her alongside Alice Waters, Rosalind Creasy, Michael Pollan, and distinguished others.

Meeting Georgeanne Brennan is such a delight. Immediately you are ease with the peaceful energy she exudes, and the easy going comfortable way she manages her cooking classes. Her cooking classes usually are small and intimate with about 6 students, because they are hands-on cooking classes, pairing up with a new friend to make each recipe.

Georgeanne Brennan's culinary classes generally start at the classy Davis Farmer's Market, where students are given "market dollars" and their own list of ingredients to buy and bring back to her kitchen. Before actually cooking preparation starts, it is out into her massive potager to gather more fresh ingredients for our soon-to-be-made recipes. You can almost close your eyes, and believe you are in Provence. Fresh, seasonal ingredients. Colorful Provencal recipes. Beautiful country ambiance.

Two hours of cooking and baking merits a break for appetizers and Provence rose wine outside under her gigantic walnut tree. Back inside to finish our class, assembling and serving up a gastronomic experience, relaxing at a sit down lunch together sharing tips on making the recipes, stories from Georgeanne, and fun!

Cooking With Georgeanne Brennan

Georgeanne Brennan is busy. A new cheese cookbook out this spring with Williams-Sonoma. Her "Provence in California Culinary Weekends" are popular and sell out fast. She frequently posts seasonal recipes on her website, Georgeanne Brennan. She is frequently asked to write articles for many national magazines, and is on the guest chef circuit at the world renown spa, Rancho La Puerta.

When I think of Georgeanne Brennan, I think of inspiration. Inspiration for fresh, vibrant food. Inspiration for seasonal growing and eating. Inspiration of the Provence culture. Inspiration for the passion of food. Inspiration for sharing a great meal with family and friends. Thank you Georgeanne.

Abundant Artichokes

Artichokes In My Winter Potager With all of the winter rains we've had here in Southern California, my artichokes have blossomed quickly into new plants. Artichokes in zone 9 are a perennial. It is recommended to plant them in the back of your potager or kitchen garden so as not to take away sunlight from other shorter plants growing. Artichokes are so structural at 4 feet high x 6-8 feet wide, they can easily be planted throughout your gardens and in key focal points, too.

Artichokes take full sun and regular water. They can be started in the winter to early spring as small plants, and also by seed if you are patient. Known for their silver green leaves with big flower buds that eventually mature into delicious home-grown "chokes." If the artichoke buds are not harvested, these buds transform themselves into purple-blue thistle 6" flowers. These flowers can be used as spectacular cut flowers or they can be dried for mute-toned fall arrangements.

Artichokes have many reasons to be planted in your garden.Their showy tall plant structure and foliage. Delicious mature artichokes which can be cooked in so many ways.  Showy eye-catching flowers to bring inside. Seeing my artichokes do so well this year, it reminded me of the great wedding planner and stylist,  Colin Cowie's sensational Artichoke Vinaigrette. Recipe follows.

"Artichoke Vinaigrette"

One fresh artichoke heart,  or 2 canned artichoke hearts 1/4 cup Fresh Lemon Juice 1 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard 1 Tbsp. Chopped Shallots 1/4 tsp Salt 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper 1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Puree artichokes and fresh lemon juice in a blender until creamy. Transfer to a small mixing bowl, blend together artichoke-lemon puree with mustard, shallots, salt, and pepper. Slowly whisk in oil. Makes 1 and 1/3 cups vinaigrette. Serve over fresh mixed greens, or use as a glaze for fish during and after grilling. Enjoy!

Please share your favorite artichoke recipe. Please share if you grow artichokes in your garden.

VintageGardenGal Tidbit Thyme...

Please welcome Orgin Day Spa as my latest sponsor. Owner, Kim Brown knows facials and massages, a must for every gardener! She is located in San Diego North County. Please stop in and tell her VintageGardenGal sent you.

Jim Dodge's Bourbon Chocolate-Pecan Cake

Jim Dodge Chocolate Pecan Cake

I'm a big fan of French author Mireille Guiliano who burst onto the publishing scene in 2005 with her book, French Women Don't Get Fat. She has gone on to write several more books, including French Women for All Seasons: A Year of Secrets, Recipes, & Pleasure (Vintage) Mireille Guiliano (and as I also aspire to) lives her life by the seasons. In French Women for All Seasons: A Year of Secrets, Recipes, & Pleasure (Vintage), she writes chocolate isn't strictly seasonal, so it can be certainly be enjoyed year-round, but she emphasizes that chocolate lends itself much better to the fall and winter seasons. I agree, and therefore must share with you one of my favorite winter desserts, Jim Dodge's Bourbon Chocolate-Pecan Cake.

Jim Dodge's Bourbon Chocolate-Pecan Cake
I was given this rich dessert recipe from my dear friend, Janet Leutel, nearly a decade ago. Janet annually compiles a short softcover cookbook of her favorite recipes over the past year, and gives it as a special gift around the holidays.

This is a very rich, dense flour-less cake. Use good chocolate and cocoa powder. The "bourbon" ingredient is optional in this recipe. I generally make it without. Enjoy!

2 cups pecan halves
3/4 pound unsalted butter (divided)
12 oz. bitter or semi-sweet chocolate (divided)
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
6 eggs
1/3 cup bourbon (optional)

Spread pecan halves on a baking sheet and toast in 350 degree oven until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Set aside and cool. Separate out 1/2 cup for decorating top of cake layer. Grind until coarse, 1 and 1/2 cups pecans in food processor, which will be added to the cake mixture later.

Cut circle of parchment to fit bottom of 9" spring form pan. Butter pan well, and line with parchment circle.

Melt 1/2 pound butter and 8 oz. chocolate in top of double boiler over simmering water. Stir until very smooth and set aside to cool.

Mix sugar, cocoa, and eggs just until well combined. Add melted chocolate, stirring to combine. Add coarsely chopped 1 and 1/2 cups pecans, and stir in. Add bourbon if you are using it, as this point.

Pour batter into prepared spring form pan and place this pan into a larger pan with simmering water. Water level should come to 1/2 of spring form cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees in oven until cake is firm to the touch, about 50 minutes.

Cool cake on wire rack, and remove side of the pan. Leave parchment paper on and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (I like to refrigerate cake in spring form pan overnight).

Remove cake from refrigerator, and place upside down on wire rack, or serving dish. Peel off parchment paper and drizzle with glaze. Drizzle the sides, and then the top. Smooth with a spreader. Decorate the top of cake with remaining pecans.

Glaze Recipe:
4 oz bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 pound unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler over simmering water. Stir until completely smooth. Cool about 5 minutes, before spreading on cake.

Please share if you have a traditional dessert you make every holiday. Please share if you are known for a signature gift you make for others each holiday.