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TIP OF THE DAY: Garlic Crostini, Better Than Garlic Bread

Garlic Bread Crostini

Fresh Spinach

Avocado Halves

[1] Garlic bread as a first course—or maybe, as the salad course (photo courtesy California Avocado Commission). [2] Sneak spinach onto your “garlic bread” (photo courtesy Good Eggs | SF). [3] The spinach gets camouflaged with diced avocado (photo courtesy Tio Gazpacho).

  What’s better than garlic bread? Garlic bread crostini!

This appetizer, first course or snack elevates the humble garlic bread we know and love into a fancy (and nutritious) affair.

Garlic bread is toasted and topped with garlic butter or garlic-infused oil. Crostini are toasts topped with any variety of spreads, vegetables and proteins.

The California Avocado Commission fused the two concepts to create garlic bread loaded with avocado, spinach and tomatoes.

It has so many veggies, you can even serve it as the “salad course.”

You can adjust the toppings as you wish: Use different greens, add bacon and/or green onion, etc.

Prep time is 10 minutes, cook time is 10 minutes. It is very easy to make the balsamic glaze rather than buy it: Just reduce a bottle of balsamic vinegar (not the top stuff) into a syrup.

For a wine pairing, California Avocado suggests Petite Sirah.

Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 1/2 large loaf whole wheat or regular ciabatta, sliced lengthwise from the full loaf
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic, divided
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • 1 tablespoon olive or grapeseed oil, divided
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 yellow pepper (substitute orange or red), stem, seeds and membrane removed, sliced into strips
  • 1 ripe avocado*, seeded and peeled
  • Optional: cayenne or red chile flakes
  • Balsamic reduction (also called glaze), purchased or homemade (see Step 2 below)
  •  
    Ingredients For The Balsamic Reduction

  • 16-ounce bottle of balsamic vinegar (least expensive)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 400°F. Melt the butter, add in 2/3 of the garlic, season with salt and pepper. Place the bread on a baking sheet and liberally brush it with the garlic butter.

    2. MAKE the glaze. Pour the vinegar into a pan, add the brown sugar and stir over medium heat, whisking constantly until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half and coats the back of a spoon, about 20 minutes. Cool. If not using that day, store in a jar in the fridge.

    3. SAUTÉ 2 teaspoons of oil and the remaining garlic for 1 minute, in a small skillet. Add the spinach and stir just until it begins to wilt. Remove from the heat, squeeze in a few drops of lemon juice, stir and spread the topping on the prepared bread. In the same pan…

    4. ADD the tomatoes and peppers; sauté for 2 minutes. Place atop the spinach; season with salt and pepper or for more heat, cayenne or chile flakes. Bake for 10-12 minutes. While the bread bakes…

    5. CUT the avocado into bite-sized chunks. Toss the avocado with 1 teaspoon oil, more salt and red pepper as desired and a small squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Top the baked garlic bread with avocado and drizzle with balsamic reduction/glaze. Serve warm.
     
    ________________
    *A large Hass avocado, about 8 ounces, is recommended for this recipe. If using smaller or larger size avocados adjust the quantity accordingly.

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Honor The Cranberry With Cranberry Drinks

    Cranberries are a group of low, creeping evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines, that grow in acidic bogs in the cooler regions of the U.S. and Canada.

    The plants belong to the heather family, Ericaceae, along with the bilberry, blueberry, huckleberry, azalea and other rhododendrons.

    NAMING THE BERRY

    Native American tribes from New England Pequod and Wampanoag to the Leni-Lenape of New Jersey to the Algonquins of Wisconsin variously called them sassamanesh (very sour berry), ibimi (bitter berry) and atoqua in their local tongues.

    The English name derives from kranebere, German for crane berry, so called by early Dutch and German settlers in New England who saw the flower, stem, calyx and petals as resembling the neck, head and bill of a crane.

  • Some New Englanders called them bearberries, as bears were fond of feeding on them.
  • Northeastern Canadians called them mossberries.
  • In the U.K., it’s the fenberry, since the plants grow in a fen (a marsh).
  •  
    CRANBERRY HISTORY

    The Wampanoag People of southeastern Massachusetts had been harvesting wild cranberries for 12,000 years by the time the Pilgrims arrived. The Leni-Lenape of New Jersey and other tribes in the East also were blessed with cranberry bogs.

    Native Americans used cranberries for grits and pemmican—deer meat, mashed cranberries and fat, pressed and dried as a convenience food for travel. Cranberries mashed with cornmeal were baked it into bread.

    While maple sugar and honey were used to sweeten the sour berry, some souls with a palate for the super-tart even ate them fresh.

    Non-food uses included dye, fever-reducers, wound poultices and seasickness remedy.
     
    Cultivating The Cranberry

    The first cultivation of cranberries took place in Dennis, on Cape Cod, around 1816. After that, landowners eagerly converted their peat bogs, swamps and wetlands into cranberry bogs.

    Farmers developed a process called wet harvesting: flooding the bog with water so the cranberries floated to the surface, where they are collected.

    Cranberries found their way across the northern states to the Pacific Northwest, and were first shipped to Europe in the 1820s. From England, they were brought to the cold-appropriate countries of Scotland, Russia and Scandinavia. They’re now grown commercially in Chile as well.

    Today, U.S. Farmers harvest approximately 40,000 acres of cranberries each year (source).

    The fruit is turned into jam, juice, sauce and sweetened dried cranberries, with the remainder sold fresh to consumers for cooking and baking.
     
    CRANBERRY TRIVIA

    A fresh cranberry will bounce, due to the pocket of air inside (photo #3). That’s also why they float.

    The cranberry is one of only three fruits native to North America that were not known in Europe*. The others: the blueberry and the grape.

       

    Cranberry Flower

    Cranberry Bush

    Cranberry Inside

    Fresh <br />Cranberries” width=”230″ height=”230″ class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-87513″ /></p>
<p><font size=[1] The cranberry flower (photo courtesy University of Wisconsin. [2] Cranberries on the branch (photo courtesy University of Minnesota). [3] The air pockets in cranberries enable them to bounce and float (photo courtesy Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association). [4] Fresh cranberries (photo courtesy Ocean Spray).

     

    Mulled Cranberr & Tequila Drink

    Cranberry Punch

    [1] Cranberry Toddy (photo courtesy DeLeon Tequila). [2] Cranberry punch (photo courtesy Ocean Spray).

     

    DRINKING CRANBERRIES

    In Colonial days, a drink known as the Hot Toddy was created as a way to cure ailments (or at least, that was the excuse given).

    Made with rum from the Caribbean, it was also called Hot Buttered Rum: rum, hot water, spices and a pat of butter.

    Today, cranberry juice is drunk as:

  • Cocktails: Cape Codder, Cosmopolitan, Crantini, Toddy and Sea Breeze, among others
  • Juice Drinks
  • Mocktails
  • Smoothies
  •  
    You can create your own drink, mixing cranberry juice with lemon, vanilla, seasonal spices and seasonal fruits.

    We adapted this cocktail recipe from one sent to us by DeLeón Tequila.
     
    RECIPE #1: CRANBERRY TODDY

    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 1½ ounces white/silver tequila
  • 6 ounces cranberry brew
  •  
    For The Cranberry Brew

  • 1 part fresh unsweetened cranberry juice
  • ¾ part fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ part simple syrup
  • Cinnamon, clove and nutmeg to taste
  • Garnish: orange slice (optionally studded with cloves)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SIMMER together the cranberry brew ingredients. Combine with tequila in glass mug.

    2. GARNISH with the orange slice.
     
    RECIPE #2: CRANBERRY PUNCH WITH OR WITHOUT SPIRITS

    How can you resist this holiday punch, with a cranberry wreath in the center?

    The wreath is actually an ice mold to chill the punch, filled with fresh cranberries and leafy herbs.

    The recipe, from Ocean Spray, is for an alcohol-free punch; but you can add spirits to taste.

    Ingredients For About 15 Six-Ounce Servings

  • 1 64-ounce bottle Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 2 cups lemon-lime soda or club soda
  • Optional: spirit of choice (we used gin and cranberry liqueur)
  • Garnish: ice ring with cranberries (substitute orange and lime slices)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MAKE the ice mold. Fill a ring mold with cranberries and “leaves” (herbs or other leaves) and water, and place in the freezer.

    2. COMBINE the cranberry juice cocktail, orange juice and optional spirits in a large punch bowl. Gently stir in soda just before serving. Garnish and serve.

    TIP: To keep the punch cold, store the juice mix, soda and optional spirits in the fridge until ready to serve. We used two large pitchers, which fit easily into the fridge.

    ____________
    *Strawberries and raspberries were also known to Europeans; and many other fruits, such as the pawpaw and the saskatoon, are native to North America, but are not commercially important.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Turn Crudités Into Turkey

    Thanksgiving Crudites Platter

    Thanksgiving Cold Cuts Platter

    [1] Everyone will gobble up these crudités (photo Pinterest). [2] More elaborate: cold cuts—here summer sausage with different cheeses—do the Turkey Trot*.

     

    With Thanksgiving a week away, you have license to lay out any Thanksgiving-styled food right now. Don’t wait for the Big Day, because the day after that it’s…the Christmas rush.

    We found these photos on Pinterest, and regret that we couldn’t find the original sources (if it’s you, let us know).

    Just head to Pinterest.com and search for “turkey vegetable platter” and you’ll be dazzled by dozens of options.

    Thanks to the creative cooks who designed them, the crudités plates are very, very easy. Just buy the ingredients and lay them out the same way.

    WHAT ARE CRUDITÉS?

    Crudités (croo-dih-TAY) is the French term for a traditional appetizer, a platter of raw vegetables usually served with a vinaigrette or other dipping sauce.

    It can include asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, fennel, radishes, and anything else that appeals.

    In the U.S., hummus has become a popular accompaniment.

    The crudité plate is a relative of the American relish tray, a “delicacy” served from the 1700s and still popular up to the 1970s.

    According to Salon.com, it was once considered the most special part of the meal, and a must-have at Thanksgiving dinner.

    Our Nana’s relish tray offered carrot and celery sticks, radishes carved into flowers, black and green olives (the latter pimento-stuffed) and sweet gherkins. She served it in an oblong cut-crystal dish. We loved it!

     
    *WHAT’S A TURKEY TROT?

    The original Turkey Trot was an dance created in the early 1900s, danced to fast ragtime music—usually by those young enough to keep up.

    Among other steps, dancers hopped first on one leg, then the other: “fast trotting actions with abrupt stops.”

    Watch this video, with a contemporary dance teacher breaking down the steps so you can follow (fast forward past the inaudible opening comments).

    The Turkey Trot was denounced by the Vatican for “offensively suggestive” positions. Conservative adults tried to get it banned at public functions for promoting “immorality.” Dancers were fined for disorderly conduct.

    All of this only served to increase the dance’s popularity.

    But by 1914, the fad was over. The foxtrot, a conservative dance based on the waltz, ascended. Here’s more on the Turkey Trot.

    WANT TO TURKEY TROT ON THANKSGIVING?

    Watch the video and put on some ragtime music.

    You’ll wonder what the Vatican was so concerned about (well, there is one brief moment of booty-flaunting).

    And, a round of Turkey Trot can distract from the anticipation of waiting for the food to be ready.
     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Thanksgiving Chocolate Bars Or Bark

    Dark Chocolate Bar

    Thanksgiving Chocolate Bark

    Thanksgiving Chocolate Bar

    Thanksgiving Chocolate Bark

    [1] Turn a plain 3.5-ounce chocolate bar into a Thanksgiving bar (photo courtesy Livestrong). [2] You can present the bars whole, or break them up into bark (photo courtesy The Nutrition Adventure). [3] You can use your favorite chocolate, whether dark, milk or [4] white chocolate (photo #3 courtesy Chocolate Inspirations, photo #4 courtesy My Catholic Kitchen.

     

    We love to make chocolate bark, especially since we discovered this easy technique from Australian blogger Erika Rax. You can make bark almost instantly: for family, friends or gifting.

    In the conventional technique, the chocolate is chopped and melted, the inclusions mixed in, the mixture spread on a baking sheet to set and then broken up.

    Here, whole chocolate bars are topped with the inclusions, then placed in the oven so the bar melts and the inclusions set in.

    The result: chocolate bars with your favorite toppings, that can be broken into bark if you wish. Personally, we give them whole as gifts, and break them up when serving them with coffee.
     
    RECIPE: THANKSGIVING CHOCOLATE BARS OR BARK

    Use the chocolate of your choice—dark, milk, white—or make one of each. Just ensure that the toppings contrast with the color of the chocolate.
    You can use raw or roasted pumpkin seeds, as long as they’re hulled and unsalted.

    You can use as much topping as you like, from elegantly spare to voluptuously overloaded.

    You can place the toppings in an artistic pattern, or just toss them on.
     
    Ingredients For 2 Chocolate Bars

  • 2 3.5-ounce chocolate bars (Cailler, Green & Black’s, Guittard, Lindt, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • Optional: 1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped or golden raisins (sultanas)
  • Optional: 1/8 cup pecans halves or pistachio nuts
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • Optional: coarse/flaky sea salt or kosher salt (a great use for beautiful Maldon salt or alea red volcanic salt, actually a dark “harvest orange” color), to taste
  • Optional spice: 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 170°F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and line with parchment, leaving an overhang on ends.

    2. SPACE the bars on the baking sheet bottom side up, with ample space between them (the pattern normally on top of the bar is on the bottom so the toppings have a level base). Arrange the toppings on top of the bars.

    3. PLACE the baking sheet in the oven for 3-5 minutes until the chocolate just begins to soften. Don’t overheat or the bars will lose their shape.

    4. REMOVE from the oven, lift the parchment from the hot baking sheet and place onto the counter to cool. Once cooled, store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. While bark will last longer, for gifting make it no more than 3 days in advance, and wrap it in plastic or foil before gifting.

    You can also make your own paper chocolate bar label on the computer.
     
    GET READY, GET SET, MAKE YOUR THANKSGIVING CHOCOLATE.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Thanksgiving Cheeses

    Jack O'Pumpkseed Cheese

    Cranberry Chevre Goat Cheese

    Gouda With Pumpkin Seeds

    Pumpkinseed Gouda Cheese

    [1] Jack O’Pumpkinseed, a mountain-style cheese from Switzerland. [2] Cranberry goat cheese log from Montchèvre. [3] Pumpkin spice goat cheese log from Montchèvre. [4] Another Pumpkinseed Gouda from The Netherlands, at Sam’s Club.

     

    If you read our articles on Halloween Cheeses, you know that many of them are colorful representation of the Harvest Season.

    They certainly work for Thanksgiving. But for a smashing Thanksgiving-specific cheese plate, check out these holiday-themed cheeses: a blue, a goat, and semihard cheeses (Cheddar, Gouda, Swiss).

  • Blue Cheese. No cranberries or pumpkin seeds here, but blue cheese lovers will appreciate the hot chiles mixed into Carr Valley Glacial Wildfire Blue, an artisan cheese from Wisconsin.
  • Cranberry Cheddar, Jack, Stilton and Wensleydale: different retailers will carry one or the other. Seek them out: They’re sure to be a hit.
  • Swiss-Style: Jack O’Pumpkinseed. This washed rind cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland has chopped roasted pumpkin seeds in both the paste and the rind. The paste is very smooth with a creamy mouthfeel. Bonus: tiny eyes. Available at iGourmet and elsewhere.
  • Goat Cheese. A number of cheese factories make fresh goat cheese logs rolled in dry cranberries. The Cranberry Chevre Log at Trader Joe’s is just $3.99.
  • Gouda-Style: From The Netherlands, Kaamps Gouda-Style Cheese With Pumpkin Seeds is a popular item at Sam’s Clubs (more information).
  •  
    The semi-hard cheeses are great for a seasonal cheeseburger.

     
    SEASONAL ACCOMPANIMENTS

  • Apple chips. Our favorite brand is Bare Fruit.
  • Breads. cranberry orange, cranberry walnut, herb, nut, semolina
  • Fall fruits. apples, figs, pears, persimmons, pomegranate
  • Plate garnish. Decorate with cinnamon sticks, fresh sage, pomegranate arils, star anise
  • Pumpkin butter.
  • Seasonal crackers. We especially like the Oat Cakes and Rye Cakes from Effie’s Homemade.
  • Spiced pumpkin seeds. You can buy them (our favorite is Superseedz or season and roast your own.
  •  
    HOW TO ROAST PUMPKIN SEEDS

    You can bake raw, hulled pumpkin seeds at 300°F for 45 minutes until golden brown, or roast them in a skillet on the stove top.

    Ingredients For 1 Cup

  • 1 cup (5 ounces) hulled pumpkin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Spices of choice
  • Fine sea salt to taste
  •  
    Preparation: Oven Technique

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 300°F. Toss the seeds in a bowl with the melted butter and salt. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet or in a baking pan.

    2. BAKE for about 45 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally.

     
    Preparation: Skillet Technique

    1. PLACE the seeds in a dry heavy skillet, 9- to 10-inches, over moderate heat. Stir constantly until the seeds are puffed and golden, 4 to 5 minutes.

    2. TRANSFER to a bowl. Stir in the oil and seasonings; toss thoroughly until all seeds are coated.

      

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