Fig and Olive Risotto

“By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by USA Rice Federation and am eligible to win  prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.”

I can’t figure out whether or not I’m a patient person. 

If we were to find ourselves on an NYC subway car, for example, and an announcement came on that we were being held until further notice, you would never hear me shout, “AWH YOU KIDDIN’ ME?” I’m a rarity in New York. Also, I can practice violin for extended periods with (relative) success and with (debatably) good concentration, which I definitely consider one of my best achievements.

 

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But in the kitchen, I’m super inconsistent. I love the mundane aspects of cooking that a lot of people hate, like chopping and measuring. But if a dish is slow to cook on its own, and yet STILL requires my constant and careful attention, like risotto? Bye. Also, oats made on the stove. What even are those? I’m hungry in the morning… Team watery, high-risk-of-overflowing microwave oats all the way.

 

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I have been trying to improve my kitchen patience, though. I mean, I’ve gotten SUPER picky about cutting all of my vegetables perfectly into appropriately sized, even cuts. I know that’s not really anything special, but whatever, just humor me. I think I’m doing a good job here.

 

Another thing I’ve been trying to do lately is balance my food groups better. With my ridiculous, often unpredictable schedule, it becomes so easy to fall into food routines – and not necessarily good ones. It becomes so easy to miss meals and then rely on snacks during lunch and dinner hours, which has become more normal than I’d like. Example: I had popcorn for dinner a few weeks ago. It was homemade though, and then I covered it in cilantro (that I dried myself – boo yah!) so I guess there was a serving of greens in there? Ugh. Also, “lunch” has recently become a spoonful of plain greek yogurt with cinnamon, pomegranate seeds, and a tablespoon of homemade granola. There was one day last week I ate that twice… In one day.

 

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But now I feel that things are looking up, because I conquered this risotto, and have thus conquered my two biggest food-related weaknesses; kitchen patience, and food group balancing. The patience is worth it though, because this risotto is the BOMB DIGGITY. Do people say that anymore? Also, because the base of this dish is rice, it makes for a great balanced meal, which is healthy and delicious!

 

rice

 

Because of its many benefits, the USA Rice Federation has encouraged the Recipe Reduxers to spread the love, and “Think Rice.” USA-grown rice is naturally trans fat-, cholesterol-, sodium-, and gluten-free, so if you’re watching your intake of any or all of those things (…or not), rice is a great choice. It’s also inexpensive, easy to buy in bulk, and goes well with pretty much anything you want to put on or in it. It gets this hungry-but-frugal grad student’s seal of approval, and you can definitely be “Thinking Rice” with this mighty tasty risotto! Although it takes some time, it’s pretty easy to make. It actually tastes way more complicated than it is. In the words of my spirit animal Ina Garten, “How easy is that?!”

 

Fig and Olive Risotto
Serves 4
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
1 hr
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
1 hr
Ingredients
  1. 1 tbs. dried porcini mushrooms
  2. 1 c. boiling water
  3. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 1 generous sprig sage, chopped
  5. 3 tbs. plus 1 tbs. olive oil
  6. 1 medium-large yellow onion, chopped
  7. 1 1/4 cups U.S.A. grown, organic arborio -or- short grain brown rice
  8. 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
  9. 4 cups vegetable stock
  10. 1/3 cup dried mission figs, chopped
  11. 1/3 cup pitted, oil-cured black olives, chopped
  12. 1/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
  13. Salt and pepper, to taste (if desired)
Instructions
  1. Soak the dried mushrooms in the boiling water. Let soak for 30 minutes, or until fully hydrated.
  2. Bring vegetable stock to a boil in a saucepan. When boiling, reduce to a simmer.
  3. Chop garlic and sage. Set aside.
  4. Chop onion. Set aside.
  5. Chop figs and olives. Set aside.
  6. Once mushrooms are hydrated, strain and then reserve the soaking liquid through a cheesecloth or paper towel. Chop the mushrooms. Set aside.
  7. Add 3 tbs. of olive oil to a large, deep skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and sage and let sweat until fragrant.
  8. Add onion to skillet. Stir frequently, cooking until semi-translucent, about 3 minutes.
  9. Add rice to skillet, plus one more tablespoon of olive oil. Toss to coat, and toast for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.
  10. Add wine to skillet.
  11. Once wine liquid has cooked off, add mushroom liquid and a ladleful of the hot stock. Stir occasionally, until liquid is absorbed.
  12. Add 1-2 more ladlefuls of stock. Stir occasionally until liquid is absorbed, then add more stock. Repeat until rice is al dente. Add figs and olives to pan about halfway through the cooking process (when stock is half gone).
  13. Remove risotto from heat. Stir in cheese, plus salt and pepper to taste if desired.
Notes
  1. Garnish with sage leaves, thinly sliced fig, and/or extra pecorino. Because cheese.
  2. Save time by chopping your garlic, sage, onion, etc. while the mushrooms are soaking and the stock is heating up.
  3. Kill time while waiting for the risotto to cook by drinking the leftover wine 😉
The Hungry Musician http://thehungrymusician.com/


Mini Spinach & Artichoke Mac and Cheeses

“I received free samples of Cabot Cheese mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe challenge sponsored by Cabot Creamery and am eligible to win prizes. I was not additionally compensated for my time.”

 

They say it’s football season, but I don’t watch football. I’d rather cook game-day food for you while YOU watch football. 

 

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I’ve been going to Superbowl parties for years, and have never been in the room where the game is on for any time period exceeding five minutes. I’d need three hands to count the number of times I’ve had football explained to me, and it’s just never going to happen. Thus, my job is to wander aimlessly between the dining room and the kitchen, sampling the waves of various bite-size things that come out of the oven. You know, for quality control. 

 

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Usually, the standard fare for Superbowl parties includes bite-sized treats like wings, mini hot dogs, mini meatballs, mini quiches, mini pizzas, etc. Another big thing is dips, and one of my all-time favorites is spinach artichoke. So I combined all these concepts into a super creamy mac and cheese, and then baked them in adorable little paper baking cups I found at Michael’s, which may in fact be my newest obsession (see above).

 

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Did I mention that it also contains two kinds of cheddar cheese? Cabot Creamery was kind enough to send the Recipe Reduxers (count ’em) SEVEN different kinds of cheese this month. You can imagine my heaven. I am a huge Cabot fan, because not only is the cheese amazing, but they’re owned by family farmers and give all of their profits back to the 1200 farms that provide the dairy for their products. Just when I thought I couldn’t love cheese any more.

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So, I used two cheddars for this recipe: Cabot’s Seriously Sharp and Alpine Cheddars. I’ve always loved the Seriously Sharp, and buy it regularly to keep on hand for snacking. It is SO good that once, I bought the cracker cuts to try and make my portion-controlling easier. The opposite effect occurred, so I (begrudgingly) went back to buying the block. 😛

The Alpine, which I’d never had, was SUPER nutty and delicious, and I totally associated it with cheesy spinach artichoke dip. I also threw some Cabot greek yogurt into the mix, which upped the creaminess by about 200%. SO good.

 

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I’ll just leave all of this here. Go forth and be cheesy.

 

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Mini Spinach & Artichoke Mac and Cheeses
Serves 12
Perfectly portioned servings of creamy mac and cheese for your next party!
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
40 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. 12 paper baking cups (available in crafts stores)
  2. 1 lb. whole wheat elbow macaroni pasta
  3. 5 large canned artichoke hearts, chopped
  4. 1 package frozen spinach (8-10 oz.), thawed, squeezed thoroughly, and chopped
  5. 4 oz. (1/2 block) Cabot Alpine cheddar, grated
  6. 4 oz. (1/2 block) Cabot Seriously Sharp cheddar, grated
  7. 1/2 cup Cabot Greek-style yogurt
  8. 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  9. Salt and pepper, to taste
Topping
  1. 1/2 cup unseasoned whole wheat breadcrumbs
  2. 1 tbs. olive oil
  3. 1 tbs. Cabot Alpine cheddar, grated
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
  2. Put pasta into a pot and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil to the water. Bring water to boil. Shortly after coming to a boil, the pasta should be cooked. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water and drain the rest.
  3. Return the reserved pasta water to the macaroni. Add cheese and mix until melted.
  4. Add yogurt and garlic powder, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Fill each baking cup with a generous portion of macaroni.
  6. Combine topping ingredients and mix until oil is evenly distributed.
  7. Sprinkle topping evenly over the individual mac and cheeses.
  8. Bake until topping is golden, about 10 minutes.
Notes
  1. Depending on the size of your baking cups, this recipe may yield up to 16 servings.
The Hungry Musician http://thehungrymusician.com/


Whole Wheat Cranberry Herb Challah

Food, Recipes, Sides | November 21, 2014 | By

You GUYYYYYYS.

I did it. 

I made you the best homemade bread in the entire world.  Before you get all skeptical and tell me to stop using so many superlatives, hear me out. First of all, this is challah, so it’s automatically better than all other bread, just by virtue of BEING challah. Second, there are NO bleached or processed flours WHATSOEVER in this recipe. Still not sold? It’s soft and warm on the inside and golden brown on the outside. AND, it has herbs and cranberries in it. 

I knew you’d come around. 

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This week, I went around telling everyone I possibly could about this challah because it came out perfectly. To my surprise, I got the question, “What is a challah?” several times. So, just in case, here’s the Merriam-Webster definition:

chal·lah

 noun

1) egg-rich yeast-leavened bread that is usually braided or twisted before baking and is traditionally eaten by Jews on the Sabbath and holidays

2) the most fantastic food in the universe

Ok, so I may have put that last part in there. I know, I know, the superlatives.

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This month’s Recipe Redux challenge was to recreate a healthy version of a dish that we associate with happy memories. As a child, having gone to my synagogue’s preschool and having been raised in a Reform Jewish household, challah was one of the first foods I can remember eating regularly. Every Friday morning, my parents would buy a challah from the bagel shop and bring it home for Shabbat in the evening. We would say the “hamotzi” blessing all together (or in some cases, sing, because singing is one of the only ways you can get a 4-year-old to do anything), and then pass around the eggy end piece, each tearing off a bite. This was always my favorite part of the Shabbat blessings, because the end piece of the challah is pretty much the BEST. It also meant that afterward, we would sit down to a beautiful meal as a family. Even if it was just takeout, it was always a given that we’d be eating it together. (Crying yet, mom? :D)

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On top of all these fond memories, challah has always been my ultimate sicky-time comfort food. Any time I come down with a cold, bug, or food poisoning, even when I can’t fathom the idea of putting anything into my stomach, the one food I will always agree to eat is challah. And, I’m always fine to eat it again once I recover. Challah may not be physically capable of having any bad memories attached to it. This has been true for 22 years, and I don’t see it changing. 

As with all great comfort foods though, challah isn’t always the best for you. Most challahs you will find for sale are made with processed white flours and sugars. If you’re like me and are trying to limit your processed food intake, comfort foods like these are often very hard to give up. Like, what if I want to eat challah more often than once every few months?   

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Well, I’ve found a solution. At least for me! 😉 This recipe uses roughly 2 parts whole wheat flour and 1 part whole wheat pastry flour. Originally, I was petrified that the dough wouldn’t rise like I wanted due to the heavier consistency of the flours I put in the dough. Instead, the baked end result was just as fluffy in the middle as the challah I grew up eating. Only it was nuttier, sweeter, and filled with herbs and cranberries.

I’m still shocked, but I won’t question it. I’ll just make my own challah from now on, and hope I don’t sick of it. Eh, who am I kidding. I could never be sick of challah.

Also, by the way, this recipe would impress the pants off your Thanksgiving guests, and would be even MORE amazing if made into individual dinner rolls. AHHHH THE POSSIBILITIES! When is the next Thanksgivukkah happening again? 😀

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  *This recipe makes two loaves. I made one traditional three-strand braided loaf and one with a round braid. You can read up on how to do both here and here.  

Whole Wheat Cranberry Herb Challah
Yields 2
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Prep Time
4 hr
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
4 hr 30 min
Prep Time
4 hr
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
4 hr 30 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 packet active dry yeast (1/4 oz)
  2. 3/4 cup warm water
  3. 1/4 cup + 1 tbs. honey
  4. 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  5. 3 eggs (2 for dough, 1 for egg wash)
  6. 1 tsp. salt
  7. 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  8. 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  9. 1 tbs. fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
  10. 1/4 cup fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  11. 1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
Instructions
  1. Empty yeast into a large bowl and add warm (NOT hot) water.
  2. Whisk in 1 tbs. of honey until mixture is thoroughly combined. Let sit until yeast is foamy, about 10 minutes.
  3. Whisk in 2 eggs, remaining honey, oil, and salt until combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine both flours.
  5. Add flour to yeast mixture gradually, kneading with your hands until fully combined and there are no spots of dry flour left.
  6. Let dough stand in an oiled bowl and in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  7. Once dough has risen, deflate and add cranberries, thyme, and rosemary. Knead until incorporated.
  8. Divide the dough in half. Each half will be one loaf, so depending on what braiding you want, divide each half again accordingly.
  9. Braid loaves, and transfer them to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Let sit for one more hour to rise.
  10. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
  11. Brush each loaf with remaining egg, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Do not overbake!
Adapted from What Jew Wanna Eat
The Hungry Musician http://thehungrymusician.com/


Spaghetti Squash Carbonara with Peas

Gluten Free, Recipes, Sides | November 9, 2014 | By

“I received free samples of Libby’s new Vegetable Pouches mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by Libby’s and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.”

I am the queen of overcomplicating things.

It’s true.

I always make things more involved than they need to be. This applies to all aspects of my life, although it happens to come up mostly when I’m preparing food. The recipe has to feature the least findable ingredients, or I HAVE to try a new lengthy cooking technique, or the dish has to be the way I first imagined it, even if the time saving way would be just as good. Sometimes this works out, but really, most of the time it just makes things less convenient for me (surprise?).

Does this sound like you? Or, are you a big fan of making everything as simple and easy as possible, whenever possible? Either way, I think I have something you might like.

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For the final sponsored contest of the year, Libby’s kindly sent the Recipe Redux bloggers some free samples of their new vegetable packets! The packets will be in stores starting in January, and I’m loving them for a few reasons. They’re precooked, packed in water without preservatives, easier to open and faster to use than canned veggies, and the packages fit nice and cozy into my packed kitchen cabinets! Ahhh, city living. Plus, because they’re precooked, they can be added to any dish in a snap! 

Originally, when I read that we would be working with precooked veggies, my mind (as per usual) glazed over the entire point and went straight to recipe ideas that were complicated and involved. But, like I said, that was the opposite of the point. These veggies can be used to accomplish a quick, easy dish – so they should be! So, I made a lower-carb version of a dish many of us know and love: pasta carbonara. Or should I say, LOW-CARBonara. Heh. Dad jokes.

squash

Spaghetti squash is an incredible, low-calorie alternative for pasta if you’re trying to watch your carbs. You don’t taste much of a difference when sauce is inolved, and the texture is shockingly similar. In fact, when roasted with some olive oil and seasoning, spaghetti squash has even MORE flavor than pasta. Whaaaaat? Mind blown.

While traditional carbonara is just made with parmesan, eggs, and bacon, I have had it with peas added, and it was oh so delicious. So, I threw a whole packet of Libby’s peas in there. Woops 😉 It was delicious, and I felt pretty good having snuck even MORE vegetables into the dish. It’s actually not that sneaky (in fact, it’s pretty obvious that the peas are there), but they make the dish even better. I promise!

 

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The only thing about this dish that requires any type of “waiting” is the squash. Spaghetti squash only takes about a half an hour to cook, but if you want to make this dish EVEN quicker, prep and shred your spaghetti squash ahead of time, and store it in the fridge for a day or two before using. If you prepare the squash prior to cooking, all you have to do is reheat the squash when you’re ready, and the dish will take you about 10 minutes from start to finish. Pretty great, huh? Be sure though, that no matter what preparation you choose, that you drain the squash “noodles” well before mixing them into the sauce. Otherwise, the sauce may become a bit watery.

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Spaghetti Squash Carbonara
Serves 5
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 large spaghetti squash
  2. Olive oil
  3. Salt and pepper
Sauce
  1. 6 oz. thick cut uncooked bacon, chopped
  2. 2 shallots, diced
  3. 1 1/2-2 tsp. crushed garlic
  4. 1 pouch Libby's peas, drained and rinsed
  5. 2 eggs, beaten
  6. 1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, plus extra for serving
  7. Pepper, to taste
  8. 2 tbs. Fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Instructions
  1. Ahead of time, prepare the squash. Preheat oven to 400˚F.
  2. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and thoroughly remove seeds.
  3. Drizzle flesh with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.
  4. Turn the squash flesh side down. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until flesh is easily shredded with a fork.
  5. Remove flesh and store in refrigerator if not planning to use immediately.
  6. -
  7. Add chopped bacon to a pan over medium heat.
  8. Once mostly cooked through, add garlic and shallots to pan.
  9. Once bacon is crispy, remove from heat, and add peas to the pan.
  10. Combine cheese and egg in a separate bowl.
  11. If spaghetti squash has been prepared ahead of time or has cooled, reheat squash until very hot. Drain.
  12. Toss squash into the pan with the bacon and pea mixture.
  13. Transfer contents to a serving bowl, and toss with cheese and egg mixture, thoroughly tossing to ensure the egg mixture cooks and the cheese melts.
  14. Season with pepper as desired.
  15. Serve with chopped parsley and more shredded parmigiano.
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse
The Hungry Musician http://thehungrymusician.com/


Ricotta Toasts with Pomegranate Olive Relish

Last week was full of the most fortunate accidents.

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Last Wednesday, while seeing a friend of mine perform at Carnegie Hall (casually), I ran into a different friend who I hadn’t seen in forever backstage – he was seeing a friend of HIS performing on the same concert. Crazy, right? Sometimes the music world is just the right amount of small.

Then on Halloween, I had dinner with two former teachers, one of whom was in town with the Philadelphia Orchestra. They were going to be playing Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, also at Carnegie, but they sold out before I was able to get a ticket. *Commence hysterical crying sequence* So, I went to the hall 40 minutes before the performance to test my luck.

While waiting on the cancellation line, I met the nicest concertgoer who had an extra balcony center ticket she was trying to sell. I don’t usually trust total strangers, but in the name of Mahler… Who KNOWS what atrocities I would commit in the name of MAHLER 😉 The concert was incredible, and I’m sure I cried for about 33% of it.. Ok, I cried the whole time. I miss that orchestra and everyone/everything in Philadelphia so much. It was a bittersweet (but mostly sweet) taste of my second home! 

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But even before all of this, the week of happy accidents kicked off on Sunday with a little brunch I put together for family at my apartment. You know those days when you have something REALLY specific in mind to cook, but then the grocery store doesn’t have every single EXACT ingredient you plan to use? No? First world problems? I’ll stop talking.

…No I won’t, that’ll never happen. The plan was to make crostini with a crusty whole grain bread and then this here relish. My grocery store didn’t have any kind of fresh baguette that was made with whole grain flour. So, I settled for a whole grain bagel. This was, weirdly enough, the best decision I could have made. I cut the bagel into very thin rounds, tossed them in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and baked them (until they were ALMOST burnt – this was a less fortunate accident). Homemade crunchy bagel chips? IS THIS REAL LIFE?!   IMG_0349

The rest of the recipe went exactly as planned. Sweet and tart pomegranate arils, briny chopped olives, thyme, and citrus all mixed together and left to sit overnight, and then sprinkled over the bagel chips which had been generously schmeared with ricotta. Oh, and then I drizzled honey on top of alllll of it because I have zero self control. You drooling yet? If you’re not, I’m worried. 

 Not only are these toasts like a holiday in your mouth, they LOOK like something you should be serving for the late fall and early winter holidays! Between all the deep reds, greens, and earth tones, all you need is a crackling fire and some hot cider and you’re good to go. I felt a little guilty for sneaking some summer ingredients into the relish, but they worked! I’m not trying to hold onto summer or anything, but not everything has to be cold all the time in the fall and winter. I’m all for seasonal ingredients, but sometimes in the winter, you just need to “wake up” a little.

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Plus, these ARE perfect for entertaining! Super easy to put together, minimal cooking required, and taste fancier than they actually are.  Make them for your family, friends, and neighbors at your next holiday. They will definitely be back. Make them for your book club – instead of discussing the latest chapters in The Fault in Our Fifty Shades of Twilight, you may end up spending the whole time convincing your winedrunk friends that no, these are not in fact that hard to make. Impressive, delicious, and low maintenance. Just how entertaining should be! 

My one word of advice: whoever you do make these for, make more than you think you’ll need – it’s pretty much impossible to stop at just one.

 

Ricotta Toasts with Pomegranate Olive Relish
Yields 50
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
40 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
40 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 whole grain bagels, sliced into rounds
  2. 2 tbs. olive oil
  3. Salt and pepper to taste
  4. 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  5. honey
Relish
  1. 1.5 cups pomegranate seeds
  2. 1/2 cup mixed olives, pitted and chopped
  3. 1 tsp. grapefruit zest
  4. 1 tbs. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  5. 1/2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
Instructions
  1. Combine all relish ingredients into a mixing bowl. Let sit for at least 4 hours (or overnight) in the fridge.
  2. Preheat oven to 325˚F.
  3. Slice bagels into rounds - the slices don't have to be the same shape, but should maintain even thickness.
  4. Toss bagel slices with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  5. Arrange on a baking sheet. After about 5-7 minutes, check to see if the first side of the bagel slices are browned and crispy. If so, flip them and return to oven. Watch frequently to prevent burning!
  6. Once both sides are crispy, remove from oven and let cool.
  7. Spread ricotta on each toast, then top with about 1 teaspoon of relish.
  8. Once all toasts are assembled, drizzle them with honey and serve.
The Hungry Musician http://thehungrymusician.com/