Thursday, September 29, 2011

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce


As an easy alternative to tomato sauce, roasted red pepper sauce increases the elegance of any pasta dish.  I especially like it on ravioli where it can play off of the flavors of the filling: here I used it atop artichoke ravioli.  It would also be sublime on a pizza or in lasagna.

This sauce comes together in a snap and is easily adjusted to make any quantity.

Ingredients:
- Red bell pepper
- olive oil
- garlic
- salt
- oregano
- red pepper flakes (optional)

Directions:
- Rub the outside of the red pepper with olive oil and put it in a pan under the broiler.
- Cook the red pepper until the outside is charred, rotating as needed.
- When the pepper comes out of the oven, cover it with a bowl or towel.
- Once the pepper is cool enough to handle, the skin should easily rub away.
- Remove the top and pulp inside and put the rest of the pepper in a blender or food processor.
- Puree until smooth.
- In a small pan, combine a healthy drizzle of olive oil (about 1 tbsp per average sized pepper), some minced garlic, a sprinkle of salt, some dried or fresh oregano, and the red pepper flakes, (these provide a little heat as the roasted red bell pepper is actually quite sweet).
- Heat the oil over medium until fragrant, then stir in the red pepper puree.
- Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes to let the flavors combine.
- Adjust seasoning as needed.  A little pasta water can be added to thin the sauce if desired.

For a little extra decadence you could add a dash of cream and/or parmesan cheese to the sauce, though it is certainly delicious as is.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Celebrate Celery with Sensational Seasonal Soup



Celery.  You know.  That green stuff that's usually left on the crudite platter, alone and limp.  That ingredient you usually skip in complicated recipes because you don't have it and who wants to buy a whole bunch of celery for a stalk or two and who's going to notice anyway?

Well, I have news for you: celery is actually really delicious.

But!  There are two rules for maximum celery deliciousness:
1. Buy quality celery that still has its leaves.
2. Cook it!

When you're making a dish that really features the celery, I recommend seeking it out at a farmers' market, (contrastingly, if you're looking for a vehicle for ants on a log then giant, watery, crispy supermarket celery is the way to go).  Farmers' market (organic) celery will usually look a little different: the stalks will likely be much thinner, it will probably be darker green, and it will have a full crown of lovely leaves.  This is a wonderful thing.  While I find the stalks themselves to be more flavorful, the leaves of the celery are actually the most flavorful part and should be used for cooking.  If you buy from a supermarket, they often cut the leaves off entirely or leave just a few.  Ask your produce manager to sell celery with leaves!

Okay, so you have quality celery.  It will be tasty on its own, but cooking celery really brings out the delicate flavors.  Regardless, these are not in your face flavors. A little grassy and floral with just a hint of onion, it is subtlety embodied.  But make the time and effort to appreciate this flavor and you will find it most pleasing.  This soup is very pleasing, indeed.

Ingredients:
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tsp salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- a pinch of paprika
- 1 1/2 c. diced yellow onion
- 3 c. diced celery stalks
- 2 c. roughly chopped celery leaves
- 3 c. water
- zest and juice of 1/4 lemon



Directions:
- Melt the butter in a large-ish pot and add the onions, celery, salt, a few grinds of pepper, and paprika.
- Cook over medium heat until the onions are transparent, about 15 minutes.  Stir as needed.
- Add the 2 c. celery leaves for the last five minutes.
- Add the the water, zest, and lemon juice.
- Cover and simmer over low heat for at least 30 minutes, (I let it go for an hour).
- Carefully pour the soup into a blender and blend on high until the soup is smooth.
- Taste and adjust for seasoning.  I added just a little smoked sea salt.
- Serve plain or with a dollop of greek yogurt and paprika or celery salt for garnish.

If you have leftover celery leaves, dry them for future use!  Lay them out on a baking sheet and put in a 250 degree oven for about 5 minutes, until they are dry enough to crumble.  You can make celery salt, a lovely garnish, or keep them plain to add a little celery flavor to future dishes.

If you absolutely can't find celery with (enough) leaves, you can still try the recipe but I would add some celery seed, increase the amount of celery stalks, and try to reduce the soup a bit to intensify the flavor.

Enjoy!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Habanero Peach Hot Sauce


I grew some habanero peppers this year, an impulsive nursery purchase for which I had no plan.  So they grew and grew and I began to accumulate them as I harvested, not knowing what to do.  After one mouth-burning salsa that determined that I wouldn't be eating them raw, I decided to try my hand at cooking hot sauce.  It turned out quite well: insanely spicy, but not without flavor.  Now I just have to figure out what I'll use the hot sauce for...

Ingredients:
- 6 habanero peppers (I used them when they were orange-- hotter-- but you could use green ones, too)
- 1 peach
- 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 c. water
- 1 tbsp olive oil

- Skin and dice the peach, chop up the pepper (wearing gloves!!!), and combine in a food processor, blending until smooth.
- Combine the puree with all other ingredients in a small sauce pan.
- Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
- Allow to cool and then refrigerate.

That's all!  Enjoy!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Beet & Goat Cheese Tart



This one is worth staining your fingers pink!

Beets and goat cheese are a classic combination: go to any semi-chic luncheon spot and you will see a beet and goat cheese salad on the menu.  Earthy and sweet, creamy and tart: they're a perfect pair.  Throw a little balsamic vinegar in there, maybe some walnuts, and you've got yourself one delicious and satisfying lunch.

But what if you're not in the mood for a messy, banal chopped up salad?  What if you want something a tad more refined, a little prettier, a little... fancy?  Well, if that's you-- and even if it's not-- I have a tart that might just knock your socks off.

This tart is very simple: a whole wheat crust, a goat cheese filling, roasted beets, and a balsamic glaze.  A little thyme throughout emphasizes the earthiness and helps bring it into fall.

Crust:
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp water
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme or Italian herb blend
- 1/2 c. all purpose flour
- 1/2 c. whole wheat flour

- Cut up the butter and combine in a large glass bowl with the olive oil, water, salt, and herbs.
- Put the bowl in an oven preheated to 400 degrees and bake for 15 minutes.
- Carefully take the bowl out and add the flours all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon until combined.
- Let the dough cool until it is safe to handle.
- Place the dough in your tart pan and push it out with your fingers, making sure to press it firmly into the sides.
- Bake the tart shell at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes, until it is just firm but still pale.  Set aside to cool.



Filling:
- 1/4 c. minced onion or shallot
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- dash of freshly ground black pepper
- 2 eggs
- 5 oz. fresh goat cheese, softened
- 2-ish roasted beets

- Add the onion to a food processor, (a mini/prep version will do), and pulse a few times until it is finely minced.
- Add the remaining ingredients, except the beets, and blend until the mixture is even.
- Pour the goat cheese blend into your cooled tart shell.
- Peel and slice your beets into 1/4" slices.  You could certainly slice your beets thinner for a more elegant look, but be sure not to fan them out too much or they may dry out during baking.
- Delicately arrange the beet slices on top of the goat cheese mixture, taking care to 'float' them rather than push them in.  I recommend laying your slices out on a plate first so you know just how you want them: once you put them on the goat cheese you won't want to move them.
- Bake the tart at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the goat cheese is set.

Glaze:
- 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp honey
- dash of pepper
- 1/4 tsp. fresh thyme leaves

- Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan and simmer until it is reduced by half, the honey bubbles, and the mixture becomes syrupy.
- Brush over the top of the tart as soon as it comes out of the oven, (you won't use it all).
- Allow the tart to cool before serving.



With the multiple steps, this tart can be a little time consuming but there's nothing actually difficult about it.  Even better, the crust can be made and par-baked and the beets can be roasted days ahead of time, leaving only a little whirring of the food processor and some arranging to do before tossing it in the oven.

Serve this savory tart with a simple green salad, a delicate vegetable soup, or some lightly sauteed greens.  Refrigerate it if it won't be consumed the day it's made.

And guess what?  If you swap the herbs in the crust for a bit of sugar, leave the onions out of the filling, and put a bit more honey in the glaze... you have dessert!

Enjoy!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Quick tip: Freezing Tomatoes


This year I didn't have quite enough spare tomatoes to bother with canning them, so I froze some instead. While you can freeze them whole, (a great way to get the skins off), I chopped mine up so I could freeze them flat for easy storage.  To make things even easier, try dividing the tomatoes within the bag: after filling the bag and laying it flat in a pan, gently separate the chopped tomatoes into more manageable portions.  Freeze it in the pan until solid, (to keep them flat).  These 1/2 c. squares are easily broken apart so I can take out what I need without defrosted the entire bag, reducing possible waste.  Now they are ready to add to soups, sauces, and casseroles!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Simple Corn Soup



Do you buy your corn from the farmers' market?  If not, you should.  The difference in flavor and texture is amazing when the corn is picked fresh rather than shipped for days and lingering in a pile at the supermarket.

I get my corn from Stillman's Farms.  Since they pick it *the very same morning* as the farmers market, it is amazingly tender, juicy, and sweet, despite the fact that they don't grow the super-sweet varieties usually seen at the grocery store.

When it's this good, I often eat it raw straight off the cob.  Or I put it in everyone's favorite corn and black bean salad.  But, with summer at its end, I realized I had yet to make corn soup!  Not only had I promised myself I would this summer, but it's also a great way to preserve that corny freshness well into winter.

Okay, ready for the recipe?

- 8 ears of corn (about five cups of kernels cut from the cobs)
- 5 c. water
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- a dash of black pepper

- Put everything in a big pot, (even the shorn cobs!), and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
- Carefully pour it into a blender and... blend it... until soupy.

Voila!  Seriously, this is a no-fuss dish.



However!  This is really only the beginning.  While you can certainly enjoy it like this, I like to enhance the flavor a bit.  In the photo at the top, I simmered the corn with a few tablespoons of minced chives and stirred in just a touch of butter at the end.  I topped it with a drizzle of basil pesto to serve.

In another batch that I made for freezing, I roasted a red pepper and added that to the blender, (be careful not to add to much or it can overpower the corn).  I froze individual portions that I will be able to easily thaw and even add to the flavor a bit more.  I'm thinking some roughly chopped cilantro and a dollop of greek yogurt one night.  Maybe some sauteed leeks or onions and another trip to the blender another night?

If you want to make a particularly elegant soup, you may want to strain it.  I didn't.  After I made it the first time I gave it a try and wasn't bothered at all by the little bits of 'corn kernel skin', as they were very tender , (another bonus of local corn: it hasn't been bred to be tough to hold up during travel), and finely blended.  But there are certainly times when you might not want that, so strain away!

Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fresh and Simple Pasta Sauce




While there are many people who slave away in the kitchen for hours over a hot stove to perfect their Italian grandmother's tomato sauce, and while it may very well be quite delicious, I prefer a more casual approach to my summertime pasta.  This one comes together in about 20 minutes, (depending on your speediness with a knife).  It's a light, chunky sauce that lets you know exactly which vegetables you're eating.

Ingredients (for two servings):
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 sprigs fresh oregano (or 1/4 tsp. dried)
- 3/4 c. onion, minced
- 3/4 c. yellow bell pepper, diced
- 1 1/2 c. tomato, diced
- 1/4 tsp. brown sugar
- handful of basil leaves, roughly chopped.



Directions:
- Add the olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium high.
- Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, and oregano and saute for about a minute.
- Add the onion and saute until just translucent, about 3 minutes.
- Add the bell pepper, tomato, and brown sugar.
- Continue to cook, stirring occasionally and lightly mashing the tomatoes with a wooden spoon for about 8 minutes until all of the vegetables are tender.
- If you would like a slightly thicker sauce, add about 1 tbsp tomato paste.
- Taste for seasoning, adjusting salt and brown sugar, (sparingly), as needed.
- Just before serving, add the fresh basil and toss another minute.
- Add your pasta to the pan and toss to coat.

I used whole wheat spaghetti as I really like the slightly nutty taste with the freshness of the vegetables. Optionally top you pasta with some good parmesan cheese for serving.  As a side I prepared some fresh romano green beans by boiling them in the pasta water for about 2-3 minutes, then tossing them with good quality extra virgin olive oil, salt, and black pepper.

Enjoy!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Let's Get Pickled!


I have had quite the bounty of cucumbers this year.  Perhaps I was a little overzealous in my planting after last year's early August cucumber death, but at least I've had plenty to work with for experimenting.  Refrigerator pickles are quick, easy, and pretty hard to mess up.  You can play around with the ingredients and proportions and the worst that will happen is an underwhelming pickle.  I've had more success than failure and have enjoyed every bite either way.  Here, from left to right, are Spicy Mustard, Cornichons, Dill, Habanero, and Basil pickles.



I grew an heirloom variety of cucumbers called Parisian Pickling.  These are great as they can be picked at any size, most notably when they are quite small to be made into Cornichons, those delicious little cocktail pickles.  However, I found that these cucumbers were also sublime when left to grow to full size.  They were crisp, light, mildly sweet, with tender skin and seeds.  And obviously plentiful.  Their only drawback was the burps.  I seemed to have two variations of burps, (perhaps some seed contamination?): fewer, larger burps that were easily pushed off with a thumb or cucumbers that were absolutely covered in tiny little spines that needed rubbing off with a cloth, (those in the upper right in the photo).  Either way, they were worth the additional effort and I plan on growing them again next year.


On to the recipes!  All of these recipes can be made with any shape of pickles.  The main variable is how long it will take the flavor to saturate the cucumber: round slices are the fastest, followed by spears, and whole pickles will take significantly longer.  Simmering the liquid (and dissolving any salt) will make the cucumbers pickle faster but putting everything in cold will result in slightly crisper, greener pickles.  All recipes can be increased or decreased for the desired size of jar.  Make sure the liquid covers the cucumbers: if you're a little short, go ahead and add a little water to the jar.

Spicy Mustard Pickles (for 1 pint):
- 3 tbsp whole grain mustard
- 2 tsp kosher or sea salt
- 2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/4 tsp fennel seed, crushed
- 1 c. water
- 1/2 c. white vinegar
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

- Add all ingredients to a small sauce pan and simmer just until the salt is dissolved.
- Pack your jar with clean pickled (I used sliced).
- Pour the hot mixture into the jar.
- Replace the lid and allow to come to room temperature.
- Refrigerate for 3-10 days.


Dill Pickles (for 1 quart):
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp black pepper corns
- 1 tsp dill seed (optional)
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 1/2 c. water
- 1 1/2 c. white vinegar
- a whole bunch of fresh dill

- Combine all ingredients except for the fresh dill into a small sauce pan and simmer until the salt is dissolved.
- Pack the bottom of the jar with a large handful of fresh dill.
- Pack the cucumbers (I used spears) into the jar.
- Top the cucumbers with even more(!) fresh dill.  You can't have enough dill.
- Pour the hot mixture (or allow it to cool to luke warm) into the jar.
- Cover the jar and allow it to come to room temperature before refrigerating for 3-10 days.


Basil Pickles (for 1 pint):
- about 1 dozen large basil leaves
- 1 clove garlic, sliced
- 1 tbsp kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- water

- Put all ingredients except the water into the bottom of the jar.
- Add cucumbers (sliced highly recommended).
- Fill the rest of the jar with cold water.
- Put the lid on and shake the jar.
- Refrigerated for 5 days.  While they will last longer, I found the flavor of these to be at their peak between 5 and 25 days.


Cornichons (for 1 pint):
- 1 tsp fennel seed, crushed
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 clove garlic, sliced
- 2 tsp kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 c. white vinegar
- 1 c. water

- Add all ingredients to a small sauce pan and simmer just until the salt is dissolved.
- Pack your jar with small cucumbers.
- Pour the hot mixture into the jar.
- Replace the lid and allow to come to room temperature.
- Refrigerate for 7 days.


Habanero Pickles (for 1 quart):
- 1 habanero (don't even think about putting in another)
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 clove garlic, sliced
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 c. white vinegar
- 2 c. water

- Pack your jar with cucumbers, (I recommend sliced as they are quite spicy).
- Combine all ingredients and pour them on top of the cucumbers.
- Replace the lid and refrigerate for 3 days.


All pickles should last in the refrigerator for at least 2 months, though I doubt you'll be able to keep them around that long.  Feel free to play with different herbs and spices and adjust the saltiness to your own preference.  Pickling cucumbers can be found at most farmers markets and regular cucumbers can also be used.

Enjoy!


P.S.  It's my 100th post!  Yay!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Zucchini Bread Pudding


Are you in a zucchini rut?  Is your fridge stuffed with them and you're sick of just roasting them?  Have you eaten as many marinated zucchini salads as you can stomach?  This zucchini bread pudding, or stuffing, is a great way to use up a lot of zucchini.  While I love roasted zucchini on it's own and can eat it nearly endlessly all summer long, this is a delicious alternative to break up the monotony.  Since it's warm and bready, you may want to leave it for a cooler summer day, though I think it would be great chilled, too.  Serve it for brunch with fresh fruit or lunch and dinner with a (non-zucchini) salad.

Ingredients:
- 1 loaf whole grain bread, about 7 c. cubed.  Look for something that is about half whole wheat and half white or sourdough; make sure it's not too heavy or dense.  Ideally leave the cubes out overnight to get a little stale or toast them in the oven a bit to dry them out, but you can use fresh bread with fine results.
- 2 1/2 c. coarsely grated zucchini, about 2 medium.  (More zucchini could be used, but you would need to squeeze the excess moisture out.)
- 1 1/4 c. diced onion, about 1 medium
- 2 tbsp. minced sun dried tomatoes
- 2 eggs (if you like eggs, you could use 3 or even 4 for an eggier, richer filling)
- 1 c. buttermilk
- 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 c. finely grated parmesan cheese



Directions:
- In a large bowl combine the bread cubes, zucchini, onion, and dried tomato and toss to distribute evenly.
- Whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, olive oil, basil, salt, and spices.
- Pour the liquid over the bread mix and toss to distribute.
- Press the bread down into the liquid.  Cover and let soak for 1 hour.
- Butter the inside of a cast iron skillet.
- Pour the bread mix into the skillet and press down firmly.
- Spread the parmesan evenly over the surface.
- Bake in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes.  Optionally broil for a few minutes towards the end if the top needs help browning.

While any casserole dish can be used, the cast iron really helps create a delicious, crispy, caramelized crust.  You could also use muffin tins, (or cast iron muffin molds!), to make individual portions that would make a lovely presentation turned upside down.  Just be sure to reduce the baking time so they don't dry out.

Enjoy!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Marinated Eggplants


So, maybe you're getting a little tired of baking with eggplant and heating up your kitchen: it is August, after all.  Well, do I have the recipe for you!  This marinated eggplant is one of my favorite summer meals.  Okay, you do have to the stove top for a little bit, but you can make a batch to last a week and it's definitely worth a little sweat.  I found this in Recipes from an Italian Summer, a wonderful cookbook for working with summer produce.

Ingredients:
- About 1 1/2 lb. eggplant, any variety large enough to slice
- 3/4 c. flavorful olive oil
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed, and roughly chopped
- 10 mint leaves, chopped
- a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper



Directions:
- If the eggplant is thick-skinned, peel it.  Slice the eggplant into 1/4" rounds.
- Sprinkle the slices with salt and let them drain over a colander for 30 minutes.
- Rinse the eggplant slices and pat them dry.  Brush them lightly with olive oil: it's important to use a brush and a light hand here, (don't drizzle!), or they will just soak up the oil in some spots.
-  Heat a heavy skillet over high heat.
- Add the eggplant slices in a single layer, cooking them in batches.  Turn them once to lightly brown them on both sides.  They should lose a lot of their moisture and appear a bit shriveled.
- Whisk the remaining oil, (most of it), with the remaining ingredients.
- Create a layer of eggplant and add a few spoonfuls of the dressing, being sure to get some of the chunky bits.
- Repeat, stacking layers, until all of the eggplant and dressing is used.
- Cover and chill for at least 6 hours before use.

This eggplant is delicious served with some mozzarella or as part of a caprese salad.  It is sublime, if a tad oily, sandwiched between sourdough with some mozzarella and pressed into a panini.  I think it would be a great accompaniment to a tender chimichurri-marinated steak.  If, for some reason, you have extra marinade it makes great salad dressing, too.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Deviled Eggplants



Have you ever wondered why we call them eggplants when they don't really look like eggs?  We may be more familiar with the dark purple aubergines that tend to grace grocery store shelves, but there are indeed some that are truer to their namesake.  These 'Ghostbuster' eggplants from my garden are a great example, with some shorter varieties appearing even more egg-like.

I may hate eggs, but I sure do love eggplant.  When all of the other summer produce is crying out to be eaten fresh, eggplant is full of opportunities to bake, saute, grill, and broil to your heart's content.

These 'deviled eggplants' are simply delicious.  Though baked and filled with rich lamb meat, the flavor profile keeps them summery.  Be sure to pick smaller eggplants with tender skin: go for the pale purple, marbled, or white eggplants instead of the deep purple.  With their thinner skin and lack of bitterness, they didn't require any special treatment.  If shopping in a grocery store where only dark purple are available, look for the smallest, youngest eggplants.



Ingredients (Serves 2-4, depending on sides):
- 2 eggplants (about 6-8" long)
- 1/3 c. died sweet onion
- 1/4 lb. ground lamb
- 1/4 c. chopped parsley
- 1 egg
- 1/2 c. greek yogurt (nonfat)
- dashes of salt, black pepper, and cumin to taste (1/4 tsp each, to start)
- panko bread crumbs
- olive oil

Directions:
- Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise and scoop out the interior, leaving about 1/4" around the edge.
- Dice the scooped out eggplant and set aside.
- In a large skillet, add a scant drizzle of olive oil and the onions.
- Sautee until the onions for about 3 minutes, then add the lamb and seasonings.
- Stir to break up the lamb and brown it, then add the eggplant.
- Sautee the mixture for about 5 minutes, then add a few tablespoons water to deglaze the bottom.
- Continue to cook until the eggplant is tender.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the egg together with the yogurt and parsley.
- Stir the yogurt mixture into the meat mixture until evenly combined and cook just another two minutes.
- Sprinkle the inside of the eggplant shells with a dash of salt then spoon the mixture into them, mounding it a bit on top to use it all.
- Sprinkle the top of the eggplants evenly with the panko and add a very light drizzle of olive oil.
- Bake the eggplants in the oven for 30 minutes at 350.
- Serve immediately.

I served this with a light simple salad of tomato, cucumber, and onion flavored with fresh parsley, dill, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Easily multiplied to serve a crowd, these can be prepared earlier in the day for easy hosting.  Simply make the filling, stuff the eggplants, cover, and refrigerate.  Add the panko and put them un the oven, allowing a little extra time since they are now chilled.

Enjoy!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cucumber Yogurt Salad (or Dip!)


I never thought I could have too many cucumbers, but with my vines doing so well this year I'm finding it hard to keep up with the cucumber (or two) a day that need picking and eating.  This simple little salad is a classic and fresh way to use them up.  I quite like it for breakfast, as my sweet tooth is not always an early riser.  To make it into a dip simply mince the cucumbers or send them through a food processor.

Ingredients:
- 2 cups chopped cucumber (half quarted, half chopped more finely)
- 1/2 c. minced red onion
- 1/2 c. chopped dill
- 3/4 c. greek yogurt (I used 0%)
- 1/4-1/2 tsp salt, to taste
- 1/4 tsp. paprika (optional)

Directions:
- Umm...  combine everything and stir.

If you like a thicker texture, don't let the cucumbers sit in the yogurt for more than 2-3 hours prior to serving.  For dip, I recommend squeezing out some of the excess water from the cucumbers.  It will taste good, regardless, but I found it to get a little soupy after a day in the fridge.

Enjoy!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Stuffed Pattypan Squash



Pattypan squash are just so cheerful and adorable that I feel compelled to use them in a way that takes full advantage of their shape; it would seem a crime to chop them up beyond recognition.  Slicing them in half and stuffing them with a light flavored goat cheese is the perfect way to give them a little boost and maintain their sunshiney state.

Ingredients:
- 3 pattypan squash
- 3 tbsp plain goat cheese
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 green onion, chopped
- 3 tbsp panko bread crumbs
- salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:
- Slice each squash in half and scoop out the pulpy interior to form a round hollow.  Sometimes one half will have a smaller opening, so widen it a bit to allow for more stuffing.
- In a small bowl mash together the goat cheese, parsley, green onion, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper until it is thoroughly blended.
- Press a spoonful of the goat cheese mix into each hollow of the squash.
- Roll each squash half, face down, in the panko to coat the goat cheese.
- Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes, (placing them in muffin tins help keep them upright), until the squash is tender.
- Place the squash under the broiler for 2-3 minutes to brown the tops a little extra.

I served mine with some fresh roasted green beans.  They can easily be a main course, a side, or an appetizer-- maybe even finger food?  Make any amount you'd like, just plan on 1 tbsp of goat cheese per (whole) squash.  They'd be delicious with basil or chives instead of the parsley, too.  Bacon bits instead of the panko would make them extra decadent.

Enjoy!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Black Bean Burgers



Summer is a time for grilling, cookouts, barbecues, picnics, and all manner of meat-centric gatherings.  In fact, I recently attended a party where the main event was a rather scientific preparation of the burgers, involving liquid nitrogen and deep frying.  Delicious (and potentially dangerous?) as it was, one may wonder about our social fascination with meat: is it always necessary?  (I suspect that our wonderful host would say that yes, it is.)

I'm certainly no vegan and probably never will be, but these black bean burgers from the Veganomicon are so good that I'd have no problem passing over the beef, (at least now and then).  If you're really craving a rare, juicy burger they might not quite hit the spot, but they might create a craving of their very own.  They're very easy to put together so it's no hassle to accommodate vegetarian and vegan friends without resorting to those gross frozen versions.  So take a break from the veggie kabobs, grilled portobello caps, and tofu dogs and try this vegan black bean burger instead!

Ingredients:
- 1 can black beans (you can certainly make your own, but canned is really perfect for this recipe)
- 1/2 c. vital wheat gluten (find this at 'health food' type stores: Bob's Red Mill makes some)
- 1/2 c. bread crumbs
- 1/2 tsp. paprika
- 1/2 tsp. cayenne
- 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 1/4 c. water
- 1 tbsp. tomato paste or ketchup
- 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- 1/2 c. onion, minced or grated

Directions:
- Mash the beans with a fork in a mixing bowl so there are no whole beans but they retain some texture.
- Add everything else and mix together to evenly distributed.
- With your hands, knead the mixture a bit to help it come together.
- Divide the mix into six equal parts and press it into patties.  They should be 1-1.5" thick, depending on your buns (they won't shrink much).
- Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat and add a light drizzle of olive oil.
- Cook the patties in two batches for 5 minutes on each side, pressing down firmly but gently with the spatula.  Add additional oil between batches if necessary.


We served our black bean burgers on whole wheat buns with tomatoes, red onions, kale, ketchup, and whole grain mustard.  I really like using kale instead of lettuce on burgers: it has such a nice bite to it.

To freeze the black bean patties, allow them to cool and wrap tightly with plastic wrap.  To reheat, bake in the oven or defrost in the microwave and finish in a skillet.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blueberry Lemon Buttermilk Cakes


Remember how I said that buttermilk cake was an easy and great base for any number of variations?  Well, here's one of them!

To the basic recipe I added 1 tbsp lemon zest.  I placed fresh, seasonal blueberries in the bottom of a regular-sized muffin tin and spooned the batter on top.  After baking them for about 10 minutes I inverted them onto a plate and voila!  A dozen individual cakelettes, perfect for entertaining!

Enjoy!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Summer Vegetables and Socca


I experimented with growing carrots this year.  I selected an heirloom variety called 'Parisian Market', which are small round carrots that grow to about 1-2" in diameter.  Overall it was a success and I had quite the bounty of delicious, sweet carrots.  I did, however, learn that my soil is a bit rockier than I realized.  This led to some rather unusual carrots being pulled from the ground...


Next year I'll try my carrot cultivation in pots to avoid this (and make weeding easier), but until then I'll have a bit of added humor on my plate.

I wanted to keep my preparation simple, so I tossed these carrots and some zucchini with olive oil, cumin, and salt.  I roasted them until tender (you may want to start the carrots ahead of the zucchini) and served them alongside fresh spinach sauteed with garlic and some slices of socca flavored with rosemary.    Nothing fancy here, but it was a very satisfying meal.

Enjoy!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Oatmeal Pancakes


When I first saw these oatmeal pancakes, I was intrigued.  I had recently tasted some oat and cornmeal waffles at a local restaurant and had creative breakfast foods on the brain.  I've tinkered around with the recipe a bit and have found many delicious variations.  Here are two of them.

Ingredients:
- 3/4 c. flour
- 1/4 c. cornmeal (coarse gives more crunch, but make sure it's not too coarse--ahem Bob's Red Mill-- or it won't cook enough.)
- 2  1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp cardamom (optional)
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 c. buttermilk
- 1 c. cooked oatmeal (rolled oats, not quick or steel cut)
- 1 egg


Ingredients:
- 1 c. flour
- 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp. orange zest
- 1 c. milk
- 1 c. cooked oatmeal (rolled oats, not quick or steel cut)
- 1 egg

Instructions:
- Whisk together everything but the (butter)milk, zest, oatmeal, and egg.
- Whisk the (butter)milk, zest, oatmeal, and egg together separately.
- Gently fold the dry into the wet until just combined.  This is a slightly thicker batter than usual, but it turns out wonderfully.
- Heat up a cast iron skillet.  When hot, add a little butter (just enough to give the pan a light coat).
- Drop in the batter, 1/4 c. for each pancake.
- Cook until you see bubbles rising to the surface then flip once.
- Serve hot with butter, honey, and fresh fruit.

These pancakes are a little heartier than the usual suspects and really keep you feeling full and energized all day.  Sure, regular fluffy pancakes are tasty but I really enjoy the well-rounded flavor that these have. I also like to tell myself that they're just a tad healthier.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pizza with Zucchini and Kale Pesto


I've made this kale pesto a few times since I first thought of it and I've loved it more each time.  It's now one of my favorite pizza toppings, imparting a lovely earthy vegetable flavor to every bite.  It's also a great way to use up a bunch of kale quickly.

Kale Pesto
- 2 garlic cloves
- ¼ c. quality extra virgin olive oil
- 2 c. packed kale pieces
- 1 tsp salt
- 5 sun dried tomato halves, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes.

Throw everything into a food processor and blend until the desired consistency is reached.  You can add a bit more olive oil to thin it out if you want.

To make this pizza, simple push out your pizza dough and spread the kale pesto over it.  Top it with thinly sliced zucchini, some red onion, and some slices of fresh mozzarella.  Bake in a 475 degree oven 15-20 minutes until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbly and browned.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Jewels of Summer


Stop everything you're doing.  Just drop it.  Get up and go to a farmers' market.  Buy heirloom tomatoes. Bring them home.  Slice them gently with a sharp knife.  Arrange them on a plate.  Sprinkle them with freshly ground pepper and sea salt.  Drizzle them with the best olive oil you have.  Eat them.

You're welcome.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Grilled Peaches!


Grilled peaches are so simple and so delicious you might almost give up eating them plain.  What I especially love about them is that they strike a perfect balance between fresh and cooked.  The slight bit of char adds a lovely flavor and the warmth makes them even juicer, but they aren't cooked so much that they lose their vibrancy.

Preparation is as simple as it gets.  Cut a peach in half and remove the pit.  I don't bother taking the skin off as I kind of like it.  Rub the peach halves all over with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.  Heat up a grill, grill pan, or cast iron skillet.  Place the peaches in the pan and cook about two minutes each side.

Serve them warm.  They are delicious with yogurt for breakfast, (as shown), and they'd also be great for dessert... perhaps with a little vanilla bean ice cream and fresh chopped mint?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Marinated Zucchini Salad


Zucchini and tomatoes: what could be more summery?  This fresh salad is beautiful, delicious, and takes full advantage of seasonal ingredients.

Ingredients:
- 1 large-ish zucchini
- 1 large tomato
- 1/2 spring onion (or sweet onion)
- 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp olive tapenade
- 1 tbsp roughly chopped capers
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper to taste
- fresh basil, for garnish

Directions:
- In a medium bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, tapenade, capers, salt, and pepper.  Whisk together and set aside.
- Thinly slice the onions and separate the rings.
- Thinly slice the zucchini.  You can cut it into circles or cut or shave it length-wise into ribbons, which I find prettier.  Either way, try to get the slices as thin as possible.
- Add the vegetables to the bowl and toss with the dressing.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Before serving, cut up the tomato and gently toss it with the other vegetables.
- Tear up the fresh basil and sprinkle on top of the salad to serve.


I served this salad atop socca flavored with a bit of crushed fennel which made it a satisfying, complete meal.  You could also easily turn this into a panzanella salad or toss it with some feta.  Leftovers, (but, really, you won't have any), keep well covered and refrigerated.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beet and Basil Stuffed Chicken Breasts


If you've ever had a CSA, you've probably had the 'problem' of too many beets.  What starts out as a bounty of beet salads quickly turns to beet drudgery.  But beets can do so much more than look pretty atop a pile of lettuce!  This dish is delicious and, while it takes a bit of effort, really looks more impressive than it is difficult.

Ingredients:
- 2 plump chicken breasts
- 2-4 golden beets, roasted and peeled
- a generous handful of fresh basil
- salt, pepper, and olive oil

Directions:
- With a sharp knife, slice the chicken breast nearly in half to butterfly it open.
- Sprinkle the inside with salt and pepper.
- Place a layer of basil leaves on the bottom then add an overlapping layer of thinly sliced beets.  You want the breast to be quite stuffed.  A few crumbles of goat cheese would also be great in there, but it definitely doesn't *need* it.
- Pull the top flap over the stuffing and secure with two toothpicks.  It's okay if it doesn't completely close.
- Brush the outside with olive oil.  I also topped mine with a few decorative slices of beets that were extra.
- Put the breast in an oven safe pan or dish (I used a pre-heated cast iron skillet) and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  You can pop it under the broiler for a few more minutes to brown the top a bit if you'd like.



For the sides:
- Combine 1 cup French green lentils with 1 1/2 cups water (or chicken broth) and 1 tsp salt and 1 tbsp whole grain mustard.  Ideally let it soak for two hours before cooking.
- Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover.  Cook until the liquid is absorbed.

- Wash a trim green beans.
- Toss them with a drizzle of olive oil, a drizzle of honey, a sprinkle of salt, and a dash of cayenne.
- Roast them in the oven along with the chicken, though in their own dish.
- Pour any juices over the lentils when serving.

The chicken breasts can be stuffed ahead of time, covered, and refrigerated.  The recipe is easily multiplied to feed a crowd, just don't crowd too many in the same pan or you'll increase the cooking time.  If you're looking to make the meal a little lighter, serve the chicken breasts along side chilled lentils or a salad.

Enjoy!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Socca to Me

Socca is a basically a chick pea crepe or pan cake, a street food from the south of France.  I first read about it on David Lebovitz's site.  As soon as I got my hands on some chick pea flour I gave it a try and it's been a staple in my kitchen ever since.

Usually it's made plain and eaten hot and fresh with a generous drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of salt, but I've taken to experimenting with it.  I've played with the seasonings, used it as a base for salads, and have even made little socca pizzas.  It's a healthy bread alternative since the chick pea flour has a good amount of protein.  It's also vegan and gluten-free.  While you can find chick pea flour very cheaply at Indian grocers (look for 'besan', 'gram flour', or 'farine pois chiche'), if you have a gluten sensitivity you may want to look for a brand that can certify that it's gluten-free, like Bob's Red Mill.

Making socca isn't too scientific.  It's a 1:1 ratio of chick pea flour to water, with a drizzle of olive oil, and a dash of salt.  Traditionally a bit of cumin is added as well.  The thickness of the crepe will vary depending on the size of the pan used, and you can adjust the amount of batter you make or pour to suit your preferences.

For one 10" crepe:
- 1/2 c. chick pea flour
- 1/2 c. water
- 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 tsp salt
- dash cumin

- Whisk all ingredients together and let sit for at least two hours.
- Put a cast iron skillet under your broiler and heat until thoroughly hot, (the pan should be as close to the broiler as possible).  Alternately, heat the skillet on the stove top.  The broiler is ideal, but in the heat of the summer the stove top will do.
- When the skillet is hot, add a generous drizzle of olive oil to the pan then add the batter, swirling it around if necessary to coat the pan.
- Broil the crepe until the top is browned, (a bit of char is desirable), up to 10 minutes.  If cooking on the stove top, wait until the crepe looks firm, check to see if the under side is browned, then flip once.
- To serve, drizzle with a little more olive oil and a dash of sea salt.

Socca can be served as a snack, an appetizer, or a side.  Eat it plain or as a base for toppings. It would be a great vehicle for bruschetta as an appetizer.  Using it as a gluten-free pizza base has taken a little experimentation and the technique varies depending on the toppings.


Here, I poured the batter and broiled it for about two minutes, then added chopped mushrooms and blue cheese crumbles.  When adding toppings to the socca while it's cooking, they should be chopped finely and/or pre-cooked for the best results.


Here I added shopped spinach to the batter before pouring, making a thicker crepe that needed a longer cooking time.  I waited a few minutes then added chopped onions, red pepper, and goat cheese.  With all of these heavier toppings, the socca isn't nearly as crisp, but it's still quite tasty.  If you want to use sauce or more than light crumbles of cheese, I recommend cooking the crepe on it's own and then transferring it to a baking sheet and adding the toppings to make your 'pizza'.


Pretty much any herbs can be used to flavor the socca.  Here I used finely chopped fresh rosemary when I served it as a side.


Use socca as a creative base for a salad or cut it up and toss it with the salad as croutons, (you may want to toast them a bit more).  While you can top the socca with salad when it's still hot, allowing it to cool on a wire rack will help it stay crisp.

Enjoy!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A few more salads...


Salad with green zebra tomato, cucumber, cilantro, feta cheese, and an orange vinaigrette.



Salad with roasted beets, roasted corn, feta cheese, and a spicy peach vinaigrette.

Enjoy!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Strawberry Basil Popsicles



Nothing is quite so disappointing as bringing home a beautiful pint of strawberries, taking a bite, and finding them just a bit too sour.  While jams or pies are certainly good options for these unfortunate berries, they don't exactly showcase the freshness of the fruit.  Using them for popsicles, on the other hand, allows you to sweeten them up and keep them bright, cool, and refreshing.

Ingredients:
- 1 pint strawberries
- 8 fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 1 c. water

Directions:
- Combine the sugar and water in a small pot and simmer until the sugar is dissolved.
- Hull the strawberries and combine them with basil leaves and simple syrup in a blender.
- Blend until liquified.
- Pour the mixture into popsicle moulds.  You can strain it if you want, but I like the slight texture of the little bits of pulp, leaves, and seeds.
- Freeze until solid.

Oh, and pardon the dirty fingernails.  I'd just come in from the garden: the best time to have a popsicle, indeed.

Enjoy!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Baked Chicken Breasts with Creamy Chard and Quinoa



This is just plain delicious.  After a few weeks of summer salads nearly every night for dinner, I took advantage of the cooler weather to make something a little more hearty, though still fresh tasting.  The chicken breasts stay nice and moist with the fresh herbs imparting delightful flavor and the natural tanginess of the chard is rounded out with a hint of cream.

Ingredients:
- 1 boneless chicken breast (get a nice, plump fresh one, not some scrawny, frozen cutlet)
- 4 fresh sage leaves (or more if they're small)
- 1 tbsp fresh oregano
- 2 tbsp crumble feta
- a drizzled of extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, and a dash of pepper

- 2 c. loosely packed shredded chard
- 1/2 tbsp. butter
- 1/2 c. chicken broth
- 1 tbsp cream
- dash of salt and paprika

- 1/4 c. quinoa (I used red quinoa)
- 1/2 c. water
- dash of salt

Directions:
- Score the chicken breast on both sides and sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
- Place the chicken in small casserole dish.
- Tuck two of the sage leaves under the breast, place two on top, and sprinkle the chopped oregano on top.
- Drizzle with a just a little bit of olive oil.
- Add the crumbled feta to the top of the chicken breast.
- Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes, broiling in the last few if the feta needs help browning.  I baked mine in my toaster oven, (it wasn't quite cool enough to want to heat up my kitchen), so time in a real oven may vary.  Use your good judgement.

- To chiffonade your chard, remove the spines, stack the leaves, roll them up, and chop the roll.
- Sautee the chard in a skillet with the 1/2 tbsp butter, salt, and paprika until thoroughly wilted.
- Add the cream and chicken broth and simmer over low heat.
- Cook until the liquid is reduced, stirring occasionally.  For a slightly finer texture, mash the chard a bit with a wooden spoon as it cooks.  You could certainly puree it in the blender, but I liked it rather 'lumpy'.

- Combine the quinoa, water, and salt in a small pot and bring to a boil.
- Cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed.
- Pour any juices from the chicken casserole dish over the quinoa to serve.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it actually comes together quite simply and relatively quickly with the three components cooking simultaneously.  It's also easily multiplied to serve several people.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Easy, Versatile Buttermilk Cake


Summer tends to be a time for simple desserts.  With all of the glorious fresh fruit available that hardly needs fussing with, the elaborate desserts of winter are easily forgotten.  Besides, who wants to hang around a hot stove or deal with melty doughs?

But, while fresh fruit is delicious on its own, sometimes you want something a little more special.  This basic buttermilk cake goes with everything that summer has to offer.  Fluffy, tender, and softly sweet it is always a crowd-pleaser.  It's quick and easy to throw together and with it's fast cook-time your kitchen will hardly heat up.  What I especially like is that the recipe is great to tinker with.  Add flavor with zests, add fruit to the top, (like the original recipe calls for), or the bottom as an upside-down cake.  Cut it in half and spread some jam in the middle or make a giant strawberry shortcake.  Make a buttermilk or citrus glaze to drizzle over the top.  The possibilities are endless.

Ingredients:
- 1 c. flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 c. sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 egg
- 1/2 c. buttermilk
- 2 tbsp brown sugar or demerara sugar (for more crunch)


Directions:
- Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and lemon zest.  Mix with your fingers to release the oils of the zest until the sugar is moist, clumpy, and fragrant.
- Add the softened butter to the sugar and beat until fluffy.
- Add the egg and beat until combined.
- Add the flour in three batches and the buttermilk in two batches, alternating between them, gently mixing until it is just combined.
- Pour the batter into a buttered 8" pan.  A tart pan is the perfect size and created a pretty edge, but if you're adding fruit you'll need something deeper.  A 9" cake pan can be used, but the cake ends up a little thinner than I prefer.
- Sprinkle the top of the dough with the brown sugar.
- Bake in a 400 degree oven about 20 minutes.  If fruit has been added, it may take a little longer.

Serve at room temperature with fresh fruit and perhaps some creme fraiche if you're feeling fancy.  Covered tightly with plastic wrap, the cake will last 2-3 days.

Enjoy!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Save those beet greens!


In the heat of summer, eating a pile of steamy sauteed beat greens isn't always high on my list, especially when there is such an abundance of other fresh produce.  This is even more true if I've been hanging around a hot oven roasting beets.  Instead of forcing them down or, worse, tossing them in the trash save the beet greens for when you'll appreciate them.

Clean and trim the beet greens thoroughly (they're usually quite dirty).  You can trim the stems off or keep them on depending on your preference-- I usually leave a bit on.  Bring a large pot of water to boil and blanch the greens for 1-2 minutes.  Transfer them to ice water to cool.  Drain the greens thoroughly and let them sit out for a while to dry.  Now they are ready to freeze.  I recommend against freezing them in one giant lump.  Either divide them into portions reasonable for a meal, or do it my way: line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and divide your greens into clumps of one or two leaves.  Freeze them until they are firm then slide them into a freezer bag.  This allows you to take out whatever amount you might need at any time.

Beat greens are tasty sauteed with garlic and olive oil or added to soups and stir fries.  With a little forethought, you'll have a head start on fall and winter dishes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pickled Radishes


This is certainly not my prettiest photo ever, but these little guys sure are tasty!  Pickled radishes are a fun snack or great to toss on top of salads.  They add a wonderful pop of color and are full of flavor.

For one quart jar:
- 3 bunches radishes (I recommend the round varieties, like 'Easter Egg', over French Breakfast radishes)
- 1 c. white wine vinegar
- 2 c. water
- 4 tbsp sea salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp fennel seed
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 shallot

- Trim the tops off of the radishes.  You can leave a little nub of stem, but they can be a little tough.
- Wash and slice the radishes, quarters or halves depending on size.
- Add them to a jar with the shallot, quartered.
- Combine all other ingredients in a pot and simmer until the salt and sugar are dissolved.
- Add liquid to the jar and refrigerate one week (okay, you can taste them after two days but they really get better after a week).

Yep, that's it!  These keep several weeks in the refrigerator, but just try to keep them around that long.

Enjoy!

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Ballad of Salad


First, a moment to brag.  See that lettuce right there?  That delicious, organic, heirloom lettuce?  That is the direct result of my sweat, dirty fingernails, and sunburns.  Yes, I grew that... from seed!  And that's just a small first picking.  As my high horse is getting tired, I'll move on...

Warm weather is here and with it comes a cascade of salads.  I love salad and this time of year it becomes my go-to for lunch or dinner... and sometimes both.  Salads are fun and easy meals: you can quickly throw together all kinds of creative combinations.  Pretty much anything that sounds good together will be good.  I often top my salads with some cheese to give them a bit more heft, but this could be left off for vegans, (perhaps substituted with some legumes?), or meat-lovers could top them with some pieces of grilled meat or a fuller meal.  Chicken or scallops work with just about anything and flank steak, salmon, or shrimp can be great with many flavors, too.

A few salad tips:
- After washing your lettuce, ideally spread it out to air dry.  Even a salad spinner doesn't quite achieve the same result.  Truly dry leaves allow the dressing to cling better and let the taste and texture of the lettuce shine through.  If you're pressed for time towel off as much moisture as you can instead.
- Season your lettuce.  Sprinkling the naked lettuce with a bit of salt and pepper before adding other toppings goes a long way for flavor.  It also helps you use less dressing.
- An oldie but a goodie: tear your lettuce, don't chop it!
- Make sure to top lettuce with contrasting but complimentary flavors: sweet and tangy, spicy and creamy, fresh and earthy, etc.


Don't toss those radish greens!  Eat them in a salad instead.  Since they can be a little on the tough side, (similar in texture to mint leaves), toss them with some tender butterhead.  Top with sliced radishes, aged goat cheese, and a spicy mint vinaigrette, (olive oil, lemon juice, minced mint, chopped capers, red pepper flakes, cayenne, thyme, salt).


Tomatoes aren't the only salad-friendly fruit.  Here mixed greens are topped with blackberries, pickled radishes, and sheep's milk feta with a balsamic vinaigrette.


A true classic: apples and goat cheese atop butterhead lettuce with a fresh dill vinaigrette.


Almost too pretty to eat: arugula and mixed lettuces topped with thinly slice chioggia beets, minced shallots, and feta cheese with a blackberry balsamic vinaigrette.

And, of course, there will be many more to come.

Enjoy!