Friday, June 28, 2013

summer salad directory

This week has been all about summer salads. Just in time for the weekend, I want to share a little directory of my favorites. For recipes, please click on the links below. I hope you have picnics and barbecues you're off to enjoy. I would love to hear what your favorite summer salads are!

lemony orzo and arugula salad

tomato and beet salad


french potato salad

melon, strawberries and mint

caprese salad

tomato and cucumber salsa-ish salad

roasted cauliflower salad with curry and cilantro

Thursday, June 27, 2013

caprese salad

Continuing our week all about summer salads: I do believe caprese salad is as simple and perfect as summer gets: that window when the tomatoes are at their peak, accompanied by creamy slices of buffalo mozzarella, and peppery basil leaves.

While the salad is assembled and served at room temperature, I would highly recommend to take the extra plan-ahead step and make a basalmic syrup reduction. Unfortunately, I do not recall the exact recipe I used for this dish, but I do know that I used one with some brown sugar in it. The addition of the sugar helped round the edge of vinegar. (Also, be prepared to have a pretty strong vinegar fragrance in the home while the syrup reduces.)

Can this be called a salad? I am not sure. I believe in Italy it is served as a starter (insalata caprese-an antipasto) and not as a side dish. I do know that as often as this dish is made, it is always welcome.

This is my favorite way to serve it- the rows layered up like dominos. It is a gorgeous centerpiece all on it's own.

caprese salad

gorgeous ripe tomatoes
fresh basil
buffalo mozzarella cheese
balsamic syrup (lots of recipes out there on google, I recommend using one that includes brown sugar)
olive oil
salt and pepper

1) Layer it all up.

2) Drizzle with balsamic syrup (a reduction of balsamic vinegar and brown sugar) and olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

tomato and cucumber salsa-ish salad

In our house, we have no problem consuming a massive amount of chips and homemade salsa and calling that dinner. Frankly, if I am eating a pound of tomatoes all on my own, I think that counts as a meal.

This salad started out life as an Ina Garten recipe for middle eastern vegetable salad. It is a very good recipe but I confess I was overwhelmed by the feta cheese. So, out went the feta cheese and I tripled the amount of tomatoes. What stays is an addictive dance between basil and mint, lemon and garlic, cucumber and chickpea.

I found myself toasting up pita bread in the oven to enjoy alongside this salad and then using the pita bread to scoop up bites. It was then that I realized this salad is also a kind of salsa.

One small note: this salsa-ish salad really does need to be served at room temperature. I find that, in general, fresh tomato dishes do not benefit from time in the fridge. This is a good dish to make when I want a little (slightly) mindless kitchen work: chopping tomatoes, juicing lemons. With a splash of wine to sip on and Harriet buzzing around at my feet. It is a nice transitionary scene from the workday.

Speaking of Harriet buzzing around at my feet, this is my (usual) view in the kitchen:

 tomato and cucumber salsa-ish salad

10 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2-3 pounds ripe roma tomatoes, seeded, cored and 1/2-inch-diced
1 hothouse cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and 1/2-inch-diced
1 jar (12 to 16 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup julienned fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 lemons)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup good olive oil
toasted pita bread or pita chips, for serving

1) Place the scallions, tomatoes, cucumber, chickpeas, parsley, mint and basil in a large salad bowl and toss to combine.

2) In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Pour the dressing over the salad, toss gently to coat all the vegetables. Serve at room temperature. (Don't panic, it seems like a lot of dressing, but works out perfectly.)

3) Serve the salad with pita chips or toasted pita bread. To me it is part salad, part salsa, but all deliciousness.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tuesday's poem: Recipe For A Salad by Sydney Smith

Recipe For A Salad

To make this condiment, your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two hard-boiled eggs;
Two boiled potatoes, passed through kitchen-sieve,
Smoothness and softness to the salad give;
Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,
And, half-suspected, animate the whole.
Of mordant mustard add a single spoon,
Distrust the condiment that bites so soon;
But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault,
To add a double quantity of salt.
And, lastly, o'er the flavored compound toss
A magic soup-spoon of anchovy sauce.
Oh, green and glorious! Oh, herbaceous treat!
'T would tempt the dying anchorite to eat,
Back to the world he'd turn his fleeting soul,
And plunge his fingers in the salad bowl!
Serenely full, the epicure would say,
Fate can not harm me, I have dined to-day!

-Sydney Smith

Monday, June 24, 2013

roasted cauliflower salad with curry and cilantro

I am ridiculously excited to share this recipe. This is primarily because it is my recipe. If you cook, I hope you understand the feeling of a turning point in your skills when you begin to trust instincts in putting a dish together. I dreamed up this sturdy little salad and when I say dreamed, I mean day-dreamed and fell asleep at night piecing together the flavors and textures that I greedily desired.

And flavors and textures it is. Oh man- the tender curried cauliflower with the sweetness of the golden raisins, the bit of red onion, nutty cashew and lemony cilantro- it is swoon-worthy and more than a little addictive.

Also, roasting vegetables is not a terribly "summery" activity, but we have somehow, all these years,  managed to look past the potato boiling required for potato salad (a picnic staple) and so I figure I could be forgiven this required cooking step.

roasted cauliflower salad with curry and cilantro

1 head cauliflower
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon curry powder
1/4 cup red onion, minced (scant)
1/4-1/3 cup roasted, unsalted cashews, roughly chopped
1/2-3/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
1/3 cup golden raisins
juice from 1/2 lemon
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1) Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Wash and cut cauliflower into medium sized florets. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss with olive oil and curry powder, until coated. Roast for about 30-40 minutes. Flip pieces for even browning and roast another 12-15 minutes, until just crispy browned on the edges and cooked through. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

2) Meanwhile, chop red onion, cashews and cilantro. Tip the contents of the baking tray into a large bowl and add onion, cashews, cilantro and raisins.

3) In a smaller bowl, whisk together juice of half a lemon, 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. (Go a little easy on the salt here, I find that the curry adds a lot of flavor.)

4) Pour dressing over the veggies and gently toss all to combine. Serve at room temperature with extra lemon wedges.

Friday, June 21, 2013

pasta with cream, pepper, lemon and basil

This is not really a recipe. It is more of a story about taking care of oneself with a decent little dinner. When my husband is out of town, I find myself using the opportunity to eat tater tots for dinner (oh man, do I love tater tots) or string cheese and olives. You know, basic random food grazing.

On one such Saturday (after a previous nights dinner of deviled eggs) I was teetering on the edge of a similar line. Feeling too lazy to go to the grocery store, the box of frosted flakes seemed like the most logical next step. 

Then I paused and realized what I really wanted was a nice dish of pasta- nothing overly done or fussy, but something with lots of fresh basil and a touch of cream. I started opening cupboards and fridge drawers. I found a previously overlooked package of spaghetti noodles, a decent looking lemon and in the fridge was some heavy cream, parmesan cheese, and a quarter of a red onion. 

I put on a large pot of water for the spaghetti. While the water heated up, I placed a glug of olive oil in a large skillet over low heat with about 2 tablespoons of finely minced red onion and a pinch of salt. I left it on low heat while the spaghetti cooked- I did not want to caramelize the onion, just soften it up slowly. I stepped over to the patio door and plucked all the fine small basil leaves off my basil plant. (Lest you think me some sort of skilled gardner, it is a basil plant from Trader Joes. I generally manage to keep them alive for about 2 weeks- just enough to completely plunder of all leaves and life. It is more economical and convenient then buying a package of basil leaves.) 

Once the spaghetti was done cooking, using large tongs, I pulled it out of the water and into the skillet. I have recently learned of the magical properties of pasta water in helping to pull a sauce together and try to avoid draining pasta water down the sink. 

As soon as the noodles hit the skillet, they were tossed with the onions. Into the pan I poured about 1/2 cup of heavy cream, grated in a few shaves of parmesan cheese, and a lot of fresh ground pepper. The pasta quickly absorbed all the liquid and so I added about 1/2 cup of pasta water to keep things from drying out too much. I then added the zest from one lemon, all the while tossing the noodles around with the tongs to get them completely coated in the peppery lemon cream. (I personally prefer lemon zest to lemon juice in pasta sauces. It seems to add the lemony brightness in the just the right way.)

I pulled the pasta from the pan, into a large wide mouth shallow bowl, topped with a little more lemon zest and, with my kitchen shears, slivered the basil leaves over. 

The result was pasta with a peppery silky cream sauce punctuated by the lemon and basil. For dinner for one, it was just perfection. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tuesday's poem: Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crochety -

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light -
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

- Mary Oliver

(above photo is from a recent visit to The Getty museum in Los Angeles. The gardens were in spectacular form during our visit.)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Eton mess with whipped mascarpone

Sometime around a year ago, when the world was in full Royal wedding hype mode, I heard, on one of the half dozen TV specials I willingly got sucked into, that Prince Williams favorite dessert is Eton mess.

Eton mess is named after the famous English college, Eton. The Legend is it was created when a beautiful dessert, destined for either a school picnic or the dinner hall (depends on who is telling the story) was accidentally smashed just prior to the meal. As there was not any time to begin making a new dessert, the mashed up concoction of meringue, cream and berries was served and was a big success.

And really it is nothing but a mashed up concoction of meringue, cream and berries. Traditionally, I believe the components are supposed to be mixed up or layered up together ahead of time but I enjoy setting out dishes of whipped cream, macerated berries and smashed meringue cookies and allowing guests to build their own. I always like an interactive dish that allows guests to tailor to their tastes.

This is also an excellent make ahead dessert. The berries can sit out, puddling up their juices in a bowl with lemon and sugar. The whipped cream can be made hours in advance and left to chill in the fridge. The meringue cookies, well, someday I am sure I will make my own, but until then Trader Joe's has a nice little tub of them and I do not believe the end dessert product suffers for it. I just stash a few into a large ziplock baggie and give a couple of pounds with my fist. (Also, I have noticed guests like to help out with this step too.

I have a deep abiding love for mascarpone (see here, and here) and a few months back stumbled into a recipe for whipping it up with heavy cream. It was one of those key culinary moments of pure delight- when the thing that you love actually can be made into something you love even more. More substantial in texture than whipped cream, I like to served whipped mascarpone when, for dessert, I am craving something with tangy sourness but do not have the time or motivation to make a full on cheesecake.

whipped mascarpone

8 oz. mascarpone
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add all ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer. Start the mixture out on low to ensure the mascarpone is evenly incorporated into the heavy cream. Raise the mixer speed to high and whip until soft peaks form. (I stand eagle eyed at the mixture because this whips up very quickly and it is the merest of milliseconds between lovely whipped delight and just plain butter.)

While most whipped cream recipes call for the addition of sugar, I do not add it here. Especially with Eton mess, the sugar component comes in from the meringue cookies and the berries. But if serving alongside something less sweet (a biscuit-y strawberry shortcake, for example) feel free to add a couple tablespoons of granulated sugar at the start.