January 10, 2017 Dried Grapes and a Winter Salad

The holidays have been over for more than a week now and it’s time to put down the sweets and get back to healthy eating again. Salads are always an important part of our dinner and I am always looking for new ways to make them interesting and flavorful.

I recently saw a recipe for dried grapes and thought it would be fun to try. I used my own method of  stemming and washing the grapes and drying them on wire rack over a baking sheet. Having a convection oven is a plus here. I achieved the right amount of shrivel and concentration of flavor in eight hours.

The preparation was simple and quick and was mostly hands-off during the process. I was very pleased with the results. To complement my new found ingredient, I made a salad of baby romaine, blue cheese, toasted almonds, dried grapes and some sauteed pancetta crumbles. The right combination of sweet, salty, crunchy, creamy and crispy.

Dried Grapes

Ingredients

  • A bunch of red seedless grapes

Directions

  1.  Preheat oven, convection is best here, to 185°F.
  2. Stem and wash the grapes thoroughly. Shake off excess moisture in a colander.
  3.  Place a wire rack over a baking sheet. Distribute the grapes over the wire rack making sure there is space between each grape.
  4. Place baking sheet in oven. Check occasionally and flip the sheet around, front to back to ensure even cooking.
  5. The grapes will start to shrivel at the four hour mark and mine were done at eight hours. Store grapes in a container in the refrigerator.
Place stemmed and washed grapes on a wire rack over a baking sheet.
The grapes are shriveled and very flavorful at eight hours.
Before and after.

Winter Salad

Serves two

Ingredients

  • 4-5 cups of baby romaine
  • ¼ c crumbled blue cheese
  • ¼ c toasted almonds
  • ¼ c sauteed pancetta crumbles
  • Dried grapes to taste
  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar ( I used cranberry pear)
  • ¼ t Dijon mustard
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Combine romaine, blue cheese, toasted almonds, pancetta crumbles and grapes in a bowl large enough to toss the ingredients.
  2. Combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard in a small bowl and whisk together.  Add salt to taste.  Toss salad with the vinaigrette and season with freshly ground pepper.

July 28, 2016 Ginger Cucumber Salad with Scallops

DSC_7580aOur current scorching, almost 100 degree temperatures with no end in sight, call for a minimum of time cooking over a hot stove. This recipe, from Mark Bittman’s Minimalist column in the New York Times is just what I was looking for. Ginger cucumber salad with scallops combines sweet buttery scallops with a crisp refreshing cucumber salad.

The cucumber salad is very simple and good in it’s own right. To get the thinnest cucumber and onion slices possible, use a mandoline. Since I am using smaller just picked cucumbers from the garden, there is no need to seed them, but I do prefer to peel them and leave strips of green skin. A classic dressing of rice wine vinegar, fresh grated ginger, sugar and salt provides a quick pickle for the cucumber slices. Remember to use plain rice vinegar, seasoned rice vinegar is flavored with sugar, salt and sometimes MSG. Plain rice vinegar is just mildly acidic and allows the cook to choose the amount of seasoning in the dish. A two inch piece of ginger translates into about two tablespoons. That might seem to be a bit too much but it is mellowed out with the other ingredients. If you are not sure, hold back a little and taste first.

While the cucumbers are marinating, preferably in the fridge, sear the scallops. Use a large non stick pan and brush with two tablespoons of a neutral oil, like grapeseed or canola, olive oil would compete (and win) against the delicate flavor of the scallops. When the oil starts to sizzle, add the scallops like the numbers on a clock starting at the top and going around, putting any additional scallops in the middle. If your pan isn’t large enough to cook all the scallops in one batch, divide them into two. Give the scallops room to sear, if they are too close they will steam. Check the first scallop, (twelve o’clock) after two minutes, if there is a nice brown crust, it’s time to flip. Continue checking around the clock until all the scallops are flipped. Repeat the step for the second side, this time moving the finished scallops to a plate.

The remaining oil, thinly sliced onion and turmeric are added to the same pan, no need to wash in between. Turmeric is the spice that gives Indian curries their vibrant color and adds warmth and a slightly bitter taste to dishes. The medical component in turmeric, curcumin, is used to make a wide variety of medicines as an anti inflammatory agent. The addition of turmeric is optional but adds another dimension to the salad.

Don’t skip the toasted sesame seeds, they add their own fragrance and just a little crunch. Stir the sauteed onions into the cucumber salad, top with the scallops and serve.

Seared Scallops with Ginger Cucumber Salad

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ lbs small cucumbers
  • ½ c rice vinegar (not flavored)
  • 2-inch piece of ginger, minced or finely grated
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • 3 T canola oil
  • 1 lb medium to large scallops
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ t ground turmeric
  • 2 T toasted sesame seeds

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Directions

  1. Slice cucumbers thinly, a mandolin  does the best job, if the cucumbers are large, peel and seed before slicing.
  2. Combine rice vinegar, ginger, sugar and salt and toss with cucumbers. Let stand 30 to 60 minutes.
  3. Put 2 tablespoons oil in a large non stick skillet over medium high heat. When the oil starts to sizzle add the scallops. Sear on first side for two minutes, flip to the other side and  sear for about two minutes. Remove scallops to a plate.
  4. Add the remaining oil, then add the onions and turmeric. Cook until the onion softens, about five minutes.
  5. Toast sesame seeds in a small dry skillet until fragrant and brown, three to four minutes. Stir the onions into cucumbers, top with scallops, garnish with sesame seeds and serve.

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July 15, 2016 Summer Squash Salad with Lemon Curd and Citron Vinaigrette

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My very thoughtful husband gave me two very special gifts for Christmas last year. The first, tickets for the South Beach Food and Wine festival that we attended in February, the second, tickets to the Food and Wine Classic. Held over a mid June weekend in Aspen Colorado for 35 years, the Classic is the nation’s premiere culinary event.

The Classic brings together the world’s foremost authorities on wine and food at over 80 cooking demonstrations and wine seminars. In between the classes and seminars we had time to sample gourmet bites, wines and other libations in the large white tents that made up the grand tasting pavilion. One of our favorite places to stop was to taste the creative offerings of Food and Wine magazine’s “Best New Chefs”. For the past 28 years the best new chefs have showcased the next culinary superstars. At each Grand Tasting, two of the chefs offered up their best bites to a hungry crowd. While pressing through the line to receive their offerings, I made a point to congratulate each one on this significant accomplishment. The July issue of Food and Wine magazine concurrently features an article about the best new chefs and a recipe or two from each one. Occasionally I will try some of these recipes, this year several caught my attention.

Chef Brad Kilgore serves up his “playfully brilliant” dishes at his restaurant, Alter in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood. Chef Kilgore stated in the article that squash and zucchini are not his favorites, so his goal was to make something great from them. His recipe for Summer Squash with Lemon Curd and Citron Vinaigrette, despite having many steps looked like something I could do and make use of produce from the garden.

Since it can be made three days ahead, my first step was to make the lemon curd. Lemon and lime curd tarts were a regular on the dessert buffets in my catering business. I admit I was a little dubious about lemon curd in a savory preparation. The addition of lemongrass and ginger made this curd unique and the lemon juice was courtesy of our Meyer lemon tree. There is a lemongrass plant in the garden but it was easier to use a few stalks from my supply in the freezer. They come back to room temperature fairly quickly and they are easier to slice when cold. The curd ingredients are put in the blender and blended until smooth. Strain the curd over a fine sieve and press down on the solids to extract as much flavor as possible from the ginger and lemongrass. Put a medium saucepan of water on to simmer and put the curd in a heatproof bowl that is large enough to sit on top of but not in the pan. The bowl shouldn’t be too big but large enough that you can comfortably whisk the curd without sloshing it on the counter top

Whisk constantly for about five minutes until it thickens, the curd should coat the back of a spoon. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time and finish by adding the extra virgin olive oil. Cover the surface of the curd directly with plastic wrap, this will prevent the curd from forming a skin and refrigerate until cold about three hours.
The zucchini herb puree can also be prepared before the salad is assembled. Our source for yellow squash and several varieties of zucchini is from a company called Seeds of Italy.  Every summer my intention is to pick them small before they get to the size of a baseball bat but there are always a few that get away from me. Just picked little zucchini actually have a delicate nutty flavor.

The original recipe called for the squash and zucchini to be seeded which is a good idea if you are buying medium to large sized squash. Since the seed pods in the zucchini and yellow squash that I picked were not fully developed yet I didn’t feel the need to remove the seeds. I picked basil, parsley and dill from the garden for the purée. Blanch the zucchini and squash and the herbs in boiling water for only 30 seconds. Blanching brightens the color of both the squash and the herbs. Immediately transfer them to an ice bath to stop the cooking. Drain them well. Pat the zucchini and squash dry with paper towels. Squeeze all the excess moisture out of the herbs. Set The yellow squash aside and purée the zucchini and the herbs in the blender. Add olive oil and salt to taste.

The vinaigrette is very simple, the acids, lemon juice and white wine vinegar are combined with chopped tarragon and honey, canola and extra virgin olive oil. I love the anisey flavor tarragon brings to any dish.

I read the recipe again to be certain I had all the components to plate it. Dill and tarragon sprigs, check. I added some red shiso leaves too. They grow like mad in the garden and seem to be a chef favorite. Thinly sliced chilies, were also a check. The last garnish had me initially stumped, puffed rice. Did they mean like the cereal? Probably not was my guess.

I found a slightly time consuming but easy way to make it. I cooked a cup of brown basmati rice until it was done, about 40 minutes and let it cool. I preheated my convection oven to 250°F, spread the rice out in a thin layer on a baking sheet and let it dry out for about an hour. I turned the oven off and let the rice dry out overnight. Line several baking sheets with paper towels. The next step is to heat about an inch of cooking oil in a wide pan , I used my wok for this. When the oil reaches 375°F add a kernel of rice, if it puffs up they are ready to go. Add the rice in batches, when it hits the hot oil the rice puffs up in seconds. You should be prepared with a fine mesh strainer to scoop out the puffed kernels before they get too brown. Puffed rice smells great, all toasty, it’s good as a salad garnish or just for munching.

With all components ready, I was ready to assemble the salad. Spread a thin layer of the zucchini herb purée on each plate. Dollop a little of the curd on the purée. Toss the yellow squash with some of the vinaigrette and season with salt. Arrange a few pieces of squash on the plates along with the marinated cheese. Garnish with herbs, chilies and puffed rice.

Joe declared the salad delicious and over the top, a unique combination of flavors and textures. On first glance this recipe looks very “cheffy” Lots of special steps and components, usually enough to scare the average home cook away. Obviously it’s not something you would whip up after work on a week night. But the steps are manageable, the curd, puree and vinaigrette can all be done ahead.  It was a wonderful salad, beautiful, very unique, a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. Hmm, guess that’s why he’s a best new chef.

I was also interested to read that Chef Kilgore makes all of the desserts at his restaurant, that’s not typical of most head chefs. The lemon curd infused with lemongrass and ginger was very good. I have some left over from the salad and will serve it with some of our fresh blueberries that should be ready to harvest this weekend.  The zucchini herb puree I had leftover made a good sauce for salmon and would work for poached chicken too. I’m certain I will be making it again this summer. The puffed rice was a bit of a revelation and fun to do. It makes an interesting addition to a salad and just for munching too.

 

Summer Squash Salad with Lemon Curd and Citron Vinaigrette

Serves four

Ingredients for the lemon curd

  • 1/3 c fresh lemon juice
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2½ T sugar
  • 1 T thinly sliced lemongrass, tender inner bulb only
  • 2 t minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 4 T unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and at room temperature
  • ½ T extra virgin olive oil
Ingredients for the lemon curd.
Ingredients for the lemon curd.

Directions for the lemon curd

  1. In a blender, combine lemon juice, eggs, sugar, lemongrass and ginger and blend until smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a medium heatproof bowl, pressing on the solids.
  2. Place the bowl over, not in, a saucepan of barely simmering water. Cook the curd, whisking constantly until the curd is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 5-7 minutes.
  3. Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk the butter in until incorporated, then whisk in the olive oil. Press a sheet of plastic wrap on the surface of the curd and refrigerate until cold.

 

Ingredients for the zucchini-herb purée

  • 8 oz yellow squash, quartered lengthwise, seeded if necessary and cut into 3″ pieces
  • 5 oz zucchini, quartered lengthwise, seeded if necessary and cut into 3″ pieces
  • ½ c each, basil, parsley and dill
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
Ingredients for the zucchini herb puree.
Ingredients for the zucchini herb puree.

Directions for the zucchini herb purée

  1. In a medium saucepan of salted boiling water, blanch the squash and zucchini for 30 seconds; using a slotted spoon, transfer to an ice bath to cool completely. Blanch the herbs until wilted, about 30 seconds. Drain and transfer to an ice bath to cool. Drain the squash, zucchini and herbs; pat the squash and zucchini dry and squeeze excess water out of the herbs.
  2. Reserve the yellow squash in a small bowl. In a blender, purée the zucchini with the herbs and a half a cup of water until smooth. With the machine on, add the half cup of olive oil. Season to taste with salt.
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Didn’t need to seed these zucchini and yellow squash.
Plunge into ice water after blanching for thirty seconds.
Plunge into ice water after blanching for thirty seconds.
It brightens their color.
It brightens their color.
Squeeze the herbs dry .
Squeeze the herbs dry .
Ready to blend.
Ready to blend.
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The final product.

Ingredients for the vinaigrette

  • 2 T fresh lemon juice
  • 2 t white wine vinegar
  • 1 T chopped tarragon
  • ¼ t honey
  • ¼ c canola or grapeseed oil
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
Tarragon in the garden after the rain.
Tarragon in the garden after the rain.
Ingredients for the vinaigrette.
Ingredients for the vinaigrette.

Directions for the vinaigrette

  1. In a small bowl combine the lemon juice, vinegar, tarragon and honey. Gradually whisk in both of the oils until emulsified. Season the vinaigrette with salt.

Final assembly of the salad

  • 4 oz marinated sheep or goat’s milk cheese, cut into small chunks for serving
  • Small tarragon, dill, shiso, or other herb sprigs
  • Thinly sliced chilies
  • Puffed rice
  1. Spread a thin layer of the zucchini purée on 4 small plates. Dollop a few small teaspoons of the lemon curd on the puree. Toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette and season with salt. Reserve remaining vinaigrette for another use. Arrange three pieces  of squash on each plate along with some of the marinated cheese. Garnish the salads with the herb sprigs, chilies and puffed rice.
I loved making puffed rice!
I loved making puffed rice!

 

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Probably the most unique salad I’ve ever made/tried. 2 thumbs up!

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June 8, 2016 Spinach, Strawberry, Snow Pea and Radish Salad

DSC_7109aThe vegetable garden, now that summer is fast approaching,  is about creating recipes for fruit and vegetables that are harvested at the same time. That was the  inspiration for this spinach, snow pea, strawberry, and radish salad.

It was time to make one last spinach salad before the plants go to seed. I snipped the smallest leaves off the bolting plants before pulling them out. Joe will plant spinach again in the fall when the cooler temperatures return.

I  pick about a quart of snow peas each day. Their season is short and the warm temperatures of last week were less than ideal for them. This week promises to be cooler and as usual they will be with us until the end of June.

Since they grow quickly, Joe does consecutive plantings of radishes so they aren’t all ready to harvest at once. A new crop emerges in about 3 weeks. They are another vegetable that prefers cool weather, summer heat renders them woody and hot. I picked small radishes, thinning out a row, allowing the ones left behind a few more days to mature.

Our strawberry patch is in it’s third season now and is doing better than ever. I spent some time cleaning out the weeds this past weekend that seem to take over if given the opportunity. Fresh strawberries are delicious. We even get a second crop at the end of summer.

A strawberry vinaigrette is the perfect complement to this salad. For the dressing I combined garlic, Dijon mustard, strawberry balsamic vinegar, a touch of honey and extra-virgin olive oil.

When making of salad be sure to use a bowl that gives you plenty of room to combine the ingredients. Start by tossing the spinach lightly with dressing to coat and then add some strawberries, peas and radishes and toss again.  I leave the rest of them to top the salad. That way you can be certain that the last person served doesn’t get all the heavier ingredients that sink to the bottom of the bowl.

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Spinach, Strawberry, Snow Pea and Radish Salad

Serves two 

Ingredients

For the vinaigrette

  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 3 T balsamic vinegar (strawberry works nicely here)
  • ½-1 t honey
  • 1 t Dijon mustard
  • ½ c extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad

  • 6 c baby spinach
  • 1 c strawberries, hulled, halved and sliced
  • 1 c snow peas, strings removed
  • 3-4 medium radishes, sliced thin
  • ¼ c toasted sunflower seeds

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DSC_2601aDSC_7027aDSC_7118aDSC_7727aDSC_7499aDSC_2666aDirections

  1. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, mustard, and garlic. Add the oil in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Add the snow peas to a small pot of boiling water, count to ten, remove from heat and drain well in a colander. Pat dry and let cool.
  3. Place the spinach in a large bowl and toss with some of the vinaigrette and taste. Add about half of the other ingredients, toss again, adding more of the dressing if necessary. Top individual salads with the remaining ingredients. Season each portion to taste with freshly ground black pepper. Reserve remaining vinaigrette for a later use.

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June 1, 2016 Broccoli and Butternut Squash Salad

DSC_7045aWe always leave room for a large row of broccoli plants in the garden. But somehow this year, Joe forgot to buy broccoli seeds. We remedied that by purchasing “starts”, small broccoli plants from the garden center at the Home Depot. They are very healthy plants. They took well to transplanting and we’ve encountered no cabbage worm problem this year. But something wasn’t right. Normally, broccoli plants have form one large head in the center. After the center head is harvested, it produces additional side growth for a few more weeks. This year the plants produced no center head but a reasonable amount of side growth.

I did a little research and there is a good possibility that the plants were subject to “buttoning” before we bought them. They could have been exposed to cold temperatures (35-50°F) for several days. Other possible stressors include insufficient water, a lack of nitrogen, excessive salt in the soil, pests or disease. I guess the moral of the story is to plant as much as you can from seed, that way you can be certain your plants have been nurtured properly. That said, we still have some broccoli and I created this healthy salad from some of those side shoots plus other ingredients in my kitchen, butternut squash, red pepper, dried cherries and slivered almonds.

Toss butternut squash cubes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread them out on a baking sheet and bake in a 375°F oven. Toss them occasionally on the baking sheet to ensure even browning on all sides. Squash cubes shrink, the four cups you start with will yield about 2 1/2 cups of finished product. Even though the broccoli I used was picked that day, I prefer to blanch it for thirty seconds to brighten the color and bring out it’s flavor.  After you drain it in a colander,  plunge the broccoli into an ice bath. This will stop the hot broccoli cooking and prevent it from turning limp and watery.  After it has cooled down, place the florets on a clean kitchen towel to dry.

You could just add plain nuts to the recipe, but toasting them really brings out the flavor. Add the nuts to a skillet large enough to stir or toss them in, depending how brave you are. Cooking over medium high heat, keep the nuts moving at all times to ensure even toasting and no burnt spots. Toasting brings out some of their oil and makes the kitchen smell great! Any nut will work, walnuts, pecans even sunflower seeds.

I had several types of dried fruit in the kitchen and decided that dried cherries would add a tangy sweet element to the dish. I made a vinaigrette with Sicilian Lemon White Balsamic from The Tubby Olive. It has a pleasant acidity with a bright crisp lemon flavor. I combined it with a few tablespoons of their Roasted Almond Oil and finished it with some extra virgin olive oil. Toss the broccoli florets, squash cubes and pepper strips with some of the dressing. Add the cherries and almonds and toss again, adding dressing if necessary. Veggies exude their own liquid, so be judicious in adding the vinaigrette. Refrigerate the salad for several hours to bring out the flavors. Taste before serving, adding any additional dressing, salt and pepper. It’s a colorful, healthy and very flavorful salad.

Little broccoli shoot hiding between the leaves.
Little broccoli shoot hiding between the leaves.
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Broccoli side growth, just as good for this salad.
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Very colorful ingredients.

Broccoli and Butternut Squash Salad

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 4 c broccoli florets
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1″ cubes, about 4 cups
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 c red pepper strips, 2″ x ½” from one small pepper
  • ½c slivered almonds
  • ½c dried cherries
  • ¼c Sicilian Lemon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 small clove garlic, chopped
  • Pinch of dried thyme
  • 2 T Roasted almond oil
  • ¼c extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. In a large bowl, toss butternut squash cubes with 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread out evenly on a baking sheet.
  3. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 16-20 minutes, tossing occasionally to be certain squash gets browned on all sides. Let cool to room temperature.
  4. Fill a large pot with water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Put a colander large enough to accommodate the broccoli in the sink.
  5. Have an ice bath (bowl with water and ice at the ready. Plunge the broccoli in the boiling water and count to 30. Immediately drain the broccoli in the colander then transfer it to the ice bath to stop the cooking.
  6. Drain the broccoli when it has cooled a bit and place broccoli florets on a clean dishcloth to dry them off a bit.
  7. Toast almonds in a medium dry skillet over medium high heat. Keep them constantly moving to ensure even coloring. They will exude some of their oil  and they smell great. Remove from the pan and cool.
  8. In a small bowl, combine the lemon balsamic, garlic, thyme and oils.  Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
  9. Place the butternut squash, broccoli and pepper strips in a large bowl and toss with some of the dressing. Add the dried cherries and almonds and toss again, add a little more dressing if needed. Chill before serving.

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February 16, 2016 Shaved Fennel and Arugula Salad with Blood Oranges and Walnuts

DSC_5859aThis simple salad unites two of winter’s best produce offerings, fennel and blood oranges. I added some peppery arugula, tossed them with a blood orange dressing with toasted fennel seed and topped it with toasted walnuts.

In the world of vegetables, poor fennel doesn’t get the attention that it truly deserves. Originally an Italian import, it’s readily found in any well stocked grocery store, usually keeping company near the radishes and lettuces. It’s full of nutrients like vitamin C, potassium and fiber with a texture that is crisp like celery and a flavor is mildly anisey. Fennel is available year round but it’s peak season is fall and winter.

I propose the reason for fennel negligence is twofold. One, many cooks aren’t sure what parts are usable and two, they are not sure how to cut it up. That’s easy to clarify, when shopping for fennel choose small to medium plump bulbs always with the stalks and feathery greenery still attached. To prepare for cooking, cut off the stalks and the feathery foliage. Remove any outside ribs that appear tough or damaged. Slice the trimmed fennel bulb crosswise thinly with a knife or mandoline for raw preparations or cut vertically into larger pieces for grilling or roasting. The stalks can be as a bed for cooking whole fish or stuffed in a chicken before roasting. The stalks could also be used as a component in chicken or vegetarian stock. The feathery fronds make an attractive edible garnish. I use raw fennel quite often in our winter salads and I also like fennel quartered either roasted or grilled. Grilling caramelizes fennel and enhances the flavor.

Blood oranges are readily available now and I like to use them as much as I can during their December to March season The red blush of the blood orange’s skin hints at what’s inside. The magenta flesh color is due to the presence of anthocyanins, the pigment that makes blueberries blue, cherries red and eggplants purple. Blood orange’s flavor is tart-sweet with just a hint of berry.

This is a very easy salad to make. Shave the fennel crosswise very thinly with a mandoline or sharp knife. Always use the finger guard with the mandoline, I learned the hard way on a new, very sharp mandoline a few years ago, when I was shaving fennel come to think of it. Cut the peel and pith from the orange, again using your sharpest knife and cut crosswise into rounds. The crispy fennel and peppery arugula are combined with a blood orange and toasted fennel seed vinaigrette. Add the blood orange sections and toss again. Top with toasted walnut pieces and fennel fronds.

Shaved Fennel and Arugula Salad with Blood Oranges and Walnuts

Serves four

Ingredients for the salad

  • 1 medium fennel, top trimmed off and fronds reserved
  • 4 blood oranges
  • 6-7 c baby arugula
  • ¼c toasted chopped walnuts

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Ingredients for the dressing

  • l blood orange
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1  T minced shallot
  • 1 t honey
  • ½t fennel seed
  • 1 t salt
  • ½c extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions for the dressing

  1. Juice the orange, you should have about ¼ cup.
  2. In a dry skillet, lightly toast the fennel seeds until fragrant. Cool slightly and crush with a mortar and pestle.
  3. Stir all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Reserve.

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Directions for the salad

  1.  Slice fennel very thinly crosswise with a mandoline or a very sharp knife, stopping before you get to the core. You should have 1½ to 2 cups.
  2. Using a very sharp knife, cut the peel and white pith from the oranges. Slice crosswise into thin rounds.
  3. In a large bowl add fennel and arugula and toss to combine. Whisk the dressing together to recombine. Add some of the dressing to the arugula and fennel and toss lightly. Season with salt and pepper. Add the blood orange sections and toss gently. Divide among the salad plates and top each portion with fennel fronds and walnuts. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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February 6, 2016 Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Orange and Tarragon

 

DSC_5828aThe produce department of a well stocked supermarket is a happy place for me. I love looking at neat rows of perfect produce with automatic misters that always seem to turn on the minute I reach in to pick out my choice. I look for new vegetables I have read about in food magazines. Kale sprouts? Not in local stores yet. I am inspired to try that new recipe, create a new salad. I bemoan the high cost of tiny bunches of fresh herbs and swear that I will ask Joe to pot up more to use in the winter season. In our gardening “off season” I can even find local lettuces and greens grown in indoor greenhouses not far from where I live.

About a month ago I discovered one of my favorite vegetables was missing from it’s place of prominence on the shelves. Cauliflower, usually placed near it’s cousin broccoli was all but missing in action. When I did find it, it was banished to a corner at the very end of the produce aisle. There was only a very sparse offering and the heads were probably half the size of those from local farms available just a few months ago. And the price? These tiny heads were selling at $5.99 a piece, I could easily pass that up.

After a little research, I learned that the problem was due to the changing weather and rainfall patterns from a strong El Nino in the primary areas where it is grown, California’s Imperial Valley and near Yuma Arizona. The combination of cauliflower’s current status as most favored vegetable (sorry kale!) and the recent shortage led to it’s conspicuous absence.

Several weeks have passed and the price is coming down a bit so I have currently suspended my moratorium on cauliflower. This salad, roasted curried cauliflower with orange and tarragon in the latest issue of Fine Cooking was the inspiration for my return.

Florets of cauliflower and thinly sliced shallots are tossed with curry powder, olive oil, salt and pepper. Since they can vary in heat quite a bit, I chose a sweet curry powder from Penzey’s. Curry powders are are a blend of spices, thirteen in this case, including turmeric, coriander, cumin and ginger, just to name a few. You can also make your own curry blend according to your tastes. The cauliflower and shallots are spread out on a large baking sheet and roasted until the vegetables are tender and browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Watch carefully, since I was using convection heat I reduced the temperature from 450°F to 425°F. I also stir the cauliflower around at about the halfway point to insure even browning.

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the orange segments, I discuss how to do it here. Unlike cauliflower, oranges and all citrus are plentiful and priced well this time of year. If you don’t want to try your hand at supreming, substitute Mandarin orange segments, not the ones packed in syrup, of course!

The vinaigrette is composed of rice vinegar, Dijon mustard, orange juice and extra virgin olive oil. Fresh tarragon brings a “licoricey” flavor to the dressing but if the expense of a small container of fresh tarragon bothers you as much as it does me, skip it or add a little dried. Toss the cooled vegetables along with the orange segments, almonds, currants and mache. I used a mache “blend” from Organic Girl that includes mache rosettes, baby red and green chard and tango lettuce. It’s a good quality product for non garden months. You could also choose baby arugula or any salad blend.

We loved the salad and finished it in one sitting. The flavors and textures all contrast very nicely. I added a little crumbled soft goat cheese to our salads, some chickpeas or finely chopped fennel would also be an interesting addition. This could also double as a vegetarian main dish and would be great for a buffet.

Roasted  Cauliflower Salad with Orange and Tarragon

Serves four (or two very hungry people)

  • 1 large head cauliflower cut into 1″ florets (about 8 cups)
  • 1 c thinly sliced shallots
  • 1½t curry powder
  • 7 T extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 large oranges (I used Cara Cara)
  • 1 T rice vinegar
  • 2 t Dijon mustard
  • 2-3 T chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/3 c coarsely chopped tamari almonds or toasted slivered almonds
  • ¼c dried currants
  • 5-6 c mâche or baby arugula

Directions

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven to 450°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. Toss the cauliflower and shallots with the curry powder, 2 T oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast until the vegetables are tender and browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool.
  3. Slice the ends of the oranges so they rest flat on a cutting board, cut off the peel and the pith. Working over a bowl, cut the orange segments free from the membranes, letting them fall into the bowl. Squeeze the juice out of the membranes into a small bowl.
  4. In another small bowl, whisk the vinegar and the mustard. Slowly whisk in the remaining 5 T oil. Whisk in 3 T of the orange juice and the tarragon. Season to taste.
  5. Add the cauliflower, almonds and currants to the orange segments and toss with enough vinaigrette to coat well. Add the mache and toss again. Drizzle with remaining vinaigrette and serve.

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Cauliflower tossed with curry powder. The orange color comes from the turmeric.
Cauliflower tossed with curry powder. The orange color comes from the turmeric.
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Delicious!

January 30, 2016 Spinach, Blood Orange and Bean Salad with Sprouts

DSC_5806aThe February issue of Bon Appetit includes a nine page (ten if you count the colorful illustration on the first page) article devoted to beans. The title, “Cool Beans” brings a smile to my face because it was an often used expression of a dear friend of mine.

“Cool Beansincludes a four step method on how to cook dried beans from scratch, a pictorial of some of the prettiest beans I have ever seen, available by mail order only and they even address the, ahem, gas issue. There are recipes for cassoulets, pastas, stews and chilis. What caught my attention however was a bean salad; blood orange and mixed bean salad with sprouts. Since I wanted to make the salad for that evening, I needed to forgo the soaking and the next day slow cooking. So I did the next best, and most practical thing, I used a can of cannellini beans, Goya is my brand of choice. If you use canned beans, rinse and drain them well. A large can of cannellini beans will give you 1 1/2 cups of beans as opposed to the 2 cups in the original recipe.

The salad comes together very quickly. Blood orange segments, readily available this time of year enhance the salad with beautiful garnet red color and deep sweet orange flavor with just a little bit of raspberry tartness. Celery slices, underused in salads (at least by me) and broccoli sprouts give a crisp contrast. Fennel would be an interesting substitution for celery. The dressing is a very simple vinaigrette, lime juice, sherry vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and a small Thai chili. Our rather large supply of frozen chilis pack as much heat as any fresh one. My additions to the original recipe were baby spinach leaves and toasted almonds for crunch. Top the salad with some cilantro or parsley leaves. This salad probably could serve four but we ate it in one sitting as a side dish.

The origin of the expression “cool beans”? A Cheech and Chong movie? The 80’s sitcom Full House? There doesn’t seem to be a true concensus. What I do know is that it’s time to place an order for some heirloom beans so I can make this delcious salad again.

Spinach, Blood Orange and Bean Salad with Sprouts

Serves four

For the vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 2T fresh lime juice
  • 2t Sherry or red wine vinegar
  • ¼c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small Thai chili, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

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Directions

  1. Whisk ingredients together in a medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Set aside.

For the salad

Ingredients

  • 6c baby spinach leaves
  • 1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and well drained or fresh cooked beans
  • 3 blood or navel oranges
  • 1c celery stalks, sliced thinly on the diagonal
  • ½c radish or broccoli sprouts
  • ¼c toasted almond slivers
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

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Directions

  1. Add beans to vinaigrette and toss to coat, let sit for 10 minutes for flavors to blend.
  2. Remove peel and pith with a small, very sharp knife from 3 blood or navel oranges. Cut crosswise into ¼” thick rounds.
  3. Add the spinach, orange sections, celery slices and sprouts to the bowl with beans and toss. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Top with additional sprouts, cilantro leaves and toasted almonds.
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The borlotti beans we grow in the garden are very pretty. Unfortunately they lose their mottled color when cooked.

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January 21, 2016 Scallop Salad with Gremolata and Asian Vinaigrette

DSC_5726aThis is a twist on a recipe in the latest issue of Fine Cooking. In the Fine Cooking version, the scallops were tossed in a mixtue of citrus and Asian ingredients for a quick marinade. I wanted to make mine a salad so I patted the scallops dry, seared them and the marinade ingredients became the basis for an easy vinaigrette.
I love scallops for a quick meal and the jumbo sea scallops at Heller’s Seafood this week were pristine and just perfect. Wherever you shop, look for dry scallops. Wet scallops are soaked in a preservative phosphate solution. The solution preserves and whitens the scallops and causes them to absorb more water. So when you cook wet scallops they don’t brown as well or not at all because of the extra liquid. They can also have a soapy taste. Dry scallops are shucked and shipped packed on ice with no preservatives.  Therefore they have a shorter shelf life and are fresher when you buy them. Dry scallops come with a higher price tag, but they are fresher and you are not paying for water weight.

It’s fairly easy to tell the difference, wet scallops are bright white because of the phosphate solution and dry scallops are ivory or pinkish. Don’t hesitate to sniff them, the scallops should smell like the ocean.  When in doubt, ask, and if they don’t know, run! You shouldn’t be shopping there anyway.

Prepare scallops by first removing the tough abductor muscle, it peels off easily. Then I pat them dry on both sides with paper towels. I coat a non-stick skillet with a neutral oil (vegetable or canola). Be sure that your skillet will hold the scallops without crowding them, you want to sear, not steam them. I turn the heat up to high and wait for the first sizzle. I add the scallops to the pan in a clockwise fashion with any extras in the middle. That way I know what scallop has cooked the longest. Now is the hard part, cook the scallops without moving them until a little peek (lift up the spatula a bit) shows a deep golden crust. Be sure not to overcook, you want the middle to stay tender and sweet.  Two to three minutes per side will do.

Gremolata is made from parsley, garlic and lemon zest and is the traditional topping for braised veal shank or osso buco. This version takes on a definite Asian flair using cilantro, garlic, sesame seeds and lime zest. These flavors harmonize perfectly with the sweet scallops. The marinade for the scallops included mirin, lime juice, ginger and sesame oil. In case you didn’t know, mirin is a type of rice wine, like sake but mirin is sweet and has a higher alcohol content. When you are looking for sesame oil it should be the dark variety. Both mirin and dark sesame oil are readily available in the Asian section of the supermarket.  I used these flavors with a little additional honey to dress my salad greens with. I chose baby arugula, but a spring mix or baby spinach would work well too.

This dish comes together quickly, both the gremolata and the vinaigrette are easy to make. It is just important to take the time to cook the scallops correctly. This recipe can be doubled and is perfect for a first course or part of a small plates dinner.

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Don’t crowd the pan, give the scallops room to brown, too close and they will steam.

Scallop Salad with Gremolata and Asian Vinaigrette

Serves 2

Ingredients for the scallops

  • ½ to ¾lb dry packed sea scallops (about 6)
  • A neutral cooking oil, canola for example
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions for cooking the scallops

  1. Remove the tough abductor muscle from the side of each scallop (some scallops are sold with the muscle already removed). If you feel any grit on the scallops, rinse them under cold water. Pat the scallops dry with paper towels; surface moisture impedes browning.
  2. Heat a 10- or 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the oil and heat until quite hot. Pat the scallops dry once more and put them in the pan in a single, uncrowded layer. Season with salt and pepper and let sear undisturbed until one side is browned and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, turn the scallops and sear until the second side is well browned and the scallops are almost firm to the touch, 2 to 4 minutes.
  3. Take the pan off the heat, transfer the scallops to a plate, and set them in a warm spot while you finish the other components of the recipe.

Ingredients for the sesame cilantro gremolata

  • ¼c finely chopped cilantro
  • 1T toasted sesame seeds
  • 2t finely chopped garlic
  • 1t lime zest

Directions for the sesame cilantro gremolata

  1. In a small bowl, combine the cilantro, sesame seeds, garlic and lime zest. Set aside.

Ingredients for the dressing

  • 3T mirin
  • 1t grated ginger
  • 2t fresh lime juice
  • 1t honey (or more to taste)
  • 3T sesame oil

Directions for the dressing

  1. In a small bowl whisk all the ingredients together. Set aside

Final Assembly of the salad

Ingredients

  • 4-5 cups of baby arugula, spring mix or baby spinach

Directions

  1. Place the greens in one medium or individual salad plates.
  2. Top with seared scallops
  3. Sprinkle gremolata on the scallops.
  4. Dress greens and scallops lightly with dressing.
  5. Serve immediately.

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January 5, 2016 Roasted Vegetable Salad

DSC_5416aJust because we are in the middle of a chilly (notice I didn’t say cold) and somewhat rainy winter, doesn’t mean that a green salad can’t be part of your meal. I have been using a formula from an article in Fine Cooking to make delicious and interesting winter salads. Hearty roasted vegetable salads combine mixed winter greens with roasted winter vegetables and fruits, nuts, cheeses and dried fruits.

I confess that even though I’m not making the trek out to the greenhouse these days where I still might find some spinach or claytonia, my local supermarkets are providing a varied assortment of fresh salad greens. I always purchase a smaller package because I am more likely use them up before the recommended expiration date. Choose from one of the many blends in your produce section or go solo with baby arugula or spinach.

Winter root vegetables are the next component in the salad. I line my pan first with parchment paper for easy clean up.  Uniformity is the key here, cut everything into a 3/4 inch dice or wedge and toss with a little olive oil and some kosher salt. If you choose to roast red beets they will need to be on a pan of their own so they won’t bleed into the other fruits and vegetables. High heat cooking carmelizes and brings out the sweetness in the vegetables and fruit. Just remember not to crowd the pan or you will end up steaming them.

Dried fruit balances out the bitterness of the greens, for this recipe I chose dried cherries. Some aged Gouda brings another layer of flavor and toasted slivered almonds add a little crunch. Toss the salad with a simple fruity vinaigrette, I combined a tangy red apple vinegar with toasted almond oil from the Tubby Olive.

Roasted Vegetable Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 generous cups winter greens such as spinach, arugula, endive, baby greens-kale, chard etc.
  • Roasted root vegetables and fruit, I used a combination of red and gold beets, and a firm tart apple such as a Braeburn, roasting recipe follows
  • ¼c toasted slivered almonds
  • 1/3c diced aged Gouda
  • 3T dried cherries
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
I roasted red and golden beets along with apples. Toasted almonds and dried cherries complemented the flavors nicely.
I roasted red and golden beets along with apples. Toasted almonds and dried cherries complemented the flavors nicely.

 

For the vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 2T red apple balsamic vinegar
  • 1t honey
  • ½t Dijon mustard
  • 3T toasted almond oil
  • ¼ t grated lemon peel
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the Roasted Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 6c mixed root vegetables and fruit (I used red and golden beets and apples) trimmed and cut into ¾ inch wedges
  • Olive oil to coat the vegetables
  • Kosher salt

Directions

  1. Position racks in the upper and lower third of the oven. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. In a large bowl combine the golden beets with the apples. Toss them with a little oil and some kosher salt. Transfer them to a large parchment lined heavy duty baking sheet and spread out in a single layer. Repeat the process with the red beets and transfer to their own baking sheet.
  3. Roast, flipping over with a spatula halfway through and rotating the baking sheets. The vegetables should be browned and tender.  It took me about 18 minutes, watch carefully so you don’t burn them.
Roasted golden beets and apples, red beets were roasted separately.
Roasted golden beets and apples, red beets were roasted separately.

 

Directions for assembling the salad

  1. Put the greens in a bowl large enough to toss them. Drizzle the greens with about 2T of the vinaigrette. Toss the greens well and add a little more dressing if necessary. Arrange greens on salad plates or a large platter.
  2. Season the roasted vegetables lightly with some of the remaining vinaigrette. Arrange them over the greens, then top with the nuts, cheese and fruit.
  3. Serve with freshly ground pepper and additional dressing if desired.

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