In the mood for Farmer’s Market Tomatoes!

     Every Saturday, I go to the Piedmont Triad Farmer’s Market in Greensboro and get into all sorts of trouble.  I find it impossible to resist the truckloads of sweet corn, watermelons and peaches, the buckets of fresh cut flowers, the homemade baked goods, the goat cheese lady (who lets you taste everything), and especially the tables of carefully laid out vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes.
   This past week it seemed clear that the best of tomato season is over.  But happily there were still lots of beautiful cherry tomatoes and also boxes of field ripened tomatoes for 99 cents a pound that, while slightly unfortunate in looks, were extremely lovely in taste. So here is what I did with my end of season tomatoes.
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Peeled Cherry Tomato Salad with Tarragon Mustard Vinaigrette and Walnuts

Who would actually score, blanch and peel a whole mess of cherry tomatoes?  That would be me, of course, after I read a description of how these little tomatoes, without the constraints of their skin, soak up the vinaigrette and explode in your mouth.  This is based on a recipe from renown chef and teacher Anne Willan from La Varenne.  And while I may not start peeling all of my tomatoes from this day on, I will definitely be serving this wonderful and unique salad from time to time.
2 pounds cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1 small bunch fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup walnut oil (or olive oil)
Boston or Bibb lettuce leaves
Score a tiny x into the bottom of each tomato. Bring a large pot of water to boil and drop tomatoes in for just a few seconds to loosen the skins.  Drain and rinse until cold water to stop the cooking.  The tomatoes should be quite easy to peel now.
For the Dressing:  Strip the tarragon leaves from their stems and coarsely chop.  Whisk the vinegar with the mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Gradually whisk in the oil so the dressing emulsifies and thickens slightly.  Whisk in the chopped tarragon, taste and adjust the seasonings.
Put the peeled tomatoes into a salad bowl.  Pour the dressing over the tomatoes, mixing carefully, and taste again for seasoning.  Shortly before serving, sprinkle the tomatoes with walnuts, top with tarragon and serve over leaves of Boston or Bibb lettuce.
(tomatoes can be made and kept at room temperature for 2-3 hours, and the flavors will mellow in that time)
(Serves 6-8)
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Fresh Tomato Soup

Hands down my favorite tomato soup.  I make it a few times at the height of tomato season and then stash the recipe away until summer returns.  It really isn’t worth the effort if you are using supermarket tomatoes (trust me, I’ve tried) This recipe is from The Victory Garden Cookbook, by Marian Morash. Also, more tomato peeling here…it’s necessary, sorry.
4 pounds ripe tomatoes
3 tablespoons oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped leeks
1 cup sliced carrots
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons flour
6 sprigs parsley
1 celery stalk with leaves
8 cups chicken broth
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peel, seed and roughly chop tomatoes.  You should have approximately 6 cups.  In a large saucepan, heat oil and saute the onions and leeks until wilted and golden,  Add 2 cups of the tomatoes, the carrots, garlic, and sugar, and cook together, stirring, until the moisture has evaporated and the mixture is thick.  The cooking time varies, from 10-25 minutes, depending upon the moisture of the tomatoes.  Whisk in flour and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring, to cook flour and make smooth.  Tie together the parsley and celery and add to saucepan.  Add remaining tomatoes and 3 cups of the broth.  Cook for 10-15 minutes to release the tomato juices and thicken slightly.  Add the remaining broth; simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove the parsley and celery and lightly process using either a food processor or a stick blender. (or you can put it through a food mill if you have one of those…this recipe makes having a stick blender worth it’s weight in gold) You can either puree this soup finely or leave a little texture, which is how we like it.  It is wonderful with french bread croutons made with parmesan cheese and lots of black pepper, as shown above.
Makes 2 1/2 quarts
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Cherry Tomato and Ricotta Salata Salad

This mild salty cheese is perfect with summer sweet cherry tomatoes!  I’ve just added it to my list of favorite cheeses.  This recipe is from A Good DayFor Salad, by Louise Fiszer and Jeannette Ferrary.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup best quality balsamic vinegar
2 cups red cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
6 cups arugula, about 8 ounces
6 ounces ricotta salata cheese
salt and pepper
1 cup fresh basil leaves
In a small bowl, whisk oil and vinegar together,  In a large bowl, gently combine tomatoes and arugula.  Toss with dressing and place in a shallow serving bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Shave thin slices of ricotta salata and place over tomato mixture.  Sprinkle with basil.
(Serves 10)
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In the mood for Frijoles Negros!

Black Turtle Beans… a staple of Latin American cooking and probably my favorite legume. The three dishes below demonstrate the flavor and convenience of canned black beans when combined with other fresh ingredients. The gobs of cheese and sauce that you find in many Mexican restaurant dishes can be tiresome and before long everything starts to taste the same.  These recipes showcase some of the wonderful flavors of Latin American and southwestern cuisine without all that heaviness…perfect for summer!

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Delicious, Clean and Healthy Tostata

Yes, that is the name of this recipe from The Family Chef, by Jewels and Jill Elmore.  But when I served this for dinner, no one in my family commented on how healthy it seemed.  They just ate it up and asked for more. I’ve made a couple of changes just to simplify a step or two.  I get the achiote paste at the Mexican market.  It comes in a little box and makes the most amazingly vivid orange marinade with a wonderful flavor.  Definitely worth the trip to the market.
6 corn tortillas
1/8 cup oil
1 can seasoned black beans
1/4 head cabbage
1/4 head lettuce
1 bunch cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
2 spring green onions, thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, seeded and thinly sliced
1/3 cup cotija cheese
1 avocado, sliced
1/4 cup pickled red onion (recipe below)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
achiote marinade (recipe below)
1.  Prepare the Achiote Marinade.
2.  Marinate chicken for at least 20 minutes and as long as overnight
3.  Prepare the pickled Red Onion
4.  Brush tortillas lightly with oil and bake at about 350 degrees until crispy.
5.  Drain the black beans, do not rinse.
6.  Grill the chicken, cool slightly and slice thinly.
7.  Toss all salad ingredients with a little juice from the pickled red onion and some olive oil.
8.  Assemble the tostadas:  Pile the beans and thinly sliced chicken on the crispy tortillas shells; then add
     the salad.  Top with pickled red onions and serve. Serves 4-6
Pickled Red Onion
1 red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
2  tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
Heat vinegar with sugar and salt until dissolved.  Add red onions and let sit 20 minutes or longer.
Achiote Marinade
1/2 cup achiote paste
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup light oil
1 lime, juiced
Mix all ingredients in a blender.
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Spicy Grilled Corn Salad with Black Beans and Queso Fresco

 
This lovely salad has a distinct warm and smoky flavor from the chipotle peppers and adobo sauce.  The queso fresco is mild so it absorbs the flavors of the dressing and is a wonderful contrast to the sweet crunchy grilled corn. The recipe is from Fine Cooking. 
 
3 ears fresh corn, husked
1 medium red onion, cut into disks about 1/3 inch thick
1 large red bell pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 small chipotle pepper, seeded and minced, plus one tablespoon adobo sauce (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 15 1/2 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
5 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (1 cup)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
Prepare a grill.  Brush corn, onion and bell pepper with oil and season with salt and pepper.  Grill corn and onion until beginning to brown, 6-10 minutes.  Transfer to a cutting board to cool slightly.  Grill the pepper until charred on all sides, about 12 minutes.  Put the pepper in a bowl, cover, and cool slightly.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk 6 tablespoons oil, the chipotle and the adobo sauce, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Coarsely chop the onion and put it in a large bowl.  Cut the corn from the cobs and add to the bowl.  Skin, seed, and coarsely chop the pepper; add to the bowl, along with the beans, cheese, cilantro and oregano.  Re-whisk the dressing , add it to the corn mixture and toss well.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
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Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas

One of my sons raved about the butternut squash quesadillas that he had at The Garden Grille in Providence, RI and this is our attempt to recreate them.  We used sweet potatoes instead of the squash and added caramelized onions and black beans.  On our first try, we overdid the cheese and while they were fine, we didn’t get the bright sweet potato flavor that we were looking for.  Being light handed with the cheese was the trick to nailing this copycat recipe. ( I didn’t write down any amounts while playing around with these quesadillas so I will just give a general game plan)
several sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
a couple of Vidalia onions, peeled and thinly sliced
a can black beans, drained and rinsed
queso fresco cheese, crumbled
grated cheese (cheddar or colby/jack)
olive oil
butter
large flour tortillas
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Put the potatoes in a roasting pan and toss with a bit of oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread out into a single layer and roast until tender and starting to brown…this will only take 10-15 minutes. While potatoes are roasting, cook the onions slowly in a drizzle of oil, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and golden.
Preheat broiler, leaving the rack in the middle of the oven.  Brush one side of a tortilla with oil or melted butter and place it buttered-side down on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with a light layer or queso fresco then add a layer of caramelized onions.  Top this with roasted sweet potatoes and black beans and a sprinkle of the grated cheese.  Cover with 2nd tortilla and brush the top with oil or butter.  Broil quesadilla until golden brown on one side (this will only take a minute or two so watch carefully) then remove from oven and use a spatula to press down on it gently (this will help the melting cheeses hold it together) and carefully flip it over and return to oven to brown the other side. Cut into wedges and serve with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and or salsa, if desired.

In the mood to Hold The Mayo!

 “Hold the mayo!” That’s one thing you will never hear me say.  I love the stuff.  Homemade or Hellman’s, I grew up on it.  But I married a man who can’t stand mayonnaise and it must be a genetic trait passed down through the male, because not one of my four children will tolerate even a dab of the glossy white condiment.  It used to drive me crazy.  No chicken salad, no potato salad, no deviled eggs!  How the heck do you get your BLT sandwich to stick together?  I used to eat mayonnaise sandwiches when the lunch options at my summer camp looked suspicious.  And I think that it was my sister who liked to mix mayonnaise and mustard together and dip potato chips in it.  But one day it occurred to me… Why am I trying to get my kids to eat mayonnaise??? With 90 calories and 10 grams of fat in just one single tablespoon, mayonnaise isn’t exactly health food.  Here are three wonderful recipes that will demonstrate how yummy it can be when you hold the mayo.

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Curried Chicken Salad with Spiced Chickpeas and Raita

I can’t say enough about this chicken salad…the cool yogurt and the combination of spices is really special.  You can layer it as I did in a beautiful glass for a nice luncheon presentation, layer it in a jar for a picnic, (as described in this recipe from Gourmet Magazine, August 2008) or just mix the whole thing up in a big bowl for a casual family style meal.
For curried chicken salad:
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced peeled ginger
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, meat coarsely shredded (3 to 4 cups)
  • 1 cup red grapes, halved

For chickpeas:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 (19-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed, drained, and patted dry (2 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne

For raita and topping:

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 seedless cucumber, peeled, cored, and chopped (2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Make curried chicken salad: 
Cook onion, garlic, and ginger in oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add curry, cumin, and 1 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.
Add tomatoes and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and stir in yogurt, cilantro, and chicken. Cool to room temperature.
Make chickpeas: 
Heat oil in cleaned skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then cook chickpeas, stirring, 1 minute. Add cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring to coat, until skillet is dry, about 2 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
Make raita:
Stir together yogurt, cucumber, mint, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Assemble jars: 
Divide grapes among jars and layer curried chicken, raita, chickpeas, and almonds on top.

Makes 4 servings

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Mexican Potato and Black Bean Salad

It is super easy to make a potato salad without mayonnaise since potatoes work

with almost any vinaigrette, but this one is really special.  Sweet potatoes, corn, black bean, cilantro and one of the best dressings I have ever had.  This is from Raising the Salad Bar by Catherine Walthers.

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
2 cups canned black beans, drained and rinsed
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Chipotle-Chile Dressing
1 chipotle chili (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce
6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup canola oil
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato chunks with the oil to lightly coat them.  Sprinkle with coriander,cumin, chili powder and salt and toss again.  Spread that potatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until they are golden at the edges and just tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.  Meanwhile, steam the corn for 3-5 minutes.  Drain excess water.  In a large serving bowl, combine the corn and black beans.
To make the dressing, in a blender or feed processor, place the chipotle chili, garlic and sweet chili sauce.  Process until mixture is smooth. Add the lime juice ad process again.  Add the canola oil and process until it is emulsified.
When the sweet potatoes are done, let coll slightly and add them to the corn and beans.  Add scallions and cilantro and toss gently.  Pour enough dressing over the salad to just moisten the ingredients and toss again.
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 Southwestern Deviled Eggs

This fun recipe is adapted from Taste of the South (April-May 2011).  The original calls for a sprinkling of crushed tortilla chips so you can certainly do that if you want to simplify the recipe.  I wanted the shape and texture of these corn tortilla slivers and they only take a minute to fry.  If, like me, you don’t have one of those platters specially designed to serve deviled eggs, just use a sharp knife and take a tiny sliver off the bottom of each half egg.  That way, the eggs will stay stable on the plate and not roll about.

12 hard boiled eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup finely shredded pepper Jack cheese
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 corn tortillas, finely slivered
salt to taste
coarse ground pepper
fresh cilantro
Cut the hard boiled eggs in half and mash the yolks with a fork.  Add sour cream, pepper jack cheese, green onion, chili powder and salt and mix well.  Spoon into the egg whites. Heat the oil in a small skillet and fry the tortilla strips until light brown, 45-60 seconds, and drain on paper towels.  Salt lightly. Garnish the eggs with the fried tortilla strips, chopped fresh cilantro, and a generous sprinkle of coarse ground black pepper.
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In the mood for a Champion’s Dinner…celebrating Masters week 2011

I recently learned that on Tuesday night of Masters week, the reining champion hosts a dinner for all previous tournament champions, an elite group indeed.  Not only does he get to choose the menu but he also is responsible for the check.  And, adding to the pressure (in my opinion) if the guests don’t fancy the menu that the host offers they are allowed to order something else off the regular clubhouse menu.  I can only imagine how busy the clubhouse kitchen was in 1989 when Sandy Lyle served Haggis and mashed turnips to his fellow golfers.

Tiger served cheeseburgers, french fries and milkshakes following his first Masters trophy in 1997 (perfect for the youngest Master Champion at 22) and since then he has served porterhouse steaks twice and then a Mexican style fajita dinner in 2006.  Understandably, players like to tout their own local cuisines…..  wiener schnitzel for Bernherd Langer, fish and chips for Nick Faldo and paella and tapas for Jose Maria Olazabal.  Check out VJ Singh’s menu:  seafood tom kah, chicken panang curry, baked sea scallops with garlic sauce, rack of lamb with yellow kari sauce, baked filet, Chilean sea bass with three flavor chili sauce, lychee sorbet.  YUM!

And so this week, Phil Michelson hosted his third Champions dinner.  After his first win in 2004, Phil served lobster ravioli in tomato cream sauce, caesar salad and garlic bread and then moved on to more casual fare (barbecue ribs, chicken, sausage and pulled pork with cole slaw) for his second go round.   I understand that this week he hosted a spanish feast to honor his friend and Spain’s greatest golfer, Seve Ballesteros, who is unfortunately quite ill and could not attend.

What follows is my interpretation of this years menu from the Champions Dinner at Augusta National.

 

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Seafood Paella

 
Now I admit, this is not “authentic” paella.  But you should really make note of this brilliant recipe from Bob and Melinda Blanchard.  In it’s original form, it is Tequila Shrimp with Saffron Rice from their book,Cook What You Love.  I’ve made it many times and will give it to you verbatim so you can too.  For my spanish feast, I’ve substituted fresh clams for the black beans to give it a real paella look and taste.  If you choose to do that as well, add the clams when you stir in the rice as they take longer to cook than the shrimp.
1/4 cup olive oil
5 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 pound chorizo, thinly sliced (I tend to use about half that amount and I like the spicy chorizo)
3 large ripe tomatoes, chopped (use one can chopped tomatoes if out of season)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups tequila
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large pinch saffron threads
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large, shallow ovenproof casserole, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic, onion and bell pepper and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally,  Add the chorizo and cook for 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes and beans and sir well.  Increase the heat to high and add the tequila, chicken broth, rice, salt, saffron and turmeric and stir well again.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the shrimp, mix well, and bake uncovered for 10-15 minutes, or until the shrimp is cooked and the rice has absorbed the liquid.  Serve right away.  Serves 6
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Arugula with Gazpacho Vinaigrette

During my quick research into the Champion’s Dinner menu for this year I found descriptions of two different salads. One a simple mesclun with sherry vinaigrette and olives and one a mixed salad with a gazpacho dressing.  I think that the latter sounds more interesting so here is my version.  I used spicy arugula, which really holds it own with the bold flavor of this vinaigrette.  You could make this in a blender to get a smooth dressing but I kind of like the colors and textures that hand chopping delivers.  This dressing comes from a recipe for a lovely new potato salad in a little book called Vegetable Sides, published by Rylan, Peters and Small.
Gazpacho Dressing
 
2 large ripe tomatoes, halved, seeded and diced
2 ounces roasted red peppers (from a jar) diced (about 1/3 cup)
1/2 small red onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
pinch of sugar
a bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put all dressing ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over fresh arugula.
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Filet of Beef with Smoked Paprika and Garlic

Phil’s menu calls for prime beef tenderloin with manchego cheese and smoked paprika demiglace.  This reminded me of an excellent yet very simple recipe for a whole tenderloin that I cut out of Gourmet Magazine (July 2008) and have adapted here to create a quick and east way to impart warm, wonderful spanish flavors to the tender beef filets.
2 large garlic cloves, minced finely
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon olive oil
4-6 beef tenderloin filets
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Mix garlic, paprika, cumin and olive oil together and rub this mixture into the filets.  Cover and let marinate several hours (or overnight) in the refrigerator.  Stir together the mayonnaise and the paprika and cumin and set aside.  Grill steaks until desired doneness and serve with the spiced mayo and lime wedges.
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Apple Empanadas with Vanilla Ice Cream and Dulce de Leche

 
The Champion’s menu called for an ice-cream topped apple empanada.  I’ve chosen to top the ice cream with dulce de leche and serve the pastries on the side.  Adapted from a recipe for Sweet Apple Cinnamon Empanadas by Marian Blazes in an article on South American Food (About.com), these melt in your mouth pastries can be dessert one night and breakfast the next morning.
 
For the pastry:
 
1 cup butter, chilled
8 ounces cream cheese, chilled
2 1/3 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
 
For the filling:
 
4-5 Granny Smith Apples
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
 
1 tablespoon corn starch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon water
coarse sugar for sprinkling
 
1.  For the pastry, put flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse briefly.  Add the butter and the cream cheese and pulse until the mixture just starts to come together.   Add the vanilla and pulse twice more.  The mixture will look crumbly.  Turn it out onto a piece of plastic wrap and bring the dough together and pat it into a disk.  Wrap well in plastic and chill for at least 2 hour, or overnight.
 
2.  For the filling, place the apple cubes in a saucepan with the butter, sugars, cinnamon and salt.  Stir over medium heat until the apples are tender then add the cornstarch mixture and stir until thickened.  Remove from heat and cool then chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
 
3. To shape empanadas:  Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to about 1/8 inch.  Cut out 4 inch circles, gathering scraps and re-rolling as necessary.  Wet the edge of a dough circle slightly, all around the perimeter.  Place one scant tablespoon of filling in the middle of the dough.  Fold the circle in half, enclosing the filling and press the edges together firmly, flattening and extending them slightly as you pinch them.  Fold and crimp the flattened edge over itself to seal.  Repeat with the remaining empanadas.
 
4.  Chill empanadas for about and hour for best results (or 15 minutes in the freezer).  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix egg yolk with a little bit of water and brush over empanadas.  Sprinkle with coarse sugar and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
 
5.  Serve warm or room temperature with vanilla ice cream and dulce de leche, or your favorite caramel sauce. (pastries may be reheated in a low oven if you like)
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In the mood for Winter Salads!

The good news is that I’ve just seen some bulbs peeking out of the ground and the forsythia is already starting to bloom. The bad news is that our forecast is calling for snow tonight.  This is February in North Carolina. But you won’t hear me complaining…. I’ve spent enough years in the north to appreciate the fact that, around here, spring arrives in March rather than May.
However, for the time being, step away from those tasteless tomatoes you see in the grocery store and enjoy the wonderful possibilities of winter-time salads.  Here are just a few of my favorites.
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Beet Salad with Grilled Red Onions, Goat Cheese, and Kalamata Vinaigrette

 
This hearty salad is adapted from The Oprah Magazine Cookbook and is attributed to Chef Jim Botsacos.  He suggests Manouri Cheese but any goat’s milk cheese will do.  I used goat gouda.
Salad
4 medium red beets, trimmed and peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium red onions, sliced into 1/2 inch slices
salt and pepper
6 cups mixed field greens
6 ounces goat’s cheese
Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive brine (from a jar of kalamata olives)
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Cut the beets into bite sized pieces, toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil, season with salt and pepper and roast on the lined baking sheet until tender, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a grill pan and brush the onion slices with remaining tablespoon of olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill over medium heat until evenly charred and tender, 2-3 minutes per side.
To make vinaigrette:  In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, brine, honey, oregano, salt and pepper.  Gradually add oil, whisking in a thin steady stream until blended.
Toss the greens and cheese together and dress lightly with the vinaigrette.  Top salad with the roasted beets and the grilled onion slices.  Drizzle with additional vinaigrette. Serves 6
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Frisee Salad with Egg and Bacon

This is a Bistro classic in France (Frisee aux Lardons) but this particular recipe is from Tyler Florence’s new book, Tyler Florence Family Meal.
 
1small shallot
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 large heads or 5 small heads frisee lettuce, washed and dried
10 thick cut bacon slices, diced
6 eggs
Make the vinaigrette:
Combine first 8 ingredients in a jar with a tight lid and shake until emulsified.
Over medium low heat, cook the diced bacon until it is crisp, 12-15 minutes.  Drain on paper towels.
Place the eggs in a saucepan with cold water to cover.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately remove from the heat, cover the pan and let the eggs stand in the hot water for exactly 14 minutes.  Drain the eggs and cover with cold water,  Once cool, peel the eggs and halve lengthwise (or slice).
Place the frisee in a big salad bowl and add the bacon.  Add the vinaigrette and toss.  Arrange the hard boiled eggs on top and season with salt and pepper, if desired.
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Arugula with Manchego, Roasted Almonds and Quince Dressing

This wonderful little salad, with the flavors of Spain, is from Big City Cooking, by Matthew Kinney.  Quince paste is a firm jelly-like combination of quince fruit and sugar and can be found in the cheese department of many markets.  I bought mine from Fresh Market but have seen it at Whole Foods as well. And of course, it is also available by mail order sources.  Manchego cheese has become much easier to find in the markets lately… and it is one of my favorites.  But if it is unavailable in your area, big shavings of Parmesan will work as well.
Quince dressing
1/4 cup quince paste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 bunches fresh arugula, tough stems removed
4 ounces Manchego cheese, shaved
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
To make the dressing:
Put the quince paste and 1 tablespoon of the red wine vinegar in a small bowl.  Use a whisk to break up the quince paste, then whisk the mixture to a smooth consistency.  Whisk in the remaining tablespoon of vinegar, the oil, and the lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper.  The dressing can also be made in a blender but it will emulsify, making it thicker and opaque.  It will taste the same but you may want to thin it with a bit more red wine vinegar.
For the salad:
Just before serving,  toss the arugula with the dressing and most of the shaved cheese and chopped almonds.  If you are using the thicker, emulsified dressing, toss gently so that the leaves do not get weighed down.  Sprinkle with the remaining almonds and shaved cheese and serve.  Serves 4
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In the mood for Chicken Paillard!

In my mind, I want to be the kind of person who makes lists.  The kind of person who sits down, thinks things through, writes notes to herself, checks off each item as it is attended to, and goes to bed each night  with that peaceful feeling of accomplishment.  But try as I might, I usually end up flying by the seat of my pants and making most things up as I go along.
 Take grocery shopping, for example.  I wander the aisles and wonder…Do we need this, or that?  And then I arrive home to find that the chicken broth that I just purchased will now join the other 6 cans in the pantry and that we are completely out of milk.
      So when I am undecided about what I will feel like cooking for the family on any given week night, I always throw a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts into my cart.  Since my pantry is fairly well stocked,  (overstocked, some might say) I know that I will be able to pull off a nice meal by dressing up a chicken paillard*.  The three recipes that follow are just a few of my favorites.  They are great meals for families because you can just keep the components separate for picky kids.  For example, with the crispy panko crusted chicken (last photo below), I serve the chicken sliced with the vinaigrette as a dipping sauce for my younger ones.  I haven’t met a kid yet who didn’t love it!
*paillard (n) a slice of chicken, turkey or beef that has been pounded thinly and cooked quickly
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Chicken Paillard with Fresh Fig Salad and Blue Cheese

A Tyler Florence recipe from his book, Tyler’s Ultimate, brilliant simple food to make anytime.  I will give you Tyler’s original recipe with a couple of notes I made to cut back just a bit on the over-the-top decadence of this one.
Serves 4
Vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons honey  (I use 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound pancetta (I find that 4 ounces, thinly sliced, is plenty)
extra virgin olive oil
1/4 pound blue cheese, broken into hunks (I use only an ounce or two)
1 bunch of arugula
1 small basket seasonal figs, quartered (could use pears, peaches or apricots)
Tarragon leaves for garnish
First ,whisk together all of the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a small bowl and set it aside.
Sandwich the chicken breasts between 2 layers of plastic wrap and pound them very thin with a mallet or rolling pin.  Remove the chicken from the plastic and season them well on both sides with salt and pepper.
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat.  Unroll the pancetta slices, add them to the pan and fry like a big tangle of bacon until the fat is rendered.  Drain on paper towels
Drizzle a bit of olive oil into the pan with the pancetta drippings and pan fry the chicken for 3-4 minutes per side to brown the breasts and cook them through.  Remove the chicken to the paper towels with the pancetta.  Add the vinaigrette to the saute pan and heat for a few minutes, stirring, to deglaze the bits of pancetta and chicken fro the bottom of the pan. (I like to pour out any oil remaining in the saute pan before adding the vinaigrette, to cut down on the amount of fat in the finished dish) Remove the pan from the heat.
To serve, arrange the chicken on a serving dish and scatter the blue cheese, arugula, figs, and pancetta over. Drizzle the dressing over everything and garnish with the tarragon leaves.
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Chicken Paillard 

topped with fresh greens and pan-seared cherry tomatoes

This couldn’t-be-easier recipe comes from Simply Salads, by Jennifer Chandler.
Serves 4
1/4 cup Balsamic Grainy Mustard Dressing (see recipe below)
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
5 ounces mixed field greens
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Prepare the dressing:
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Place the vinegar and mustard in a small bowl and whisk together.  Slowly add the oil in a stream, whisking to emulsify.  Season with salt and pepper.
Place a chicken breast in a large resealable heavy plastic bag.  Using a mallet or rolling pin, flatten to about 1/4 inch thick.  Remove the chicken and season with salt and pepper.  Repeat with additional chicken breasts.
Warm the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat.  Add the chicken and cook until golden brown and no longer pink in the middle, about 4 minutes per side.  Remove the chicken from the skillet and keep warm.
Place the tomato halves in the same skillet used to cook the chicken.  Cook over medium high heat sirring often until slightly charred.
In a large salad bowl, toss together the field greens, tomatoes and Parmesan cheese.  Add the vinaigrette to taste and gently toss.
Place a chicken breast on each plate and top with the salad,  Serve immediately.
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Sesame Chicken Salad with Spinach, Cucumber and Cilantro

 
Another Tyler Florence recipe from Tyler’s Ultimate.  This has become a family favorite and one that almost all of my kids have actually learned to make on their own.
Serves 4
Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup soy sauce
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon crushed red chile pepper
1/4 cup sesame seeds
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
salt and pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
fresh baby spinach leaves
1 cucumber, un-peeled, cut crosswise into slices
handful of fresh cilantro leaves
1 scallion, chopped
cracked black pepper
In a bowl, whisk together the soy sauce,lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, ginger, sugar and red pepper flakes for the vinaigrette.
Rince the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Put a chicken breast on the cutting board and, holding a large knife parallel to the board, cup through the breast horizontally so that you get 2 thin fillets.  Repeat with the 3 remaining breasts,  Put the chicken on a platter, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette, and toss to coat.  Set the rest of the vinaigrette aside,  Let the chicken marinate for about  10 minutes.
Combine the panko and the sesame seeds in a shallow bowl and season with a little salt and pepper.  Mix with your fingers so that the seasoning is incorporated and then taste it. The panko should be well seasoned.  Dredge the chicken in the seasoned crumbs, patting the crumbs gently so that they adhere.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium hight heat.  Line a platter with paper towels and set that to the side of the stove.  Add about half of the chicken to the pan and cook about 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy.  Remove the chicken to the towel lined platter to drain while you cook the rest of the chicken.
Put the spinach in a bowl with the cucumber, cilantro and scallion and toss.  To serve, arrange a mound of greens on a plate, set a piece of chicken on top, stack a few more greens on top, and finish with another piece of chicken.  Drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with cracked black pepper.

In the mood for Pork Tenderloin!

Don’t pack up your grill just because Labor Day Weekend has passed!  I think that the next few months are the best for cooking and eating out of doors.  The crisp evening air of September and October make grilling a pleasure, instead of a hot, sticky chore. The first two pork tenderloin recipes are right at the top of my list when I want to grill.  But if you are already in the mood for some warm Fall flavors, scroll down and check out the pork tenderloin salad with roasted butternut squash.

Speaking of pork, this past weekend I had a wonderful lunch with some of my dearest friends at The Purple Pig, in Chicago, IL.  “Cheese, Swine & Wine”!  Of course, the swine was divine.  But we also loved the Roasted Corn with Mushrooms and Walnuts, the Salt Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese and Pistachio Vinaigrette, and the Whipped Feta “Smear” with Cucumbers.  Their website posts recipes so I will most definitely be trying some of them out here at home.

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Grilled Garlic Lime Pork Tenderloin with Jalapeno Onion Marmalade

I have served this dish at so many dinner parties that I had to retire it from my entertaining repertoire.  But   I will still have to make it for the family as it is such a favorite.  The recipe is straight out of Gourmet Magazine, September 1995.  By the way, don’t you miss Gourmet Magazine??
Serves 6-8
For the marinade:
6 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger root
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup olive oil
cayenne to taste
4 pork tenderloins, about 3/4 pound each, trimmed
For the marmalade:
1 1/4 pounds red onions, chopped fine (about 4 cups)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 fresh jalapeno chilies, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons honey or sugar
3-4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
To make the marinade:
In a blender or small food processor, blend marinade ingredients with salt and pepper to taste.
In a large sealable plastic bag, combine pork with marinade.
Seal bag, pressing out air, and put in a shallow baking dish
Marinate pork, chilled, turning occasionally, at least 1 day and up to 2 days.
Prepare grill.
Let pork stand at room temperature about 30 minutes before grilling.
Remove pork from marinade, letting excess drip off, and grill on an oiled rack turning every 5 minutes until a meat thermometer registers 150-160.  (15-20 minutes)
Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 5-10 minutes before slicing.
Serve with onion marmalade.
To make the Jalapeno Onion Marmalade:
In a large heavy skillet, cook onions in oil with salt and pepper to taste over moderate heat, stirring until softened.
Add jalapenos and cook, stirring one minute,  Add honey or sugar and cook, stirring one minute,  Add vinegar and simmer , stirring until almost all liquid is evaporated.  Add water and simmer, stirring until mixture is slightly thickened and onions are very tender, (the recipe says about 10 minutes but I find that it takes quite a bit longer to get them very tender, about 25 minutes, and I tend to need to add a bit more water as the marmalade cooks down.)  Season with salt and pepper.  Marmalade may be made 2 days ahead and chilled, covered,  Reheat before serving.
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Pork Tenderloin Crusted with Green Onion, Jalapeno, and Ginger

This is a Bobby Flay recipe from his book, Grilling for Life.

6 green onions, light and dark parts, halved crosswise
2 jalapeno chilies, stemmed and halved
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed

Combine the green onions, jalapenos, and ginger in a food processor and process until coarsely ground.  Scrape the mixture into a bowl and sir in all of the remaining ingredients except the pork.

Place the pork tenderloins in a baking dish, add half of the marinade, and turn to coat the pork.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes ad up to 4 hours.  Cover and reserve the remaining marinade at room temperature.

Heat the grill to high.

Remove the pork from the marinade,  Grill until crusty and charred on both side and cooked to medium well.  Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.

Cut the pork into slices and drizzle with the reserved marinade before serving.

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Mixed Greens with Pork Tenderloin, Roasted Butternut Squash and Port Reduction

This spicy main course salad is from Mixt Salads, by Andrew Swallow.  It has several steps but it is a whole meal on one plate so it’s not too time consuming when you think of it that way. I’ve made a couple of very minor changes to the original.  Chef Swallow calls this salad, “Porky”.   Serves 4-6
Spice Rub:
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon mustard seed
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon red chile powder
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 cups Port wine
Dressing:
3/4 cup champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
8 strips thick cut bacon, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into medium dice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
salt and pepper to taste
3 pounds pork tenderloin
3/4 pound mixed greens, (I used red leaf lettuce)
4 ounces shelled pistachios, chopped
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine all spice rub ingredients in a small mixing bowl and set aside.
For the dressing:  Combine the vinegar, shallot, mustard and sugar in a blender and blend until smooth.  Slowly add both oils and blend until emulsified,  Season with salt and pepper.
Saute the bacon pieces over medium heat until crispy.  Drain and set aside.
In a bowl, toss the butternut squash pieces with the tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes , or until tender.  Keep warm for serving.
Increase the oven temp. to 400 degrees.  Spread the spice rub on a plate, dredge the pork in the spice rub, coating all sides and place on a baking sheet.  Roast for about 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature registers 150 degrees.  Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes.  When the pork has cooled, slice into 1/4 inch thick slices.
For each serving, toss 3 ounces greens, 2 ounces warm squash, 1 1/2 ounces bacon with 1 1/2 tablespoon of the dressing.  Season with salt and pepper.  Place in the middle of the plate.  Top the salad with 4 ounces of pork tenderloin.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the port reduction over the top and sprinkle with 1 ounce chopped pistachios.
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In the mood for “Cool” Slaw!

The Dutch called it koolsla.  (kool = cabbage and sla = salad)  We anglicised it to Cole slaw and that is just a bit of food trivia for today.   Here are three slaws that I think are a bit “cooler” than average.

 

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Caesar Cole Slaw

This is a fresh twist on your basic Cole slaw from Bob and Melinda Blanchard published in their wonderful cookbook, Cook What You Love.
for the dressing:
1 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
3/4 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
3 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
3/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
for the slaw:
1 1/2 pounds Chinese napa cabbage, cored and thinly sliced (8 cups)
1/2 pound red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced (2 cups)
1/2 pound jicama, peeled and cut into long thin strips
2 large carrots, shredded or grated
4 scallions, thinly sliced (green and white parts)
1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
In a small mixing bowl, whisk all of the dressing ingredients until well blended.  In a large bowl, toss together both cabbages, jicama, carrots, and scallions.  Add enough dressing to coat well.  Add the Parmesan and toss again.  Serves 6-8
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French Carrot Salad

 
This simple, fresh salad is omnipresent in France.  You will find it in every Charcuterie (delicatessen) and Bistro but I rarely see it here.  It is such a nice side dish for a summer lunch or supper and of course, it would be wonderful to take to a picnic or potluck.
7 large grated carrots
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, toss the grated carrots with the parsley.  In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, sugar, and mustard.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add vinaigrette to carrots and toss well to lightly coat.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Sometimes I add a bit more lemon juice or olive oil to tweak the flavor if necessary.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Serves 6
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Chinese Coleslaw

I’ll  be honest with you, this salad was a lot of work… which is OK by me as I love to chop, mince, slice and dice.  It started out as a recipe from the chef and caterer Wendy Leon, published in the June issue of Food and Wine.   I simplified it considerably and it was still wonderful.  However,  next time, I plan on adding lots of shredded chicken (I’ll buy a roasted chicken at the market) and making it the whole meal.  The rice sticks will stay crispy so they can be fried ahead of time.  But don’t toss the vegetables with the dressing until right before serving because this slaw will wilt.
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
vegetable oil for frying
1 1/2 ounces dried cellophane noodles
1/2 lemon
2 cups mixed field greens
1 1/2 cups finely shredded red cabbage
1 1/2 cup finely shredded green cabbage
1 large celery rib, cut into 2 inch julienned strips
1 small carrot, cut into 2 inch julienned strips
1 scallion, cut into 2 inch julienned strips
2 ounces jicama, peeled and cut into 2 inch julienned strips (1/2 cup)
1/3 seedless cucumber, peeled and cut into 2 inch julienned strips (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup snow peas, julienned lengthwise
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil leaves
In a small bowl, whisk the hoisin sauce with the vinegar, lime juice, sesame oil and sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
In a large saucepan, heat 1 inch of vegetable oil the 350 degrees.  Break the noodles into 2 equal clusters.  Add one cluster to the hot oil; fry until the noodles puff up and whiten, about 5 seconds.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the noodles to paper towels to drain.  repeat with the remaining cluster.
In a large bowl, toss the field greens with the red and green cabbages, celery, carrot, scallion, jicama, cucumber, snow peas, and cilantro.  Add the dressing and toss to coat.  Transfer the salad to a platter.  Top with the fried noodles, garnish with the basil and serve right away.  Serves 6
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In the mood for Summer Tomatoes!

“In Spain and those hot regions, they use to eat the apples prepared and boiled with pepper, salt and oile:  but they yield very little nourishment to the bodie, and the same nought and corrupt.”  (Herball, by John Gerard 1597)
 
John Gerard, a barber-surgeon, (can anyone hear that term without thinking of the SNL skit?  You know, the one with the leeches?) echoed the general misconception that tomatoes were poisonous…an idea that stuck around until the mid 1700’s.
  
Thank goodness that turned out to be false because who could imagine summertime with the arrival of the big ripe beefsteak tomatoes.  Of course you will enjoy your BLT and your tomato mozzarella salads this summer.  But here are three more ways to celebrate the slicing tomato.
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Parmesan Pepper Crusted Chicken

When you see a recipe this simple and easy, you should know that it’s success will depend on the quality of each ingredient.  So find the perfect tomato, the freshest basil, best aged Parmesan (not from the green can, please!) and of course, this is the time to use your best extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic.
This is adapted from a Donna Hay recipe from New Food Fast.
4 medium sized boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 egg whites, lightly beaten
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper (or more to taste)
4 tablespoons oil
2-3 ripe beefsteak tomatoes, sliced
1 cup shredded fresh basil
balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil to serve
salt if necessary
Butterfly each chicken breast into 2 thin, flat pieces.  Dip each piece in the egg white and then press the chicken in the combined Parmesan and pepper.  Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add half of the chicken pieces.  Cook for 1-2 minutes on each side or until the chicken is golden and cooked through.  Keep warm while you repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.  To serve, place tomato and basil on serving plates and sprinkle with balsamic and olive oil then the slices of chicken.  Sprinkle with a bit of salt if necessary.  (Parmesan is salty so taste first) Serves 4
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Tomato Watermelon Salad with Hushpuppy Croutons

 

Doesn’t this salad just scream summertime in the South?  This is based on a first course that I had at Noble’s Restaurant in Winston Salem, NC.  Their croutons were smaller but more hushpuppy is always a good thing.  I used Savannah Classics, Original Recipe Hushpuppies found in the freezer section of the grocery, because 1) Who wants to deep fry in the summer and 2) They are really good!  I ended up having  to make a second batch because the kids ate the first before I composed my salads.  Also, I love to use the pinkish heirloom tomatoes in this recipe (Cherokee Pink, Caspian Pink) because some of the cubes are almost indistinguishable from the watermelon.
 
5 cups watermelon (3/4 inch cubes, seeded)
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (3/4 inch cubes)
3 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
back pepper
hushpuppies, prepared according to package directions
Combine the watermelon and tomatoes in a large bowl.  Sprinkle with sugar and salt and toss to coat.  Let this sit for 15 minutes and the fruits will release some juices.  Now add the onion, vinegar and oil, and stir it all together gently.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.  Toss once more and serve with hushpuppies and basil to garnish.  (serves 6)
(The Tomato/Watermelon recipe is based on one from the July 2007 issue of Southern Living)
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Fresh Tomato Panini

 

If you don’t have a panini press or an electric panini grill then….. well…….go buy one, you’ll love it!  Just kidding, sort of.  You could use a second heavy skillet to weigh down the sandwich or you could wrap a brick in foil and use that.  At Pot Belly Sandwich Shops in the Chicago area, you can order any sandwich as a “skinny”  This means that they will rip out all of the fluffy insides of the bread before they add the fillings.  This cuts down on the carbs and the calories, which is great, but I also love that, when grilled, it creates a beautiful crunchy crust for the sandwich.
1 loaf fresh bread, french loaf or ciabatta (i used ciabatta in this photo)
very thinly sliced prosciutto
fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Slice the bread into sandwich sized portions, then split each piece and tear out most of the interior.  Fill each sandwich with a slice of prosciutto, mozzarella, and tomato and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Bush outside of sandwich lightly with olive oil and grill, either on the stove top, pressing it flat and turning to cook both sides, or in an electric panini grill, until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted.
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In the mood for Cucumbers!

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Summer Margarita

(Remember this, Eliz.?)
A couple of summers ago, I had the good fortune of being invited to tour the home garden of RickBayless, (famous chef, cookbook author, restaurateur and television personality) and then to lunch in his wonderful Chicago restaurant, Frontera Grill.  Lest I make myself sound like someone important, I should add that Chef Bayless donated the outing to a school auction and the winner invited me to go along.  Lucky me!  Anyway, his city home has an amazing outdoor kitchen and a beautiful garden in which they grow vegetables for his dishes…I especially remember the tiny rows of micro-greens.  I also especially, and fondly, remember the outstanding Cucumber Margarita that we had with our lunch.  It was bright and fresh, prepared right at the table, and so perfect for a hot summer day.  I checked to see if the recipe was published that summer and it was not, and I never checked again until I started thinking about cucumbers for this post.  And there it was…right on his website…I’ll bet he got lots of requests for the recipe!
First make some simple syrup:
In a small saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups  water and 1 tablespoon lime juice.  Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, stirring constantly.  Remove form the heat and cool completely.  Store in frig. if not using right away.
For the margarita:
1/2 of a medium (6 inch) cucumber, peeled and cut into thin slices
3/4 cup good quality blanco tequila (They use Milagro Blanco, as did I)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup simple syrup
Cucumber slices for garnish
Combine the cucumber, tequila, lime juice and simple syrup in a blender. Blend until mixture is as smooth as you can get it.  In a cocktail shaker, combine half of the mixture with 8 to 10 ice cubes, cover and shake for a full 15 seconds.  Strain through the shaker’s top into 2 glasses (they use martini glasses at the restaurant) Garnish with cucumber slices.  Repeat with the remaining margarita mix.  Makes 4 drinks.
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Goat -Teas

 

Hands down the best cucumber sandwich I’ve ever had.  No need to throw a ladies tea to have an excuse to make these as they would also be a great hors d’oeuvre for a summer evening.  This platter did not make it to the cocktail hour however.  It was empty within minutes of these photos. Recipe by MaryCorpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford, in their book, Cocktail Food.
3/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar.
2 cups very thinly sliced red onion
2/3 cup goat cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
12 slices white bread, crusts removed, cut into 3 inch squares (They suggest buttermilk bread.  I usedPepperidge Farms Original White.)
1 English cucumber, cut into 1/16 inch slices, cut in half
Pour the vinegar over the onions and let marinate in a small bowl until the onions are soft and malleable, at least 30 minutes.  Strain and refrigerate until chilled.
Mix the goat cheese and cream cheese together in a small bowl.  Season with white pepper.
Spread about 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture on each piece of bread.  Cut each piece into 4 triangles. Arrange 2-3 slices of the cucumber on each triangle.  Top with 1 or two slices of red onion.
Makes 48 sandwiches.
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Greek Chopped Salad

I love chopped salads and the classic Greek salad lends itself well to this style.  Each bite can have the perfect balance of flavor…the boldness of the feta and olives with the mild freshness of the cucumber, lettuce and tomato.  To make this a whole meal just add a side of grilled chicken, salmon, or shrimp. This recipe was inspired by one published in Food and Wine magazine in September 2003.
 
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 of a small shallot
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons canola oil
salt and pepper to taste
 
4 cups mixed greens, I used red leaf lettuce and arugula, coarsely chopped
1 English cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and diced
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, diced
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
 
In a blender, combine vinegar, shallot, sugar and olive oil and puree.  Taste and season with salt and pepper. (Since these ingredients can vary so much, always taste a vinaigrette and be prepared to add a touch more oil or vinegar as necessary)
 
In a large bowl, toss together the chopped mixed greens, cucumber, tomatoes, dill and olives.  Add half of the dressing and taste for seasonings.  Then add the remaining dressing as needed.  Sprinkle with feta before serving.  Serve 4-5.
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