Caprese Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella, Basil-Mint Pesto & Balsamic Reduction

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About a month or so ago, Tony and I went to an Adventures by the Book event.  Adventures by the Book is a really cool concept – the owner, Susan McBeth, says she “offers worldwide opportunities for readers to connect with authors on an intimate basis through unique, interesting and adventurous travels and events.” I’ve been to several of them and they are always so fun and it’s such a clever idea.  I’ve been to a Ladies Literary Tea at the Westgate Hotel where I heard author Luisa Weiss talk about her memoir/cookbook/food blog.  I’ve been to the San Diego Air & Space Museum where we joined author Jennifer Niven (Velva Jean Learns to Fly) for a behind-the-scenes docent tour of the museum (very cool!) and have made pie with Beth Howard, author of Making Piece and blog The World Needs More Pie.

This particular “Adventure” was held at the iconic Croce’s Restaurant in downtown San Diego.  Ingrid Croce entertained and endeared us with stories from I Got a Name: the Jim Croce Story, about her life with her late-husband, renowned musician Jim Croce and how the dream of Croce’s came to be after Jim was tragically killed in a plane crash.  Ingrid signed copies of I Got a Name for all of us and also gave us copies of her cookbook Photographs and Memories: Recipes from Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar.

Jimmy Rock (Ingrid's husband), Ingrid Croce, me, Tony

Jimmy Rock (Ingrid’s husband), Ingrid, me, Tony

Of course, I thumbed through the cookbook on the way home and I came across the Caprese Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes, Buffalo Mozzarella, Basil-Mint Pesto & Balsamic Reduction, which I immediately decided I’d make for a dinner party we were having the following weekend.

Well, the caprese was a hit.  It’s gorgeous and it’s delicious. Everyone loved it. I bought beautiful heirloom tomatoes at our local farmer’s market.  I made both the pesto and the balsamic reduction the day before.  I really like the addition of the mint in the pesto.  This is a keeper.  Thanks Ingrid.

Oh, and if you haven’t heard, Croce’s is closing their current location in the Gaslamp Quarter, with plans to open Croce’s Park West in the Banker’s Hill area of San Diego in mid-January 2014.  Sad to see them leave that space (they’ve been there nearly 30 years and were one of the very first restaurants in the Gaslamp and led the way for the multitude of eateries there now), but excited to check out the new digs!

Caprese Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella, Basil-Mint Pesto & Balsamic Reduction

(Serves 4 to 6 – I made 9 “towers” for 6 of us)


Balsamic Reduction

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Basil-Mint Pesto (makes 1 cup)

1/2 pound fresh basil

2 tablespoons fresh mint

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

juice of 1 lemon (2-3 tablespoons)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

salt & pepper to tasted

Salad Components

3 large heirloom tomatoes (assorted colors), cut into 1/4-inch thick round slices

1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced

4 to 6 rosemary sprigs, optional (I actually skipped this and just used little bamboo appetizer skewers)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 to 6 fresh basil sprigs

4 to 6 fresh mint sprigs


Balsamic Reduction

Combine the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce by one half, or until the liquid just starts to chicken.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Will keep refrigerated, up to one month.


In a food processor, purée the basil, mint, garlic, pine nuts, cheese and lemon juice until the mixture has a paste-like consistency.  With the processor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream to emulsify.  Season with salt and pepper.  Will keep refrigerated, up to one week, or frozen for up to three months.


On each salad plate, build a tower of alternating tomato slices, mozzarella slices and pesto.  Repeat three times, topping with a slice of tomato.  (I actually made smaller “towers” and served them all on one big serving plate.) Clean the bottom portion of the rosemary sprigs (if using) so that you can skewer the tomato towers with the sprigs. Drizzle the balsamic reduction and olive oil over the towers and around the plate, and garnish with basil and mint sprigs.  Finish with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.


Kale and Quinoa Salad

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So, a year ago I would have told you that I don’t like kale. In fact, I probably would have pouted, stomped my foot and said, “I don’t like kale.” Then I had a Kale & Brussels Sprouts Salad that converted me. A month ago, I would have told you that I don’t like quinoa. Then I had a Quinoa and Kale (whaaaat?) salad at Great Maple and it forever changed my mind about quinoa.

What is quinoa anyway? It’s not a grain. It’s some weird seed-type thing. We were told last year at the Urban Solace Passover Seder that it’s okay to eat on Passover because it’s not a grain. I had to look it up on Wikipedia. Also learned from Wiki – 2013 is International Year of Quinoa. Seriously. “The objective is to draw the world’s attention to the role that quinoa plays in providing food security, nutrition and poverty eradication, in support of achieving Millennium Development Goals.” Go, Quinoa!


Uncooked quinoa

Uncooked quinoa (Trader Joe’s Organic Tricolor Quinoa)

Okay, so back to the quinoa salad story… Great Maple is a new-ish restaurant in San Diego, housed in what used to be an old-school coffee shop. It’s funky and cool and the food & cocktails are really good. Tony and I went a couple of Friday’s ago. They do this cute thing every Friday at 6:30pm…they bring a glass of champagne to every patron and do a toast called “Cheers to Charlie”, basically saying thanks for a great week. Very cute. (Oh, and did I mention the cocktails? I had a Great Maple Honey Mule…honey vodka, mint, lime & ginger beer. Served in a really cute bear glass. Heaven.)

great maple mule

Sidetracked again.  The salad. Great Maple calls it Suzi’s Farm Kale Salad: fresh local kale, quinoa, Pecorino cheese, fresh tomato, red onion and shallot vinaigrette. It was delicious. So delicious, in fact, that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So the Sunday after we ate there, I created a similar recipe. And we’ve had it twice three times since. Might be my new favorite salad.

Kale and Quinoa Salad (sorta like Great Maple’s)



(adapted from Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette from Jan Birnbaum, Food & Wine)

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons minced shallot

1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1-1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

1 small garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to tasted

In a blender, combine the lemon zest and juice, shallots, mustard, vinegar and garlic and puree until smooth. With the machine on, slowly add the olive oil until emulsified. Pour into a bowl and season with salt & pepper.


(adapted from Great Maple…via my memory)

2 cups cooked Quinoa (I used Trader Joe’s Organic Tricolor Quinoa)

2 cups chopped kale (cut thick center stem pieces out)

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced into rings and then halved

1/2 cup coarsely grated Percorino Romano cheese

1/4 cup pine nuts (the salad at GM may or may not have had pine nuts; I thought I remembered them, but I don’t see them listed on the description on their menu online)

Cook quinoa according to package directions. Fluff with a fork & set aside to cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, add kale, tomatoes, and red onion. Gently toss.

When cooled, add quinoa, gently tossing with a fork to further fluff & separate the quinoa. Drizzle dressing over and toss gently. Add cheese and pine nuts. Gently toss again, adding more dressing if necessary.

Best if made a little ahead of time, chilling for at least half an hour.

Chino Chopped Vegetable Salad

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Okay.  Here’s another one of my “I’ve been making this for oh-so-long” recipes.  I clipped it out of a magazine (maybe San Diego Home & Garden?) at one time  and then when I received Wolfgang Puck’s Live, Love, Eat! cookbook as a gift years ago, it was in there too.  I have since lost the one from the magazine, but still have the cookbook (albeit pages 1-45 have come loose from the binding, which is very funny because the two recipes I use – Chinois Chicken Salad and this one, are on pages 42 and 44.  The rest of the book is perfectly intact.)

This is called Chino Chopped Vegetable Salad.  Wolfgang calls it that because he says “What tastes better and lighter on a hot summer day than a fresh vegetable salad?  No one I know grows better vegetables than the Chino family on their organic farm in Rancho Santa Fe north of San Diego.”  To be quite honest, I’ve never been to Chino Farms.  I just had to look to see if they are still around.  They are.  But since the time Wolfgang published the cookbook (2003), farmer’s markets have sprouted up all over the place and you can get really wonderful farm fresh veggies at any of them.

This is one of my favorite salads.  I’ve simplified it a bit and often take shortcuts by using frozen (shhhh…don’t tell Wolfgang or the Chino family) veggies.  There’s a lot of chopping involved, but really, it’s pretty easy.  The dressing makes enough that you’ll have more than you need. So save the leftovers and use for another salad another day (or…make this one again!)

And, be creative…use whatever veggies you like.  Fresh peas, chopped zucchini…if you like hearts of palm better than artichoke hearts, use those.

Chino Chopped Vegetable Salad


Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar (or you can use red wine vinegar)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup safflower oil


freshly ground pepper


1/2 cup chopped artichoke hearts (from a jar of marinated hearts, drained)

1/2 cup diced carrots

1/2 cup diced green beans (you can use fresh or I’ve used Trader Joe’s frozen haricots verts)

1/2 cup diced red onion

1/2 cup chopped radicchio

1/2 cup corn kernels (you can use fresh or I’ve used Trader Joe’s frozen roasted corn)

1/2 cup diced celery

1 small tomato, chopped

1 small avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese


To prepare the vinaigrette:  In a small bowl, combine the mustard and vinegar.  Whisking continuously, slowly pour in the oils and mix until emulsified.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To prepare the salad:

If using fresh green beans – bring a pot of boiling water to a boil.  Put the beans in a wire strainer, set inside the pot of boiling water and cook until al dente, tender, but still firm, 2 to 3 minutes.  Plunge the strainer into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.  Drain and set aside to cool.

If using frozen green beans (and frozen corn) – put the beans and corns into a colander.  Run hot water over for a few minutes until defrosted.  Drain and set aside.

In a large bowl, add artichoke hearts, carrots, green beans, red onion, radicchio, corn and celery.  Gently toss with a little vinaigrette.  Just before serving, add the tomato and avocado.  Gently toss again with a little more vinaigrette.  Divide salad among salad plates and sprinkle with the grated Parmesan. Season with freshly ground pepper.

BLT Salad (from Shelby, NC)

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Our daughter Ally’s boyfriend Jackson spent quite a bit of time with us this summer. He and Ally were here at our house for a few days before we all headed up to Sonoma for our son Kyle’s wedding, where he stayed with us for a week. He’s a really wonderful guy and we like him a lot. And I give him all the props in the world for his “trial by fire” in meeting the whole extended mishpacha. All at once. And he did great – every single one of them had such nice things to say about him.

Ally & Jackson in San Diego (La Jolla/Torrey Pines)

Ally & Jackson in San Diego (La Jolla/Torrey Pines)

Ally and Jackson met in New Orleans (where they are both living) and he is from North Carolina, so we haven’t met his family (Ally has – she spent Christmas with them last year). But a couple weeks after the wedding, I received the most lovely email from Jackson’s mom, Chrys. She complimented me on the blog. She said she has made a couple recipes and really enjoys finding out about our family through reading it. (Awwww!) She thanked us for hosting Jackson at our home and said that she wanted to send us some Cleveland County peaches. She asked if I knew if it was possible to send fresh fruit. I told her that it’s possible, but that I had learned from personal experience (via a “fruit of the month club” gift) that California’s department of agriculture won’t allow certain fruit into California (don’t even get me started on that! Let’s just say that the “fruit of the month” usually ends up being apples!) She said she’d look into it. I didn’t hear anything back and quite frankly, had forgotten all about it.

Then a few weeks ago I received a package in the mail, from Chrys. It was a cookbook called A River’s Course – a Gourmet Collection from the Junior Charity League of Shelby, North Carolina. It has the most beautiful cover that looks like an oil painting of a river. She wrote the sweetest note, too, telling me that, indeed the CA Dept of Food & Agriculture told her NC peaches couldn’t come to CA for fear of fruit flies. She said “Come to NC and we’ll take you to the spots pictured (& eat peaches!”). She also took the time to list some of their favorite recipes from the book, as well as the pages they’re found on!!! What a nice, generous and thoughtful person!

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Well, it just so happens that the day the book arrived was one of those days that I’m driving home from work thinking, “ugh, what are we going to have for dinner? I don’t feel like going to the store.” So I couldn’t have been more excited to receive a brand new cookbook!! I started thumbing through the book, hoping to find inspiration.

I turned to the “Salads” section and saw a lot of delicious looking recipes that I earmarked for later, and then came to BLT Salad. Yum. Scanned the ingredients…lo and behold, I had everything! It’s kind of a cross between a BLT sandwich and a Panzanella Salad. Really yummy. I added avocado and tossed in some leftover cooked chicken. It was a delicious, really easy, light weeknight dinner. Will definitely be making this one again. Often.

Thank you so much Chrys (and Greg, Jackson, Emma and Katy)! I do hope to get to Shelby someday to see all of those beautiful places…and eat peaches!

BLT Salad

Serves 2 as a main course

(adapted slightly)


6 slices bacon

1/4 loaf Italian or sourdough bread

Kosher salt to taste

1/4 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon water

1 small red onion, chopped

1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, halved

1 head Boston lettuce (I actually used romaine, because that’s what I had), torn into bite-sized pieces


1 avocado, pitted, peeled and chopped

1 cup cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces


In a skillet, cook bacon over moderate heat until crisp. Reserving 1 tablespoon drippings in skillet, drain bacon on paper towels and crumble.

Cut bread into 3/4-inch cubes to measure 1 cup. Heat bacon drippings over moderately high heat but not smoking and sauté bread crumbs with salt to taste, until golden brown. Transfer croutons to paper towels to drain and cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together garlic, lemon juice, mayonnaise, water, salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, toss together lettuce, tomatoes, onion, bacon, croutons, avocado (if using) and chicken (if using), salt and pepper to taste and enough dressing to coat.

Grilled Zucchini and Bell Pepper Fattoush

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Another one of our all-time favorite go-to recipes from Bon Appétit (July 2007).  Grilled Zucchini and Bell Pepper Fattoush.  Fattoush is a Middle Eastern take on panzanella, or Italian bread salad (which, of course, is another of our favorite salads…you’ve seen the recipe, here, on the blog, right?) And isn’t it just fun to say?  Fah-toosh.  What’s for dinner?  Fattoush.

I love the combination of grilled veggies and fresh veggies in this salad.  It’s a great accompaniment with your favorite grilled chicken (Sriracha Chicken Skewers or Paillards?) or lamb or even as a light main dish salad on a warm summer evening.

Grilled Zucchini and Bell Pepper Fattoush


On the grill

3 medium orange or red bell peppers (about 1 pound), stemmed, seeded, quartered

4 to 5 slender zucchini (about 1 pound), trimmed, cut lengthwise in half

2 (5- to 6-inch) pita breads, each cut horizontally into 2 disks, or two 6x4x1/2-inch slices country white bread

Olive oil (for grilling)

For the dish

1 (8-ounce) cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

12 cherry tomatoes, each halved

3 green onions, thinly sliced

1 cup (scant) pitted Kalamata olives, halved

1/2 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 4-ounce piece feta cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (scant 1 cup)

Ground sumac* (optional) I can honestly say I’ve never used the sumac – I think I couldn’t find it the very first time I made the recipe and have made it so many times without, that I forgot it was even supposed to be included!

 *A fruity, tangy seasoning powder made from ground dried sumac berries; available at Middle Eastern markets


Prepare barbecue (medium heat). Brush peppers, zucchini, and bread on both sides with oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Grill peppers and zucchini until slightly charred and just tender, turning often, about 6 minutes. Transfer vegetables to foil-lined baking sheet. Grill bread until lightly charred and just crisp, turning often, about 3 minutes. Transfer to sheet with vegetables and cool. Tear bread into 1-inch pieces. DO AHEAD Vegetables and bread can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Cut peppers lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide strips, then crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Cut zucchini lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Place in large bowl. Add cucumber, tomatoes, green onions, olives, mint, and cilantro and toss to combine. Add bread pieces. Whisk 1/2 cup oil, lemon juice, and cumin in small bowl to blend. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Add dressing to salad; toss to coat. Add feta and gently mix into salad.

Transfer salad to large bowl. Serve, passing ground sumac for sprinkling over, if desired.

A Tale of Two Tuna Pasta Salads

Ready to take to a potluck at work!

Ready to take to a potluck at work!

Okay, so I’ve been making this one tuna pasta salad for EVER. I make it often for potlucks (especially at work) and everyone always loves it and asks for recipe. It’s bowtie pasta, tuna, peas, green onions, red bell peppers and a little cheddar cheese in a mayo dressing. The recipe was in a cookbook called “California Kosher” that I bought at a Hadassah conference (yes, I was at a Hadassah conference. Don’t know what Hadassah is? Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, is a volunteer organization that inspires a passion for and commitment to its partnership with the land and people of Israel. It enhances the health of people worldwide through its support of medical care and research at the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem. Hadassah empowers its members and supporters, as well as youth in Israel and America through opportunities for personal growth, education, advocacy and Jewish continuity.

Okay, so I bought this cookbook at the boutique. I liked the cover. And, as it turns out, there are several recipes in there that I’ve turned to over the years (seems those Hadassah ladies are pretty good cooks).

The other day, after Tony and I had just gotten home from a two week vacation (the wedding vacation), I was looking at the U-T Food Section and saw this big headline, “Tuna Pasta Salad” and beneath that, “Lemony Pasta Salad”. We had been eating and drinking pretty well while we were away (hey, we were in Sonoma!) and I wanted to make something light for dinner. I read the ingredients – tuna, lemon juice, Dijon, arugula, tomatoes, canellini beans. I read that Fitness magazine created this entree pasta salad for Starkist. I suppose if Fitness magazine made up the recipe, it must be healthy too, right? Okay. Done. Decision made.

tuna arugula salad 2

It was delicious. For dinner that night and even better for lunch at work the next day. So now you’ve got two tuna pasta salads to choose from. Both are yummy. A tried and true traditional one and a slightly updated, more modern one. Either would be great to take to your next potluck or for a nice light summer dinner.

Tuna Pasta Salad (Hadassah version)
2 cups farfalle (bowtie) pasta (or any other smallish pasta – shells, elbows, etc.)
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup frozen peas, uncooked
½ cup chopped green onions
2 6-1/2 ounce cans good quality tuna, drained and flaked
¾ cup (appx.) mayonnaise
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup cubed or coarsely shredded cheddar cheese

Cook pasta in boiling salted water until “al dente”. When ready to drain the pasta, put the frozen peas in the colander, then pour the hot cooked pasta on top of the peas (this will cook them enough).

In large bowl, toss vegetables and pasta together with tuna. In small bowl, combine honey and mayonnaise; gently stir into salad. Stir in cheese just before serving.

Note: best if made the day before

Tuna Pasta Salad (Starkist version)
8 ounces farfalle (bowtie pasta)
2 6-1/2 ounce cans good quality tuna, drained and flaked
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 heaping teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
2 cups tightly packed baby arugula
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 teaspoons grated Parmesan

Cook farfalle according to package directions. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain again.

Drain tuna and transfer to a small bowl. Break into rough chunks, drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and toss gently.

In a large bowl, whisk together lemon zest and juice, remaining oil, garlic, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper.

Add farfalle, beans, tomatoes, arugula and onion to bowl; toss well to combine. Add tuna; toss gently. Divide among 4 plates; top each serving with 1 teaspoon Parmesan.

Cheryl’s Chinois Chicken Salad

Leftovers at my desk!  Yum.

Leftovers at my desk! Yum.

Chinese Chicken Salad.  It’s pretty much a staple on just about every restaurant menu and has been since, what, like the mid-1980’s?  And it’s still a favorite.  Wolfgang Puck makes one that he calls Chinois Chicken Salad.  Fancy.  And it’s served at all of his restaurants, from the most high-end like Jai in La Jolla (in fact, I just had one there in December, when Tony and I went to the La Jolla Playhouse to see “Yoshini Battles the Pink Robots” for my birthday) to the Wolfgang Puck Expresses you find at airports.

A co-worker gave me a signed copy of Wolfgang’s Live, Love, Eat cookbook several years ago for a holiday gift exchange and I’ve made the Chinois salad (well, a somewhat revised version) many, many times.  I hadn’t made it for quite a while and was craving one the other night. I pulled the cookbook off the shelf, turned to the page (which is just about falling out of the book, btw, and saw that I had printed out a Chinese Chicken Salad recipe from a 2006 Gourmet magazine and stuck it in there, with lots of notes, combining the best of both recipes.)

It was a delicious, light dinner and the leftovers made for the best yummy lunch at my desk the next day at work.

With all the revisions I’ve made, it’s not so much Wolfgang’s original recipe anymore.  We’ll just call it Cheryl’s Chinois Salad and thank him for the inspiration!

Cheryl’s Chinois Salad



6 cups shredded Romaine lettuce (about one 1-lb head)

2 cups shredded Napa cabbage (one smallish head)

1/2 pound snow peas, cut into 1/4″ julienne strips

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded

1 cup won ton strips (You can buy won ton strips in most grocery store produce sections, like where the croutons are.  I’ve also on occasion stopped in at our local Chinese restaurant and bought them.  You can make your own, too, either deep frying or baking, though I never have.  Shame on me.  Wolfgang doesn’t even include them in his salad!)

1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted (black or white, I like a combination of both.  You can find already toasted sesame seeds in the Asian section of most supermarkets, and sometimes black sesame seeds too.)


1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon dry Chinese or English mustard

1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil (also found in the Asian section of most supermarkets)

1/4 cup vegetable or peanut oil

salt & pepper, to taste


Salad:  Gently toss lettuce, cabbage, snow peas, green onion, radish and cilantro in large bowl. Add chicken.  Toss with vinaigrette.  Just before serving, add won ton strips, almonds and sesame seeds and toss again.

Vinaigrette:  Whisk together soy sauce, lemon juice, sugar, vinegar and mustard in small bowl, then add sesame oil and vegetable (or peanut) oil in a slow stream, whisking until sugar is dissolved and dressing is well combined.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

(Leftover) Steak Salad with Arugula, Blue Cheese and Steakhouse Mustard Vinaigrette

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We don’t eat a lot of steak, but every once in a while either Tony or I have a craving.  (Tony more often than me.)  And there’s a very good meat market (not that kind of meat market, an actual meat market, with real butchers behind the counter) near us and it is so worth it when you do get the hankering for a steak to splurge and buy from the guys at Iowa Meat Farms.  So the other day we’re having our usual “what do you feel like for dinner” conversation (actually more like texting back and forth while I’m at work) and Tony suggests “how about steak sliders…I could grill one of those Tri-Tips from Iowa Meat Farms.  On a good crusty roll, with horseradish mayo and some of your pickled red onions?”  Sold.  Sometimes the boy does come up with some good ideas.

Which leads me to the Leftover Steak Salad.  We did have some steak left over (weird, right?) and I really wanted to use it in some sort of salad.  I thought about doing a Cobb Salad, but we had just had Cobb Salad (which, btw, will be a post soon), so I searched my favorite weblog (yes, Smitten Kitchen) and there it was.  Skirt Steak Salad with Arugula and Blue Cheese with a “steak house vinaigrette” made with Dijon mustard, Worcestershire and red wine vinegar.  Oh yeah.

Really simple (especially if you already have the leftover steak) and really delicious.  And, yes, it’s even worth going to the trouble to grill a steak just to make this salad!

Skirt Steak Salad with Arugula and Blue Cheese

1 pound skirt steak, trimmed of excess fat if necessary, halved crosswise, at room temperature (or whatever leftover steak you have)
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pint (2 cups) cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup (about 4 ounces) crumbled blue cheese
1/2 pound baby arugula
Vinaigrette (below)
3 tablespoons minced chives, 2 thinly sliced scallions or 3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion, for garnish

Pat steak dry and season on both sides 1/2 teaspoon salt and many grinds of black pepper.

In a cast-iron skillet: Heat skillet on medium-high to high and add olive oil. When oil begins to shimmer, place steak in skillet and do not move it for 5 minutes. Turn it once, and cook for another 3 minutes for medium-rare. You may need to cook your steak halves separately, depending on the size of your pan.

On a grill: Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over hot charcoal or high heat for gas. Oil grill rack, then grill steak, covered only if using a gas grill, turning once, 4 to 6 minutes total for medium-rare.

Transfer steak to a cutting board and let rest, loosely covered with foil, for five minutes. Arrange arugula on a large platter. Thinly slice steak on the diagonal, across the grain. Arrange over arugula, then toss halved cherry tomatoes and blue cheese over platter. Add vinaigrette to taste, then sprinkle with chives, scallions or red onion. Serve with additional vinaigrette on the side.

Steakhouse Mustard Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon coarse Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup olive oil

Whisk ingredients. Season with salt and pepper and adjust ingredients to taste.

Avocado & Hearts of Palm Chop Chop Salad

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So I’ve mentioned Pati before (see Cashew Butter Balls). She has a cooking show called Pati’s Mexican Kitchen. I have to admit, I said I watch her show occasionally, but Tony actually discovered it. Not sure how or why. I was away for the weekend and when I came home, he said, “I found this cooking show I think you’ll really like. She has great recipes. I recorded it for you.” This particular episode featured this Avocado & Hearts of Palm Chopped Salad. The salad is delicious. We make it all the time. She has a lot of great recipes. But, in all honesty, I’m pretty sure it’s not the recipes that keep Tony watching. It’s Pati. She’s adorable and she has this even more adorable accent. She’s always talking about the beautiful “col-ours” of the food. Yep. He’s got the DVR set to record every single episode.

I really do love this salad. It’s easy, tasty and beautiful “col-ours”. The only change I make is instead of using whole pumpkin seeds (they’re not always easy to find) and toasting them, I just throw in a few pepitas. (What’s the difference between pumpkin seeds and pepitas? Pepitas are actually the kernel inside a whole pumpkin seed; so if you were to take the seeds out of your pumpkin at Halloween and shell them, inside you’d find a pepita.)

Avocado & Hearts of Palm Chop Chop Salad
Ensalada de Aguacate y Palmitos


3 ripe Hass avocados, seeded & pulp cut into large chunks
14-ounce can hearts of palm, or about 1 1/3 cups, drained, rinsed and thickly sliced
1 cup corn kernels, from 2 large freshly cooked ears of corn or thawed and cooked from frozen
1 tablespoon red onion, chopped

6 ounces cherry tomatoes, or about 1 cup, whole or halved according to your preference
3 tbsp pumpkin seeds, toasted (I substitute pepitas – see note above)

Vinaigrette dressing:
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons safflower oil


To make the vinaigrette, pour the vinegar and lime juice in a small bowl. Add the oregano, salt, sugar, and black pepper. Pour the oil in a slow stream, whisking with a whisk or fork to emulsify. The vinaigrette can be made a day ahead of time and refrigerated, just emulsify before using.

(If using pepitas, you can skip this step.) To toast the pumpkin seeds, place them in an already hot, small saute pan set over medium heat. Stir often, being careful that they don’t burn; until you start to hear popping sounds (similar to popcorn) and they being to acquire a nice tan, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, place in a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, gently mix the avocado chunks, hearts of palm, corn kernels, cherry tomatoes and red onion with the vinaigrette. Sprinkle with the toasted pumpkin seeds (or pepitas) and serve.

Cobb Salad

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Cobb Salad is (yet another) salad we make very often in the Bruser household and it’s one of our favorites.  Avocado, hard-boiled eggs, chicken, bacon…mmmm!  I had clipped the recipe (for Cobb Salad with Brown Derby French Dressing) from our local paper years ago.   The last time I started to make the salad,  I couldn’t find the recipe!!  Aaagh.  Of course, I know all the salad ingredients by heart, but not the dressing.  I mean, I know what’s in there, and I could probably come pretty close to replicating it, but it was making me crazy.

So I Googled and I found many versions of what every recipe calls “the original” and I learned a little bit about the history of the salad.  Seems the famous American classic salad was concocted in the late 1920’s by Robert “Bob” Cobb, manager of the famous Brown Derby restaurant (aptly shaped liked a derby hat) in L.A.  This is the restaurant where the walls were covered with caricatures of famous stars.


The Brown Derby

The Cobb Salad was one of the first “composed” salads that were soon copied at many other restaurants.  The Cobb is a chopped salad (ingredients are individually chopped into small pieces) and then arranged on a plate or shallow bowl with each ingredient in its own row or pile on a bed of chopped greens.  (Oops!  My bad…I’ve been making it as a regular tossed-in-a-salad-bowl-salad all these years!)  The special French dressing is added and the salad tossed just at serving time.  And it is traditionally served as a main course salad.


The version we’ve been doing for ever!

As with most recipes, I’ve tweaked this one a bit over the years too…with all due respect to Bob Cobb.  Oh, and after reading about how this salad is supposed to be served, we tried the traditional composed presentation.  A little more preparation, but very attractive and oh-so-old-Hollywood!

 Cobb Salad



6 cups chopped lettuce (any combination you like – iceberg, red leaf, romaine.  The original called for watercress)

3 cups chopped, cooked chicken (I’ve used leftover turkey and even steak!)

2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped

4 strips bacon, crisp-cooked and crumbled

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

2 green onions, chopped

1 medium avocado, chopped

Brown Derby Special French Dressing:

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

3/4 teaspoon dry mustard

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

3/4 cup vegetable oil

salt & pepper to taste


For the salad:  Individually chop all the salad ingredients into very small pieces.  Arrange decoratively on a serving platter or large shallow bowl or into individual plates.  (OR, commit blasphemy and just put everything in a big salad bowl and toss together.  LOL.)  Drizzle with enough dressing to moisten.

For the dressing:  In a jar with a lid, place all of the dressing ingredients except the oils and shake vigorously to combine.  Add olive oil and vegetable oil.  Shake well again.