Greek Chicken with Potatoes and CHUNKY Greek Salad

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I had to work late the other night, so Tony offered to make dinner.  Yes, you read that right.  Tony offered to make dinner.And, really, it’s not the first time.  (I know.  He’s a keeper.)  He said he was dying for a Greek Salad (there’s not much Tony loves more than a chunky Greek salad!).  We tossed around a few “protein” ideas and I remembered a baked Greek chicken and potatoes recipe that I used to make all the time but we hadn’t had in a while.  I told him it’s really easy…you basically just put chicken breasts, olive oil, lemon juice, potatoes and oregano in a baking dish and put it in the oven.  I gave him a grocery list and left for work.

Around 5:30, I get a text from him that says, “What time should I have dinner ready?”  (Uh…yes…I know.)

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I arrived home around 6:45pm to the wonderful aroma of chicken, lemon and oregano, a fire in the fireplace AND a glass of Pinot Noir waiting for me.  (Yes, I know.)

We ate in front of the fireplace, Tony talking all the while about his culinary prowess.  “You know the secret to a good Greek salad?  It has to be chunky…big pieces of vegetables.  This chicken is really good and its so easy.”

And, yes, it was all delicious.  I’m considering changing my schedule to work late more often!

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Greek Chicken and Potatoes

(adapted from Bon Appétit, April 1992)

INGREDIENTS

1 3 1/2-pound chicken, quartered (OR, we use 4 chicken breasts halves)
4 russet potatoes, peeled, quartered, lengthwise (I actually had never peeled them, but Tony did, and, I have to admit, they were much better)
4 large garlic cloves, halved
3/4 cup canned low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup olive oil
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375°F. Arrange chicken, potatoes and garlic in large roasting pan. Season with salt and pepper. Pour broth over. Whisk olive oil, lemon juice and oregano to combine. Pour evenly over chicken and potatoes.

Bake until chicken is cooked through and golden brown and potatoes are tender, basting occasionally with pan juices, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

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CHUNKY Greek Salad

(salad by Tony Bruser; vinaigrette from some recipe Cheryl found somewhere)

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 medium cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced into big CHUNKS

2 green bell peppers, seeded and cut into big CHUNKS

4 large tomatoes, cut into big CHUNKS (or use cherry tomatoes, halved)

1 large red onion, cut into (yep you got it) big CHUNKS

1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

1/2 cup Greek olives, Kalamata olives, or any other brine-cured black olives

DIRECTIONS

Whisk oil, vinegar, garlic powder, and oregano in small bowl to blend. Season vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper.

Combine cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, cheese, and olives in very large bowl. Add vinaigrette to salad and toss to coat.

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Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad

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You may have noticed (or maybe not, but if you look at the list of recipes on this blog, you will) that I like salads.  I think there might be more recipes in the “salad” category than any other (okay, my bad…there are more desserts, but only slightly more…lol).  We have salad as a side dish almost every night (Caesar, Broccoli Slaw, Watermelon/Tomato/Cucumber) and often have just a more substantial salad as our main course (Fiesta Chicken, Nicoise).  There’s such an infinite number of possibilities and combinations of ingredients (lots of lettuces and other greens and veggies and potatoes and grains) and so many other goodies (dried fruits and nuts and seeds and cheese and eggs and meats) you can toss together with a multitude of different vinaigrettes and dressings! I bet I could do a different salad every day for a couple months.  In fact, I’ve just given myself an idea…I think I might have to do a week of “salad a day” posts.

So this just happens to be my most recent favorite. I had a similar salad at a dinner party a couple weeks ago and loved it.  Have to admit, when the person who made the salad said it had kale and brussels sprouts in it, I thought, “yuck…raw brussels sprouts?  And kale?  I don’t like kale.” So I put a little on my plate (just to be polite) and I tried it.  And then I went back for more.  It was really good.  So good in fact, that I took note of the ingredients and then came home and searched on Epicurious and found this recipe from Bon Appétit. I made it twice last week. Twice!  I guess I like kale.

I actually read the directions wrong and ended up tossing the kale and brussels with the dressing early and let the whole thing sit while I was making the rest of dinner.  I think it might even be better this way…lets the veggies soften a little!

AND A NOTE:  My friend Barbara commented on FB that she made this salad and loved it.  What I found out later was that she used a cheese grater to grate the sprouts and really hacked up her fingers.  I’m sorry Bobba!  The first few times I made this, I shredded them by hand…cut the sprout in half lengthwise, flip them cut-side down and then starting at the short side, slice very thinly.  But that was only because I lost the slicing disk for my food processor (I’m not sure how someone loses a slicing disk, but I did.  I’ve only had the food processor for 28+ years!!)  Anyway, I just ordered a new one on line and man, oh man, does it make this so much easier!!! 

Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large bunches of Tuscan kale (about 1 1/2 pounds total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced (I bought a bag of Trader Joe’s already chopped Tuscan kale and then chopped it into smaller pieces)
12 ounces brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with a knife (Trader Joe’s actually has already shredded brussels, but the packages didn’t look all so good the day I was there.)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup almonds with skins, coarsely chopped
1 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper in a small bowl. Stir to blend; set aside to let flavors meld. Mix thinly sliced kale and shredded brussels sprouts in a large bowl.

Measure 1/2 cup oil into a cup. Spoon 1 tablespoon oil from cup into a small skillet; heat oil over medium-high heat. Add almonds to skillet and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer nuts to a paper towel–lined plate. Sprinkle almonds lightly with salt.

Slowly whisk remaining olive oil in cup into lemon-juice mixture. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.  DO AHEAD: Dressing, kale mixture, and toasted almonds can be prepared 8 hours ahead. Cover dressing and kale mixture separately and chill. Cover almonds and let stand at room temperature.

Add dressing and cheese to kale mixture; toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Garnish with almonds.

Thanksgiving (and many more delicious meals, including a Dungeness Crab Feast) in Sonoma

Vikki’s gorgeous table…for 29!

This was the fourth year we’ve spent Thanksgiving weekend with our son Kyle’s fiancée Calla’s family in Sonoma.  We drive up from San Diego, stopping to pick up our daughter Ally (coming in from New Orleans) at LAX.  Kyle and Calla (and this year their roommate Jesse, and pooch, June) drive down from Portland, OR.  It’s the perfect halfway point.

The Sonoma Valley is beautiful in the Fall…the leaves in the vineyards have turned gold and orange and red.  Calla’s dad Bill and his girlfriend Vikki have a gorgeous home in the hills above Sonoma, with panoramic views of the valley below and all the way to Oakland and the Bay.

The view from Vikki’s deck

There’s always a LOT of great food and wine and beer and tequila and a lot of laughs shared with LOTS of family (Vikki’s three kids, Calla’s three brothers and significant others) and a whole gaggle of friends.  This year there were 29 of us at the Thanksgiving table!  Bill brined and roasted a 24-pound turkey that was one of the best I’ve ever had.  We feasted on mashed potatoes and yams and roasted green beans and Brussels sprouts and gravy and vegan gravy and quinoa and salad and stuffing and wine and champagne and bread pudding and pumpkin roll and apple pie and apple tart until we could barely move.

Uh huh. My plate.

Bill and Vikki are absolutely the definition of the hostess(es) with the mostess(es).  Not only is there THE Thanksgiving dinner, but hiking and wine tasting and more hiking and visits to breweries and so much more good food.

Lagunitas Brewing Co., Petaluma

Hiking at Sugarloaf National Park

Bill outdid himself this year with a Crab Feast…fresh Dungeness Crab, Roasted Corn-on-the-Cob (a la Tyler Florence) and Broccoli Slaw (I made the Smitten Kitchen recipe).  I’d never had roasted corn-on-the-cob, but I will definitely be doing it…so easy and so good.  Roasting just makes all veggies taste better! And Smitten Kitchen’s Broccoli Slaw is one of my all-time favorites.

Lots o’ Crab!

Crab, Oven-Roasted Corn, Broccoli Slaw

Thank you once again Bill and Vikki, et al.  We are grateful that Kyle and Calla found each other and for the “melding” of our families.  We are so excited and looking forward to the wedding and to many, many years of good times and awesome events with the Bruser-Leff-Mapel clan!

Alright…the recipes.

Bill Mapel’s Dungeness Crab

INGREDIENTS

A whole lot of Dungeness crabs

Butter

DIRECTIONS

1.  Drive to Santa Rosa to Santa Rosa Seafood to get fresh Dungeness crabs for $4 a pound

2.  Bring the crabs back to the house and steam them

3.  Melt the butter and serve in cool little fondue pot/butter warmer things

4.  Make sure to have a big ol’ discard bowl and little crab forks and plenty of napkins!

5.  Serve accompanied by Oven-Roasted Corn-on-the-Cob and Broccoli Slaw

Tyler Florence’s No Shucking Oven-Roasted Corn

INGREDIENTS

Fresh corn on the cob, unhusked
Butter
Salt

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place corn directly on the roasting rack and roast for 30 minutes. Remove the husks and use them as a handle while eating.   Roll in butter and sprinkle with a little salt.

Broccoli Slaw

Smitten Kitchen’s Broccoli Slaw

(Okay, funny story…on Election Night, Tony and I made burgers and this slaw for dinner.  As we were sitting down to eat, he says, “I love this broccoli slaw” and I say, “what did you say?” and he repeats himself.  And then it hits me!  “It’s not Broccoli Slaw”, I say.  “It’s BARACK-oli Slaw!!!”  And then I laughed myself silly.  Get it?  BARACK-oli!!  And, yes, I told the story again during the Crab Feast and, yes, cracked myself up again.)

INGREDIENTS

2 heads of broccoli
1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds, toasted
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

Buttermilk Dressing
1/2 cup buttermilk, well-shaken
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot (or, you could just use a little extra red onion to simplify it)

DIRECTIONS

Trim broccoli and cut it into large chunks. From here, you can either feed it through your food processor’s slicing blade, use a mandoline to cut it into thin slices, or simply hand chop it into smaller pieces

Toss the sliced broccoli with the almonds, cranberries and red onion in a large bowl. Meanwhile, whisk the dressing ingredients in a smaller one, with a good pinch of salt and black pepper. Pour the dressing over the broccoli and toss it well. Season well with salt and pepper to taste.

A is for Arugula (Corn & Orzo Salad with Arugula Pesto)

I am on the wellness committee at my work.  It was started as a program called Be Well through our insurance broker (you know…healthy employees are more productive, cost employers less money, cost insurance companies less money and eventually, hopefully bring down the cost of premiums employees pay).  So the committee’s mission is to organize fun, educational activities/events/competitions to encourage our coworkers to get more healthy.  We did a segment called “Five for Five” where we were to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables every day and teams kept track of their healthy eating habits and winners competed in a “fruit off” contest (don’t ask) at the end.  We had another competition where we added up all the steps we took in a day.  We did a segment on stress reduction which has led to having yoga instructors come in and offer free yoga classes on a weekly basis!

The most recent wasn’t a competition, just an educational activity, called “Healthy Eating A-Z”.  Committee members divided the alphabet and were responsible for finding a healthy whole food that starts with that letter, researching it, finding a recipe and sending an email to all employees.  It was so popular, that everyone was asking us to compile a cookbook.  We did and then we had a healthy lunch potluck.  And that was so fun that we’ve been asked to plan another one.

I volunteered to take letter “A” and chose Arugula as my ingredient.  I had actually made this really delicious Corn and Orzo Salad with Arugula Pesto not too long before.  Perfect.  It’s delicious.

This is the “Arugula” email I sent…

Welcome to “Whole Foods A to Z”!  Food of the Day…

A is for Arugula

Did you know?

Arugula (Eruca sativa), an edible annual plant, is also known as rocket, roquette or rucola.  It is used as a leaf vegetable, and looks like a longer leaved and open lettuce. It is rich in vitamin C and potassium.  It has been grown in the Mediterranean area since Roman times, and is considered an aphrodisiac. Before the 1990s it was usually collected in the wild and was not cultivated on a large scale or researched scientifically. In addition to the leaves, the flowers (often used in salads as an edible garnish), young seed pods and mature seeds are all edible.

It has a rich, peppery taste, and has an exceptionally strong flavor for a leafy green. It is generally used in salads, often mixed with other greens, but is also cooked as a vegetable or used raw with pasta or meats. In Italy, arugula is often used in pizzas, added just before the baking period ends or immediately afterwards, so that it will not wilt in the heat.

Oh, and my other letters were “H” – Honey (in Everyday Granola); “O” – Olive Oil (and Dukkah, a middle eastern dish made with nuts and seeds); “U” and “V” – (not sure why those were assigned together!) – Ugli fruit (go ahead, Google it) and Vinegar.  And if you’d like the entire “A-Z Cookbook”, email me (find my email on my Contact page) and I’ll happily email it to you. 

Corn and Orzo Salad with Arugula Pesto

(Adapted from “relish” magazine. I usually double the amounts for the pesto and then use it for many other recipes…roasted potatoes with arugula pesto, spread on a pizza crust with cheese, proscuitto and then topped with some fresh arugula after baking!)

INGREDIENTS

Arugula Pesto:

3 tablespoons chopped walnuts

1-1/2 cups packed arugula

½ cup packed flat leaf parsley

1 garlic clove, minced

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

Salad:

1 cup uncooked orzo (rice-shaped pasta)

2 cups fresh corn kernels (**note:  to make it easier, I used Trader Joe’s frozen roasted corn kernels)

1 cup cucumber, peeled and cut into small cubes

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

¾ cup crumbled feta cheese

DIRECTIONS

To prepare pesto, place walnuts in processor and finely chop.  Add arugula and parsley; pulse to coarsely chop.  With motor running, add garlic, oil, lemon juice, cheese, salt and pepper and process until blended.

To prepare salad, cook orzo according to package directions.  **if using frozen corn, pour the still frozen kernels into colander.  Then, when the orzo is finished cooking,  pour the pot of orzo directly over the corn to drain.  This will defrost the corn.** Drain the orzo and corn, rinse under cold running water and drain well.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Add corn, pesto, cucumber and tomatoes and mix gently.  Stir feta in just before serving.

Seven Species (and more) Salad

My favorite Jewish holiday begins tonight at sundown.  Sukkot commemorates the time when the Jewish people wandered in the desert and lived in temporary shelters. It’s a harvest festival, and during this weeklong celebration we spend time outdoors in a sukkah, a makeshift structure covered with branches to look just like the huts our ancestors used. It’s also a chance to move beyond the material comforts of home, —and connect with family and nature.

We’ve been building a sukkah in our backyard since the kids were in preschool.  They used to love helping Tony build it and helping me decorate it (they’d make yards and yards of paper chains & draw pictures, I’d hang twinkle lights and dried gourds and other fall-inspired decor –  easy to find with all the Thanksgiving stuff in party stores).  Well, its been a very long time since the kids were in preschool, but we still build a beautiful sukkah (sans paper chains).

It’s traditional at Sukkot to invite friends and family for dinners in the sukkah. Since the weather is typically still very nice in San Diego at this time of year, it is so pleasant to sit and linger over a delicious meal outside.  At one time, we had several Jewish families on our street (including a Rabbi and a Cantor!) and we organized “sukkah crawls”, where we would walk from one house to the next for different dinner courses.  We still have a smaller version of  the “sukkah crawl” with our good friends Tom and Barbara and we invite different guest over during the week.

With the emphasis on the harvest festival, its also traditional to include dishes that include one or more of the “seven species” of Israel (fruits and grains that are native to the land of Israel)…dates, figs, olives, pomegranates, grapes, barley and wheat.  My mission this year was to find a recipe and create a dish that included all seven!  I found a few different versions of a “Seven Species Salad” and ended up pulling a bit from each and modified a rice salad that I make (using Trader Joe’s Rice Medley) to create this one and I really like it.  And remember that leftover vinaigrette from the Urban Solace salad?  It is perfect for this.

Can’t wait for the sun to set so we can eat it in our sukkah!

Seven Species (and more) Salad

INGREDIENTS

1 package from Trader Joe’s Rice Medley (found in their freezer section; the blend is black rice, red rice and barley)

1 cup wheat berries (I found them in the bulk bins in our local natural foods store)

1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

2 tablespoons golden raisins (hey, they used to be grapes)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh (if you can find them) or dried dates

1 fig, quartered

1/3 – 1/2 cup vinaigrette from Urban Solace Salad (it’s made with olive oil and pomegranate molasses)

DIRECTIONS

Cook one package Rice Medley according to package directions.  Pour into medium sized bowl and let cool a bit.

If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, you can cook your favorite type of rice; wild rice would be delicious and you should be able to find barley in the bulk bins of a natural foods store.

Cook the wheat berries in a pot of boiling water (unsalted), uncovered, until just tender (I wanted them to still have a little “bite” to them), about 20 minutes.  Let the wheat berries cool a bit and then add to the bowl with the rice blend.

Add the parsley, pomegranate seeds, raisins and dates to the rice & wheat berries and then toss with about 1/3 – 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with the fig quarters.  This salad is best made at least an hour, or up to several, ahead of time, for the flavors to blend.  Cool and then remove from fridge, to get to room temperature, before serving.

Apple/Pomegranate/Blue Cheese Salad with Honey Vinaigrette

Here’s another recipe that I’ve had for a looooong time.  Probably not as long as I’ve had the recipe for Double Chocolate Brownies (it’s not handwritten, but it is typed in a cutesy font with a cute little “apples & honey” graphic, so it must have been when I first discovered word processing and clip art.  LOL), but a long time nonetheless.

I like to shorten the name of this salad to simply “Apples & Honey Salad”.  I’m not sure where it originated, but I know that it has been a part of many Jewish High Holy Day meals at our home. I mentioned previously that it is traditional at Rosh Hashanah to dip apples in honey and that I like to make recipes for the holidays that feature apples and honey.  The original version of this recipe does and it’s a delicious way to get that apples and honey fix.  It’s also a tasty addition to a break-the-fast meal.

I’ve done many variations of the salad over the years.  The original called for Spring mix lettuces, spicy glazed pecans (that I made myself…now I buy them at Trader Joe’s), apple, dried cranberries and blue cheese.  I’ve switched pear for the apple, pomegranate seeds or any other dried fruit for the cranberries, goat cheese for the blue cheese, arugula for the Spring mix and have done just about every kind of nut.  I’ve played with many different versions of the dressing, too, and I think is one is finally THE one.

I’m posting the original version of the salad, with variations in parentheses.  Any way you decide to mix it up, this salad will be a great addition to your holiday celebration or ANY Fall-inspired meal.

Apples & Honey Salad

INGREDIENTS

Vinaigrette

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, minced

salt & pepper to taste

Salad

1- 9 oz. package mixed greens (Spring mix, arugula, or any combination you like)

1 medium apple, chopped into 1″ pieces (or you can substitute pear)

1/3 cup dried cranberries (or any other dried fruit you like OR pomegranate seeds. Note: you can find pomegranate seeds at Trader Joe’s or many supermarkets.  OR, follow the directions below for an easy, un-messy way to seed a whole pomegranate!)

1/3 cup chopped nuts (I like the Sweet & Spicy Pecans from Trader Joes, but have used plain pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts and even pistachios)

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese (or goat cheese or even feta cheese)

DIRECTIONS

Vinaigrette

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, honey, lemon juice, Dijon, garlic and salt and pepper.  Slowly pour in the olive oil while whisking to emulsify (or you can put all ingredients in a blender or even shake together in a screw top jar).

Salad

If using a whole pomegranate – over a bowl (to catch any juices), cut the pomegranate into four pieces.  Then cover the pieces, in the bowl, with cold water and start pulling the seeds out with your hands.  The seeds will fall to the bottom and the “other stuff” will rise to the top.  Now remove the “other stuff” and drain the water.

To prevent apples (or pears) from discoloring, after chopping, put in a bowl of sugar water (1 T. sugar to 1 c. water) for a few minutes.  Drain and pat dry with a paper towel.

In a large bowl, toss lettuces, apple pieces, cranberries, nuts and blue cheese with about half of the dressing.  Taste and then add more if you need it.

Urban Solace’s Watermelon/Tomato/Cucumber Salad

I really like the restaurant Urban Solace.  And, as much as I like the food at Urban Solace, I really like  chef/owner Matt Gordon.  He is truly one of the nicest, friendliest and happiest guys I’ve ever met.  And generous too.  A real mensch.  He gives back to the community, a lot.  For the past three years, he has hosted a Passover Seder at the restaurant and donates a percentage of the proceeds to the domestic abuse program I work for.  It’s a super fun evening.  My brother-in-law Sam (The Cooking Guy) and Steve Silverman, a local restaurant critic, lead us through the traditional prayers and readings of the Seder.  And then we feast on a Passover meal like no other.

Needless to say, I was really excited when I saw the recipe for Matt’s watermelon salad posted in the U-T a couple of weeks ago.  Yet another great use of those cherry tomatoes in our backyard and the beautiful yellow watermelon I picked up at the farmer’s market!

(Matt says the salad ingredients serve two. It makes a ton of vinaigrette; I actually halved the ingredients and still had leftovers!  You can store the leftover in a glass jar in the fridge.)

Urban Solace’s Watermelon/Tomato/Cucumber Salad

INGREDIENTS

Salad

2 cups cubed seedless watermelon

1/4 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup arugula

1⁄8 cup feta cheese

1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts

1 tablespoon plumped currants (oops, I forgot these!)

1 tablespoon each fresh basil and mint, cut into thin strips

Pomegranate Vinaigrette

This makes a large quantity that can be used for other salads.

1 tablespoon minced shallots

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup sherry vinegar

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup lime juice

1/8 cup honey

1/4 cup pomegranate molasses (available at specialty markets or online OR Trader Joe’s carries a pomegranate syrup that you could use)

2 tablespoons ground coriander, toasted first (I left this out…sorry, Matt!)

2 tablespoons kosher salt  Ewww…I just noticed that this says 2 tablespoons salt!  I rechecked the newspaper article…that’s what it said.  No way it’s right.  I used 1 teaspoon!

1 pinch ground black pepper

2 cups vegetable oil (preferably a blend of canola and olive oil)

DIRECTIONS

Toss all salad ingredients together in a large bowl.

Place all ingredients except oil in a blender. Emulsify, adding oil slowly. Taste for seasoning.  Toss with salad ingredients.

You say “to-MAY-to”…I say “to-MAH-to”!! Part Four

A Panzanella Salad is an Italian salad made with tomatoes and stale bread. This is easily one of our favorite and most-often made salads, especially when we have tons of tomatoes growing in the backyard. I first found it in an early (April, 1996) issue of (what else?) Bon Appétit and have made it countless times since. We’ve taken it camping, to picnics and BBQ’s…it’s easy to make ahead and pack up. Just pack the croutons separately and toss everything together when you get to your destination.

It calls for Plum tomatoes, but you can use any variety you like. I love it with a combination of different colored heirloom cherry tomatoes.

Panzanella Salad with Olives & Cheese

INGREDIENTS

Dressing

1/2 c. olive oil

2 T. balsamic vinegar

1 T. Sherry wine vinegar

1-1/2 T. capers with 1 t. juices

1 garlic clove, minced

Salad

4 c. 3/4-inch cubes French bread baguette (about ½ of an 8 oz. loaf)

1-1/2 lbs. Plum tomatoes, cut into ¾-inch pieces

2 c. English hothouse cucumber, cut into ¾-inch pieces

½ c. diced red onion

3 T. chopped fresh basil

18 brine-cured black olives (such as Kalamata)

8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into ½-inch pieces

Fresh basil for garnish

DIRECTIONS

For Dressing:

Combine all ingredients in blender and puree.

For Salad:

Preheat oven to 450˚. Place bread cubes on large baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Cool.

Mix bread cubes, tomatoes, cucumber, onion and chopped basil in large bowl. Add enough dressing to coat generously and toss well. Let stand 10 minutes, tossing occasionally. Divide salad among plates. Top with olives and cheese. Garnish with basil sprigs.

Dinner in the Cute Little Cabin in Idyllwild

This past weekend, Tony and I celebrated our anniversary.  About a month ago, we started thinking about a place to go, not too far from home, not too expensive, and where we could bring Lulu.

I remembered that one of our neighbors had told me about Idyllwild. And, just by coincidence, there was an article in the August issue of Sunset magazine about it. They described it as “hiking, jazz, art – this mountain town has it all…find the alpine magic…in the San Jacinto Mountains, just over the hill from Palm Springs, Idyllwild sits in a forest of mixed pines…offbeat galleries, antique shops…”. Sold.  AND…it’s only a two-hour drive from San Diego.

Tony, the vacation planner (vacation planner/gardener) in the family, started looking for dog-friendly accommodations. He found a cabin called “Starlight Seclusion”.  Sold.  We packed up the car and the dog and hit the road.

“Starlight Seclusion” far exceeded our expectations.  It was rustic and charming, quiet and cozy… secluded in a pine forest with views forever.  A huge redwood deck with BBQ and hot tub.  And a cute little kitchen with an adorable red and tan tiled floor.

Yes, we made dinner the first night in the cute little kitchen.

The menu? Steaks, Double Baked Potatoes with Mushrooms and Cheese and Caesar Salad.  The potatoes are from Bon Appétit, March, 2002 issue.  I’ve made them countless times since then.  I even “once-baked” and filled them at home, and packed them in the cooler to take with us.  I made the Caesar salad dressing ahead of time too.  The salad dressing recipe came from STCG’s mom, Joy, many, many years ago (back when he was just Sam, long before he was STCG, or even thinking of becoming STCG!)

It was a perfect weekend filled with hiking, reading, relaxing, stargazing and (of course) great food.

So, here are the recipes, from the cute little cabin in Idyllwild (and, please, don’t wait for an anniversary weekend to make them!)


Double Baked Potatoes with Mushrooms and Cheese

INGREDIENTS

6 small russet potatoes (about 7 ounces each), scrubbed

5 tablespoons butter, room temperature
12 ounces mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 large green onions, chopped

3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature (about 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup sour cream
1 1/4 cups coarsely grated white cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375°F. Pierce each potato in several places with fork. Place all potatoes directly on oven rack and bake until tender, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms; sauté until beginning to brown, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Add green onions; stir until wilted, about 1 minute. Set aside.

Using oven mitts as aid, cut each potato lengthwise in half. Scoop cooked potato flesh into large bowl, leaving skin intact. Add cream cheese, sour cream, and remaining 4 tablespoons butter and mash well. Mix in mushroom mixture and 1/2 cup cheddar cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mound mashed potatoes in potato skins. Sprinkle each half with 1 tablespoon cheese. Place on baking sheet. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Bake potatoes until heated through and cheese melts, about 25 minutes, or 35 minutes if potatoes have been refrigerated.

Sam’s Mom’s Caesar

 INGREDIENTS

Salad

1 head Romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces (or one 10-oz bag all-ready cut Romaine)

1 cup good-quality croutons

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Dressing

2/3 cup olive oil

juice of one lemon (about 3 tablespoons)

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan (like Kraft “100% grated Parmesan” in that green can)

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 clove garlic, minced

DIRECTIONS

Combine all dressing ingredients by shaking in a screw-topped jar. Toss with salad ingredients in a large wooden salad bowl.

You say “to-MAY-to”…I say “to-MAH-to”!! Part One in a Series

Tony is the gardener in the family.  He has grown lettuces, radishes, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, green onions, all kinds of herbs, and TOMATOES!  Every year he plants four to six tomato plants and usually half of those plants are producing at the same time, which leaves us with an overabundance.  Oh, believe me, I’m not complaining, but it can be a challenge to use them all.  I put them in every salad. I slow roast them. I stuff them. I even attempted a homemade sauce last year (it was good, but I wouldn’t do it again!).  And then I take them to work.  Elizabeth’s daughter Skylar particularly like them! She even stuffed as many in her mouth as possible and sent me a picture (not sure about the writing on her face…I know she was coming home from a day at summer camp).

One of our favorite tomato-based salads (particularly when we have some heirlooms in the garden) is this one from Bon Appétit (August, 2003).  It’s so simple, just a few ingredients, and so delicious.  And pretty, too.  So pretty, in fact, that I used it as the cover photo on the Eat.Cook.Blog Facebook page.   And if you aren’t lucky enough to have a gardener like Tony, pick up the tomatoes at your local farmer’s market.

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Blue Cheese

INGREDIENTS

8 1/2-inch-thick slices crusty bread
4 large garlic cloves, halved
3 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup currant or grape tomatoes or halved cherry or pear tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped green onions
4-5 medium heirloom tomatoes of assorted colors, cored, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, sliced paper-thin
3 celery stalks, sliced thin on diagonal
1 1/2 cups coarsely crumbled blue cheese
DIRECTIONS

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Rub bread with cut garlic halves; brush bread with 3 tablespoons oil. Combine remaining 1/3 cup oil, currant tomatoes, and green onions in medium bowl; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

Overlap tomato slices in concentric circles on platter, alternating colors. Scatter onion and celery slices over tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spoon tomato and green onion mixture over. Sprinkle with crumbled cheese.

Grill bread until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Cut each slice diagonally in half; serve with salad.