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)

INGREDIENTS

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

DIRECTIONS

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.

Pesto

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.

Presentation

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.

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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!

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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)

INGREDIENTS

Dressing:

(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.

Salad:

(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

 INGREDIENTS

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

salt

freshly ground pepper

Salad:

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

DIRECTIONS

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.

Grilled Lemony-Herb Cauliflower Steaks

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The other night we were trying to think of a side dish to have with burgers.  Tony says, “How about grilled cauliflower?  I think I saw a recipe for cauliflower steaks in one of our magazines recently.”  Hmmmm…intriguing.  I’ve come to find that most veggies are better either grilled or roasted.  So I Googled.  I found the one he was referring to, in Bon Appétit.  Cauliflower Steaks with Olive Relish and Tomato Sauce.  Well, they weren’t grilled and they were a little more complicated than I wanted and I am not a fan of olives. So back to Google.  I actually found a bunch of recipes for grilled cauliflower steaks.  I knew I wanted to just brush with a little olive oil, maybe some lemon juice and herbs, but I wanted to find the method.  So I ended up combing ideas from a few of the recipes.  The result?  A-mazing.  The cauliflower gets all nutty and caramelized….mmmm…goodness.  Yummy.  Healthy.  Delicious.

Note – one whole head of cauliflower was devoured by the two of us.  You’ll see that when you start slicing the cauliflower, you only really get three or four “steaks”.  The rest falls off into big (and some small florets).  You can grill the bigger floret pieces.  Save the smaller ones for dipping into hummus.

Grilled Lemony-Herb Cauliflower Steaks

INGREDIENTS

(Serves two)

1 head cauliflower

1/4 cup olive oil

juice of one lemon

2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped small

1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

DIRECTIONS

Preheat grill to medium-low.

Whisk olive oil, lemon juice, basil, parsley and oregano.

Remove outer leaves and trim stem end of cauliflower, leaving core intact. Place cauliflower core side down on a work surface. Using a large knife, slice cauliflower into three or four 1/2″ “steaks” from center of cauliflower.  Some pieces will fall off.  You can grill the larger pieces.  Save the small florets for dipping, raw, into hummus, for a healthy snack.

Brush both sides of the cauliflower steaks with olive oil mixture. Grill cauliflower on each side, brushing with additional olive oil mixture, until cauliflower is nutty brown and tender but still firm, about 3 or 4 minutes per side.  Serve warm and with additional olive oil/lemon/herb mixture for dipping.

Pomegranate and Queso Fresco Salsa

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Rosh Hashanah starts Wednesday at sundown.  I kept meaning to write a post with a nice recipe for the holiday.  Trouble is, yesterday was Labor Day, we had a few people over for a nice BBQ, which was a lot of fun, but I was in barbecue mode, not really in the Jewish holiday mindset (though I did use Martha’s idea for using a carved out apple as a honey dish and we all said a quick blessing over apples and honey).

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It’s also been unbelievably HOT and humid in San Diego lately.  I think it was 95 degrees today.  (Not really thinking about kugel and roast chicken right now…oy.)  So late last night, I went to the Epicurious site and saw “get ready for Rosh Hashanah with these recipes for the Jewish New Year”.  There were a few categories…”Apples, Honey, Brisket, Pomegranate”.  I wasn’t really interested in a baked apple kugel or a honey cake and for sure not roasting a brisket for four hours, so I clicked on “Pomegranate”.  I actually love using pomegranate arils (seeds) in all kinds of different dishes (see below), including the infamous Pomegranate Margarita.

Okay, and here’s your Jewish lesson for today.  We all know why we dip apples in honey at Rosh Hashanah, right? It symbolizes our wish for a sweet new year.  But do you know why we eat pomegranates? For one, because they are a “new fruit” (meaning, a fruit that has recently come into season but that we have not yet had the opportunity to eat).  A pomegranate is often used as this new fruit…Israel is praised for its pomegranates. It is also said that they contain 613 seeds just as there are 613 mitzvot (commandments).  And (my favorite), it symbolizes that the new year should be bursting with sweetness and blessings as numerous as the seeds of the pomegranate.

Back to the pomegranate recipes.  I found this one for Pomegranate and Queso Fresco Salsa from Marcela Valladolid, Mexican Made Easy: Everyday Ingredients, Extraordinary Flavor.  Sounded really delicious and easy.  And I do love Mexican food.  Thought it would be really good on carne asada tacos.  Done and done.  I did alter it just a bit (used Cotija cheese rather than queso fresco, because that’s what I had on hand and added a little lime juice).  Oh, and truth be told, when I stopped at Trader Joe’s, I bought a package of their fresh pomegranate seeds and, yes, some already marinated carne asada.

It was muy delicioso in the tacos.  I think it would also be delicious on grilled fish, chicken (like paillards) or lamb.  You can do any of these for a non-traditional Rosh Hashanah meal OR, I bet it would be a perfect accompaniment to a roast chicken…or, dare I say, brisket?

Oh, and here are some of my other favorite Rosh Hashanah recipes here on the blog:  Apple/Pomegranate/Blue Cheese Salad with Honey Vinaigrette, Seven Species Salad, Apples & Honey Cake, Spiced Applesauce Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting,  and Oatmeal/Pomegranate/White Chocolate Chip Cookies.

L’shana Tova and may the new year be bursting with sweetness and blessings as numerous as the seeds of the pomegranate!

Pomegranate and Queso Fresco Salsa

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 cup pomegranate seeds, from one large pomegranate* (or one TJ’s 5.3 oz. package)

2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil

2 tablespoons crumbled queso fresco (or Cotija or feta)

1 teaspoon olive oil

juice of one lime

salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden, about 4 minutes.  Transfer to a plate to cool.

In a small bowl, mix the seeds, basil, cheese and cooled pine nuts.  Drizzle with the olive oil and lime juice.  Stir gently.  Season with salt and pepper.

*To seed fresh 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.

Grilled Artichokes with Parsley and Garlic and Creamy Champagne Vinaigrette

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My new favorite appetizer.  Artichokes grilled and then tossed with some fresh chopped Italian parsley and garlic and served with a creamy champagne vinaigrette for dipping.

We had these at a friend’s house about a month ago (thank you Margo!) and I couldn’t stop eating them.  Like literally could not stop eating them.  They were really delicious. (The rest of the dinner was delicious too…Margo is an amazing cook.  But these artichokes! Mmmm…mmm…mmm!)

Of course, I had to ask where she got the recipe and she said from Food Network’s Giada de Laurentiis.  And then, of course, as soon as I got home, had to Google “Giada grilled artichokes”.  There were actually two recipes that were pretty similar; one called Grilled Artichokes with Parsley and Garlic and the other Grilled Artichokes with Creamy Champagne Vinaigrette.  Aha!  I believe Margo used the one with parsley and then made the vinaigrette dipping sauce.

So that’s exactly what we did when we made these last week. Again, I couldn’t stop eating them. I could make a meal of just these artichokes.  (And I just might!)   I’ll be serving them a LOT this summer!

Grilled Artichokes with Parsley and Garlic and Creamy Champagne Vinaigrette

adapted slightly from two Giada de Laurentiis recipes

INGREDIENTS

6 fresh artichokes

2 lemons halved, plus 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

Trim the stem from each artichoke to 1-inch long.  Using kitchen scissors, remove the thorns from the tips of the artichoke leaves. Cut top inch of artichokes with serrated knife. Quarter each artichoke. Using a small, sharp knife, cut out the choke and remove the purple, prickly tipped leaves from the center of each wedge.

Place finished artichokes in a large bowl of cold water and squeeze 2 lemons into the water and stir. Continue with remaining artichokes.  Once finished, drain the artichokes and place into boiling water and cook until crisp-tender, about 12 minutes.

Drain the cooked artichokes and place onto preheated grill. Cook until tender and lightly charred in spots, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium sized bowl, add remaining lemon juice (1/3 cup) parsley, garlic and salt and pepper, to taste. Gradually drizzle in olive oil.

Toss the grilled artichokes with the garlic/parsley mixture.  Arrange the artichokes on a platter and serve with champagne vinaigrette alongside for dipping!

Creamy Champagne Vinaigrette

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup crème fraiche

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS

In a medium bowl, whisk together the crème fraiche, olive oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper until smooth.

No-Knead Artisan Bread

Oh, the aroma of freshly baked bread!  Can there be anything better?  Bread is our most basic, yet one of the most delicious and satisfying, foods.  In the words of Robert Browning, English poet and playwright, “If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”  Okay, so maybe that’s a little over the top, but bread is a very good thing.  And what could be more rewarding than baking your own?

What I’m about to share with you is a really easy bread recipe.  Really.  Easy.  Bread.  Recipe.  And delicious.  AND you can make the dough, use as much or as little as you want, and then keep the rest in the fridge for up to two weeks (though I doubt it’ll actually last that long.  Even with just the two of us, we went through the whole thing in a week.  It is so good!!)

The recipe comes from Kathleen Flinn’s book The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Women into Fearless Home Cooks.  I had the pleasure and honor of meeting and baking bread with Kathleen at a fun Adventures by the Book author event not too long ago.  She was so knowledgeable and so inspiring!  Kathleen also wrote The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, a memoir, with recipes, about her experiences leaving the corporate world to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.  The Kitchen Counter Cooking School explores a project in which she tries to understand why people rely on convenience foods and what kinds of cooking lessons make an impact on inexperienced cooks.

I personally learned more about cooking from these two books than I have from any cookbook in my expansive collection.  I mean, we all know how much I love Smitten Kitchen, but Kathleen shares some good basic information…not only useful hints like the proper way to hold a knife, but good nutrition information and reasons why its less expensive and healthier, to cook, rather than buy, frozen or pre-prepared packaged meals.  Did you know that a basic Fettucini Alfredo sauce has basically only two ingredients…heavy cream and Parmesan cheese?  So why would you buy a boxed or frozen variety that’s loaded with all kinds of preservatives and ingredients you don’t need?

Okay, so I digress.  I’m going to say it again…the bread is really delicious and really easy.  And I’d like all of you to give it a try.  I’ve got a batch of dough in the fridge waiting to be baked.  You can mix it up a little by using half whole wheat flour.  Or stirring in a bit of your favorite fresh herbs.  And I’m telling you, once you’ve baked and tasted bread that you’ve made from scratch, it’ll be really difficult to rationalize buying a little loaf of artisan bread at the supermarket for $4!  (Plus, really, just the aroma of bread baking in your oven…wafting from your kitchen??!?!?)

No-Knead Artisan Bread

(makes four 1-pound loaves)

The original recipe is adapted from www.artisanbreadinfive.com

INGREDIENTS

3 cups lukewarm water

1 tablespoon yeast

1 tablespoon kosher salt

6-1/2 cups unsifted unbleached all purpose white flour (or you can use half whole wheat flour)

Additional flour to create loaves

Cornmeal

DIRECTIONS

Combine water, yeast and salt in 5-quart bowl or plastic container. Stir to mix. Add all flour at once and mix with a wooden spoon until dough is wet and sticky with no dry patches. Cover with plastic wrap or lid (but do not seal airtight…you want the gases from the yeast able to escape) and let rise for 2 hours at room temperature. If you are not using immediately, you can refrigerate the dough, covered, for up to 2 weeks.

To make a loaf, lightly sprinkle flour onto dough’s surface. Scoop a handful about size of grapefruit and tear away from the rest. Rub the dough with flour while gently stretching the top around to tuck the sides into the bottom to form a round, smooth blob.  Note:  Tonight, at this point, I chopped a couple tablespoons of fresh rosemary and “kneaded” it into the dough…it was amazing!  Put the loaf on a pizza peel or cutting board dusted with cornmeal to prevent sticking.  Let it rise, uncovered,  for at least half an hour or up to 90 minutes.

About 20 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450°. Place a broiler tray or other flat metal pan on the bottom rack of oven. Put a cookie sheet, pizza stone, or cast iron skillet on middle rack.

Dust the loaf liberally with flour. Slash top with “X” or  3 lines. Slide bread onto pre-heated cookie sheet, pizza stone, or cast iron skillet. Carefully pour one cup of water into broiler pan. Close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake for 30 minutes, until the crust is brown and the loaf feels light and hollow. Cool to room temperature.

Keep the remaining dough in the fridge. Use as desired. So good.  And really delicious toasted!

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.

Apple, Green Onion and Jalapeño Salsa for your Latkes

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In the words of Adam Sandler, “Put on your yarmulke, here comes Hanukkah…its so much fun-akkah to celebrate Hanukkah!” And what’s the best part of Hanukkah?  Latkes.  Latkes are those delicious potato pancakes, fried in oil…the oil symbolizing the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days, when it was only supposed to last for one (you all know this story, right?)

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Traditionally, latkes are served with sour cream and applesauce.  I am not really a fan of applesauce.  I mean, I’ll have a little dollop with my latkes, but only a little and with a much more significant amount of sour cream and, really, only because I just feel like it’s heresy not to.  Sooooo…a few years ago, when this recipe for an apple salsa appeared in a Bon Appétit article called A Feast That Shines Bright, I was thrilled!  I’ve been making it and serving it ever since.  Of course, I still have to put out a bowl of applesauce to make everyone else happy.

Happy Hanukkah!!

Apple, Green Onion and Jalapeño Salsa for your Latkes

(adapted from Bon Appétit, December 2004)

INGREDIENTS

1-1/2 pounds your favorite apples (about 3 large), peeled (optional – I never do) and cored

1/2 cup minced green onion (about four large, white and light green parts only)

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons minced seeded jalapeño chile (about half a medium chile)

1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Sour cream (for serving)

Latkes (duh), made from your favorite recipe.  I have been using Marlene Sorosky’s forever.

DIRECTIONS

Okay, there are a couple ways to do this.  I usually use my food processor.  If you’re doing this, cut apples, japlapeño and green onions into big chunks.  Put all into the bowl of your food processor fitted with the chopping blade.  Toss in the cilantro.  Pulse a few times to finely chop…but don’t chop too much and turn it into a paste (or worse…applesauce!)!  Remove to large bowl.

OR…you can finely chop everything by hand.

In small bowl, whisk lime juice, honey and cinnamon to blend; stir into chopped apple mixture.  Season with salt and pepper.  (Can be made 6 hours ahead.  Cover and chill).

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.