Saturday, June 29, 2013

Mediterranean Mashup Salad

I LOVE a good Greek salad...cucumbers and tomatoes and feta, oh my!  It is the ultimate summer salad for me and now that the good backyard tomatoes are out in full force, there is no reason to let this one wait.  

Since the carb loving girl in me can't resist a great panzanella salad, I was thrilled to see Ina Garten do a great panzanella/greek salad mashup.  Garlicky, feta-y and super crunchy, a better lunch cannot be had on a day when the temperatures rise above 80 degrees.  Throw a piece of Costco roasted chicken on the side (because who the hell wants to turn on the oven on a day like today?) and you have an enviable meal.  Have your significant other show off his/her mixology skills (like Jeff did today with cucumber soda and gin cocktails) and you have a meal that lifts right off the pages of Sunset Magazine.  

Get thee to a market for the ingredients and whip this one up!


For the salad:

2 tbsp. olive oil
4 cups sourdough bread cubes (1 inch)...I took a sourdough sliced loaf from Sprouts and went to town.
Kosher salt
1 cucumber, peeled, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick  (OR persian cucumber, not peeled and cut into chunks...much easier)
1 red bell pepper, large diced
1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved OR 4 or 5 bigger tomatoes, preferably from someone's backyard, chopped into 1 inch chunks
1/4 red onion, sliced thin
4-6 oz. crumbled feta cheese
2.5 oz. can sliced black olives, drained (husband doesn't dig these, so they didn't make it into ours)

For the vinaigrette:

2 cloves garlic, minced
1¼ tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil


To prepare the salad, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the bread cubes and sprinkle with salt; cook over medium heat, tossing frequently, for 5-10 minutes, until nicely browned. Remove from the heat.  You can do this while cutting up all the other veggies.

Combine the cucumber, bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onion in a large bowl.
To make the vinaigrette, combine the garlic, oregano, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil to create an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Add the feta, olives, and bread cubes. Mix together lightly. You can set it aside for 30 minutes to let the flavors blend OR just scarf it down as is and it is still pretty darn good.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Shaved Fennel Salad

Oh, the cruelty of early summer.  Yeah, cherries abound and you can find those amazing Blenheim apricots at the farmer's markets. But real summer fun has yet to begin with peaches (peach crisp, anybody?) and amazing tomatoes (nothing like Ad Hoc's gazpacho in the blender on a hot day) and super sweet watermelon (can't wait to make again this watermelon and feta salad.) 

But one of the beauties of spring is fennel which, though available year round, is at it's best right now.  And this salad (adapted from Heidi Swanson's fantastic book, Super Natural Every Day , though simple in ingredients, is very very big on flavor and presentation both.  With it's bright citrusy flavor, crunchy veggie base and salty feta thing going on, it is a perfect gateway to summer kind of salad.  And it is pretty.  Never underestimate the power of pretty in food.


1 medium-large zucchini, sliced into paper thin coins
2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and shaved paper-thin
2/3 cup loosely chopped fresh Italian Parsley (yeah, I totally forgot this step, still good.)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper 
4 or 5 generous handfuls arugula
Honey, if needed
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled


Combine the zucchini, fennel and Italian parsley in a bowl and toss with the lemon juice, olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside and marinate for 20 minutes, or up to an hour.
When you are ready to serve the salad, put the arugula in a large bowl. Scoop all of the zucchini and fennel onto the arugula, and pour most of the lemon juice dressing on top of that. Toss gently but thoroughly. Taste and adjust with more of the dressing, olive oil, lemon juice, or salt if needed. If the lemons were particularly tart, you may need to counter the pucker-factor by adding a tiny drizzle of honey into the salad at this point. Let your taste buds guide you. Serve topped with pine nuts and feta.

Serves 4 to 6.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Maple Cider Popcorn Balls

I have made traditional popcorn balls a couple of times in my life...they never quite tasted as good as they looked.  They were too "one note" for my tastes.  I saw this recipe in the Tasting Table Kitchen Blog and thought, "One more chance."  Glad I did. 


And the best part is that in spite of the copious amounts of butter and sugar via marshmallows, one could maybe sort of justify it as a more healthy snack than your average buttery sugary snack since it boasts puffed versions of the ancient (and therefore good for you, right?) grains kamut and, I can feel my cholesterol dropping even as I write this.  And the carmelized maple-y apple thing really puts it to another level.

The real key is that they are definitely not One Note Nancys (apologies to my many friends named Nancy.)  The different grains (and kettle corn) create different texture and the caramelized maple syrup/apple cider/marshmallow glaze ain't half bad.  Puffed Kamut and Puffed Millet can be found at Whole Foods, or more cheaply at Sprouts Market.  

And speaking of Sprouts Market, word is that it will be opening in Westwood on May 1st.  That means I can walk to purchase their amazing dark chocolate covered honeycomb.  Good thing it is a very long walk.

1½ cups unsweetened puffed rice cereal
1½ cups puffed Kamut cereal (or substitute puffed rice cereal)
½ cup puffed millet cereal
7 cups store-bought kettle corn or freshly popped popcorn (preferably kettle corn-style, lightly buttered or unflavored)
¾ cup apple cider or juice
¼ cup maple syrup
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt
6 ounces marshmallows (either 3 cups mini marshmallows or 3¼ cups jumbo marshmallows)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Generously coat the interior of a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray. On a rimmed baking sheet, place the puffed rice, puffed Kamut and puffed millet, and bake in the oven until fragrant and toasted, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool for a few minutes and then transfer to the greased bowl. Add the popcorn and use your fingers to combine.
2. To a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, add the apple cider and maple syrup and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the maple-cider mixture produces thick, foamy bubbles and the temperature on an instant-read thermometer is 250°, 12 to 15 minutes (you can also test the temperature by dipping a metal spoon into the hot maple caramel and then submerging it in ice water; after 5 seconds, you should be able to press the bit of cooled caramel into a soft ball) ( took a LOT longer than 15 minutes for me and I ended up raising the heat level to medium high.) Turn off the heat and add 2 tablespoons of butter, whisking to combine, then whisk in the cinnamon and salt.
3. While the maple-apple cider mixture caramelizes, melt the marshmallows: In a medium skillet set over medium-high heat, add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Once melted, add the marshmallows and reduce the heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally until the marshmallows are melted, about 3 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the maple-cider caramel into the marshmallow mixture, whisking to combine. Immediately scrape the marshmallow-maple caramel over the popcorn mixture and use a wooden spoon to thoroughly combine. The mixture will become very webby.
4. Immediately use the nonstick cooking spray to generously spray your hands and form the mixture into nine 3-inch balls, respraying your hands as needed to prevent sticking. Place the popcorn balls on a baking sheet and set aside for least 1 hour to set up before eating. (To store, wrap the popcorn balls in plastic wrap and place in an airtight container for up to 5 days.)