Versatile Summer Crunch Salad

I think it is safe to say that summer has finally arrived here in the Northeast. We wait long and patiently. I’ve finally put away my heavy sweaters and traded cozy fireplace nights with dreams of warm days and cool nights. I also started dreaming up dishes that cool the palate and refresh during those toasty days. Chalk it up to another one of those times when I just started pulling whatever I had to create a salad for lunch. Now remember, salad is a term that sums up any combination of food that is cut up in small pieces, and can be served cold, room temp or even warm. Think about it; a salad can be of fruit or lettuce. It can be potato or pasta. Bean or tabouleh. You get the picture. The word salad is probably one of the most versatile words I know in the culinary world. So why not create a versatile salad, one that can be used in a variety of ways.

Here goes. As you know from other salads I’ve made, I cut each ingredient in ways that combine well for that particular salad. Some items sliced, others diced. In this salad, in order to create a chunky bite- ful, cut all the veg to approximately the same size.

The line up: Fennel, red onion, scallions, mini bell  peppers, English cucumber, celery.

The line up: Fennel, red onion, scallions, mini bell peppers, English cucumber, celery.

Ingredients

1 English cucumber, seeds removed, cut in cubes
7 mini bell peppers*, seeds removed, cut in pieces
1 heaping c fennel, stalks & bulb, cut in chunks
2 scallion, sliced
1/4 c red onion, diced
3 celery stalks, cut in pieces

* If you don’t have the mini peppers, use one regular sized red pepper

Dressing
3 T fresh lemon juice
1.5 T fennel fronds, minced
1/4 c olive oil
1/2 t salt
1/4 t black pepper

I feel silly even writing the title ‘Instructions’ and giving a step by step since all this is chop and dress. Maybe I should just leave it at that. Chop. Whisk. Dress.

For some salads I leave the seeds in an English cucumber. For this one, no seeds. I use a demitasse spoon to scrap the seeds because it’s the perfect size. Then I cut down the center lengthwise and then cut cubes.

For some salads I leave the seeds in an English cucumber. For this one, no seeds. I use a demitasse spoon to scrap the seeds because it’s the perfect size. Then I cut down the center lengthwise and then cut cubes.

Chop all your vegetables and place in a bowl. As I mentioned, for this salad, the key is chopping everything into bite sized chunks. That helps to create the crunch factor.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers

Mini bell peppers

Mini bell peppers

Red onion

Red onion

Scallions

Scallions

I used both the fennel stalks and the bulb, chopping them in chunky rounds.

I used both the fennel stalks and the bulb, chopping them in chunky rounds.

For the dressing, just whisk together all the ingredients and pour over.

Super simple, fresh mix of lemon juice, fennel fronds, salt, pepper and olive oil.

Super simple, fresh mix of lemon juice, fennel fronds, salt, pepper and olive oil.

Pour and mix and sit and think of all the ways you will use this salad.

Pour and mix and sit and think of all the ways you will use this salad.

Chunky, crisp, refreshing with lots of flavors mixed up in every bite.

Chunky, crisp, refreshing with lots of flavors mixed up in every bite.

So why is this versatile? Because it can be the base to bigger salads or to fill out a lunch plate as I did. I grilled up some asparagus, sliced some avocado and spooned a heaping of this crunch salad for a satisfying lunch.

Then the next day I included it on a lunch plate for JuanCarlos which featured salmon, arugula as a base with the crunch salad on top alongside some store bought tabouleh. Now that is a lunch for a king. King JuanCarlos.

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But in case you need a few other ideas:

  • Add chick peas, or make it a multi bean salad adding black beans and cannellini

  • Add tuna and stuff the whole kit and kaboodle into a pita

  • Cook up some pasta shells and toss them all together

  • Use the full leaves of Boston or Romaine and fill them with this mixture

Ok, you get it. That’s a start. I trust you will come up with a few of your own. For now, start with the base and build from there. Salad: versatile no matter how you dice it.

Happy Summer!

 

Manchego Cheesy Palmiers

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Sheets upon sheets of puff pastry take up a disproportionate amount of space in my freezer. For awhile, they actually took refuge in a neighbor’s freezer while I sorted out space in my own. Why, you ask, do I have so much puff pastry when I can’t even consume it? Just because I can’t enjoy its light, buttery layers of puff doesn’t mean my catering clients and guests can’t. Plus, I do enjoy creating treats with it. It’s so versatile. It’s so light. It’s so crispy and flaky. Yet still gives you a doughy mouth feel. Yes, I have a great imagination of what it would taste like. I’m working off of memory banks deep in the recesses of my mind.

So, when I needed some of this light puffiness for a catering gig a few months back I opted to buy the larger box. As expected, I knew I would find other uses for it. If you recall, it certainly came in handy dandy when I baked it up for a not too sweet dessert. Then another cocktail party gig came a-calling. That event needed a small bite. It needed to be warm. And if it were cheesy too then let’s just call it the perfect trifecta. With all this extra puff pastry, palmiers came to mind, and thus won my little heart.

In an effort to continue to prove how incredibly easy some recipes are, this is another one that falls squarely in the ‘anyone can do this’ category. Let me show you how.

In four steps, this is how simple.

  1. Roll pastry

  2. Spread cheese

  3. Fold, fold and fold again.

  4. Cut and bake.

    Ok, there is a fifth step. EAT and ENJOY!

Here are the actual steps with a few more details.

Cheese, glorious cheese. In this case Manchego.

Cheese, glorious cheese. In this case Manchego.

ingredients

1 Puff Pastry sheet, thawed
2 c Manchego cheese*, grated
1 egg, beaten plus a splash of water

* Of course, you can use whatever hard cheese you like. But my catering gig focused on tapas from Spain, therefore, Manchego was the natural choice.

instructions

  1. Take puff pastry out of the freezer and let it defrost. Once thawed, sprinkle flour on a board and roll the pastry out to 12” x 17”.

2. Generously spread 1.5 c Manchego or your desired cheese over the entire dough. Then place parchment over top and gently roll again to press the cheese into the dough.

Cover the entire surface. You’ll want cheesy goodness in every bite.

Cover the entire surface. You’ll want cheesy goodness in every bite.

A gentle roll is all you need. It helps to secure the cheese so it doesn’t fly all over the place when you fold the edges over.

A gentle roll is all you need. It helps to secure the cheese so it doesn’t fly all over the place when you fold the edges over.

3. Fold the edges in 1/3 the way, then fold and fold again until you get to the center. The folds create more of a heart shape. You can also roll the edges into the center to create more of a rounded palmier. Your choice. I wanted hearts. Also, the more folds you have the smaller the size of each one. Fewer folds creates a larger individual palmier. (Also, note that I added more cheese after the second fold. That’s only because I wanted it to be cheesy.

First fold.

First fold.

Then add another 1/2 cup of cheese before the final fold.

More cheese, please. This is the second fold. From this point, fold one more time to close it up.

More cheese, please. This is the second fold. From this point, fold one more time to close it up.

4. Cut 1/2” slices and place them cut side down on a parchment lined baking sheet, brush tops with egg wash and bake at 420 for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

All those folds will explode open into light fluffiness in the hot oven.

All those folds will explode open into light fluffiness in the hot oven.

Lightly brush with egg wash.

Lightly brush with egg wash.

It’s just that SIMPLE, and these are as cute as a button or should I say, as a heart shaped cheesy bite.

They make the ideal bite sized snack to enjoy with afternoon tea, or anytime. I also wrapped them up in parchment paper and gave them to a neighbor as a little birthday gift. (And of course, gave some to the kind neighbor who housed my pastry for way too long, thanks Antoinette!)

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And as if those reasons aren’t enough to motivate you to make them, they are perfect for stacking up on an appetizer platter. Since I was asked to bring an appetizer to a dinner party, I added them onto a cheese and charcuterie platter. They were all gobbled up!

Those are   boquerones skewers   standing up in a glass jar. They look like lollipops. Rounding out the platter:  Manchego  and  Majorero Pimentón  cheeses, my   spiced nuts  , mortadella,  Chorizo Vela , olives, roasted red pepppers, cucumbers and cornichon and  Mary’s Gone Crackers .

Those are boquerones skewers standing up in a glass jar. They look like lollipops. Rounding out the platter: Manchego and Majorero Pimentón cheeses, my spiced nuts, mortadella, Chorizo Vela, olives, roasted red pepppers, cucumbers and cornichon and Mary’s Gone Crackers.

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Try it, and I beg you to please stop saying that it’s only easy for me. I have faith in your ability, and so should you.

Rice & Quinoa With A Crunch

As I was editing the photos for this post, I dawned on me just how much inventing I actually do when it comes to food. (Well, actually anything in my life really. More to come about votive candle holders I’ve been hand painting which will be up for sale soon.) The reason it came into light was because I had forgotten that I even came up with recipe and combo until I looked at the photos. Then I went scouring through all my little slips of paper where I jot down ingredients and amounts to find the notes for this recipe. I seriously might have forgotten about it all together had it not been for this blog which requires me to write shit down. Thank you, thank you, thank you for forcing me to photograph, catalog, measure and archive all my inventions. For decades, I had been coming up with food combinations which I made that one time only, and never or rarely repeated again. The top pretexts for no repeats; one, because when I see ingredients I don’t think about what I did last time, I see something new. Two, because apparently I don’t have as good a memory as I think. Three, without writing it down, there is no way of recouping exactly what I did. So, if I don’t have a recipe or even a hint of what I once did to go by, I might as well create something fresh.

There are some recipes that I do make over and over again. Like Boquerones Skewers, Stuffed Piquillos, or Salmon Burgers or Indian Spiced Rice. Quite frankly, it’s because I have this blog to jog my memory with images and recollections of a meal past. I now use it as my own personal recipe book. (I hope you do, too.) And so at this exact moment I’ve found another raison d'être to continue writing and creating. Not just for you all, but for me, too.

I wish I could recall exactly why I came up with this one, but it escapes me now. Maybe it was that I didn’t want to just serve rice, or just quinoa and figured why not put them together. Maybe I was riffing off my Glorious Grains - Moroccan Style. Whatever the guise, I’m glad I riffed because it was a fluffy, crunchy delight. And one I will now definitely make again. This, of course, got the two thumbs up seal of approval from my daily taste testers - JuanCarlos and Jill. or J to the second power as I like to call them.

The main line up: Basmati Rice, Quinoa, Pepitas, Slivered Almonds, Fresh MInt, Red Pepper Flakes and Chinese Chives.

The main line up: Basmati Rice, Quinoa, Pepitas, Slivered Almonds, Fresh MInt, Red Pepper Flakes and Chinese Chives.

Ingredients

1 c Basmati Rice
1 c Quinoa
1/4 c Pepitas, toasted
1/4 c Slivered Almonds, lightly toasted
1 c onions, chopped
1.5 T fresh mint, julienned
1/2 t red pepper flakes (adjust to your liking)
1/2 c Chinese chives, chopped*
3 T Olve Oil
1 t salt
1/4 black pepper

Instructions


1. Sauté onions in olive oil, add salt and pepper until softened.

Chopped onions ready to soften and give off their sweetness.

Chopped onions ready to soften and give off their sweetness.

2. Add rice and quinoa and let the grains lightly toast before adding 3.5 c water, cover and let simmer

until cooked.

The onions only need to softened, then in goes the rice, then quinoa so they can toast and absorb some of the sweet onion and oil flavor.

The onions only need to softened, then in goes the rice, then quinoa so they can toast and absorb some of the sweet onion and oil flavor.

Quinoa in the pot to get coated with oil and onions, too.

Quinoa in the pot to get coated with oil and onions, too.

3. Meanwhile, in a pan toast the pepitas and almonds separately. Be careful to only lightly toast the

almonds as these are delicate and can burn quickly and easily, which is why they need to done them separately.

Toasting the pepitas.

Toasting the pepitas.

3. Mix all the ingredients together and taste for seasoning. Serve immediately.

I know I’m known for making a vinaigrette and drizzling it over a dish, but after tasting it, it actually didn’t need a thing. I conferred with JC, and he agreed. Leave it just as it is. More evidence why it’s important to taste as you go. However, if you wanted to make this more of a salad type of dish you could add a lemon vinaigrette. It will change the texture of both the starches and the crunch factor, but I imagine it would tasty just the same. Try it my way first, then decide for yourself.

Everything ready.

Everything ready.

In go the pepitas.

In go the pepitas.

In go the almonds.

In go the almonds.

I may seem like a lot of chives, but it’s not. It’s actually the perfect amount.

I may seem like a lot of chives, but it’s not. It’s actually the perfect amount.

Mix it all up gently. I was going to add a vinaigrette but JuanCarlos tasted it and said it needed NOTHING else. So there you have it.

Mix it all up gently. I was going to add a vinaigrette but JuanCarlos tasted it and said it needed NOTHING else. So there you have it.

I guess it doesn’t matter why I came up with this combo, it only matters that it answered the call. And it definitely delivered on my hope for serving more than just rice or just quinoa. And the deciding factors were:

The red pepper flakes gave a hint of heat while the mint produced a fresh, vibrancy.

Heat

Heat

Cools the heat

Cools the heat

The Chinese chives provided that mild onion note.

Chinese chives. Longer and flatter.

Chinese chives. Longer and flatter.

It may seem like a lot but you need a lot to cut through the starch

It may seem like a lot but you need a lot to cut through the starch

And of course, the pepitas and almonds packed the crunch, which you know I love.

Crunch AKA Pepitas

Crunch AKA Pepitas

Crunch2 AKA Slivered Almonds

Crunch2 AKA Slivered Almonds

All in all, a great little side dish starch that fills the belly and the soul. I served it with lentils and sautéd grey sole.

A medley of flavors. Fluffy AND Crunchy. How great is that?

A medley of flavors. Fluffy AND Crunchy. How great is that?

Baked Cod

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How to break the code on cod? My husband has an absolute love for this fish. I, however, teeter on a more love hate relationship. Maybe it’s because for a long time this was his fish of choice, making it often and in the same way. Once or twice he cooked it encased in salt. Which was pretty good, but gosh darn, a mountainous waste of salt. And I mean a colossal waste. Given my ambivalence for this solid white fish, it came as a bit of a surprise when at the fish store I up and purchased cod. When I tell you I have a love hate relationship, it leans less on the love side, so I was seriously concerned about my decision making skills. Yet, as I wandered the store second guessing myself, my reasoning came into full view as I foraged through the vegetable section selecting only the best. That was it. The fact is that when I shop, I shop for the freshest items. Period, end of story. I don’t shop thinking I have to buy this or that. Since nothing seemed as fresh as the cod fish, it was a forgone conclusion that would be my choice. The first part of the cod decoding done.

As I got misted from the produce sprinklers reaching into the vegetable section, I tossed into my basket; carrots, Chinese cabbage, turnips and a variety of mushrooms.

Back home and determined to continue decoding the cod situation, I dreamed up with my own invention. Lucky for me my sister was around so I would have an ally in my cod corner. And JC’s cod the same way would take a rest for the day. Here’s how it went down.

Also, for some of my readers who might feel that my recipes seem easy to only me, I would like use this recipe as an example of an easy one pot meal. It’s chop, sauté, season and bake in the oven simple. I would love to hear your feedback, so comment away!!

The fresh line up; garlic, carrots, celery, Chinese cabbage.

The fresh line up; garlic, carrots, celery, Chinese cabbage.

Ingredients

1.5 lbs. Cod Fish
1 large turnip, sliced (approx. 1 c)
4.5 c Chinese or Nappa Cabbage, chopped
1.5 c carrots, sliced
2.5 c celery, sliced
3 garlic cloves. sliced
1 t salt
1/8 t black pepper
1//2 t turmeric (for the cod)
pinch of cumin (for the cod)
Magic 3 - olive oil, salt, pepper

Chop it all up. I decided to go long diagonals keeping everything looking the same and cooking the same.

Chop it all up. I decided to go long diagonals keeping everything looking the same and cooking the same.

Instructions

1.In a large sauté pan, add oil, carrots, celery, garlic and season with salt and pepper.

First cook down the heartier vegetables just until they are soft.

First cook down the heartier vegetables just until they are soft.

2. Sauté the vegetables until softened, then add cabbage. Cook until wilted.

3. Season the cod fillets with turmeric, cumin, salt and pepper.

Make sure that the fish is dry before you season.

Make sure that the fish is dry before you season.

4. Then make a spot in the pan by moving the vegetables to create a hole to place the fish. Add a drop of oil to ensure the fish does not stick.

Make a nice resting spot for the fish to reside while they cook in the oven.

Make a nice resting spot for the fish to reside while they cook in the oven.

5. Cook on the stove top for a few minutes then place in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. The fish should be soft and fall apart when pressed with a finger.

Delicate, mild and flaky, this lightly spiced fish melts into the softened vegetables perfectly.

Delicate, mild and flaky, this lightly spiced fish melts into the softened vegetables perfectly.

A one pot full of flavors that subtly meld together.

A one pot full of flavors that subtly meld together.

I served this dish with a mixture of mushrooms and black rice sautéd with scallions and onions. Cod - decoded and done to perfection. Jill loved this dish and has mentioned wanting to “relive” it again soon. I guess it was a success.

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Polenta & Parmigiano Crusted Cauliflower Slabs

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I really love cauliflower. I can’t say that I always did. As a kid, my mom used to disguise it by slathering the entire head with buttery bread crumbs. It gave the soft cauliflower a much needed texture and provided a yummy, crunchy flavor before hitting the softness of the veg. That crispy texture was everything. Maybe that’s where my need to crunchy foods emerged. Ah ha, case solved.

I have grown to love cauliflower more and more over the years, and have cut it up, roasted it up, spiced it up a few different ways. My famously easy Faux Creamy Cauliflower Soup launched this blog and is an all time favorite among my readers. I Spiced & Roasted it. I’ve made it into a cheesy dip and even put it in a vegetable soup. This cruciferous, nutritious vegetable is a versatile little bugger.

On this cauliflower adventure I traveled back to my youth, and that first encounter - cauliflower with a crunch. I decided to take the encrusted idea to a new level. As you know, I can’t eat bread, which means the crunch would have to come from something other than bread crumbs. But what? I dug into my Italian heritage looking for crusty, gluten free ideas. Voilá, aka Ecco in Italian. Not one thing Italian. 2 things Italian would do the trick. Polenta and Parmigiano Reggiano.

And I’m not kidding when I say that this is truly an easy, roast veg dish. As some of you have said, “oh, easy for you.” But this, my friends, is ridiculously easy.

Ingredients

1 large cauliflower head
1/4 c polenta
3/4 c Parmigiano Reggiano
1/4 t salt
1/8 t pepper
Olive oil

You can either cut the cauliflower head into small florets or slice big slabs. I did both since you can really only get 3-4 slabs then little florets naturally fall off.

For this test run, I only used a 3 main ingredients. Call it the getting my feet wet before I dove in deep.

All this white will turn a beautiful golden brown.

All this white will turn a beautiful golden brown.

Instructions

  1. Wash, dry then cut the cauliflower into slabs

  2. Arrange the pieces on a baking sheet and drizzle them with oil, salt and pepper and bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile grate the cheese and set aside.

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Combine the polenta and cheese together.

Combine the polenta and cheese together.

4. Once the cauliflower is browned, flip them. Once flipped, douse them with the crunch factor, aka Polenta and Parm mix. Drizzle with more oil and back in the oven until browned and crunchy.

See those nicely browned spots. That equals yum.

See those nicely browned spots. That equals yum.

Make sure you coat all the surfaces. You’ll want that crunchy goodness everywhere.

Make sure you coat all the surfaces. You’ll want that crunchy goodness everywhere.

Up close and looking good.

Up close and looking good.

The polenta really adds the crunch factor. And I just loved that golden color. I kept it simple for this first revival of crunchy cauliflower, but I think you can imagine how easy it would be to spice these up and change the flavor profile. You could add turmeric and cumin for more Indian flavors. Or oregano and basil to amp up the Italian theme. Go for 5 spice or Caradom for an earthy flavor with a hint of sweet. Sky is the limit, my friends.

These make a perfect side dish for any meal. Or enjoy a slab with a large salad for lunch.