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.

Easter Ideas - A Story From Past Posts

Some traditional Italian Easter appetizers.   Pizza Rustica   , fresh tomatoes and burrata, crisp fennel/olive oil.

Some traditional Italian Easter appetizers. Pizza Rustica , fresh tomatoes and burrata, crisp fennel/olive oil.

Here comes that bunny hopping down the lane. Chocolate and candy and weird marshmallow treats will fill grass lined baskets, for the strangest mash up of a religious holiday and spring rituals. Forget the odd Cadbury egg which oozes some strange goo from its center, or those spongey artificial colored bunnies. Let’s talk real food. Nutritious, delicious food. If you find yourself hosting this holiday clash of traditions, I’m here to help with some ideas. As we know, Easter marks the coming of Spring and all things fresh and new. But I believe revival is just as good as new, if not better. So, instead of overwhelming you with new recipes, why not resurrect a few from past posts to parse out some suggestions to guide you through the food choice conundrum.

Let’s start at the very beginning… A very good place to start. Appetizers. Here are few.

3 Dips a Dipping

Given that there are 3 distinct dips/flavors and 3 different hearty veggies for dipping in the recipe, you can serve just this for an appetizer and be done.

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5 Appetizers That Impress

This post featured 5 different appetizer options that fill the tummy and impress your guests. Pick one or two and call it a day.

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Smoked Trout Cucumber Bites

Crisp and refreshing, these are as easy as slice, scoop and top.

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Salad Course
Moving onto the next course, salads are ideal for an Easter dinner because it marks the freshness of spring. So, why not start the meal with salad first before you even bring out the main course. Here are a few ideas, including the one where I plated the salad and encouraged, (alright, maybe ‘forced’) my guests to eat it first. It worked, they ate it up.

Citrus Bowl Salad - One by One

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Graped Up Bibb Salad

A fresh salad that offers crisp fennel and hint of sweet pop from grapes. Easy and delicious.

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Pretty in Pink Salad

For a super special salad that serves both as an appetizer and salad course, try this gorgeous salad that features figs and burrata. This one will really wow your guests.

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Main Courses

Lamb is the Easter/Springtime king of meats. It is traditionally served for this holiday. But…

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…if you feel like doing what we have done a few times, switch it up and serve other meats. Here are a few ideas.

Oh So Yummy Osso Buco

This is hearty and with a sauce that makes it feel luxurious. Serve it with polenta or pasta and your guests will feel like royalty… well fed royalty.

A Belly Full of Pork
This is another hearty alternative to lamb that offers a rich sauce that can also be served with a starch such as potatoes, pasta or polenta.

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Roasted Lemon Sole
For those who may not eat meat, serve a lemon sole, simply roasted with parsley, onions and tomatoes. It’s light but makes a satisfying fish dish.

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Of course, the blog is filled with lots of other recipes and ideas, including table settings and flowers. Please browse, search and reminisce from past posts to help you plan a wonderful holiday meal to enjoy with your guests. Hosting is about sharing. Sharing food, drink, laughter and above all LOVE.

Happy Easter

 
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Watercress, Cucumber & Herbed Butter Tea Sandwiches

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There are a ton of ways to say it…

Ask and you shall receive

Put it out there

Tell the universe what you want

Whatever saying you espouse, it’s all based on energy and the Laws of Attraction. If you want something, all you have to do is ask. Once you float an idea out there, the universe, full of energy, tries to provide you with the answer. I can attest to this theory in dozens of real life examples. I could go on and on about the “careful what you wish for“ statement. Which seems a bit more negative in tone than it’s true meaning. But it heeds the warning of be mindful of what you put forth because your wish will probably be granted. And so mine was. Sure, it had been brewing for some time, but the universe doesn’t have deadlines. It delivers what you need when you need it.

Now granted this is not one of those major life altering wishes. It was way more frivolous. More like a desire and Saturday morning daydream. None the less, it was a wish. I had been wanting to throw a tea party for the longest time. I know, you are thinking; Really, after all that blabber on the universe providing and it’s energy and that is what you wished for? It was. No judgement, please. However, I had two big hesitations. One, I can’t eat bread, and two, who would I invite? The latter is an easy challenge to overcome. The former, well that is another story entirely, which is why I have never thrown a tea party. BUT, out there I put the thought. Floating around like whisper waiting to be heard. And so, there was a cosmic little giggle when I was recently asked to cater a tea party. And there it was… Call it serendipity. Call it fate. Call it my prayers were answered. Call it whatever you like, but I asked and I received. And the funny part of it was, it literally answered all the challenges. Since it wasn’t MY tea party I didn’t have to eat the bread, or figure out who to invite. Talk about wishes coming true.

This is one of the easiest and most classic tea sandwiches.

Ingredients

Black Rye Bread
Watercress
English Cucumber, thin round slices

Herbed Butter, room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 T chives, chopped
2 T parsley
1 T lemon juice
Lemon zest
1 t salt

 

Instructions

1.First things first, make the herbed butter. Start with softened room temperature unsalted butter. It is important that the butter is really soft so the added ingredients can be blended in thoroughly and easily. Chop the herbs. Then using a mixer with a paddle attachment, blend together. Add the lemon juice, zest and salt to taste, mix a bit more but do not over mix. Set aside and leave at room temperature so it is easy to spread on the bread.

The best part about this butter is that you can place it in plastic wrap, roll it up like a log and freeze. You can then slice it anytime you want. Add it to rice or noodles or to finish a steak or fish.

I made a a lot because I had to make plenty of sandwiches. I froze the leftovers

I made a a lot because I had to make plenty of sandwiches. I froze the leftovers

2. Wash and thoroughly dry the watercress. Thinly slice the cucumber into rounds.

3. Get all the ingredients ready, placing the bread out.

4. Heavily butter one side, then lightly butter the other side of the bread. Then place the cucumber down first.

Line everything up to create your own assembly line. Of course, I made way more than you will need, but the concept still works even for a few sandwiches.

Line everything up to create your own assembly line. Of course, I made way more than you will need, but the concept still works even for a few sandwiches.

I placed 3 slices in a row x3. This way when I cut the bread into finger sandwiches I used the cucumber rows as my guide to create 3 bite sized sandwiches.

I placed 3 slices in a row x3. This way when I cut the bread into finger sandwiches I used the cucumber rows as my guide to create 3 bite sized sandwiches.

5. Pile the watercress on top. Close the sandwich and trim the crusts. Then cut the full sandwich into smaller finger sandwich pieces. I chose to cut these into thirds. You can also cut them in quarters to create squares or on a diagonal to create diamonds. Your choice. It tastes the same no matter the shape. It’s all about your visual preference, so do what turns you on.

When only using but a few ingredients freshness is of the utmost importance.

When only using but a few ingredients freshness is of the utmost importance.

I needed plenty of finger sandwiches for my event. Assembly line work is in my blood and makes the task go faster.

I needed plenty of finger sandwiches for my event. Assembly line work is in my blood and makes the task go faster.

The scraps. Just as edible, if you like the crust.

The scraps. Just as edible, if you like the crust.

This sandwich has such a wonderful flavor profile. The butter provides a huge amount by giving you sweet, salt and herbaceous notes. The watercress is slightly peppery and the cucumber is crisp and cool. The bread, well that is down right comforting while also adding an earthiness. This simple little sandwich packs a powerful big punch.

I hope your wishes all come true. Remember to be mindful of what you ask… the universe is listening.

 
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3 Dips a Dipping...

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Life with an obsessive buyer.

Well, I guess that’s the view from hubby, JuanCarlos’, seats. I buy things; be it material scraps, vintage dishes, glassware, and even food ingredients with big ideas. Sometimes with no specific ideas at all, I just love how they look and I’ll figure it out later. Maybe that is what I should have called this blog. Buy it Now - Figure it Out Later.

In the looking good category, I’m often tempted by the olive bar at specialty stores. Or the condiment and cheese aisles. Who wouldn’t? They are stocked with alluring foods. So, it’s no wonder that when you open my fridge you will encounter jars and containers of what JC likes to call stragglers. Annoying stragglers, to be exact. We differ greatly in our view points. I love having these food items around because they come in handy in a pinch. On the flip side, my husband finds these types of jars, containers and “dangling participles’ quite annoying. The main reason: he doesn’t have much use for these ingredients, hence the questioning as to why we need so many of them. Which often leads to him needing to shift, maneuver around and rejigger them in the fridge. Of course, I see the absolute need for these, but I’m willing to consider his point of view; me as condiment hoarder for the ‘just in case’ moment.

In an effort to keep the peace around the holidays (at least that is what I’m telling him), I decided to make him happy and clean the fridge from condiment craze. Yet, we all know the real reason. I’m a serial something from nothing, experimentalist. I can’t help myself from looking at ingredients and seeing what they could be. And what perfect timing, as we look down the barrel of the final few holiday parties and gatherings left in the year, a trio of dips comes in handy. Dips are not just useful for dipping, but great to spread on sandwiches, or on the base of pizza or stuffed breads, dollop on a salad or tacos, or dang near anything else you can think of.

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Here are 3 dips for dipping. Or spreading or whatever you want to name them, for use in whatever way you choose.


Avocado & Sour Cream Dip

Ingredients
1/2 c avocado, cubed
1/2 c sour cream
1/4 c scallions + 1 T for topping
1 garlic clove, rough chop
1 T parsley
1 t lemon juice
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper

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Instructions
In a mini blender, buzz up the parsley, scallions and garlic first. Then add the avocado and sour cream. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper. Buzz again and taste for seasoning. Easy, breezy.

Chop up the scallions and garlic first. It helps to blend them up better.

Chop up the scallions and garlic first. It helps to blend them up better.

Chunks of avocado give it a creaminess.

Chunks of avocado give it a creaminess.

Fresh parsley and lemon give this dip a zip.

Fresh parsley and lemon give this dip a zip.

Avocado & Sour Cream dip. Creamy and tangy.

Avocado & Sour Cream dip. Creamy and tangy.

Roasted Pepper & Goat Cheese Dip

Ingredients
1/2 c marinated roasted red peppers
2/3 c goat cheese
1/4 c walnuts, roasted

Instructions
Roast the walnuts for 8-10 minutes in the oven or in a saucepan on the stove. Then using a mini blender, buzz up them up into small pieces. Remove from blender, then add the peppers and goat cheese and blend until you have a chunky consistency. Add the walnuts back in, and blend only until full combined, or you can simply stir them in. Taste for seasoning. Since I bought the marinated roasted peppers there was no need to add any additional seasonings.

Goat cheese makes it creamy and tangy. Peppers makes it sweet.

Goat cheese makes it creamy and tangy. Peppers makes it sweet.

Walnuts give a crunch. A wonderful combination.

Walnuts give a crunch. A wonderful combination.

Gorgeous bright color, full of tang, sweet and crunch.

Gorgeous bright color, full of tang, sweet and crunch.

Olive & Feta Cheese Dip

Ingredients
1/2 c oil cured black olives
1/2 c green olives
1/2 c feta cheese
1/4 c scallions, rough chop
1 garlic clove, rough chop
1/2 c parsley leaves
1/4 c olive oil
1 t lemon juice

The set up for something special.

The set up for something special.

Instructions
In a mini blender, buzz up the parsley, garlic and scallions. Add the black and green olives and buzz until it creates a paste. Add olive oil and lemon juice and blend until combined. Then add the feta cheese. Since the olives and feta have enough flavor and salt content, this dip should not require any additional seasoning. But always taste to see if you need more lemon juice or oil.

Toss the scallions, garlic and parsley in.

Toss the scallions, garlic and parsley in.

Buzz it up until coarsely chopped.

Buzz it up until coarsely chopped.

Add the olives. Then the oil, lemon juice and feta.

Add the olives. Then the oil, lemon juice and feta.

Olive tapenade with feta is a hearty dip, perfect with boiled potatoes for dipping.

Olive tapenade with feta is a hearty dip, perfect with boiled potatoes for dipping.

Bright, crunchy and super green string beans are a fresh and delightful addition to this platter.

Bright, crunchy and super green string beans are a fresh and delightful addition to this platter.

New and fingerling potatoes are the perfect size and consistency for dipping. They also make for a hearty bite.

New and fingerling potatoes are the perfect size and consistency for dipping. They also make for a hearty bite.

Did you see how easy it was to whip up not one but three dips? These were just one of those days when pulling ingredients out and seeing what works together creates ramekins full of goodness.

In my defense of stocking our fridge with these awesome ingredients, we had one of those ‘just in case’ moments when we needed to bring appetizers to a party. Perfect timing, I’d say, as I just finished making these dips and they were picture ready for the party. Pure evidence that having dangling participles in your fridge isn’t a luxury or a nuance but an absolute necessity. I feel redeemed and justified in my condiment collecting craze.

A colorful medley.

A colorful medley.

Fresh and inviting. So, go ahead and invite someone over. Pop some bubbly and dip away.

Fresh and inviting. So, go ahead and invite someone over. Pop some bubbly and dip away.

Post Note: While I was in North Carolina visiting my nieces, my youngest niece made all 3 of these dips for us to snack on. Then we brought the leftovers to my oldest nieces newly purchased townhouse, which we helped her moved into. These dips were the perfect snack as we unpacked, unwrapped and set up her new abode. Everyone loved them. I guess these 3 dips a dipping are even more handy that I originally thought.!