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!

 

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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Salmon Burgers - San Gluten & Eggs... WHAT?

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Some of you know that I have an allergic reaction to wheat, yeast and eggs (plus a few other foods). So I try to eliminate those as much as possible.  Which means even foods containing just a smidge of bread or eggs to hold them together are quite literally my unraveling.  And thus, blacklisted from my repertoire.  Seriously, how much deprivation can one woman withstand?   I love me a fish burger, but alas most use bread or bread crumbs, and almost all use eggs. What's a gal to do?  Being stubborn and wanting what I want is when the thinking cap needs to be fully stretched and used to its fullest. Unscramble the mystery and find another way to hold the darn thing together.

I remember seeing a recipe a while back that whizzed up part of the protein to make a paste.  Paste... that definitely holds shit together.  So, with the sticky part done I needed to fill up the rest.  Here is the fun part.  You can, seriously, add a long list of accompaniments like; kale, spinach, corn, mushrooms and so on.  Alas, I only had some basics on hand:  onions, celery, peppers, scallions. So, that's what I used, and they worked out just fine. (Next time I will share experimenting with other fillings. Heck, don't wait for me. Be daring and test on your own.)

The setup of what was to become a really tasty salmon burger.

The setup of what was to become a really tasty salmon burger.

Ingredients   

Burgers - Makes 6
1 lb Salmon, skin removed
1 c celery, chopped
1/3 c yellow pepper, small dice
1/3 c orange pepper, small dice
1/4 c red onion, small dice
1/4 c yellow onion, small dice
1/4 c + 2 T scallions, sliced
2 T oil
2 T capers
1 T parsley, chopped
1 t mustard
1/2 t whole grain mustard
1 t salt
1/4 t black pepper
corn meal, potato flour optional

 

 

Relish
2/3 c yogurt
2 T Kosher dill pickles, chopped
1 T parsley, chopped
1 t capers
1. 5 T lemon juice
1 T lemon zest
1/3 c sauté mixture
salt to taste

Instructions

Mise en place all the vegetables as directed.  Then in a cast iron pan or skillet, sauté onions, celery, peppers, 1/4 c scallions in oil, season with salt and pepper.

Mise en place is French for "everything in place", meaning prep all your ingredients so they are ready to go.

Mise en place is French for "everything in place", meaning prep all your ingredients so they are ready to go.

They sure look pretty like this but go ahead and mix them together for even sautéing.

They sure look pretty like this but go ahead and mix them together for even sautéing.

 Let them cook slowly over low heat until softened. When done, set aside and let cool.

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Meanwhile, cut the salmon into 3 equal parts.  One part cut into 3/4" cubes. One part cut into 1/4" cubes. One part pulse in a mini food processor to create a paste. 

Salmon paste that will be the glue to hold the other two together.

Salmon paste that will be the glue to hold the other two together.

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Next chop the parsley and rest of scallions.  In a bowl, add all three portions of salmon. Then begin adding all filling ingredients:  1/2 c of the cooled sauté mixture, capers, the mustards, 2 T scallions and parsley.  Mix together until well combined, then form patties, and refrigerate for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour.  

Salmon prepped in 3 sizes: Big cubes, smaller cubes and a paste.

Salmon prepped in 3 sizes: Big cubes, smaller cubes and a paste.

Start building the burger flavors by adding the vegetable sauté.

Start building the burger flavors by adding the vegetable sauté.

In go the capers.

In go the capers.

Then the mustard, and so on.

Then the mustard, and so on.

Then form your patties. This makes 6 medium burgers.

Then form your patties. This makes 6 medium burgers.

While the burgers are chilling out, move onto the relish. All it takes is a bowl to combine all the ingredients together, stirring until well incorporated.  Then refrigerate until ready to serve.

The lineup for the relish.

The lineup for the relish.

Homemade relish is so fresh and delicious. It can be used on baked potatoes, or over rice even.

Homemade relish is so fresh and delicious. It can be used on baked potatoes, or over rice even.

After the patties have had their chilled rest and are firm, they are ready for frying. You have choices at this point. You can either fry as is without any coating, or dust them with either potato flour* or corn grits**. Using my 6 burgers I experimented making 2 of each kind to see which we liked best. Jill and JC liked them plain with no coating. I also liked the purity of the plain one, but I liked the corn grits coating due to the outer crunch.  And if you search your memory banks, or this blog you will remember that I love crunch.  Test which one you like best.  

NOTE:
*If you use the potato flour coating, cook these at a lower heat since the the finer powder texture cooks faster and will burn if heat is too high.
** Corn grits are a larger grain, which gives it the crunch. But if you don't want as much crunch factor, then you can use a stone ground corn meal which has a finer texture.

Corn grits. See those grains of ground corn? That's what gives it Crunch!

Corn grits. See those grains of ground corn? That's what gives it Crunch!

Potato flour is much finer, almost like talcum powder.

Potato flour is much finer, almost like talcum powder.

About to make crunchy goodness.

About to make crunchy goodness.

I like using a cast iron skillet because the pan retains the heat and gives a nice outer crust. Fry on both sides until you see the salmon turn pink, about 2-3 minutes each side, depending on thickness. 

Front left has potato flour coating. Back center has the corn grits, while front right is sans any coating.

Front left has potato flour coating. Back center has the corn grits, while front right is sans any coating.

The final lineup from left to right: Potato coated, no coating, corn grits coated. You can see how much darker the potato coating got.

The final lineup from left to right: Potato coated, no coating, corn grits coated. You can see how much darker the potato coating got.

Serve immediately with slices of tomato, arugula or boston lettuce, and some cornichons. Any lettuce works fine, but I really enjoyed how the spicy flavor of arugula plays off the salmon,  Don't forget the homemade relish. It's tangy, sweet and delicious. JC and Jill both told me that they don't usually like relish, but plopped spoonfuls of my homemade version on their burgers.  The next night we had fish. They broke out the relish again!

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Hey, since this is such a healthy version of a burger, no bread filling or bun, go ahead and splurge by serving up some fries or a baked potato.  You can even use the relish on that, too. With Memorial Day steaming down the tracks, these could be a great addition to your outdoor party.
(Note: I would not cook these directly on the grill, as they need a flat surface in order to form a crust to help hold them together.) 

Just because I need to eliminate some foods doesn't mean I can't enjoy things I love.
And just because these are sans bread and egg definitely doesn't mean they are sans flavor!

Pretty in Pink Salad

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Inspiration can leap out at you from anywhere.  Literally, anywhere.  And in any form.  Sometimes I spot something curious and it motivates me to write a children's stories.  Other times I see items and envision how I can transform them into something useful.  Then, there is of course, the spying of food that inspires me. And that's how it went down this past week while shopping in our local Italian specialty market, where I happened upon the most stunning lettuces.  I had never before seen pink lettuce. Or white lettuce with magenta flecks. 

Did you ever???

Did you ever???

Figs upon figs. There was not a one leftover.

Figs upon figs. There was not a one leftover.

I was intrigued. I was compelled. I just had to have them.  In my basket they went.  I figured I would make a big lunch salad for myself.  But as I waited, patiently, on the line of inefficiency, (remember, this is the same Italian market where we picked up the rack of pork the week before. Slow and slower is their mantra.) I spotted burrata. The lettuces seemed delicate and a good potential partner for burrata.  A few dishes down in the same case I eyed imported figs. My dad simply adores figs, so those were a must buy whether for the salad or just for him to eat.  But I pondered this combo more as I noticed a nearby plate of roasted beets.  And there is was, laid out before me, one piece of this salad puzzle fitting together with every step I took.  Inspiration leaped out in front of me with an exact plan for how I would showcase these lettuces.  Lettuces that seemed more like flowers than vegetables.  This would be a dainty palette blend of soft pinks and magentas.

The additional line up to accompany the lettuces.

The additional line up to accompany the lettuces.

Ingredients

Baby lettuces (if you can find these pink hued ones, great.  If not, go with softer ones like Butter lettuce)
3-4 beets, roasted
2 pints of fresh figs, halved
1 stalk of celery, sliced
1 Burrata cheese
The Big 3 (olive oil, salt, pepper)
Dressing
3 figs
2 t Champagne vinegar
3 T fresh lemon juice
1 t lemon zest
1 small garlic clove
1.5 t salt
1/8 t pepper
1/2 c olive oil 

 
They literally look like flowers. So stunning, I can't take my eyes off of them.

They literally look like flowers. So stunning, I can't take my eyes off of them.

instructions

Start with the beets because they will take the longest.  You can even do this part the morning of or the day before.  Cut off the long leaves and scrub the beets.  Place them in tin foil on a baking sheet, then season with the Big 3. Close up the tin foil to create a package.  Roast at 375 for 1-1.5 hrs, depending on the size of the beets. They should be fork tender. 

Beets awaiting their steam bath by way of oven roasting.

Beets awaiting their steam bath by way of oven roasting.

While those are roasting, you can prepare your salad platter.  With such strong and gorgeous colors, it would be a shame to mix them all together.  These need to stand on the own to showcase their beauty. Color blocking was the way to go.  Arrange how you like but here is how I played it. I let the shape of the leaves help dictate the form, which naturally mimicked flowers.  

Look at those colors. Sweet and pink and oh so dainty.

Look at those colors. Sweet and pink and oh so dainty.

Since burrata is an extremely fresh cheese, it's best to place this in a separate small bowl, then nestle it in between the lettuces.  Once your guests cut into it, the creamy center will gush all over.  

The burrata looks like a big ball of mozzarella, however, it's creamy insides are the best surprise.

The burrata looks like a big ball of mozzarella, however, it's creamy insides are the best surprise.

Make the dressing in a mini blender by placing the figs, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice and zest and buzz together.  Add salt, pepper and oil for the final buzz.  Set aside until ready to dress the salad.

After the beets are done, let them cool so you can peel their outer skin off and slice them.  Arrange in a fan like fashion, and then tuck them into the salad, around the bowl of burrata.  Then place the figs around. 

Roasted to perfection, beets are hearty yet mild enough for this salad.

Roasted to perfection, beets are hearty yet mild enough for this salad.

Slice them and then fan them out to follow in that flower like theme.

Slice them and then fan them out to follow in that flower like theme.

Color blocking making it's statement.

Color blocking making it's statement.

Once you have the salad arranged as you like, pour the dressing over top.  Then drizzle with an aged balsamic. 

Photo Credit: lookasithappens.me

Photo Credit: lookasithappens.me

Of course, you could just cut up all the lettuce, beets and figs and toss them all together.  I think it would be lovely that way too.  I just felt like having each color burst off the plate, spring-ing to life with joy.

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With all the different hues, it was pink and pretty...and good. Pretty good. 

 

A Belly Full of Pork

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What happens when your Cuban-Spanish hubby abides by your vegetable eating habits day after day?

A darn gone crazy hankering for animal meat is what happens.  That's how he woke up this past Sunday morning.  With meat on the brain and a little piggy whispering in his ear.  Immediate attention needed to be paid. So no time was wasted.  We hopped into the car with a serious plan to calm the urge.  Luckily for us one of the best places 'round these parts to buy good meat is literally down the street at our local Italian market. We love their fresh, top quality products, but truly despise the lines and long wait. Efficiency is not their strong suit. Quality is, so we wait.

With carrots, celery, tomatoes and the all important pork chops in hand, we headed home.  JuanCarlos' plan was to make a pot full of pork goodness to fill his belly aching.  The ingredients might be familiar as this dish employs the same basic premise as Osso Bucco, or stew or any slow cooked one pot meal. The art of cooking it a long time allows all the flavors to melt down into magic.  It is an easy, cut 'em up, cook 'em, one pot wonder. 

In true team sport form, JC and I took turns prepping the dish and taking the pictures. So enjoy both our hands in the shots.  It was a fun way to start our Sunday together.  This recipe makes enough for 6-8, so super good fortune that my sister was coming for a few days.  Tasty pork chops for lunch and dinner.

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Ingredients  

2 racks of pork chops
2 large onions, cut in thirds
3-4 carrots, large dice
3-4 celery stalks, thick slices
5-7 Campari tomatoes, cut in half
3 garlic, smashed and chopped
1 c fresh parsley, rough chop
1 c San Marzano whole tomatoes
8 oz water
3/4 bottle wine (Red and/or White)
1/4 c fresh sage, rough chop
Magic 3 (olive oil, salt, pepper)

 

Instructions

Prep all your ingredients. Add oil to the large dutch oven or heavy duty pot and toss all the vegetables in (onions, carrots, celery, garlic, fresh tomatoes).  Sauté all them for 5-7 minutes. 

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Season the pork with salt and pepper and sage.

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Once the vegetables have softened slightly, add the canned tomatoes, wine and water then nestle the pork in this flavor filled bath. Add the chopped parsley. Raise the heat and let it come to a boil.  Once at a full boil, cover with the lid remove from the stove top and place in a 325 degree oven for 2 - 2.5 hours. 

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The vegetables will get soft and almost dissolve to become part of the rich and sweet tasting sauce.

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The pork will be fork tender. You can serve it family style in a large platter floating among all the vegetables and juices.

Or plate it up with a side of greens such as broccoli rabe, or broccolini. 

For a starch, go ahead and make some pappardelle or mashed potatoes.  This is a hearty, rich dish and it deserves to be adorned properly.

I sound like a broken record but this is an ideal dish to make for a dinner party as it feeds a hungry group. Can be made ahead and will be loved by all. And if you need an alternative to lamb for Easter meal, maybe give this a go. It will resolve any need for a belly full of pork.