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!

 

5 Appetizers That Impress & Relieve Stress

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Let’s face it, it’s not only during the holidays when we need easy appetizer ideas. Handy dandy, simple offerings are in demand throughout the year. These 5 appetizers can certainly be used anytime, but will surely be useful right about now.

Now when it comes to navigating entertaining, we can be the driver of our own roadmap. It’s up to us to take control. It can be as elaborate as a sit down plated meal with several courses. Or as simple as making a salad, a vegetable and protein. Or even simpler (and better!) a huge bowl of pasta. But it is up to each host/hostess to decide whether to make it complicated or easy. Admittedly, there are times when entertaining calls for a little more pizzazz. And I would venture to say that the holidays definitely require a little more brio. Believe it or not, adding an appetizer to any meal can elevate an evening. I always want my guests to feel special, whether it’s a weeknight meal, an weekend dinner or a big party celebration, and I’ve found that serving appetizers somehow ups the ante and makes any event feel special. But please, let’s not confuse special with hard and stressful.

How I plan out what appetizers I will serve depends on my mood, and it can swing full pendulum, from easy breezy all the way to ones that require a day of prep, cook time and time in plating. For me, it all comes down to how much experimenting I want to do, and how much time I have to play. But that’s just me. I like trying new things and being adventurous. But sometimes, I need speed and simplicity. Luckily, in my experimenting I have come up with a few apps that don’t take a ton of effort, and really please my guests.

Here are Apps that impress AND relieve stress.
(Disclaimer: In no means are these appetizers magical or medicinal in their ability to relieve stress. It’s soley their ease, and delicious impact that creates a stress free zone! Well, I might consider that magic.)

Shaved Parmigiano with Roasted Peppers & Hazelnuts

This is as easy as using a flick of the wrist. That is, one that is holding a vegetable peeler. Simply shave slices of Parmigiano Reggiano. Roll roasted pepper strips up into rosettes or twirls. (A good jarred kind is the way to go. Even I admit, roasting your own peppers is more work than it’s worth. This is definitely one time when homemade doesn’t make sense!) Arrange the platter as you like. I like all the peppers in the middle with the cheese acting like a moat. Then generously sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. It seriously could not be simpler.

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Platter of Crunch - Fennel Bites & Cucumber Carrot Roll Ups

I always like having a platter with a fresh offering. Not only does it help to refresh the palate but it’s a satisfying treat for the vegetarians. Create a platter full of fresh vegetables. You can use whatever you like but I love big chunks of fennel drizzled with olive oil, course sea salt and pepper. Ribbons of English cucumber plain or rolled up with carrot shreds. The carrots were marinated in a basil balsamic vinaigrette. Check out the recipe here.

My method for platter arrangement is color blocking. I think this looks inviting. Do what pleases your eye and your palate.

Fresh fennel, cucumber and carrots are refreshing and crunchy.

Fresh fennel, cucumber and carrots are refreshing and crunchy.

Fresh Ricotta with Herbs & Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Well, if you took my advice in late summer and roasted a bunch of tomatoes and stored them away, then this one is as easy as opening that container. (Now you understand why I suggest this because the tomatoes can be used in so many ways.) But if you don’t have any roasted tomatoes in your freezer, making a fresh batch is not difficult. Click for The Great Tomato Caper post. For the rest of the dish, simply buy fresh ricotta and spoon it into a bowl creating a nice mound. Generously sprinkle course sea salt, freshly cracked pepper, chopped basil and drizzle with good olive oil. Arrange the roasted tomatoes around and serve with crusty bread.

This combo of sweet tomatoes with fresh creamy ricotta is one that will keep your guests coming back for another smattering.

This combo of sweet tomatoes with fresh creamy ricotta is one that will keep your guests coming back for another smattering.

Sauteéd mushrooms & polenta chips

This one takes a bit more time, but you can actually do some of this ahead of time. I’ve served this appetizer several different ways. Click here for the recipe. In this version I made the polenta squares thinner so they act more like a cracker. Your guests can make their own little bite with as much or as little sauteéd mushrooms as they want. Heck, if you also serve the Ricotta dish, guests can top their polenta squares with mushrooms and a bit of ricotta!

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Dry Cured Meat & Arugula Platter

This seriously could not be simpler than buying and arranging. Pick up your favorite dry cured meat and serve it up with some spicy baby arugula. Guests can roll up the meat with some zest greens for a crisp, salty bite. I love keeping it simple and rustic by serving it right on a wooden board.
Some dry cured meats that I like to serve: Bresaola, Prosciutto or Serrano ham, Capacollo, Mortadella, Coppa.

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I hope these few ideas help keep your stress levels down this holiday season. I really don’t like that I keep repeating that, but it is true that the holidays, and entertaining can be just that - intense. I’m here to help in any way I can, because for me, gathering together with the people you love, serving them food you all love is a glorious thing. And something for which we can all be grateful.

Stirred with love, these apps are just as easy as the ones we download on our phones!

 

Left with Just Leaves Salad: Cilantro, Parsley, Fennel & Apple

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One day, quite awhile back when JC and I lived in our comfy, perfectly, suited for the time, co-op, we emerged from our home office starved. The realization hit us hard as we looked around the kitchen to discover we had barely anything to eat.  Like Little Miss Muffet, I opened every cupboard, and the cupboards were bare. Or so I thought.  One last search in the refrigerator revealed there might be salvation. I had the oddest combination of ingredients.  If you could call these items ingredients.  These are typically used to enhance a dish, not actually be the leading ladies. As I stared at them, I don't know who was begging more.  Me? - willing them to turn into something else.  Or them, shouting out, "TRY US, we can do it."
 
So, here goes an unusual bunch creating a surprisingly, refreshing salad. 

Nothing but cilantro, fennel, red and green apples, parsley and red onion.

Nothing but cilantro, fennel, red and green apples, parsley and red onion.

Ingredients

1 bunch Cilantro leaves (approx. 2 c), whole leaves, remove woody stems
1 bunch Parsley leaves (approx. 2.5 c), whole leaves, remove stems
1/2 Red onion, thinly sliced
2 Apples, thinly sliced (I used Red Delicious, Green Granny) 
1 bulb Fennel (approx. 2 c), thinly sliced  
Fennel fronds

Dressing
zest of whole lemon
1/4 c lemon juice
2 T lime juice
1 T mustard (I like spicy brown)
1/2 t salt
1/8 t pepper
1/2 c olive oil
crushed garlic, optional

Dressing line up.

Dressing line up.

Since I didn't have any lettuce greens I knew I needed to use as much of the cilantro and parsley as I could. These were going to have to do the work of lettuce.  So I lovingly plucked off each leaf leaving it whole. I did my best to not include the stems. I really wanted the purity of the leave to shine.  Once all plucked, they got washed in cold water and took a went for quick whirl in salad spinner for a good dry.

Pluck, pluck, pluck.

Pluck, pluck, pluck.

Look at those fresh, crisp beauties. You are going to love their flavors front and center.

Look at those fresh, crisp beauties. You are going to love their flavors front and center.

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Since I needed as much volume as possible, I used the fennel fronds, too.  I shaved them off the tops and then rough chopped them.  Onto to the fennel bulb, which I thinly sliced.

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Chop, chop. Just enough so they mingle in.

Chop, chop. Just enough so they mingle in.

Thinly slice the bulb and some of the stalks.

Thinly slice the bulb and some of the stalks.

Keeping with the theme of thin.  I sliced the onions and apples in the same manner. (I usually use a mandolin for all the thin slicing.  So if you have one, this is the perfect time to bring it out. I felt like using a good, sharp knife this time.)  Normally, I like to cut salad ingredients using a variety of different sizes for the items.  But I knew this salad would require an even more delicate touch since eating parsley and cilantro leaves whole might be a bit over-powering.  This is why all of these ingredients are nice and thin in order to mingle well together.

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Since apples can turn brown once cut, a good trick is to place them in acidulated water, which is nothing more than cold water with a big squeeze of lemon juice. This both helps to keep them crisp and prevents ugly brown spots, but only if you will be plating the salad within 15-30 minutes. If you keep them in the water longer, than it actually has the opposite effect.  Check out this interesting, helpful link for other ways to prevent browning.

Apples happily floating in lemon water.

Apples happily floating in lemon water.

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Keeping everything at the same thinness allows each to stand up to one another.  And so they did, dressed in a mustard vinaigrette. 

 

Never underestimate those dangling participles left in your fridge.  Those usually making supporting appearances, or a walk on extra without a speaking part can make a starring role if you let them. These were so proud of their debut as stars of the show! 

Eat this salad on it's own, or add it to a brunch plate, or dinner plate.  Whatever plate.  Just pile it on.

Thin slices keeps this salad so crisp and clean.

Thin slices keeps this salad so crisp and clean.

Oh, the freshness truly brighten an already delicious brunch plate.

Oh, the freshness truly brighten an already delicious brunch plate.

Leek, Onion & Fennel Tart - Gluten & Egg Free

My memory must be fading... like a distant memory.  I can't recall what exactly prompted me to make up this tart. It might have been that I was craving a tart-like something, or maybe I saw a quiche and had slice envy.  All I remember is a deep desire to eat crust. The solution for when you have a hankering for something?  Go shopping.

It's been stated that you should never shop when you are hungry but I was on a mission, which helped keep this buying event to a minimum.  I was lucky enough to find a gluten free tart shell that didn't have a lot of crap in it. Happiness in the frozen section propelled me with glee back to the produce isle. 

There I found leeks and fennel which were looking fresh and seemed like a fine fit for my crust craving creation. I knew I had onions and goat cheese (which apparently are in endless supply in my house).  Last item needed to make myself a luscious tart that would halt my hankering for quiche was cream. I don't eat eggs.  Pity me.  Yes, pity me because I love eggs and they are in EVERYTHING. But alas, eggs don't love me.  An epic unrequited love story.

Since no eggs, no quiche.  No problem. This tart was going to kick the butt of any egg laced tart dish. 
And yes, although this is gluten and egg free, I did not say calorie free.  So this one may not be my healthiest share but it might become a special favorite for when indulging is on your mind.

There aren't too many steps to this making this, minus a little slicing.  But you have to do that in most recipes, so stop any belly-aching. Homemade food does require a tad of effort.

Ingredients

Pie Crust 9" (I used Wholly Gluten Free)
4 c leeks, sliced and thoroughly washed
1 heaping c onions, sliced
1 heaping c fennel, sliced
4 oz. goat cheese
1 c heavy cream
fresh thyme, optional
1 T butter
Magic 3 (Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper)

The onion family ready to be tarted.

The onion family ready to be tarted.

Instructions

Using a fork, pierce holes in the bottom and sides of the crust.  Bake at 350 degrees until lightly brown.  Set aside.

Prep the crust by making fork holes to prevent from bubbling up.

Prep the crust by making fork holes to prevent from bubbling up.

Perfectly pre-baked crust

Perfectly pre-baked crust

While the crust is baking, slice the leeks and soak them in water. Removing and rinsing several times.  (Leeks are laden with sand and you want to ensure there isn't a grain left.  When changing the water, remove the leeks from the water using a strainer or big slotted spatula as opposed to dumping the water and leeks into a strainer.  If you do the latter, all the sand will go right back through the leeks.  By removing the leeks, the sand stays at the bottom of the water. Then just dump and refill with fresh water. )

Wash, soak, dump water. Wash, soak and dump again. Do this until no more sand appears at the bottom of the bowl.

Wash, soak, dump water. Wash, soak and dump again. Do this until no more sand appears at the bottom of the bowl.

While the leeks are soaking, slice the onions and fennel.  Once all vegetables are ready, sauté in butter and oil, seasoning with salt and pepper.  If you decide to use the fresh thyme, add it now. Cook these until fully caramelized. 

Onion slices

Onion slices

Fennel slices

Fennel slices

The best combo. Butter and Oil

The best combo. Butter and Oil

All veggies in: fennel, onions, leeks

All veggies in: fennel, onions, leeks

Sauté slowly until they are completely broken down and beautifully caramelized.

Sauté slowly until they are completely broken down and beautifully caramelized.

Now with all the items ready, fill the pie crust with the vegetable mixture, top with tons of goat cheese and pour in the cream. You can also just mix all these ingredients together in a bowl and then fill the pie.  Your choice.  I didn't mix it because I envisioned the pie I saw layers in my head.  Silly me, it truly makes no difference.

Vegetable mixture, goat cheese, heavy cream and crust waiting to join forces.

Vegetable mixture, goat cheese, heavy cream and crust waiting to join forces.

Fill the bottom with the sautéd vegetable mixture. (Or you can mix the veggies with the cream and goat cheese and then pour in.)

Fill the bottom with the sautéd vegetable mixture. (Or you can mix the veggies with the cream and goat cheese and then pour in.)

Lots of cheese and creamy goodness tops this tart off.

Lots of cheese and creamy goodness tops this tart off.

Place the pie in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes until center stops wiggling and when tested with a toothpick it comes out clean.

Let it cool slightly to allow it to set.  You can serve it warm, at room temp or even cold.  Slice and pair it up with a soup or salad.  This is ideal for brunch, lunch or dinner side dish.  I made it when my friend, Emilce came for an overnight stay.  We both had a slice, leaving the rest of the pie all to myself for days.  Bliss!

Print Friendly Recipe

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Lunch with a Friend - Casual with Style

My dear friend, Donna, and I had been trying to make plans to get together for months. We had set a date to meet in the city for lunch, but alas those plans got axed.  Once we switched the day, it meant she was able to come up to my house for a 'ladies lunch'.  Does that make us sound old?  If so, then forget it.  We were just eating together.

It had been a while since we had last seen each other, so the idea was to enjoy each other's company and not have cooking occupy my time. The plan to keep it easy peasy was to create a menu where the majority of items could all be roasted in the oven and the rest could be made ahead of time.  Leaving me hands free for when she arrived.  I like starch (pasta, potatoes, rice not the kind used for ironing), and wanted to include that too. My immediate thought was polenta. However, after surveying the menu, a last minute swap out for rice felt like it paired better with the rest of the offerings, which also included a salad.  When it came to dessert, this needed to be super simple because I didn't have the time to bake.  Add to that, I wanted something that I could enjoy too. A traditionally baked item uses flour and eggs, well, no good for me. 

Sure sandwiches would have been even easier. Sure we could have eaten at the kitchen table.  But a little extra detail is much nicer. And so...

How hard is it to keep it casual but amp it a bit to feel special?  Simply throw down a runner the opposite way to create an more intimate area on a large table, add some placemats. Toss cloth napkins on the plate and put glasses on the table.  That always ups the ante, and really it doesn't take more effort than that.

So when you want to keep it chill yet with touch of style for no fuss lunch, here's a menu that can be pulled off without a hitch. The best part of this for me was that since it was pouring out and despise schlepping in the rain, I already had everything in the house, and didn't even need to shop!!  

Prep everything in their pans, season right before putting in the oven and have a glass of wine.

Prep everything in their pans, season right before putting in the oven and have a glass of wine.

If you need some recipes guides for the below menu, the highlighted items link to previous blog posts that feature each one. Also at the very bottom, you will find printable recipe versions.  If you have any questions on how to pull this menu off, write a comment below or email me

Lunch Menu

Simply roasted salmon nestled up against beautiful roasted vegetables all on one plate.

Simply roasted salmon nestled up against beautiful roasted vegetables all on one plate.

Paella rice risotto style with 3 kinds of onions (red, yellow and scallions)

Paella rice risotto style with 3 kinds of onions (red, yellow and scallions)

For the Paella Rice Risotto style, first sauté a mixture of red, yellow onion and scallion until caramelized.  Set aside. In a medium sized pot, simply sauté some more onions in oil, salt and pepper then add the rice to toast it. Then add either hot water or hot stock (chicken or vegetable) a few ladles at a time until the rice absorbs the liquid. Continue until the rice is tender then stir in the sautéd onion mixture. 

Another option, you can check out my Garlic Rice recipe.

You know this salad. This is the Citrus Salad Bowl, but in one big bowl not individually plated. This way we could go back for seconds.

You know this salad. This is the Citrus Salad Bowl, but in one big bowl not individually plated. This way we could go back for seconds.

The skinny on how the dessert portion was pulled together with just a few ingredients: Open the fridge. Check out what you have and use your imagination.  I found strawberries and blueberries, and tucked in the back a tiny bit of left over chocolate ganache* (previously used for some profiteroles I had made).  And just like that I had a dessert.  Fresh Fruit Bark.

* Ganache is chocolate melted down by adding warmed cream to create a glaze .  When I originally made mine I used much less cream since I wanted a thicker consistency for the profiteroles.  If I had a traditional ganache, it would have never worked for this dessert.  

Spread the chocolate onto parchment paper.

Spread the chocolate onto parchment paper.

Instructions

I melted down the chocolate, spread it over parchment and jammed, I mean lovingly placed, the fruit into the chocolate. For texture, I sprinkled some crushed Marcona Almonds and popped it in the fridge to set and chill until time to serve. 

Arrange the fruit in a way that is appetizing to you.

Arrange the fruit in a way that is appetizing to you.

Since this was made with a semi ganache, it had a softer consistency than traditional bark.  That didn't bother either one of us, and the fresh fruit route was the perfect choice since Donna prefers fresh versus dried fruit. Phew, good call on my part.  This literally was the truest form of 'something from nothing', pulling a dessert out of the hat from whatever I had handy.  We both agreed it was quite delicious.  Bigger bonus, it gave her a new way to use up all the gorgeous summer fruit she gets at her country house.  

Starting with the lovely Shinn Estates Rosé that Donna brought, we had a relaxing time, ate well, caught up on each other's lives and travels, enjoyed a surprise yummy dessert, and of course, finished the entire bottle of wine. It ended as a perfect Lunch with a Friend.  

Sprinkle chopped Marcona Almonds all over the top.

Sprinkle chopped Marcona Almonds all over the top.