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!

 

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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Monday Night Dinner - Shared with Friends

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In today’s world of hustle and bustle, technology and device driven social contact, there is one aspect (well, probably many) of our new reality that makes me truly long for days of yore.
Connection. Real, soulful, personal connection.
I miss those times when getting together with loved ones was easy, almost expected on a regular basis. When weekends were spent visiting friends and family, and not traveling in a car for hours to watch a little league, or spent in front of a computer trying to catch up on work. Nowadays, it takes calendars, a team of coordinators, pie charts and graphs and law firm to find a date that matches up for everyone. When I was younger, we had our midday meal at my grandmother’s house every Sunday in Brooklyn. It was known and expected and it was a comfort and joy to gather all together. When we moved out to Long Island, everyone then drove out to us for the day. We were a family, and friends were always welcome to join.

I long for those days. I’m not saying every Sunday but I do yearn for time spent enjoying a meal with people I love in a chill atmosphere just so we can catch up. I fully recognize some of the reasons why this has become difficult. People move further away from one another. Jobs and schedules are more demanding. Kids have extracurricular activities that require more time and attention. But I guess this new paradigm of life is what irks me. We put so much more emphasis on things that cause us stress, and less on carving out time to hang with people we care about. I know I might get some backlash about the kids’ activity portion. It brings joy, etc. But when did sports and violin practice consume 75% of a kids free time? When do they have time to socialize and be kids? Now, that is a whole other topic. But, you all get where I’m going.

 

So given that long diatribe, it completely warmed my heart that when my friend Tecla’s dad was back in NYC visiting from Tuscany, JuanCarlos and I were top of his list to visit. High on the list!! We were tickled Parmesano Reggiano. We made a date for a Monday night and as we were deciding where to meet, it was a no brainer to invite them to our home. Unfortunately, our dear friend Scott, Tecla’s hubby, was unable to join us, and he was missed.

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A simple meal is all that’s needed, since the purpose of the visit was spending time together. We did add an appetizer and soup because we wanted the evening to last longer. More time requires more food. Well, at least that’s my thinking.

Here is what we served, and the elegant, simple table setting we served it on.

Appetizer & Soup

Eggplant rounds with roasted tomato & goat cheese

Sliced eggplant dusted with flour, quick sauté, then placed on a baking. Top each one with a spoonful of roasted tomatoes (sauce), a dollop of goat cheese, some thyme leaves and drizzle of olive oil. Bake until cheese melts.

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Seafood Soup

This is the perfect starter on cold night. A light fish broth chock full of shrimp, monkfish, calamari and beans.

Simply sauté garlic, onions and parsley. Stir in cannellini beans to add a bit heartiness. Then add fish stock and bring to low rolling boil and add the fish. Cover and lower to a simmer until the fish is cooked through.

The same wine we enjoyed with Tecla’s dad in Italy on a visit to the winery. Perfect with the pork and the cake!

The same wine we enjoyed with Tecla’s dad in Italy on a visit to the winery. Perfect with the pork and the cake!

Main Course
Pork Roast
Oven roasted Heirloom Carrots
Oven roasted Butternut Squash with Brown Butter Sage
Quinoa with scallions

 
Photo credit: Tecla Palli-Sandler

Photo credit: Tecla Palli-Sandler

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Roasted Pork
Roasted vegetables & Quinoa
 

Cinque colore salad with oil cured olives

I’ve taken the traditional tri-colore salad and amped it up with a few more colors by way of citrus fruits and oil cured olives. I used both the juices from the grapefruit and oranges then added lemon, lime and zest whisked with olive oil, salt, pepper for the dressing. Fresh, bitter, sweet, sour, peppery. This hit all the right notes.

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Dessert
Gluten Free, Dairy/Egg free chocolate tart. This is not my recipe. Nor did I make it exactly as the recipe stated, but this came out chocolatey, rich and delicious. I made a slightly altered version of Brandi’s Chocolate Espresso Fudge Cake. I didn’t have chocolate to shave over top so I created my own decoration with a random almond sliver swirl. I must have been channeling crop circles.

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Table Setting & Decor
It was a Monday night so there was not a ton of time for a formal table setting. It was more of a last minute task. So no time for ironing meant no tablecloth, and a need to display a napkin that no one would notice the wrinkles. Deep green colored velvet placemats kept with a winter warm theme. White dishes and gold charger popped nicely off the deep color mats and made it feel rich and elegant, but not pretentious. Just the right touch to make our guests feel special, yet not a lot work for me.

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The heartiness of my cabbage floral arrangement, plus elements from my Fall themed arrangement lasted long enough for me to arrange them at the end of the table with some candles to warm up the setting.

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Table setting with green velvet placemats, gold chargers, white plates and a soup bowl with gold trim.

Table setting with green velvet placemats, gold chargers, white plates and a soup bowl with gold trim.

There is nothing more satisfying than making a meal that nourishes the body and the soul, and sharing it!

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Tecla and her dad, Paolo serving up food stirred with love.

Tecla and her dad, Paolo serving up food stirred with love.

JuanCarlos talking about the state of… If you want to know, you’ll have to join us for dinner.

JuanCarlos talking about the state of… If you want to know, you’ll have to join us for dinner.

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We had such a great night. We all love food, travel, family, and living life richly. So conversation was a flow as we enjoyed a simple meal together. Cherishing the time we each carved out for one another in our busy schedules, and realizing that anything worth enjoying takes a little effort. I’m glad we all made the effort. And even happier that we were on Paolo’s list during his short visit. Our turn next… in Italy!!

I hope that with all the rush of the holidays you, too, can carve our time in your schedules to share a meal, laughter and love with the people you love. Dig in, fork first!

Paolo, aka Babbo, digging into chocolate heaven.

Paolo, aka Babbo, digging into chocolate heaven.

 

Chicken Salad with Fruits & Nuts

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Have you ever had a chicken salad that just felt too heavy.  So much mayo that it almost leaves a slick cream streak down your throat?  Creamy is nice but heavy is not.   Especially during the summer months, salad featuring proteins should lift you up, not weigh you down. 

My recent cooking adventures afforded me the opportunity to cater for my Mom's 'Ladies Lunch'. I had proposed a couple of different menu options but they didn't want me to go too crazy, fancy.  Understandably so, they needed food that would have a broad appeal for everyone's palate, which makes total sense given a group of 30. Chicken Salad was suggested.

I must admit that making chicken salad didn't thrill me.  It was my job to give the 'clients' what they wanted but also introduce them to chicken salad with pizzaz. I like to create flavors that pop, and really wanted to make something different for these special ladies.  Instead of creating a new dish, the creating came in the form of how to take bland, regular, mayo slathered chicken salad and make it lighter and more exciting.  Once I realized that they were open to a more zippidity-do chicken salad, I starting thinking: summer, lighter, texture and crunch. That's when I got more excited.  Texture would come by way of adding crunchy, crisp fruits and toasted nuts. And I dare say that the fruits also help to lighten the load. Check off the texture category requirement.  Now how to lighten up the dressing that is typically globs of mayo?  Yogurt is light. It's tangy. It's zingy and is still creamy.  Gosh, if only I could be more like yogurt...
So, that was it.  I would cut the mayo in half using Greek yogurt and add a couple of other zesty ingredients to lighten it up.     

I got the thumbs up from the team leaders, my Mom and Elena. Onto the plan. I went back and forth about whether to use dark and white meat, whether to roast or poach.  In the end, I choose to use organic chicken breasts and to poach them using aromatics to subtly impart flavor.

Ingredients 

(This batch was made for 30 people. And it made about 10 c.  Scale down for your needs.)
For the Poaching
9.5 lbs Chicken Breasts *                                       
4 bay leaves
4-6 lemon slices
2 t peppercorns
1 carrot, chopped in chunks
1 celery stalk, cut in pieces
parsley sprigs

For the Salad
2 c red seedless grapes, thick slices
2-3 red apple, peeled & cubed
5-6 scallions, thinly sliced
1 c walnuts, roasted & rough chopped
* You can also use leftover chicken and add the dressing.  

Dressing
1.5 c Mayonnaise
1.5 Greek Yogurt
2-3 T Lemon zest
1/3 c lemon juice
2 T mustard
salt, pepper
 

Instructions

1. Clean and rinse the chicken well.  In a large sauté pan, add the chicken in one layer in the pan.  Add the aromatics and enough water to almost cover.  Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer for 8-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken.  Use a thermometer to ensure that the interior is 165 degrees.

2. While the chicken is cooking, make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients.

Creamy, tangy and light.

Creamy, tangy and light.

3. Once the chicken is done, remove from the pot and let it cool.  Meanwhile, roast the walnuts for 5-7 minutes and rough chop them.  Cut the grapes, apples, and scallions. (Squeeze some lemon juice over the apples or submerge in lemon water to keep them from turning brown.)

Chicken
Red grapes
Apples

4. Either cut the chicken into chunks or shred.  Your choice. Mix all the ingredients together with the dressing.  Some people like their salad moist, others dry. Dress as desired.

Chicken Salad lighter

You can serve this on rolls, or French baguette.  I decided for summertime, and for a healthier option, to serve them with small romaine lettuce leaves to act as boats.   All the ladies enjoyed this light and tangy chicken salad. 

A huge bowl full of light and crunchy, savory and zesty chicken salad.

A huge bowl full of light and crunchy, savory and zesty chicken salad.

The ladies taking a little bit of all the offerings.

The ladies taking a little bit of all the offerings.

Since I made a ton of chicken salad and had so many other offerings, I had some leftovers.  I brought home some chicken salad, and the Israeli Couscous  and Asian Slaw with Tahini/Peanut Dressing and made a bountiful  lunch plate for JC.  At first he said, "That's way too much food."  Not too much later, I found the plate, empty, not even a grain of couscous left.  Apparently, it wasn't too much. He loved it enough to have the rest the next day.  

And since I had some of the chicken salad dressing leftover and I love to share, I gave some to my neighbors who are a foodies. They just happen to have some roasted chicken.  What serendipity.  They mixed up my dressing with their chicken and loved how the lemon zest and juice really brightened it all up.  Why did the neighbor cross the road?  Ask the chicken.

My plate full of love that I made for JC's lunch. Boston lettuce pockets filled with zingy chicken salad, couscous and peanut slaw.

My plate full of love that I made for JC's lunch. Boston lettuce pockets filled with zingy chicken salad, couscous and peanut slaw.

Why did the chicken cross the road?  To mingle with a few fruits and nuts and slather herself in a light yogurt lemon dressing, of course.

 

Any Night Meal - Al Fresco

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That's right the weather has turned... Finally.  I'm sure you have washed off the furniture, swept the patio and tidied up whatever outside area you have, whether it be a terrace, a small deck or a rolling pasture. It's time to go - al fresco.

Of course, we are all anxious to throw garden parties, BBQ's and the like after enduring a long, long winter.  And California, please spare me the "oh, we have that all year round" remark.  We know just how special you are.  The rest of the country suffers through changes.  Which is why we are outdoor party ready.  But you don't need to orchestrate a shindig in order to delight in the summer's offering. Taking in an evening breeze while savoring a meal doesn't need to equate to a big ordeal.  A simple dinner will do just fine so you can bask in the longer days, the extended light and the brisk air of a summer's eve.

You can set the table and create warm vibes, or simply put dishes on the patio table.

You can set the table and create warm vibes, or simply put dishes on the patio table.

Cocktails - Here's a few ideas:

These Aperol Spritz cocktails are easy to drink, so be careful. If it's a school night, maybe just have one.

These Aperol Spritz cocktails are easy to drink, so be careful. If it's a school night, maybe just have one.

A dry rosé is the antidote to any long day.

A dry rosé is the antidote to any long day.

If you don't want the alcohol:

  • Cranberry juice, sparkling water and lemon wedge, or even add some frozen berries

  • Watermelon juice, sparkling water, basil leaves

  • Sparkling Water with Lemon & Lime Slices

The idea is to enjoy something refreshing.  So, go ahead and shake up a cool drink of your favorite flavors.

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The Meal

  • Summer Tart , simple puff pastry topped with farm fresh vegetables of the season

  • Large salad, it can be as simple as lettuces lightly tossed with fresh lemon juice and oil. Or a nectarine salad to reinforce that summer feel

  • Roasted salmon or grilled shrimp

  • Yogurt with honey and nuts

Puff pastry tarts don't need to be complicated. Fill them with whatever is fresh and seasonal and pop them in the oven. I always add cheese!

Puff pastry tarts don't need to be complicated. Fill them with whatever is fresh and seasonal and pop them in the oven. I always add cheese!

Salad ideas

Watermelon & Feta cheese served with a crisp white wine -  La Val Albariño  from Spain.

Watermelon & Feta cheese served with a crisp white wine - La Val Albariño from Spain.

Main Dish ideas


Keep it simple and roast fish on the grill.

Roasted Salmon is perfect for outdoor entertaining.

Roasted Salmon is perfect for outdoor entertaining.

 

You can even have dessert without a fuss.  Some Greek yogurt, nuts with a drizzle of honey is the just the right amount of sweet to finish off a meal. The idea is to get outside.  Grab whatever food you have and put it on a platter, pop open a beverage and breathe in the fresh air.  And the sheer joy of dining al fresco.  

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Whole Red Snapper stuffed with lemons and parsley and grilled on the BBQ. So fresh and clean and ideal for a summer night.

Whole Red Snapper stuffed with lemons and parsley and grilled on the BBQ. So fresh and clean and ideal for a summer night.

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Yogurt drizzled with honey & nuts equals an easy, satisfying dessert

Yogurt drizzled with honey & nuts equals an easy, satisfying dessert