Tis the Season

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My guess is that when you hear this phrase you also hear sleigh bells. Sure, it’s mostly associated with winter holidays but quite frankly, ‘Tis the Season can be applied every 3 months: winter, spring, summer and fall. Each one brings about change of all types. From what we wear to what to do. And I believe this is especially true when it comes to the foods we buy and eat.

Decades ago, staying within the season was exactly how the majority of people bought their produce, prepared and ate their meals. Using only what was available at the time of harvest. Times have changed. Consumer demands. Fed EX and other shipping methods enable foods to arrive at our supermarkets all year round. Yet, I find that everything old is new again with an increase in people going back to more ‘ancient’ ways of eating. There is much value to seasonal eating. First and foremost, it provides you with what is the absolute freshest. Then, it’s about keeping in synch with what our bodies need and crave for at a particular time of the season. Think about it. How many times do you jones for a thick, hearty, hot soup in July? How often do your salivary glands thirst for watermelon in February? ‘Tis the season for reason, my friends.

I try my best to buy seasonally, and also try to provide you with recipes appropriate for the season. Full disclosure, I have been known to purchase strawberries in the dead of winter for a dessert or a smoothie. But overall, my goal is eat what’s hot of the presses. Or should I say, pull directly from the ground.

So what’s in season now? A bounty of goodness.

Peaches & Nectarines

I love stone fruits, especially peaches and nectarines. They are sweet, juicy and refreshing all on their own. But you can grill them and serve with ice cream. Or use them to top a crostini to create a wonderful appetizer that is light and clean, but does it’s part to satisfy the appetite. Or check out the salads below that combine a few other items that are also great right now.

Fresh Ricotta Crostini

Ricotta & Nectarine crostini with mint syrup.

Ricotta & Nectarine crostini with mint syrup.

Peaches or nectarines can be used.

Peaches or nectarines can be used.

Corn on the Cob
Who doesn’t love themselves a corn on the cob during a BBQ? Slathered with butter. Or just a good sprinkle of coarse salt… YUM. But I love salads, so here are two that utilize corn, and one actually using peaches, too. A double hitter.

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Corn Salad: Raw & Roasted

Crunchy by way of the 3c’s: corn, celery and cucumber. Soft bites provided by potatoes and chick peas. Zest and zing offered by red onion and lemon. Perfect.

Corn & Fruit Salad

Sweet and refreshing. This salad is ideal for any BBQ.

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Berries: Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries and Blackberries

Here is a fresh salad that incorporates not just berries but two of the other in season items, nectarines and corn. This salad not only gives a sweet flavor pop in your mouth but an actual physical pop of the fruit and crunchy corn. The other salad has the blueberries playing off the tartness of citrus.

Summer Salad Full of Fruits
I love all the textures in this one. There is so much, it can be a lunch all by itself.

Butter Lettuce with Orange, Blueberries & Crunch

Fruit in a salad for me is way more interesting than the usual suspects like tomatoes. I feel tomatoes have a higher purpose than salad. That’s not to say that fruit is less than. Quite the contrary.

Fresh Fruit Bark

Something sweet but naturally sweet.

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Tomatoes
Bring it on tomato time. How many seasons have you seen me buying boxes upon boxes, pounds upon pounds of these ruby jewels? So this season won’t be any different. Just a reminder of some of the things you can do with these babies.

Yes that is 100 pounds of Roma tomatoes. I was excited until I got them home and realized just how overzealous I was.

Yes that is 100 pounds of Roma tomatoes. I was excited until I got them home and realized just how overzealous I was.

Oven dried tomatoes   can made a placed in a jar in your fridge, then used for various recipes.

Oven dried tomatoes can made a placed in a jar in your fridge, then used for various recipes.

Luscious linguine with earthy notes from the spinach, salty from the olives and a sweetness that the mighty tomato brings.

Luscious linguine with earthy notes from the spinach, salty from the olives and a sweetness that the mighty tomato brings.

This tapenade is perfect as a sauce, or a dip or compliment that brings a powerful flavor addition to meats, cheeses, and more.

This tapenade is perfect as a sauce, or a dip or compliment that brings a powerful flavor addition to meats, cheeses, and more.

Oven roast tomatoes and serve as a side dish with fish and rice or any other grain.

Oven roast tomatoes and serve as a side dish with fish and rice or any other grain.

White Eggplant App - Greek Style

Here the tomatoes are in a supporting role, but an important one. I love this dish. It can be an appetizer or a side dish and has just zest and zing.

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Freshly sliced tomatoes with pesto. You can’t go wrong with simply slicing them and enhancing with salt and good olive oil or a tad of pesto, or the tapenade from above.

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I could make this post go on forever. The recipes and ideas for using what’s fresh and amazing right now are endless but I hope this jump starts your imagination and your kitchen creations.

Ready, Set, Go!

Off to your local farmer’s market. Sniff, pluck and pick the best and the freshest. ‘Tis the season… that is until the next one.

Rice & Quinoa With A Crunch

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients

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

Instructions


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

Chopped onions ready to soften and give off their sweetness.

Chopped onions ready to soften and give off their sweetness.

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

until cooked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toasting the pepitas.

Toasting the pepitas.

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

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

Everything ready.

Everything ready.

In go the pepitas.

In go the pepitas.

In go the almonds.

In go the almonds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heat

Heat

Cools the heat

Cools the heat

The Chinese chives provided that mild onion note.

Chinese chives. Longer and flatter.

Chinese chives. Longer and flatter.

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

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

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

Crunch AKA Pepitas

Crunch AKA Pepitas

Crunch2 AKA Slivered Almonds

Crunch2 AKA Slivered Almonds

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

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

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

Spicy Eggplant, Potato, Carrot Hash

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Well, I’m back to my usual something from nothing tricks. The way I usually cook. Just pulling items out, in whatever quantities I have and figuring things out as I go. No real plan. Only agenda is to feed my hunger. When I’m in this mode, I don’t measure. But because I love you, I cut up whatever ingredients I took out and measured each one. This way you would have approximate amounts as a guide. For those of you who don’t necessarily need to follow a recipe for amounts, have fun. For those who usually use follow a recipe to a T, I encourage you to use your taste buds as a guide for judgement on approximating amounts. Look into a pot and say, I think that is enough onions, or carrots, or whatever. Once you get a feel for it, you will feel empowered. But, if you like sticking to a recipe, that’s cool, too.

AND as usual, the impetus for this creation emerged when I remembered buying white eggplant, but neglected to make it during the week. Panic struck when I wondered if I waited too long. Then relief filled my heart when I saw they were still in good shape. And so the story began; out came the eggplant, and with the fridge door swung wide open I started pulling ones item out at a time, looking through the drawers and shelves, and cupboards to see what else might be available.

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Here’s what I came up with. After I pulled everything out and chopped it up, I would have just starting cooking. But as promised, I measured it all for you. I very much appreciate that you take the time to read and try these recipes so I want to make experimenting easy and fun.

ingredients

  • White eggplant (4 c cubed)

  • Heirloom carrots (2 c cubed)

  • Long hot peppers (1/2 c sliced)

  • Red onions (2.5 c sliced)

  • Idaho Potatoes (4 c cubed)

(You will need 3/4c oil, salt and pepper to taste.)

When I saw this pile of gorgeous veg, I immediately thought HASH. No, not the kind you smoke; the yummy, crispy kind you usually have with eggs. Only I planned on making it as a side dish for dinner.

Since each of these ingredients takes different cooking times, my approach was to cook each separately and then bring them all together at the end. While I was cooking my mind kept ping ponging thoughts on whether this would need a salsa. There was mint, parsley and cilantro standing by in the fridge. It got me thinking about making a chimichurri style dressing to brighten the whole thing up in the end.

Salsa Ingredients

1/4 c fresh mint leaves
1/3 c Olive Oil (you can use less if you want it less liquidy)
1 large garlic clove
1 T, shallot, minced (optional)
1/2 t lemon zest
squeeze of lemon juice
Salt, preferably coarse

I use a mortar and pestle but you can also use a mini blender to combine the ingredients.

Here’s how this something from nothing adventure turned out.

The salsa line up.

The salsa line up.

Instructions

  1. Cut and slice all the ingredients as noted above.

Heirloom carrots. Yellow and purple gorgeous chunks.

Heirloom carrots. Yellow and purple gorgeous chunks.

What a beautiful array of potatoes, onions, spicy peppers, white eggplant. Ready and willing.

What a beautiful array of potatoes, onions, spicy peppers, white eggplant. Ready and willing.

2. Start with the potatoes first because they will take the longest. Add them into a hot cast iron skillet with 1/4 c oil, add salt and pepper. Then turn the heat to medium low. Once they are crispy on the outside and tender in the middle, remove them and set aside.

Nice bite sized chunks.

Nice bite sized chunks.

Is there anything more satisfying than crispy potatoes? I think not.

Is there anything more satisfying than crispy potatoes? I think not.

3. In the same pan, add 1/4 c oil, then add the eggplant and half the sliced onions, salt and pepper. Cook until they have a nice crust. Remove and set aside.

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Get a good sear so the eggplant don’t get mushy. You want a nice bite to them.

Get a good sear so the eggplant don’t get mushy. You want a nice bite to them.

4. In the same pan, add 1/4 c oil, carrots, remainder of the onions and peppers. Cook until done.

Look at how bright and vibrant this looks.

Look at how bright and vibrant this looks.

Cook until the vegetables are softened and nicely caramelized.

Cook until the vegetables are softened and nicely caramelized.

5. Add everything back in the pan and cook until all the flavors meld together.

Add everything together to combine and let the flavors marry.

Add everything together to combine and let the flavors marry.

6. Make the Chimichurri style salsa by smashing garlic, cilantro, salt in a mortar and pestle (or a mini blender). Add some lemon zest and juice and oil and whisk together.

The salt and pepper act as a abrasive to mince the mint.

The salt and pepper act as a abrasive to mince the mint.

Lemon zest brightens and makes all the ingredients sing.

Lemon zest brightens and makes all the ingredients sing.

I made my salsa more on the liquidy side so I could drizzle it on. You can add as much or as little oil as you desire.

I made my salsa more on the liquidy side so I could drizzle it on. You can add as much or as little oil as you desire.

A medley of robust flavors.

A medley of robust flavors.

The combo of the vegetables was quite tasty. The zesty salsa only amped up all the flavors. I ate it for lunch, dinner, and I might have even had a little for breakfast, too. I even added some broccolini to it.

With some sautéd broccolini, this made a tasty lunch dish.

With some sautéd broccolini, this made a tasty lunch dish.

Other uses:

  • Put this combo instead an omelette, or just scramble it into eggs

  • Grilled flank steak or shrimp and serve it fajita style

  • Smash it together, form patties and sear them into little pancakes

    I leave the rest of the serving ideas to your imagination. What’s in your fridge this weekend? Go explore!

Israeli Couscous with Sautéd Squash, Roasted Tomatoes & Garlic

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I like comfort food.  Which usually means a mouthful of pasta.  I especially like it when it is small enough that I can simply scoop spoonfuls into my mouth.  Gosh, I hope that doesn't sound gross. But it is quite satisfying.  Which is why I love creating salads that fit that agenda.  As with my Orzo Salad, this Israeli Couscous dish has that same mouthfeel.  Flavor in every bite filled with the comfort of a pasta.  Small enough that it's easy to spoon, swallow and spoon again.  Oh, yeah, don't forget to chew.

I created this dish for a Ladies' Lunch for my Mom and the women's group at her condo.  They were gracious enough to allow me to cater the lunch for them, and I had a blast doing it.  I will post more about the entire meal but for now, let's focus on spooning some of this salad for your next lunch, dinner side dish or BBQ party.  When I came up with idea it was to satisfy what I thought the women would enjoy as well as a dish that would be easy to make given all the other items I was making.  What I didn't even realize at the time was that this Israeli Couscous plays off the same idea as my Garlic Rice with Sautéd Zucchini & Tomatoes.  I found that recipe as I was writing this one so I could share other zucchini ideas. And there it was, along with several others.

Apparently, there are a million ways to serve up zucchini.  So here's a quick reminder of a few I have experimented with and achieved success.  Try them out while the weather is zucchini friendly.
Zucchini Crudo with Shaved Parmigiano & Mint Oil
Zucchini Orzo Pie
Zucchini Carpaccio
Balsamic Bathed Carrots Wrapped with Zucchini
An Asian Twist to Zucchini Ribbons

Now back to the main attraction. This is one of those dishes that you can literally being cooking, cutting, sautéing all at the same time.  A multitasking wonder. So I have written the instructions in a way to be most efficient. 

Ingredients

1.5 cups Israeli Couscous
1 large zucchini, cubed
1-2 small yellow squash, cubed
1 medium shallot, diced
1 pint grape tomatoes, oven roasted
4-5 whole garlic cloves
2-3 T basil, chiffonade
1 c olive Oil
1 t coarse salt
1/2 t pepper
*Note: You can alter the couscous to veg ratio if you like more of one.  Totally up to you.

Slice the squashes lengthwise first. Then strips, then cubes.

Slice the squashes lengthwise first. Then strips, then cubes.

 

Instructions

1. Roast the grape tomatoes in 1/2 c olive oil with whole cloves of garlic.  Refer to the oil roasted recipe in my post The  Great Tomato Caper.

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2.  While the tomatoes roast, cut the zucchini, yellow squash and shallots and sauté them separately in oil. Season with salt and pepper, adding half the shallots to each batch, once they are partially cooked.  You don't want to add the shallots first as they will burn.

Nice little cubes all the same size so you get a piece in every spoonful.

Nice little cubes all the same size so you get a piece in every spoonful.

Zucchini cubed up

Zucchini cubed up

3. While the squashes are sautéing, cook the Israeli Couscous as you would any type of pasta, in a large pot of salted boiling water.  Cook until al dente.  Drain and set aside in a serving bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil so it doesn't stick and let cool.

Gorgeous pearls of pasta

Gorgeous pearls of pasta

4.  Once the tomatoes are done, remove the garlic from their skins and mash them with a fork and course salt.  Add 1/4 c olive oil, pepper to taste and whisk together.

Grapes tomatoes oven roasted in luscious oil with roasted garlic.

Grapes tomatoes oven roasted in luscious oil with roasted garlic.

Sweet and tender garlic.

Sweet and tender garlic.

Smash to create a paste.

Smash to create a paste.

5. It is best to mix the roasted garlic oil into the couscous while it is still warm so the flavors absorb, but you can mix it at room temperature, too. Be sure to thoroughly incorporate.
6. Chiffonade the basil (cutting them in strips) and add to the couscous.
7. Then add some of the juices from the roasted tomatoes, the tomatoes and sautéed squashed. Gently mix until combined.  Serve room temperature.

A bowl of goodness that is pure pleasure to eat spoonful after spoonful.

A bowl of goodness that is pure pleasure to eat spoonful after spoonful.

This is one of those dishes that is both hearty but light at the same time.  The couscous is a pasta so it does do the job of satisfyingly fill you up, but the lightness of the veggies make it feel summertime fresh, especially served room temperature or even chilled.  

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I made this out of love.
Love of pasta.
Love for my Mom.
Love to share with others.

 

Print Friendly Recipe

 

Zucchini Carpaccio

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Carpaccio refers to raw, thin slices.  Most people typically use this method for beef or fish. But why limit its focus.  The technique can be applied to any food really.  That's when I elected to employ its useful style to zucchini; both green and yellow. 

Once upon a time on a warm summer's day in the country, I had zucchini. AGAIN.
Another dilemma of what to do with this ubiquitous kinda bland veg. And so, the idea of creating a dish that would be fresh and cool given the heat of the day sparked the idea for carpaccio.  Slice it thin.  No need to cook it.  Add a zingy sauce and call it day.  

That is how this dish came to be. Out of sheer not wanting to turn on the stove or oven or eat anything hot.   I don't need to bore you with any more adjectives, adverbs or other fancy descriptions.  This is a simple once upon a time story, with a happy ending.  Now, down to the 'how to'.

Ingredients

1  zucchini, thinly sliced approx. 2 c
2 small yellow squash, thinly sliced approx. 2 c
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 c red wine vinegar
1/4 c white wine vinegar
salt

 

Dressing
1-2 T honey (depending on your taste)
1/3 c fresh lime juice
1/3 c fresh lemon juice
1 T rice wine vinegar
1/4 shallots. minced
1.5 T mint, finely chopped
1.5 T basil, chopped
1+ tsp salt / 1/4 t pepper to taste

Instructions

1. First things first.  Thinly slice the red onions so they have time to pickle. I use a mandolin for this so I can cut them quickly, evenly and thinly. Next, combine the red and white vinegar with salt and submerge the onions.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the zucchini and dressing.

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2. Thinly slice both the zucchini and yellow squash using a mandolin.  Unless you have a sushi master skill of using a knife, the only real way to get these thin enough, and consistent, is to use a mandolin.  Sorry, sometimes it's just that way. I like to make sure that I am slicing them so they are round, not oval.  I just groove off the overall visual look. But go ahead and slice as you like, just as long as they are thin. Then begin to layer them.  Again, I like order and visual appeal. So my aesthetic is one color for each row in a circular fashion.  I overlap slightly as I go to create a wheel of green and yellow swirls. But lay them down in whatever fashion suits your style.

Round and round we go. Layer anyway you like. I like circles.

Round and round we go. Layer anyway you like. I like circles.

It looks neat and visually appealing... and mesmerizing.

It looks neat and visually appealing... and mesmerizing.

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3. Once that is done, make the marinade/dressing.  Combine the lemon and lime juices, vinegar with honey, shallots, mint and basil.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Pour over the entire dish and allow the dressing to settle in for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour to absorb and "cook" the zucchini.  Drain and add the pickled onion in the center.

The first couple of times I made this dish I used regular basil. This time around I had purple basil, so that's what I used.

The first couple of times I made this dish I used regular basil. This time around I had purple basil, so that's what I used.

Sometimes I start my circles with yellow squash, then zucchini. Other times the versus. I know, I live dangerously.

Sometimes I start my circles with yellow squash, then zucchini. Other times the versus. I know, I live dangerously.

The purple basil adds another color pop.

The purple basil adds another color pop.

Warning, this dish is tart and tangy. (Use more honey to balance the flavor to your palate. I like it tangy.)
Perfect for the summer.
Perfect for BBQ meats.
Perfect solution to not sweating over a stove. 
Another zucchini dilemma solved. 
Another happy ending.