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. 

 

Jammin' Onion Jam

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The Power of the Onion – And I don’t mean Odor
 
Onions; oh, the sheer beauty of them. Now, before you get all crazy on me and say that they give you bad breath and gas, please remember that they give you so much more.  Their versatility spans from the savory to the sweet. With layers upon layers of translucent rings, they are a super hero of flavor.  They come in all sizes and stamina. And as if that weren't enough, they are a powerful anti-inflammatory with the hallmark flavonoid antioxidant, quercetin. What the heck is that?  I'm not exactly sure but it sounded interesting and important.  Seriously though, they are really good for you.  Don't take my word, and to avoid getting all scientific technical on you, check out this link for more health info.
 
As a supporting team player, adding onions to a dish can really boost up the flavor.  I add them to so many of my dishes, but I also feel that they can be the star, too.  Here is one of my favorite ways of serving onions. Jamming up the onions to make them sweet. (I bolded that line because you will probably read it again and again with future onion ideas, as they are like children, there really are no favorites, I love them all the same.)

Onions are made up of almost 90% water with 4% sugar and 2% fiber.  We are going to take full advantage of that 4% sugar and help it along to make jam.  Of course, we'll need a few other items to coax them along, but not much more. Plus it  hardly takes any work to make these onions delicious.

It doesn't take many ingredients to make a condiment that will steal the show.

It doesn't take many ingredients to make a condiment that will steal the show.

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Ingredients

3-4 onions*, thinly sliced (approx. 4-5 c)
2 cups or about 1/2 bottle red wine
1/2 c red wine vinegar
3/4 c honey
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 T olive oil
* You can use yellow onions or red, and even mix the two, as I did this time around.  

 

instructions

Thinly slice the onions and sauté them in a large pan in oil with salt/pepper for about 5 minutes until they sweat. 

Just let the onions cook down a bit until slightly soft.

Just let the onions cook down a bit until slightly soft.

Once they are slightly soften, add the wine. (I usually make onion jam when I have a leftover bottle of red bottle hanging around. For two reasons; one, you always want to use a wine that you would drink and two, this is a great way to use a wine before it might have to go down the drain.) Cook over low heat until the onions cook down and absorb the wine. Since these are cooking over a low flame, it will take some time; about 20 minutes or so.  

Pour in the good stuff, red wine makes it better.

Pour in the good stuff, red wine makes it better.

Once the wine is almost completely absorbed and the onions are saturated with wine, add the vinegar and let cook for 5-8 minutes.  Next add the honey, bringing it to a rolling boil for a few minutes, then turn down the flame to low and let it all get nice and cozy together.  

Pour in some acid to balance the sweet.

Pour in some acid to balance the sweet.

I warn you now, to get it jammy you will need to let this cook down for quite some time, approximately 45-50 minutes. Good thing is, you don’t have to stand over it.  Just stir every now and then. At the point when there is a small amount of liquid left bring it back up to a rolling boil for 5 minutes.  The onions will get soft and the liquid turns thicker and more jam-like.  

Dark and rich with sweet, sticky goodness.

Dark and rich with sweet, sticky goodness.

Let cool and store in a glass jar or air tight container.  These will last for a couple of months.

I love serving them as jam in a sweet little bowl.  Maybe one I’ve picked up at a garage sale or specialty store and adding it as the star to pair with cheese.  The earthy, robust yet sweet flavor of the jam makes it a perfect complement to cheese.  

Cheese board filled with sweet and savory.

Cheese board filled with sweet and savory.

Need some more nifty uses:

  • a sweet topping for grilled/roasted chicken or pork
  • swap out caramelized onions with onion jam to top some sliders with cheese. 
  • try it in salad such as baby arugula. It's the right amount of sweet to balance that peppery green. 
  • Hey, what about potatoes, purple kale and onions, topped with more onions - jam.
Pork loin, basmati rice with onions and Enoki mushrooms, Haricot verts and pan seared tomatoes.

Pork loin, basmati rice with onions and Enoki mushrooms, Haricot verts and pan seared tomatoes.

Sautéd purple kale, onions with pan seared potatoes topped with onion jam.

Sautéd purple kale, onions with pan seared potatoes topped with onion jam.

Grass fed hamburger sliders with Gouda cheese, onion jam on a bed of baby arugula.

Grass fed hamburger sliders with Gouda cheese, onion jam on a bed of baby arugula.

Alright, go ahead and test it on everything until you find something that it doesn’t work well with. (And then let me know.)  Some suggestions on serving this.  Use cold or at room temp when pairing with cheese. Warm it up slightly when using it with warm food.

Enjoy the power of onions.  I promise these won’t give you bad breath or drive away friends.  In fact, I would wager to say that you will actually make a few. 

Orzo Salad ala Greek

Fresh green salads are a no brainer for the summer.  They are refreshing, crisp and light, as a summer salad should be.  Yet sometimes you may want all of that in a salad but need a tad more substance.  This is when pasta takes its cue and comes to the rescue. (In my opinion, pasta answers any of my rescue calls. It's my lifesaver. Literally and figuratively!)  
This Orzo Pasta Salad with a nod to Greece, is an oldie but goodie.  As with some of my archive recipes, I made them a lot in the past but then just moved on.  Or so I thought.  Come to find out that both my sisters, Alyssa and Jill, have continued to make this particular recipe throughout the years.   Which gives me smiles.  What gives them smiles is when I have to call them so THEY can remind me how I originally told them to make it.  Who cares how we get our smiles, as long as we are smiling.

First, allow me to enumerate on the many great aspects of this dish.  

  • First, it's easy, and that is a huge plus. Good food doesn't have to be complicated or a royal pain in the...
  • Second, since it uses orzo, the pasta component isn't too heavy yet it satisfies superbly.  How perfectly is that!
  • Third, it contains crunchy vegetables. This is two fold good because we all need our veggies and they provide another textural element.
  • Fourth, it packs a ton of flavor.  

Geez, I could keep on keeping on, but do I really need to?   Trust me, it's good.  So let's get down to brass tacks and assemble this one up.  I say ala Greek because the ingredients are similar to a Greek Salad just no lettuce but instead a tooth bite of orzo.  

Ingredients

(Yields approx. 5 cups)

1 lb. box Orzo, cooked
1 c English cucumber, seeds removed, small dice
1/3-2/3 c Calamata olives, chopped
1.5 - 2 c red, orange, yellow pepper, small dice
1/4 c scallions, sliced
1/3 heaping c red onion, small dice
2/3 c fresh basil, chiffonade
2/3 - 3/4 c Feta cheese, crumbled

The line up

The line up

Alright, let me continue with the plusses on this salad. You can prep everything the day before if you wanted to. Just place the chopped vegetables in an airtight container.  You could even cook the orzo if you wanted to. Just add some oil to keep it from sticking together.  Heck, you can make the salad a day ahead of time. Just add the feta before serving.  I told you I could go on and on about the pros to this salad.  

Instructions

Cook the orzo according to the package.  I like mine, as with all my pastas, al dente.  While the orzo is cooking chop the vegetables and olives as suggested above.   Let the orzo cool a bit, then toss it together with vegetables and olives. 

Orzo, the perfect little pasta.  This time it's starring in a salad.  But try it in soups. Che buono!

Orzo, the perfect little pasta.  This time it's starring in a salad.  But try it in soups. Che buono!

When cutting up vegetables, I usually like to slice them up in different sizes to create varying textures and shapes. However, with this salad I would recommend cutting everything in relatively the same size.  It creates an balanced salad, a balanced bite as well as makes it easy to eat. 

This time the veggies are conforming to one size, but they don't mind.  

This time the veggies are conforming to one size, but they don't mind.  

Once you have everything cut, combine with the orzo.  Then move onto mixing up the dressing.

Vibrant, fresh colors of summer.

Vibrant, fresh colors of summer.

Whisk up or mix up in a jar, and dress the salad up.

Whisk up or mix up in a jar, and dress the salad up.

Dressing

2/3 c Olive oil
1/4 c Red Wine Vinegar
1 t dried oregano
2 heaping t salt
1/2 t crushed black pepper
2 t fresh lemon juice
Zest of lemon, optional

Whisk together and pour over the salad.  I do like to add the dressing when the orzo is slightly warm.  The pasta tends to absorb even more of the flavor.  Once combined, add most of feta cheese and chopped basil leaves.

 

Leave some so you can adorn the top of the salad with more feta and basil, and serve.  This salad is best at room temp.  But I have eaten it right out of the refrigerator. (Actually, standing in the refrig, spoon in hand and gobbling it right out of the container.)

Versatile and vibrant little summer pasta salad that goes with everything.  It's great for a midweek meal using any leftovers for lunch the next day. (That is if you have any leftovers).  Add a base of mixed greens and pile some pasta salad on top. And of course,  this dandy of a dish is simply divine for a summer BBQ crowd.  I even brought a batch into the staff at Despaña and it got all smiles all around.  Like I said, pasta to the rescue.

Smoked Salmon with Pickled Fennel

You may recall that I mentioned being inspired by a couple of dishes we enjoyed  when last in Miami. Last week's post provided my version of a Meaty Ragu, so this week is my take of the other dish featuring salmon and fennel. I also figured that with the holidays approaching and New Year's Eve around the corner, this no cook, fast assemble appetizer might be helpful.  It is an austere dish with just two stars but each one has its own strong identity.   

salmon & fennel
fennel & vinegar

Ingredients

Smoked Salmon
3 c fennel, shaved or sliced thinly
5 T rice wine vinegar
2 T sugar
3 T honey
1/2 t salt
Lemon Zest
Fennel Fronds for decorating the plate (optional)
Lemon slice for decorating the plate  (optional)
Rye or Pumpernickel bread for serving (optional)

vinegar & sugar

Instructions

Melt the honey and whisk together with the vinegar, sugar, salt.  Add the shaved fennel and set aside to marinate and pickle for at least an hour.

Thin slivers of fennel.  I love using a mandolin, but please watch your fingers!

Thin slivers of fennel.  I love using a mandolin, but please watch your fingers!

Fennel slices bathing in vinegar, sugar, salt and honey

Fennel slices bathing in vinegar, sugar, salt and honey

Once your fennel is pickled to your liking, you can begin to assemble your platter.  This is one of those dishes that can be assembled ahead of your party and kept covered in the fridge until guests arrive.  If you liked my idea of using the fennel fronds for color and decorating the platter, go ahead and place those as your base. Then roll up the salmon slices and arrange standing up.  Gather up a bunch of the pickled fennel and tap with a paper towel to remove any excess liquid before placing on the platter.  Arrange your plate any way you like.  Finish by grating some lemon zest a top the entire platter.  That is it.  I told you it would be a no cook, easy app!

Design your platter any way you like.  I like using the fennel fronds to decorate.  It adds color and architectural elements.

Design your platter any way you like.  I like using the fennel fronds to decorate.  It adds color and architectural elements.

Use a good smoked salmon, as it is the star of the show here.  I would recommend having it hand cut in thin slices. Pickling the fennel really brings out the crunch and adds that acidic element which is balanced with honey so as to not overpower the salmon. This dish was part of a cocktail party.  Knowing that the other plates on the buffet would provide hearty options I served this dish just as is, but had bread, crackers and endive on the buffet table.  However, if you wanted to make this a more substantial plate or serve this as a first course, you could present it with some creme fraiche and pumpernickel or rye bread.  I think that combination would be wonderful and perfect for a holiday party or New Year's Eve cocktail event.

Ideal for brunch, or as a starter to a dinner party. Hey if you are so inclined to have a party with pass around plates, this would fit that bill.  Refreshing and light but bold with just two stars shining.