Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Recipe Snapshot & Ideas from Around the Web: Summer Salads

We haven't hit it yet, but we know it's coming--that part of summer when it's just too hot to cook.  When you can't bear the idea of turning on your stove, let alone the oven.  The good news is that there's so much wonderful produce floating around this time of year that it's a lot easier to get dinner on the table with little or no actual "cooking" involved.

One of my favorites this time of year is the simple caprese salad--luscious ripe tomatoes, creamy fresh mozzarella cheese, bright fresh basil, and very little else.  I prefer mine with just a drizzle of really good olive oil, and a sprinkle of sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.

I recommend using a mix of tomatoes if you can--I made this salad last summer, and the plum (Roma) tomatoes and yellow tomatoes complemented one another perfectly.  Yellow tomatoes have less acid in them, and are a bit milder.  I like to think of them as a "gateway tomato" for folks who don't love tomatoes.  (It's sad, yes, but there are many people who don't.)  Also, you need to use fresh mozzarella, which is usually sold in the deli section of your grocery store, with the fancy cheeses--it's spongier in texture than the stuff you usually put on pizza, and is often packaged in liquid.  If you prefer to gussy your caprese up with balsamic or other flavors, might I suggest this recipe from the Pioneer Woman?  My recipe is at the end of this post.

What if Caprese salad isn't really your thing?  Never fear.  Here are some other ideas for yummy hot weather meals that won't even make you break a sweat!

Seared Chicken Salad with Cherries and Goat Cheese Dressing, from Everyday Food  magazine: I've made this a couple of times, and it's delicious and easy. The tang of the goat cheese is perfect with the crisp lettuce and sweet cherries!

Grilled Chicken Salad with Feta, Fresh Corn, and Blueberries, from the Pioneer Woman: I haven't tried this, but it sounds delish!

Thai Chicken Salad, from For the Love of Cooking: This sounds totally delish, and might help satisfy a craving for Asian food while keeping things light.

Squash Ribbon Salad with Goat Cheese and Pine Nuts, from Ezra Pound Cake: This is so unique; I wonder if I could get my husband to eat squash this way?

Hope there's something here to inspire you to make the most of the summer's bounty of fresh produce.  I want to head to the farmers' market right now!

Caprese Salad, recipe by Julie
Time: 15 minutes, including washing the basil. Serves: 2-4.

  • Mixed ripe tomatoes, about 1 large or 2 small tomatoes per person
  • 8-16 oz. fresh mozzarella (depending how much cheese you want per person!)
  • 1-2 cups fresh basil leaves, whole (again, depending how much you like).
  • Very good extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • Sea salt, such as fleur de sel, to taste
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Wash tomatoes, remove the cores of large tomatoes, and slice into 1/4-1/2 inch slices using a serrated knife. Arrange on a large plate or platter. (You may add some salt and pepper at this point if you want to focus the seasoning on the tomatoes themselves.)  Since the ends of the tomato don't usually look as pretty, you can just go ahead and eat them right now--no one will know!
  2. Slice mozzarella into equal thickness slices and arrange on top of the tomato slices, however you like.  Tip: the trick to slicing the mozzarella is to use the same serrated knife you used for the tomatoes.
  3. Rinse and pat dry the basil leaves.  Scatter across the salad.
  4. Drizzle the whole salad with olive oil, to taste, and season with sea salt and pepper, to taste.  Serve immediately.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Recipe Snapshot: Blueberry Cobbler

Well, it's officially summer, and about that time of year, with blueberries everywhere.  I don't know about you all, but I often forget about blueberries in the colder months (I think it's a defense mechanism), but then in the summer, when they are bountiful, I just cannot get enough.  One of the simplest ways to enjoy them is to bake them into a yummy homemade cobbler.  It's far easier than pie, but just as delicious, in my humblest of opinions.

Forgive me the bad picture--while I did in fact bake a blueberry cobbler last weekend when my father-in-law was in town, I did not take any pictures of it.  The pictured cobbler was made a couple of summers ago, pre-blog.  But you get the idea, right?

So what's the difference between a cobbler and a crisp, or a crumble?  Well, this isn't scientific or well-researched, but a cobbler is most likely to have a cakey or biscuity topping, while crisps are usually topped with nuts and/or oats, and crumbled with, well...crumbles.  I prefer cobblers, personally, because you get both a soft and fluffy topping AND a crisp crust.  Win-win.

Recipe below the cut!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Step-by-Step Recipe: Mushroom Risotto

I'll be honest and admit that I actually prepared this recipe a few weeks ago and just never got around to posting it.  So the mushrooms I used in the recipe may not be easily available, but no matter--any fresh (or maybe even dried) mushroom will do!  I used a mix of your standard white grocery store mushrooms, and some pioppini mushrooms bought at a local farmers' market.  Morels would be a great, though pricey, addition.  Use whatever mushroom is available and suits your budget, so long as it doesn't come from a can or a jar. 
As soon as I saw them, I just new I'd be putting them into a risotto.  I love making risotto--almost as much as I like eating it!  All the stirring is downright therapeutic.  I like it so much that I've even quasi-published my own recipe on the TastyKitchen website for a lemon herb risotto.  The basics are the same for this risotto recipe, but the flavor is much earthier, and it satisfies a totally different craving.

Recipe and pictures below the cut!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Step-by-Step Recipe: Southwestern Green Chile Chicken

I promise I've been cooking, but I've been making stuff that I've already blogged about, or that wasn't worth blogging about.  But that all changed this evening, with this recipe for green chile chicken.  I'd remembered seeing it on one of the other food blogs I follow a while back, and was inspired today to make a variation on it.

Have you seen the commercials on TV for Philadelphia brand Cooking Creme?  It's like cream cheese, but softer and easier to mix in.  It also comes in a few flavors--tonight's flavor was Sante Fe.  If you're like me, and you just love cream cheese, give this stuff a try.  Since it's relatively new, it's often on sale at the grocery store.  That's how I tried it.  Also, it's not nearly as unhealthy as you'd think.  I used this in place of the monterey jack cheese-mayonnaise blend called for in the original recipe.

My husband doesn't care for black olives, so I left those out.  I topped the chicken with fresh cilantro instead. I also left the chicken breasts whole, since there didn't seem to be any reason not to!  It was flavorful but not really spicy--just a bit of zip--and was delicious served with corn-tomato relish and cilantro-lime rice (from a box) and some fresh guacamole.

Pictures and recipe below the cut.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Best Thing I Ever Ate: San Francisco/Napa Valley Edition

Well, unfortunately, there wasn't just one.  But I'll try to narrow it down to the top few.

First of all, my apologies for the long absence.  I just did not have the energy to blog when we first got back from California.  I've been cooking at home, but mostly just throwing things together, and not really following recipes.  I have a few recipes in my stash that I plan to post next week, probably.  And with the farmers' markets back in full swing with the late spring/early summer produce, I'm sure there will be plenty to blog about!

Back to the task at hand.  We ate like crazy on our vacation.  San Francisco is known for good food, certainly, and with good reason.  The Napa Valley is also known for great food--lots of delicious locally grown produce, artisan cheeses, organic meat, and of course--fantastic wine.  I almost wish I could say we'd been more mindful of the calories we consumed.  But we weren't.

Highlights of San Francisco:

  • Tiny Swedish pancakes at Sears Fine Food, which was, conveniently, right next to our hotel.  It was so nice to start out a day of sightseeing with a filling breakfast.  I also loved the sourdough French toast (my husband less so), but overall, it was just a great experience.  The one more we diverged and went somewhere else, it was tasty, but we wished we'd gone to Sears!
  • Amazing Parisian macarons and other tasty treats from Miette Patisserie at the Ferry Building.  I tried the chocolate-lavender macaron, and I've got to be was better than any of the macarons I had in Paris.  It was amazing. I ate it in teeny-tiny bites to try to make it last and refused to give my husband a bite (uncharacteristic). Now that I see they do a mail-order business, I am sorely tempted to have a box shipped to my house immediately.  We also picked up some peanut butter cookies that served as our bedtime treat the rest of the week (on the occasion we were able to resist dessert with dinner, that is).

  • My entire meal at Fleur de Lys.  My chef crush on Hubert Keller knows no bounds.  My husband and I had dined at the Las Vegas location in 2009 (now known simply as "Fleur"), and at the time, it was one of the best meals of our lives.  We booked our reservation for our last night of our trip, thinking it would be a last hurrah of sorts. But as that Friday night reservation approached, we were so satiated with good food from our time in Napa (more on that in a bit) that we actually considered canceling.  But wow, am I glad we didn't.  We were smart this time and only did a three-course tasting menu with wine pairings, instead of the four we did in Vegas, because we recalled that there would also be an amuse-bouche and petits fours that came with the check. (In Vegas, the very sight of the petits fours had made me queasy; in San Francisco, I managed to make some room for them and enjoyed every last crumb.)  I don't remember everything that we ate, but I vividly remember my appetizer course, which involved a little baeckeoffe (Alsatian casserole) of vegetables and foie gras in veal stock, topped with a delicious crust and slices of black truffles.  On the side was a tiny little foie gras and duck sausage "burger."  The dish was, as you might expect, divine.  My other most vivid memory of our meal there was our dessert.  We both opted for the souffle--I had the chocolate, and my husband tried the Grand Marnier.  If you ever have the opportunity to dine at Fleur de Lys--and I hope that you do--I suggest, no, I urge, that you have the souffle.  It is well worth all 1,383,394 calories.  Promise. (Pictured: the souffle I had in Vegas in 2009.  It looked pretty much the same this time, except the ice cream was a cherry-kirsch flavor instead of mocha.)

Highlights of Napa Valley (with pictures!) below the cut!