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Archive for May, 2007

Salad Days – Part 4

From France to Greece. We’ve thought about Nicoise salad and now let’s cross the wine dark sea and visit Greece. While there, we’ll have a Greek salad which, for all I know, may be to Greece as Chop Suey is to China. Nevertheless, we’ll have a Greek salad.

Actually, a salad made of tomatoes, purple onion slices, cucumbers, green bell peppers, garnished with feta cheese and big black kalamata olives is of Greek origin. Make sure your vinaigrette is made of good quality olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and oregano. Season it with salt and black pepper and it’s perfect. No lettuce needed, except for the Americanized version. Go ahead and add it. It won’t change the basic lemony, garlicky flavor. Some people add roasted red peppers to the mix. I like them in it and use them quite a lot.

You can make the salad well before dinner then grill a chicken breast at mealtime and presto! There’s your dinner. OK, maybe cut off a nice thick slice of that No Knead Bread you made and grill that too. Brush it with some olive oil. Enjoy.

Morgana

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Salade composee. Cobb salad. Insalata caprese. Antipasto plate. Chef salad. These are all examples of composed salads.

Picture a platter, filled with freshly prepared foods, arranged for maximum effect, tastefully, in both senses of the word. Colors, flavors, accents. A visual delight as well as a gustatory delight.

Composed salads, ones prepared ahead of the meal either on individual dishes or on platters from which one is served or serves himself, are the cook’s friend, especially when she is entertaining. They can be finished ahead of time, often well ahead of final dinner preparations. The cook has time then to play with the presentation. That is the time to experiment with “decorating” the plate, a well-placed grape tomato here, a few olives there, asparagus spears steamed to perfection, all on a bed of lettuce leaves.

Whatever the ingredients of a composed salad, whether served family style or individually, it is always an attractive counterpoint to the main attraction, meat, potato, casserole, pizza. Be careful, though, to not have the entire dinner become a beauty contest. A “fussy” composed salad will become the star if the rest of the meal is composed of more basic dishes.

One of the best known, and my personal favorite composed salad, is a Nicoise salad. It consists of steamed or boiled new potatoes, green beans, red onion silvers, tuna (preferably Italian in oil, but I often use Bumble Bee in water), Roma tomato wedges, hard boiled eggs and Nicoise olives. The Nicoise olives can be hard to find and are so small that sometimes they seem hardly worth the effort of carefully chewing around the pit which is nearly as bbig as the entire olive. All the ingredients can be served on a bed of lettuce if you’d like, and drizzled with vinaigrette. Some recipes call for anchovies, although anchovies can be incorporated in the dressing*. The individual items should be arranged in some sort of plan, either distributed evenly over the lettuce, or grouped together, i.e., all the potatoes together, the beans together, etc. I like to scatter the olives around the entire platter.

* Dressing for Nicoise salad – a simple vinaigrette
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar (or part lemon juice)
1 clove garlic—minced (crushed)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4-1/2 t. anchovy paste, optional

I hope you find time to prepare a composed salad. Try this one. Fix it early in the afternoon, refrigerate it, and at dinner time, you are ready to eat. No heating up the kitchen, no last minute fretting. Open a bottle of wine and you’re good to go.

Next time, we’ll look at some other composed salads.

Morgana

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To continue with “Salad Days” here is a recipe for “Fiesta Corn Salad”, so called because of the bright colors and the Tex-Mex flavors. It is quick to prepare and can be done well ahead of time. In fact, 8 hours or even a day ahead allows the flavors to mingle and enhance each other.

I fix this often in the summer, and occasionally in the winter when I need a flavor boosting pick-me-up. It is great to fix for a crowd and also as a contribution to a potluck dinner or picnic. I have made large batches of it for 40-50 people stored in food bags and stuffed here and there in the frig.

Use fresh corn, cut from the cob and cooked in water just till tender, or grilled on the cob and then cut from it. You can pan roast cut corn in a nonstick skillet just till it begins to brown. Grilled or roasted corn has a sweetness that can’t be achieved by boiling or steaming it.

Frozen corn can be used if you thaw it first. Put it in a strainer and run cold water over it for a few minutes. Most of the time I use canned corn. It’s fast and I always have it on hand.

Broil or grill a steak (maybe a marinated flank steak), slice it and serve it with the corn salad for a complete meal.

FIESTA CORN SALAD

Corn (fresh from the cob, frozen and thawed, or canned and drained) (2 cans)
Red and/or green bell pepper, diced (1/4 c. each)
Green onions, sliced (4-5)
Red/purple onions, diced (1/4 c.)
Fresh cilantro, finely chopped (2 T.)
Olive oil (2 T.)
Lime juice (1 T.)
Red wine vinegar (2 t.)
Cumin (1/4 t.)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Cilantro leaves for garnish

Mix all in large bowl. Serve as is or on red lettuce leaves. Garnish with whole cilantro leaves.
Can be kept refrigerated for several days.

Note: The amounts given are just a starting point. Let your taste buds be your guide. You may want more or less of some amounts. Taste as you go and adjust the amounts. Also, I like to use both white and yellow corn just for added appeal but one or the other is just fine. My neighbor Bonita made her own version of this dish and added black beans.

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These warm days at the beginning of summer make us think fondly of cold dishes, with the cooking portion, if any, done in the cool part of the day. Not only does this save heating up the kitchen during the hottest part of the day, but it also gets part of a meal’s preparation done ahead of time, freeing up time later for other things, maybe a cool drink in the shade. Mojito, anyone?

Salads are a great contribution to these meals. There are so many from which to choose that it is difficult to select just one to offer you today. Perhaps more may come your way when time permits. For now, let’s look at a simple pasta salad, well suited for warm weather. With some fruit, and maybe bruschetta with ciabatta or other good chewy bread, you have the fixings for a hearty meal.

TORTELLINI SALAD

Tortellini, cheese filled
Grape or cherry tomatoes
Black olives, Kalamata or Greek
Pepperoni slices, cut in half
Green onions, sliced
Optional ingredients: bell pepper pieces, roasted red peppers chopped, red onions, almost any vegetable you like; fresh herbs, chopped, especially basil.

Vinaigrette, garlicky, preferred

Cook the tortellini until just tender. Drain. Combine with cherry tomatoes and the rest of the vegetable ingredients, gently, so as not to break up the tortellini. Drizzle with vinaigrette and toss gently.

There are no amounts given so as to let you decide what flavors you want to dominate the dish. Your eyes will tell you when there is enough of each for presentation’s sake and your tongue will tell you what else you need to know. Feel like more garlic? Add a minced clove either to the vinaigrette or to the salad itself. Want some fresh herbs? Add some basil. Feel free to make this to your own taste.

Enjoy.

Morgana

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Cole slaw is one of the ubiquitous picnic dishes, so much so that it is taken for granted. It seems that it is given short shrift when it comes to imaginative touches to the two main types, the vinegary ones and the creamy ones. Every now and then one runs across a slaw that has something different added to it that makes it rise above the ordinary slaws. It’s not that hard to do considering that ordinary slaws are usually too sweet or too bland.

I was pleased to find this recipe that has the addition of fresh cilantro (coriander) to give it some pizzazz. Cilantro always adds a brightness to the flavor of a dish and this is no exception. This recipe has a lot of garlic, so tailor it to your own “garlic tolerance.” I am sorry to say that I can’t relate it’s origin. I didn’t write the source on my recipe card. I thought it was from Cook’s Illustrated, but I can’t find it in any of those cookbooks. They do have a “Cilantro Slaw” recipe but it bears no resemblance to my recipe.

By the way, here is a link to more coleslaw recipes. I haven’t tried any of them but I will.

CILANTRO SLAW

Mix in a small bowl::
1/2 c. mayonnaise
2 T. cider vinegar
1 t. sugar
2 t. minced garlic or less

Mix in a large bowl:
3 c. finely shredded cabbage
1/2 c. finely chopped green onions
1/2 c. finely chopped green bell pepper
1/2 c. finely chopped red bell pepper
1/4 c. minced fresh cilantro
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1/4 t. cumin, optional

Pour the mayonnaise mixture over the cabbage mixture, stir. Store in the refrigerator.

Serve with finely sliced green onions and a few torn cilantro leaves as a garnish.

Happy picnicking.

Morgana

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This is the holiday weekend before Memorial Day, 2007. All over the country people will be having their first picnic of the year. Millions of hamburgers and hot dogs will be consumed with families and friends celebrating the return of summer and the three-day holiday weekend. Barbecue grills will be sizzling steaks, chicken legs, pork ribs and other tasty treats. Let’s hear it for barbecues! However, yesterday I left the grill cold and cooked BBQ pork in the house.

I found a small pork loin in the freezer that I decided to rescue from its frozen oblivion and use for last night’s dinner. I had some hamburger buns leftover so it seemed that BBQ pulled pork sandwiches were in order. I also had coleslaw in the frig, so I had everything for the sandwiches.

My recipe for pulled pork uses the crockpot and no grill. With the pork sitting in its freezer bag in cold water to thaw, I prepared the cooking liquid in the crockpot. The recipe doesn’t require a lot of ingredients but it certainly is good.

PULLED PORK SANDWICHES

Pork loin (3 lbs works well, but mine was only 2 lb.)
1/2 c. water
4 T. vinegar (I used cider vinegar but white would do)
2 t. Worcestershire
1 clove garlic minced
2 t. chili powder
3 T. BBQ sauce

BBQ sauce
Sandwich buns
Coleslaw
Pickles, dill slices

Put all in crockpot. Cover, cook on low heat for 8-10 hours, high heat for 5 hours.

Remove meat from the pot. Keep 2 T. of the liquid in the pot and throw away the rest. Use 2 forks to shred the meat into pieces appropriate for sandwiches. Put the meat back in the crockpot. Add as much BBQ sauce as needed to slightly coat the meat. Stir, cover and cook low for 30 minutes.

Serve on buns with coleslaw and pickles if desired. Pass extra BBQ sauce for those who want their meat more soupy.

I found the basis for this recipe in a library cookbook several years ago. I’m sorry I can’t remember which one it was.

I occasionally make my own BBQ sauce but there are so many good ones on the market now that I always have a bottle on hand. For this occasion, I used Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce.

We have plenty of meat left for sandwiches this weekend so I’m a little ahead of the game, for once.

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This Memorial weekend take some time to remember the veterans living and dead who sacrificed time, health well-being, and for some life itself to give us the opportunity to live in this country and enjoy the bounties it has to offer. May those who gave the last full measure of devotion rest in eternal peace.

Morgana

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There seems to be a lot of interest in stuffed green peppers. My previous post (“A Favorite Dish”) about stuffed peppers is by far the most visited. Since I never provided the recipe, I will do so now in case people were searching for a complete list of ingredients and procedures instead of just my guidelines.

My only changes to the original recipe are using hot sauce and the corn. I think the addition of corn makes the dish especially good. I also use a little more tomato than called fork, a 14 ounce can instead or a 7 1/2 oz. can. I like more tomato flavor. You might like to give it and the corn a try.

MORGANA’S STUFFED GREEN PEPPERS
Based on a recipe from Better Homes and Gardens

Serves 4

2 large green bell peppers, halved lengthwise
3/4 lb. ground beef, pork, sausage or combination
1/2 c. chopped onion
14 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/3 c. long grain rice
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 c. canned or frozen or fresh corn
1/2 t. dried basil or oregano, crushed

garlic, optional
hot sauce, to taste, optional
1/2 c. shredded Cheddar or Colby or Co-Jack or ANY cheese
salt and pepper
1/2 c. water

1. Put large pot of water on heat to boil. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove stem end from peppers. Cut out ribs and rinse out seeds. When water boils, put peppers into the pot of boiling water for 3 minutes only. Remove, salt the insides of the peppers. Let drain on towels, cut side down.

2. In a skillet, cook the meat with the onion until the meat is browned. Drain off as much fat as you can. Add the tomatoes with their juice, the uncooked rice, the corn, the Worcestershire sauce and whatever seasonings you desire, 1/4 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper, and the 1/2 c. water.

3. Bring to the boil; reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 15 to 18 minutes or until the rice is tender, adding more liquid as necessary. When rice is done and the mixture is fairly dry but still moist, add half of the cheese and stir to blend.

4. Fill the peppers with the stuffing and put in a casserole. (An 8 X 8 dish works if the peppers aren’t too large.)
Arrange any leftover meat and rice around the peppers.

5. Bake about 15 minutes or till heated through. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and let stand until cheese melts before serving.

Hope you enjoy the recipe.

Morgana

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