Cool and Dreamy BLT-Inspired Pasta Salad

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting longer by the minute, the temperatures are warming up and thoughts turn to outdoor living and entertaining. It’s already quite hot here in the South—just in time for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend holiday and the unofficial start of summer. All the more reason to whip up something delicious that won’t heat up your kitchen in the process. This Cool and Dreamy BLT-Inspired Pasta Salad is chocked full of fresh ingredients, making it the perfect side dish for a large gathering, a pot luck or just served by itself for a quick lunch or weeknight dinner.

If you’re familiar with a BLT sandwich, you expect a salad by the same name to include Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato, right? But in this case, bright green baby spinach leaves are substituted for lettuce, and fresh basil and chopped spring scallions are added for an extra depth of flavor. By replacing water-filled lettuce with healthy and tasty raw spinach, the pasta is less likely to get soggy and the salad will have a longer shelf life. Most importantly, though, changing the “L” to an “S” in this salad and making some fresh additions doesn’t change the wonderful taste profile of a classic BLT. In fact, it improves it.

Once the cooked pasta and other ingredients are assembled, the salad is tossed with just enough creamy ranch dressing to bind it together and finished with a little salt and pepper, to taste. The end result is an enticing and colorfully familiar dish that’s a real crowd-pleaser for any occasion. I tested this salad at a pot luck last week and the serving bowl was scraped clean—a very good sign. Try this easy recipe for your next event and I have a feeling you’ll come home with a clean bowl, too.

I hope you have a lovely week and for those who observe it, enjoy a thoughtful, fun and safe Memorial Day holiday. Cheers and bon appétit!

Cool and Dreamy BLT-Inspired Pasta Salad
Makes about 16 servings

Notes: As written, this recipe makes enough pasta salad to feed a crowd, but it can easily be halved—or cut to a third. In this instance, I’ve used a seasoning packet to make my ranch dressing because I have yet to come up with a recipe from scratch that tastes the same, but make your ranch dressing from scratch if you prefer. Any extra salad that hasn’t been exposed to warm temps (such as sitting outside at a party for a while) will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.

1 1/2 lbs. (24 ounces) dry Farfalle or bowtie pasta
1 1/2 pints grape tomatoes, washed and quartered
3 oz. fresh basil leaves, washed and cut into thin strips (chiffonade), about 1/2 cup
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions (green spring onion), white and light green parts only
5 oz. baby spinach leaves, washed and coarsely chopped
12 oz. bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 1/2 cups of buttermilk ranch dressing prepared from a mix packet (I use Hidden Valley Original Buttermilk Ranch Dressing mix, 1 cup mayo and 1 cup buttermilk mixed together as per the instructions on the package. You’ll have 1/2 cup dressing left after using it for this recipe.) Or, use an equal amount of your own homemade buttermilk ranch dressing. Do not use bottled dressing!
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cook the pasta in boiling water according to the package directions until al dente. Drain the pasta and set it aside to cool. When the pasta is cool, place it into an extremely large mixing bowl. Add the tomatoes, basil, scallions, spinach and bacon, and mix to combine. Pour over the 1 1/2 cups of ranch dressing and mix to combine thoroughly. Taste and then season generously with freshly ground black pepper and just a pinch of kosher salt, stir well and taste again, adding more salt and pepper if needed. The dressing and the bacon have salt in them, so go slowly with additional salt. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes prior to serving to allow the flavors to blend.

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Tantalizingly Cool and Colorful Mediterranean Tuna Salad

Tunalettucecu1sharpAnd then it was August, just like that!

With the limited time I’ve had to read other blogs lately, I’ve heard more than one fellow blogger out there remark that their lives have been hectic…and I can add my voice to that chorus. I started this post in JUNE, mind you. And since then, I’ve made this recipe several times and still not gotten a post out. As they say: Life is what happens while you’re making other plans. But I am back now and I have a very timely little recipe to share that is perfect for when the temps are very high…like ours are now and have been all summer.

Tuna with peach

BEATING THE HEAT =  SALAD TIME! 

This refreshing Mediterranean Tuna Salad is one I made up after tasting a somewhat similar Tunisian Tuna Salad at a local bakery and market many years ago. I love that this salad doesn’t use mayonnaise for the dressing. Instead, it has a light and lively dressing of fresh lemon juice, good olive oil and some salt and pepper to bind it, as well as to enhance the flavors of the fish, vegetables and herbs. Capers add the perfect little bite to this dish, so please don’t leave them out. Even if you don’t think you like capers, you’ll enjoy them here, I promise! And for those of you experiencing more temperate weather, this salad is great any time of the year.

Since I’ve made this dish several times this summer, I can tell you that it is excellent as a stand alone salad presented on top of fresh leaf lettuce, or equally wonderful paired with green salad and fresh peaches, a Grilled Corn Salad or my Mediterranean Couscous Salad. It also has the added advantage of coming together quickly.

EatingTuna

I hope you are having a lovely summer so far in the northern hemisphere and a mild winter in the southern one. Cheers!

Mediterranean Tuna Salad
Makes 4-6 Servings

2 – 5 oz. cans chunk white albacore tuna packed in olive oil, drained and flaked
20 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/3 cup jarred roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons jarred capers, drained and chopped
1/4 cup fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
1/3 cup red onion, peeled and chopped
16 pieces frozen and thawed artichoke heart quarters, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
More salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine the tuna, olives, red peppers, capers, parsley, onion and artichoke hearts. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad and combine thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Cover and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Stir again before serving.

A trio of deliciously cool salads!

*****

On another note, this blog celebrated its 5th Anniversary on June 15. My how time flies! Thanks to all who have followed me since the beginning and who have joined me along the way. You all make it worth while and make me smile. More to come!

Cooling Comforts: Roasted Mushroom and Tomato Farro Salad

finished 1“We’re havin’ a heat wave, a tropical heat wave….”

The rest of Irving Berlin’s song doesn’t apply, but the first line has been painfully true here these last few weeks. Close to 100 degrees F in June? Yeah, that’s pretty hot, even for the South. Now it’s July, and we can expect more of the same.

There are many ways to cool off in the heat of Summer. You can enjoy the air conditioning, mercifully. In your free time you can hike along cool streams and rivers and take a dip or jump into a pool…or even a run through a sprinkler will do if you don’t have a water ban. And you can enjoy sipping cooling beverages and eating foods that are appropriate to the season. I’ll take all of the above, but am here to talk about the latter.

Farro had become one of my new best friends. I love its look and really enjoy its chewy texture, especially in a salad. Last summer, I posted a Fruited Farro Salad that you can see by clicking on the name. It’s a savory sweet salad, wonderful as a side dish or a light lunch. This summer I’m into quick one dish meals, particularly if they involve heating anything up other than an outdoor grill. This Roasted Mushroom and Tomato Farro Salad really fits the bill and I never get tired of it.

First off, it features some of my favorite ingredients like meaty portobello mushrooms and fresh grape tomatoes, which are roasted in olive oil with a touch of salt and pepper to intensify and concentrate their flavors. Then I add lots of fresh herbs from my garden, the farro, some chopped Parmesan cheese and a lemon scented dressing. Served at room temperature or cold, this salad is very refreshing while still being hearty enough to eat on its own as a light meal. It also pairs well with grilled meats and other veggies. And best of all, it’s a deliciously cool way to enjoy the season.

Roasted Mushroom and Tomato Farro Salad
Serves 6-8

For the salad:
2 cups uncooked farro
Pinch of kosher salt
6 oz. Portobello mushroom caps, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 pint grape tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/3 cup of finely chopped Parmesan cheese

For the dressing:
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
Place the uncooked farro in a medium-sized saucepan and cover with water. Allow the farro to sit for 20 minutes, then drain off the water and add more water to cover it by an inch. Add a pinch of salt, bring the water and farro to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover, allowing to cook until the farro is just done but still has some chew to it, about 20 minutes. Drain the farro really well and transfer to a large bowl to cool.

While the farro is cooking and cooling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Make a second foil packet about half the length of the baking sheet and turn up the edges to make a square “tray” of foil. Toss the portobello mushrooms with a tablespoon of the olive oil and distribute them in one layer on one side of the baking sheet, then toss the grape tomatoes with the other tablespoon of olive oil and place them in the foil tray on the other side of the baking sheet. Season the mushrooms and the tomatoes with salt and pepper. Roast them in the oven for 20 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are cooked through and crispy on the edges and the tomatoes have softened. Remove from the oven when fully roasted and set aside to cool for at least 5 minutes.

Add the cooled roasted mushrooms and tomatoes, parsley, basil and thyme to the cooked farro and toss gently to combine. In a separate small bowl, combine the lemon juice, salt and pepper, then whisk in the 6 tablespoons of olive oil to emulsify. Pour the dressing over the farro mixture and toss gently, then add the parmesan and stir again gently to combine. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Allow the flavors to blend for 30 minutes at room temperature and serve. Refrigerate any unused salad for up to 3 days.

steakandsalad

Spiced Beluga Lentil and Spinach Salad-Three Ways!

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This tiny beluga lentil is now my most favorite legume.

When I first met the Puy, or French Green Lentil, it was love at first taste. All those pretty little green disks of peppery, firm goodness combined with a bit of very finely diced carrot, celery, some thyme and tossed a light vinaigrette. Served as a lovely French green lentil salad…absolute heaven on a summer’s day.

Then there was the red lentil. Mellow, sweet and mysterious. They start off red and turn gold and soft when cooked, perfect for making a naturally thickened and richly spiced soup. I love to make curried lentil stew with these babies…filled with some Indian spices and a little tomato. Winter warmth personified in a bowl.

Also good for soups is the more commonly found brown lentil. It holds it shape a bit better when cooked and has a mild, earthy flavor that combines well with other ingredients as a hearty soup or an Indian dal. As a side dish, they’re especially nice seasoned with some spices and caramelized onion and served over plain, brown or nutty wild rice. I’ve had some mighty fine lentil burgers made from brown lentils, too.

And then along came the beluga lentil, crossing my radar and changing everything. Continue reading

Camping and Hiking Part II, Fruited Farro Salad, and Grilled Za’atar Spiced Chicken with Peppers and Onions

FinishedFarroCherrySaladSummer is in full force and it’s just flying by. Soon the children will go back to school, the wind will take on a decidedly cooler feel, and Fall will be here before we know it—but not yet! There’s still plenty of time for grilling and chilling.

Hot weather makes me crave salads and this Fruited Farro Salad is one of my new favorites. This colorful salad is more savory than sweet, with a perfect balance between the natural sweetness of the fruit and nuts, the herbaceous parsley and crisp celery, and the chewy farro with a tangy dressing. It pairs well with most any food and is particularly nice with barbecued pork, or with your favorite style of chicken…like this Za’atar Spiced, Marinated and Grilled Chicken with Peppers and Onions. These two dishes make a complete meal, and the farro salad lasts for a few days, so leftovers can be used for a light lunch. Check out the easy recipes below for these two versatile and delicious dishes to try.

As I mentioned a couple of posts back, we’ve been doing some hiking lately and have managed a hike a week all summer—with the one exception of last week when we were traveling. Hiking in North Georgia is particularly nice right now because the temps are so much cooler than those we have here in the city. Following is the continuation and conclusion of my story about our little adventure camping in the mountains in early June, featuring three more great hiking areas to explore…

Close to the Warwoman Dell recreation area is Black Rock Mountain, a beautiful state park with a visitors center which is situated at the top of the mountain, overlooking the Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains. The area features camping, cabins and hiking trails as well as scenic overlooks with some 80 miles of vistas. The cabins and the tent campsite areas literally hang over the edge of the top of the mountain, and the views are breathtaking. There are RV campsites with hookups by reservation, cabins by reservation and walk-in rustic campsites on a first come, first serve basis. Because we’d just finished our hike at Warwoman Dell when we visited here, we didn’t hike any of the trails, but we did make a note to try renting a cabin here at some point down the road.

The next day our hike was at Tallulah Gorge State Park. I had visited the gorge before from the other side, but hadn’t been to the Interpretive Center or down some of the trails that follow a series of waterfalls from the Center…some of which are quite steep. One of the most spectacular canyons in the eastern U.S., Tallulah Gorge is two miles long and nearly 1,000 feet deep. You can obtain a pass at the Center to go down to the floor of the gorge and cross over it on an 80 foot suspension bridge. On the day we were there, they had given out the limited number of passes available to hike down into the gorge, so we toured some of the waterfalls instead. We walked down 3 different trails and viewed 3 of the numerous waterfalls, but were thwarted from going further by some rather ominous storm clouds moving in. For those who are lucky and adventurous enough to get a pass to go down into the gorge, know that there are around 1099 steps down into, and back out of, the gorge. It’s considered a strenuous hike…especially coming back up. You can loop across the gorge and come out on the other side…if you’re hearty enough to do so. Another day for us, perhaps.

Our last hike on this 4-day trip was up the mountain of Brasstown Bald, the highest mountain in Georgia. Brasstown Bald rises 4,784 feet above sea level and its peak looms half a mile above the surrounding valleys. The observation deck offers a breathtaking view of the mountains’ scenic vistas, which sweep a four state area, and the “Bald” falls under the purview of the U.S. Forest Service.

“You hiked all the way up the mountain?” you ask. Heck no. We drove up most of it to the Forest Service Park Ranger parking area, took our picture with Smokey the Bear like any other good tourists would, then hiked the paved and steep 1/2 mile trail to the summit of the Bald where the Visitor’s Center and lookout station are located. For those who don’t wish to hike the trail, there’s a free shuttle that will take you to the summit.

In addition to being able to view four states from the Bald on a clear day, the weather at the summit of Georgia’s tallest mountain is very different from the rest of Georgia. The temperatures are 5-10° F cooler than the rest of the state, and at any time, fog, mist, and storms may unexpectedly move in and obscure the view. These weather conditions help to contribute to the variety of plants and wildlife found on the forested slopes of Brasstown Bald Mountain, and we were able to see spring wildflowers, mountain laurel, azalea and ferns all the way up the trail. It’s a great place to visit in the summer because the temperatures have never exceeded 84° F. The Forest Service has an interpretive center inside the Visitor’s Center, along with a little theater that plays a short film on the history and nature of Brasstown Bald. You can walk up the short flight of stairs to the observation decks and see north, south, east and west, with maps to view that show you what you’re seeing. It’s quite charming and very beautiful.

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On the last day of our camping/husband’s birthday trip, we experienced a very scary thunderstorm during the night that had us hurriedly packing up our tent and heading home the next day. Fortunately, we have a great tent with a rain fly, and were camped in a secluded spot during the storm. And most fortunate of all, there wasn’t any significant wind or hail involved and our tent didn’t leak, but the lightning was frequent and the torrential rain was relentless. All in all, we had a great time and were lucky that the weather held for us as long as it did, since scattered thunderstorms are the norm here this time of year.

I’ll share more hiking adventures soon, but for now let’s get back to the food! Being outdoors makes me really hungry and this easy meal is a tasty and healthy way finish to your day after hitting the trails, or for dinner any time. I hope you all are having a lovely summer so far…or if you’re in the southern hemisphere, a mild winter. Either way, I hope you’ll enjoy these two dishes.

Fruited Farro Salad
Slightly adapted from Cooking Light’s Farro, Cherry and Walnut Salad
Makes 8 Servings

5 cups water
1 1/2 cups uncooked farro
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 pound sweet cherries, pitted and halved (about 2 cups) or an equal amount of red seedless grapes, halved
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
additional freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring 5 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add farro and 1/4 teaspoon salt to boiling water; cook 15 minutes or until al dente. Drain; cool at room temperature, about 15 minutes. Combine farro, cherries or grapes, celery, walnuts, and parsley in a large bowl.

Combine lemon juice, mustard, honey, pepper, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add oil, stirring constantly with a whisk. Pour dressing over farro mixture; toss to coat. Taste for seasoning and add a little more pepper if needed.

Happy 4th of July! Happy Weekend!

fireworksIt’s a great day to celebrate our country’s independence, and to celebrate independence in general. We take for granted the rights we have in this country to make our own choices, and to choose those who enact those choices for us. We have the freedom to live where we want, cross our state borders freely, speak our minds and interact with the rest of the world. We should never forget that we are fortunate to be citizens of, and to live in, this country, nor forget the price and the responsibility of protecting our freedom to do so.

Today in America is all about celebrating liberty and freedom. And celebrate we will!

Here are some great dishes to share that are worthy of a celebration…or worthy of a weekend shared with family and friends. Whether you need inspiration for an appetizer, a salad, side, main dish or dessert, you can find it below. Click on the name under each image to link to its recipe.

Cheers, everyone! May those of you in the United States of America have a wonderful and safe Independence Day, and may all of you out there have a fantastic weekend.

eggs1

Deep South Deviled Eggs

You know you want one of these!

You know you want one of these!

Italian Sliders

This is what the patties should look like once off the grill, and see? They are juicy!

Sundried Tomato and Basil Turkey Burgers

Alas, another night shot which really doesn't do these justice, a wrinkle in my cloth, and my little digital camera ran out of space in the middle of shooting...plus I was hungry!

Alas, another night shot which really doesn’t do these justice, a wrinkle in my cloth, and my little digital camera ran out of space in the middle of shooting…plus I was hungry!

Easy Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

Texas Sheet Cake....you know you want it, you know you're gonna make it!

Texas Sheet Cake….you know you want it, you know you’re gonna make it!

Texas Sheet Cake

Ready for the picnic, cookout or pot luck, this salad has outdoor fun written all over it!

Ready for the picnic, cookout or pot luck, this salad has outdoor fun written all over it!

Couscous Salad

Luscious homemade peach ice cream. I mean really, can there be anything better than this? (A daylight picture perhaps?)

Luscious homemade peach ice cream. I mean really, can there be anything better than this? (A daylight picture perhaps?)

The Best Peach Ice Cream

Now THIS is a southern plate of food that makes me grin like a Cheshire Cat!

Now THIS is a southern plate of food that makes me grin like a Cheshire Cat!

Firecracker Slaw and Corn with Chipotle Butter

With such a fiesta of color, this dish just has to be good!

With such a fiesta of color, this dish just has to be good!

Betsy’s Famous Black Bean and Mango Salad

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Betsy’s Retro Cheese Olive Bites and Bacon Wrapped Dates with Apricot and Pistachio

chickensalad4

Curried Chicken Salad

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini...need I say more? But I will!

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini…need I say more? But I will!

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini

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Cornbread Tartlets with BBQ Pork, Sauce and Wickle

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Crustless Summer Squash, Zucchini and Tomato “Pie”

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Peach Melba Pops

finished plate3Mock Maque Choux

The 4th of July all wrapped up in a dessert. Happy Independence Day!

The 4th of July all wrapped up in a dessert. Happy Independence Day!

Star Spangled Peach, Cherry and Blueberry Crumble

 

Swimming with Fishes: An Easy Pan Sauteed Salmon and a Mediterranean Salad

I don't know why I hadn't made salmon this way before, but it's my go-to now! And the Greek salad isn't too shabby either.

I don’t know why I hadn’t made salmon this way before, but it’s my go-to now! And the Greek salad isn’t too shabby either.

Where does the week go? Our lives are so busy and full these days, no matter what endeavors and challenges are part of your day to day world. Some days we just need to be able to make something quick and delicious for dinner. This fits that bill.

All of the recent fish posts and recommendations to add more of it to your diet (the Mediterranean diet most recently), have caused me to develop a relentless craving for fish. We don’t have the sources for fresh and reasonably priced fish that we should in our city, but we do seem to always have fresh salmon available, and sometimes at an excellent price. This was the case this week and I wanted to try a simple preparation.

Enter Jacques Pépin and Julia Child’s fantastic cookbook, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, perhaps my most beloved and referred to cookbook of all time. Jacques’ singularly simple and quick preparation for salmon caught my eye, and it features just a few ingredients, some that I always have on hand. Of course best of all, it produces a truly spectacular and tasty end result…a crispy skinned fish, lightly seasoned, perfectly cooked and lovingly flavored with a little butter, lemon, onion and capers. I paired this with a Greek salad tossed with my homemade Mediterranean dressing/marinade and some rosemary roasted potatoes. Then I made it again with just the salad for a side because the fish is so rich. Either way, it’s perfect for a quick weeknight meal, for company, or for any night at all.

Perfectly cooked with a very crispy skin and rich, fresh flavor!

Perfectly cooked with a very crispy skin and rich, fresh flavor!

Pan Cooked Salmon (or try this with another fish of your choice)
As slightly adapted from Jacques Pépin’s original recipe
Makes 2 servings

2 – 6 oz. fillets of sustainable fresh salmon, skin on and scaled
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
3/4 cup red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons of capers, drained
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Optional fresh flat leaf parsley to garnish, if desired

Sprinkle both sides of the fish with a small amount of kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper. (Note: At this point, I would suggest turning on the fan over your stove unless you wish your house to smell of salmon for the next day…not that that’s a terrible thing.) Heat a non-stick skillet over high heat until it is quite hot. Put the salmon into the very hot, dry pan, skin side down. The heat will immediately crisp and shrink the salmon skin, and release it from the pan. Reduce the heat to medium high and cover, allowing the salmon to cook until it is just done and a knife inserted into the top will flake off the meat, but the fish is just barely cooked through inside, about 7 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillet. Remove the fish from the pan with a long spatula and place it on the serving plates skin side up.

Wipe the pan out with a paper towel and return it to the stove top with medium low heat. Add the butter and the onions, and cook the onions for about 2 minutes. Add the capers and sauté for about 30 seconds, then swirl the lemon juice in and heat it through for just a few seconds. Pour the sizzling sauce over the top of the salmon fillets, dividing equally. Sprinkle with a little parsley for more color, if desired, and serve immediately with your favorite salad or side.

Betsy’s Easy Mediterranean Salad Dressing/Marinade
Makes a generous 1/2 cup, can be doubled

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients into a 1 cup mason jar. Screw on lid and shake vigorously. Use this to lightly dress a Greek salad (red onion, kalamata olives, tomato, cucumber and feta) or a green salad, or use for a marinade for pork, fish or chicken.

Falling for Salad: Baby Kale with Fall Fruits, Pecans and Candied Ginger

I’d love to take credit for the simply brilliant idea of using candied (crystallized) ginger in a salad…but I can’t.

I was at The Porter in Atlanta recently meeting some friends and sharing some craft beers, when a salad on their menu caught my eye…it mentioned candied ginger. Candied ginger! What a fabulous addition to a salad with fruit in it…why didn’t I think of that? I didn’t order it because it wasn’t what I wanted to have with beer that night, but the friend sitting next to me did, and kindly offered me a bite. I had just that one bite…and I knew I had to make my own version the moment the leaves touched my lips! It was a baby kale salad with fruits, nuts and ginger, and I told my friend I was absolutely going to try and recreate this fall salad. And I think my version tastes even better than the bite I remember…full of festive flavors.

Baby kale, which is a bit bitter in its raw state, becomes something quite different when tossed with a cooked hard apple cider and shallot vinaigrette. Then add in some sweet toasted local pecans and crisp local Fuji apples, a Bartlett pear, a bit of candied ginger and this salad really comes alive. I’m not usually one to toss my salads because I don’t like for my greens to wilt under the dressing or to be overly dressed. But I have to say that this fall salad must be tossed to really enjoy the full flavor and to achieve a perfect bond between the ingredients. As the slightly warm and tart vinaigrette coats the sturdy kale leaves it begins to permeate them, creating a wonderful balance to the bitterness, turning it into bittersweet. The candied ginger is a perfect foil for the kale and is a spice match with the apple vinaigrette, fresh apple, pear and pecans.

And yes, if you don’t like kale, you can absolutely use your favorite greens in this salad. In fact, I think you’ll find that my hard cider vinaigrette is a wonderful dressing for any green salad that utilizes fresh or dried fruits, root veggies or nuts. We’ve really, well…fallen for for this salad, and I hope you will, too!

Baby Kale Salad with Fall Fruits, Pecans, Candied Ginger and Hard Apple Cider Vinaigrettte
Makes 4 servings

For the Hard Cider Vinaigrette:
2 large shallots, peeled and minced, about 1/2 cup
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup hard apple cider (such as Crispin)
1 teaspoon honey
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the salad:
8 cups fresh raw baby kale leaves, washed and dried, trim off long stems
20 pecan halves, lightly toasted and broken into pieces
1 Tablespoon finely chopped candied (crystallized) ginger
1 fresh Bartlett or other favorite pear, cored and cut into thin slices
1 fresh Fuji or other favorite apple, cored and cut into thin slices

Heat the 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium low heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring until they begin to soften and are just about to start turning brown, about 2-3 minutes. Add the hard apple cider and the honey, bring to a simmer and allow to cook for about 5 more minutes, stirring, until the mixture has reduced by about a quarter. Remove from the heat and pour into a medium sized bowl. Whisk in the cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, kosher salt and black pepper. Then slowly whisk in the olive oil until the mixture is emulsified.

In a large bowl, combine the kale leaves, pecans, ginger, pear and apple. Pour over about 1/3 cup of the warm dressing and toss to coat well. Add a bit more dressing if needed to ensure that everything has a light coating of the dressing. Serve alongside your favorite dish or some roasted vegetable soup! The remaining dressing will keep for several days stored in an airtight jar in the fridge.

Chickpea, Feta and Basil Salad with a side of Gratitude

An easy little salad for all seasons…packed full of healthy and hearty goodness.

No matter the time of year, I love eating salad, and this particular one is a favorite. Featuring chickpeas, feta, red onion and fresh basil lightly dressed with a flavor-packed vinaigrette, this salad makes a great vegetarian meal by itself, or a tasty accompaniment to another veggie or meat dish. It’s hearty and comforting, and yes…healthy. And it’s so easy to make, what’s not to like about it?

I first tasted this salad years ago at a neighborhood health food restaurant and deli. For many years I’d go in and buy a little carton of this salad for my lunch, all the while thinking that I should just make some myself…but then seemed to never get around to it. Then one day I had a craving for this salad, had all the ingredients on hand and I finally constructed my own version of it which I not only love, but I think it’s even better than the restaurant’s version. I’ll let you be the judge!

But before we move on to the recipe, I need to take a moment to say some heartfelt thank you’s to a few of my fellow blogging friends who have bestowed their most kind words and honors on me lately. I don’t really participate in these awards anymore, but when someone is so kind as to think of me or mention me or my blog, it is such an honor that I feel I must take the time to show my appreciation, and I hope you’ll go and visit these folks and see why I think they are so very special, too.

First up is Chocolate Chip Uru from Go Bake Yourself—a quite brilliant and talented Aussie teenage (17!) baking wunderkind who epitomizes versatility by juggling school, family life, baking and blogging very successfully. She recently gave me the Versatile Blogger award, and if you’d like to see my answers to this award’s challenges you can check that out in a post from last fall right here. Thank you again, Uru, for your support and kind words and for all the truly scrumptious and decadent sweet treats you post! And to my readers…if you like sweets or baking at all…you ain’t seen nuthin’ until you go and check out this amazing gal’s site. You won’t be disappointed, in fact, you’ll be salivating all over your keyboard.

Next I need to thank the very creative Sawsan of Chef in Disguise for awarding me both the Versatile Blogger award and the Very Inspiring Blogger award. I just discovered Sawsan’s blog this past spring, and could only think to myself…where has she been all my blogging life? Talk about inspiring, she’s a most talented chef—disguised or otherwise—and an equally talented photographer who documents the process of making her lovely and delicious dishes in a very approachable and educational way. Hailing from Jordan, the food she makes is not only based on family and traditional middle eastern, Levantine and arabic recipes, but her dishes represent cultures from around the world. I’ve never seen anything on her blog that I wouldn’t want to eat, and that’s the highest praise I can give! Do please go and check her out for yourself.

And lastly, but not the least for sure, is a big thank you to the beautiful Karista from Karista’s Kitchen, who so kindly nominated me for the Beautiful Blogger award. Karista is a professional personal chef and teacher whose every plate of food makes me not only want it, but feel like I can make it, too. In fact I’ve made a few of her recipes and they are always delicious and, well…beautiful! Her colors and flavors are so lively and perfectly balanced, and I can’t tell you how many recipes I have bookmarked to make. She lives on the west coast of the U.S. with her Ranger husband, and shares some of their ranging experiences from time to time as well. She’s also spent some time in my current home territory of Georgia, so she often can relate to some of my own ranging experiences, which is quite fun for me! But don’t just take my word for it, go and see her lovely food and site for yourself.

Applause please, and thanks again to all three of you for your kindness! You can also find these good folks…and me, of course, on Facebook and follow us there!

And now for today’s recipe:

A B C, it’s easy as 1 2 3, it’s simple as Do Re Me…

Chickpea, Feta and Basil Salad
(Makes about 6-8 servings)

2-15 oz. cans of chickpeas, low or no salt, drained and rinsed well
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into thin slices (chiffonade)
5 oz. crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 1/2 Tablespoons Tamari
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more to taste

In a large bowl, combine the chickpeas, red onion and basil, then gently stir in the feta cheese. To make the dressing, in a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, dijon mustard, tamari, lemon juice, salt and pepper, until well blended and emulsified. Pour the dressing over the chickpea, onion, basil and feta mixture and toss gently to coat all of the ingredients. You can serve immediately or place in the fridge for an hour to allow the flavors to blend. This keeps well for several days in the fridge.

French Lentilicious

A Lentil Haiku (sort of)

Busy. Busy. Busy.
Quick lunch hour
(the market calls)

Scanning dry bins
de Puy French lentils here
$3.09/lb.??? Whoa.

Must. Have. Lentils.

Luscious little babies
Good for salad
Good with salmon
Good with grilled things
Good for you!

A recipe in mind
French Lentil Salad

Happiness.

Resting from last long post
more food soon
(wink!)

French Lentilicious Salad
(can be halved, full recipe will feed 8 as side portions)

For cooking the lentils:
2 cups dried green de Puy French lentils, carefully picked through for stones and rinsed (do not soak)
1/2 onion, peeled
1 whole clove garlic, peeled
1 carrot, washed, trimmed and cut into 3 inch chunks
1 stalk celery, washed, trimmed and cut into 3 inch chunks
4 cups low salt chicken broth, or you can use water

For the salad:
1 large carrot, peeled, trimmed and finely diced
1 cup of finely diced celery, preferably hearts with a few leaves
1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper

For the dressing:
1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1/3 cup fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 generous teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a deep medium sized saucepan, combine the dry lentils, the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and chicken stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer/low boil and allow the lentils to cook until just tender, about 25 minutes, but test them at 20…you don’t want them mushy. When the lentils are done, drain the liquid, remove the solid onion, garlic, carrot and celery, and place the lentils into a bowl to cool a bit.

While the lentils are cooling, make your dressing. Combine the parsley, thyme, vinegar and dijon in a small bowl with a whisk. Add the olive oil in a slow stream, whisking to emulsify. Season with the salt and pepper.

To the warm lentils, add the diced carrot, celery and red pepper, and stir gently to incorporate. Pour the whisked dressing over the salad, and stir gently to coat. You can serve immediately warm, or allow about 30 minutes for the flavors to develop and serve at room temperature, or serve it chilled. This is wonderful with a bit of grilled salmon served over it. We also enjoy it as a side dish to just about anything grilled, and as part of a veggie meal…you can’t go wrong! Will keep in the fridge for a few days.