What’s New? Summer Salad Days.

 

salad4

Hi there and happy first day of Summer! Okay, I realize it’s been almost a year since last I posted. It wasn’t my intention to take a year off, but you know how it goes…life. It’s really nice to be back now and I hope some of you are still with me.

So what’s been happening in my world you might ask? Work, family, celebrations, play and hiking. In fact, I have just started a new hiking blog, but more about that later. And I’m still cooking, of course!

Of late, I’ve found a lot of healthy inspiration (and fun!) in going to the summer farmer’s markets. The abundance of local fresh produce and cheeses is so enticing that the moment I step into the market, my mind starts racing with possibilities. The sights, smells and sounds make you want to dive in and purchase some of everything you see, then minimally prepare the ingredients to showcase their natural goodness. Colorful and well-composed salads are one of my favorite summer meals and the perfect way to enjoy the beginning of this season’s bounty.

On a recent trip to the farmer’s market at the Carter Center, I found beautiful rose and rainbow colored watermelon radishes, tender young fennel bulbs with the longest mane of fronds I’ve ever seen, sweet miniature butter lettuces, mild baby arugula and fresh local made goats’ chèvre with truffle. I envisioned a gorgeous, cooling salad and how delicious that would taste after a long, hot hike. I also had some ingredients at home to add to the mix – sweet red onion, Kalamata olives, Haas avocado and satsuma orange. And to pull it all together, a light and easy dressing. A little lemon, a little orange, some rice wine vinegar, shallot, a touch of local honey, salt, pepper and some of those amazing fennel fronds, et voilà! A feast for the eyes and food for the soul.

A large composed salad like this one makes a light lunch all by itself, but for dinner – and especially after a long hike – I paired it with my easy to make Tomato, Orange and Tarragon Soup served cold alongside a simple bruschetta of thinly sliced baguette and the truffled goats’ chèvre from the market. Lose the baguette and sprinkle a little of the chèvre on top of the salad or soup instead and you’ll have a fantastic low carb meal.

C’est magnifique!

*****

What else is new? Well in addition to being a year older, I hope I’m becoming wiser about feeding the mind, body and soul. To that end, my husband and I have taken up gentle versions of yoga and Tai Chi, tried to incorporate even more fresh vegetables into our daily diets and we still hike every Saturday that we possibly can. In fact, the name of my new blog is Saturday Hiker and its mission is to encourage folks of all ages, and most especially those of “middle age” who think they can’t hike, to get out there and see what nature has to offer. We are very casual hikers and hike mostly in our own area since we do it every Saturday, but our horizons are expanding and we like to hike on our vacations, too. You can check out the new blog at saturdayhiker.com and even if you aren’t in my area, I hope it will make you think about exploring and enjoying your own surroundings more fully. The site itself has pages with an ongoing list of tips and information as well as the blog.

What’s new with you? Please leave me a comment and catch me up.

*****

To print the recipe click here.

Spring into Summer Farmer’s Market Salad
2 servings

Salad:
3 cups fresh baby arugula, washed and dried
3 cups fresh butter lettuce leaves, washed, dried and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 small fennel bulb and fronds, washed, toughest outer part of the bulb removed, cored and thinly sliced, fronds reserved and chopped
1/4 sweet red onion
, peeled and thinly sliced
4 small colorful radishes, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced (I used 2 watermelon and 2 breakfast radishes)
2 satsuma or mandarin oranges, peeled and segmented
1 Haas avocado, pitted and cubed or sliced into bite-sized pieces
16 Kalamata olives, quartered
1 tablespoon reserved chopped fennel fronds for garnish

Dressing:
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 Tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 Tablespoons unflavored rice wine vinegar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon local honey, to taste
1 1/2 Tablespoons shallot, finely chopped 
1 Tablespoon fresh fennel fronds, finely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (I use about 1/4 tsp. of each)

Combine all ingredients for the dressing in a mason jar, screw on the cover and shake vigorously to emulsify. Set aside until ready to dress the salad.

On two dinner-sized plates, compose the salad in layers, dividing all ingredients equally and artfully between the two. Start with the arugula and lettuce, mixing them together gently, then a layer of the fennel slices sprinkled over the lettuce, then red onion slices. Scatter the radishes so that the colors are mixed across the plate, then do the same with the oranges, avocado, and Kalamata olives. Shake the dressing to recombine, then using a table spoon, drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of the dressing over each salad. Reserve the remaining dressing for another salad.

Finish each plate with a sprinkling of the reserved chopped fennel fronds and serve either alone or with goat cheese bruschetta and/or soup.

cropped dinner 1

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Rain Chaser: Potato, Leek and Fennel Soup

soup35 degrees F on Monday, 63 degrees F and torrential rains and flooding on Saturday. What a difference a week can make!

Time for something to chase away the damp dreariness of the day, and soup always makes me happy. One of my most favorite vegetable dishes, usually made during the holidays, is a potato, leek and fennel gratin. I made it this year for Christmas dinner, was going to share it with you and then promptly forgot to take the final photo before we devoured it! I can, however, point you to the recipe here, and trust me it is well worth the effort to make.

And because those flavors were still so fresh in my memory, and I happened to have lots of potatoes on hand, I decided to make the gratin into a soup. Much like a vichyssoise, this soup starts with the potato and leeks as its base, but has a mild anise flavor, a sweetness and richness from the addition of fennel. The three vegetables marry into something quite extraordinary, and a touch of cream adds a velvety and satisfying finish to the soup. I decided the best way to incorporate the parmesan from the gratin was in the form of a crouton floating on top and sprinkled with fennel fronds. Delicious soup, warm or cold.

There’s more rain in the forecast for Monday…maybe it’s time for a Raindog, too!

Not just for a rainy day, it's great for any day of the year!

Not just for a rainy day, it’s great for any day of the year!

Potato, Leek and Fennel Soup
Makes 6-8 portions

2 leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned well and diced (about 3 1/2 cups)
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and sliced thinly, reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons of the fronds (leaves)
2 lbs. white potatoes, peeled and cubed (I used a mix of Yukon and Idaho, but red skinned are nice, too.)
8 cups chicken broth or stock, low or no sodium
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 baguette thinly sliced
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium low heat. Add the leeks and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, fennel, potatoes and 1 teaspoon of the salt, stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover and allow the soup to cook until all of the vegetables are very tender, about 40 minutes.

While the soup cooks, arrange the sliced baguette on a cookie sheet and turn the oven onto broil. Lightly toast one side of the baguettes, watching carefully…do not burn! Remove the baguette slices from the oven, turn them over and sprinkle each one with some of the Parmesan cheese, dividing evenly. Return the pan to the broiler and toast until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside. Chop the fennel fronds and set aside.

When the vegetables in the soup are tender, remove it from the heat and blend it in the pot until it is very smooth using an immersion stick blender, or you can blend in a traditional blender in batches and return the soup to the pot. It’s hot, so be careful. Put the soup back on the stove on low heat, add the 1 cup of cream, 1 to 1 1/2 (to taste depending on how salty your broth was) additional teaspoons of salt and the black pepper, and stir until smooth. Heat until just heated through. Ladle the soup into bowls and top each with a crouton and a sprinkle of fennel fronds. Serve remaining croutons on the side. As stated previously, this soup is good served hot or cold and on rainy days or sunny days.