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Insalata Caprese

18 Aug

The name means “salad in the style of Capri”.   It’s a simple but delicious dish from the Italian region of Campania, made of sliced fresh buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, seasoned with salt, and olive oil.  In Italy, unlike most salads, it is usually served as an antipasto (starter or appetizer) not a contorno (side dish).

While it’s unknown whether the salad actually originated on Capri, it became popular after being served there to Egypt’s King Farouk in the 1950s.

Some variations include adding chopped garlic, parsley, and various sauces, like Balsamic vinegar, Italian dressing, etc.  King Farouk reportedly enjoyed it as a sandwich filling.  Some people serve it atop pieces of baguette or other bread.  There’s a little Italian deli by my house that serves a Caprese sandwich and it’s nothing short of scrumptious.  There are countless ways to enjoy this simple little salad.

Last night I went out to my vegetable gardens to see if anything was ready for picking.  Little did I know my four cherry tomato plants were bursting with ripe little treats.

 

 

With the unusually hot weather we’ve been having the past month or so (upper 90s and low 100s) I’m not surprised I haven’t had this many to pick every day.  My plants are full of ripe and unripe little round balls and frankly I can’t keep up.  Tonight I thought I better get a head start and start eating.

I have a few basil plants in my herb garden.  I love basil.  The taste, the smell, everything about it.  Even if I never put a delicious leaf in my mouth, it would make me happy just to put the leaves up to my nose and inhale.  Easily one of my top favorite smells.  I put basil in everything.  In fact, this morning I made little muffin pan omelettes and used the tomatoes and fresh basil. Thank you Bonnie, from recipeshappen for the recipe inspiration.  If you’re not familiar with her blog, check it out, it’s fun.

 

 

Since my garden has been producing such a wealth of tomatoes, and I always have the fresh basil, Caprese salad is my go-to for a light, refreshing, homegrown treat.   One of the best things about Caprese is that there aren’t really specific ratios you have to follow.  Just cut up or slice any type of tomatoes, cut up or tear the leaves of the basil (some are small enough to just throw in as is), add the cheese and dress as you like.  For me personally, I like to add balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

If you’re like me, you don’t always have a block of fresh mozzarella in the fridge and I guess you could even use the shredded stuff for pizzas.  But what I do always have on hand is string cheese (it’s the perfect low-calorie snack for after a work-out).  Some of you may not be familiar with string cheese.   What is it you ask? Why mozzarella of course.  So named because you can peel it from one end or the other and it comes away in a “string”.  Anyway… I take out my handy dandy kitchen shears and cut little discs.  It’s perfect.

 

 

This is a great little salad and one that’s so simple to make (especially when most of the ingredients come from your garden).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s growing in your garden?

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Eggplant Bhurtha

18 Aug

A friend of mine at work has an impressive vegetable garden.  I don’t know this because I’ve seen it; I’m convinced because of the variety and abundance of veggies she brings in several times each week.  I’m lucky enough to bring home things that I don’t personally grow and at times things I do, but hers are ripe and mine aren’t.  This week was no exception.

Two small purple eggplants found their way home with me and tonight I decided I would find a new recipe to use them.  I searched the internet and as is usually the case came up with a combination of several recipes I could manipulate to suit my family’s taste buds and also utilize ingredients I had on hand.

It’s no secret everyone in my household loves Indian food, so I searched for recipes using the basic ingredients found in that part of the world… cumin, cayenne pepper, tomatoes, onions.  Here’s what I came up with:

 

Ingredients

2 small purple eggplants

2 Tbl vegetable oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 tsp fresh ginger, grated

2 cloves garlic, grated

4-5 small campari tomatoes (or 1 medium tomato), diced up

½ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp ground cumin

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Salt & pepper to taste

¼ cup chopped cilantro

 

White rice

 

Directions

You’ll be doing 3 things at once here:  Broiling eggplant, cooking rice and preparing the remaining ingredients to be mixed with the eggplant.

Pre-heat broiler.  Rub a small amount of oil on outside of eggplant (or coat with cooking spray).  Cook until the flesh is soft and the skin is blistering off; about 30 minutes.

At the 15 minute mark, turn eggplant over for even cooking and begin cooking rice ~ I always use a rice cooker.  It’s a great way to multi-task.  The rice is perfect every time and it doesn’t take up any valuable stove top space.

Once rice is cooking, add remainder of oil, onions, ginger and garlic to large skillet or wok; cook and stir until onions are tender.  Stir in the tomato and season with spices.  Cook and stir a few minutes.

Once eggplant is done, remove from oven. Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh.  Discard skin. Chop up flesh and add to skillet ingredients.  Let the mixture cook on low for about 5 minutes just so all the flavors mix with the eggplant.

Serve mixture over rice and garnish with fresh cilantro.

 

 

We all really enjoyed this new recipe.  Some dishes are just meant to be and this one didn’t disappoint.  It was bursting with flavors that were familiar and pleasing to our palette and it was filling.  It was prepared using only homegrown vegetables and is a great option for the vegetarians in your life.  I happen to have two in mine.  Oh, and it was super easy.  Does it get any better than that?

Thank you Diana for the beautiful eggplant that inspired me tonight!

 

 

Easy Pickled Banana Peppers

14 Aug

So as most of you know, I expanded my vegetable garden this year from one planter to two.  In the past the only kind of peppers I have grown were bell peppers (of which I don’t even like).  I love them when they’re red, yellow or orange, but once they turn green, I’m out. 

This year I planted 4 other varieties, one of which was yellow banana peppers.  My taste buds tend to gravitate toward the spicy, pickled, vinegar, garlic… must be the Italian in me.  Anyway, I put yellow banana peppers on every sandwich I eat.  So it just made sense to try and grow them myself. 

 

 

 

 

They start out oblong and yellow on the plant, and eventually become funny looking fellows.  I had no idea they’d get all curly.  Once I picked them and brought them in the house, I found after several days they started to turn orange and then red.  Pretty cool.

 

 

Now what to do with them?  They didn’t really taste very good in this raw state.  At least it wasn’t the flavor I was looking for.  I went online and found several recipes to help me pickle them.  Quite a few called for celery seed and mustard seed, but of course I don’t have those in my spice cabinet, so I searched until I found a recipe that included only the ingredients I had.  I know I could have just gone and bought the other ingredients, but why not just try this one? 

The recipe called for 2 pounds of peppers.  My goodness, how many plants do they have?  My plant typically yields about 2 peppers at a time.  Because I didn’t have as many peppers, I adjusted all the other ingredients to suit my crop.  Like I always tell you, it’s your kitchen, your rules.

 

Ingredients

 7-8 peppers, varying in color (because they were varying in how long they’d been sitting in my kitchen)

4 cloves of garlic (sliced in half lengthwise)

¾ cup water

¾ cup white vinegar

2 tsp salt

 

Directions

  1. Wash the peppers, cut off the tops and remove the top section of seeds (it’s like a ball)
  2. Slice the peppers into rings of whatever thickness you prefer
  3. Put the rings and garlic pieces into a glass jar that has an airtight seal when closed (Mason jar, etc.) 
  4. In a small saucepan add the water, vinegar and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat
  5. Remove from heat and pour over the top of the rings and garlic
  6. Use a butter knife to move the peppers around to remove air bubbles and get the peppers and garlic submerged in the liquid
  7. Seal the jar and set aside on the counter overnight – the peppers will fade in color a bit
  8. After 24 hours, refrigerate for up to 2 weeks

 

 

After they had been in the refrigerator for a full day I thought I’d give them a try.  And I really loved the way they looked; red, yellow and orange all swimming in the delicious pickling juices.  Everyone getting along.  I wasn’t sure what to expect taste-wise though.  Would the flavor be just like the ones I buy at the store?  Would it be better?  Worse?  They were pretty darn good, I must say.  My daughter’s first thought was they could use more “bite”.  I already know what you’re thinking…  Maybe if I’d used the mustard or celery seeds it would have provided that extra spice.  Don’t misunderstand, my batch is good, they have a nice tangy flavor, they’re just not hot.  Do I need this batch to be hot?  Absolutely not.  Now bring on the sandwiches, I’ve got peppers to eat!

 

Personalized Individual Homemade Pizzas

12 Aug

I was watching The Dr. Oz Show the other day and he had a few celebrity chefs as guests who had come up with lower calorie recipes for our favorite take-out dishes… Hamburgers, pizza and tacos.  I thought I’d be most interested in the taco, but after watching Chef Todd English prepare his pizza, I was convinced I needed to try it.

 

Now, if you’ve read my recipe posts before you know I never follow a recipe exactly.  Sometimes it’s because I don’t have the exact ingredients on hand, don’t care for a particular ingredient or frankly, I just forget a step or two.  Let’s face it, if I were a master chef I’d have my own TV show and wouldn’t be writing this silly blog.  Having said that however, let me say that my pizza was Uh-may-zing!

 

Growing up, one of my favorite dinners was to make individual pizzas. Everyone got to make whatever they wanted, pepperoni, sausage, pineapple, green pepper; if you wanted it you could have it.  No rules, nothing was out of bounds.  But if you made it, it was dinner.  I’ve carried on the pizza tradition with my daughters as well and it’s always been a favorite for them too.  It’s so much fun to design the perfect pizza in your mind, create it in your kitchen and enjoy it in your belly.

 

The recipe I followed (for the most part) from Todd English called for whole wheat Naan, but of course I forgot that part and picked up a package of whole wheat pita bread instead.  I’ve listed my pizza ingredients below, but feel free to check out the original recipe and short video if you want to see the real deal.

 

 

Ingredients

1 cup quartered artichokes*

2 tsp Mezzetta chimichurri sandwich spread*

2 Tbl low fat ricotta

4 or 5 large basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons

¼ cup shredded low fat mozzarella

4 or 5 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

½ cup arugula

1 tsp EVOO

1 tsp lemon juice

Salt

 

*Chef English’s recipe called for grilled artichokes, but I just used the regular quartered ones out of a can.  He also used what he called artichoke spread, but I couldn’t find that at my grocery store, so when I found the Mezzetta sandwich spread on the shelf I chose the chimichurri flavor (cilantro, parsley and garlic).  It sounded like the perfect complement to the other flavors in the pizza.  Well, needless to say it smelled and tasted delicious.  I definitely see sandwiches in my future with the spread on the bread (can’t have the rest of the jar go to waste!).

 

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350.  Spread the chimichurri across pita to create a thin layer.  Add quartered artichokes and tomatoes.  Mix the ricotta and basil to create a smoother creamier texture.  Drop a few dollops on pizza.  Top pizza with shredded mozzarella.  Bake for about 7 or 8 minutes.  Ricotta mixture should begin to spread out a little bit.  It won’t melt down completely, just settle in.

While pizza is cooking, put arugula in a small bowl, add EVOO, lemon juice and a little bit of salt. Toss by hand to coat completely.  When pizza is ready, top with fresh arugula salad… sounds unconventional I know, but trust me you won’t be disappointed.

I was able to use fresh basil and tomatoes from my yard (always a bonus) and maybe next year I’ll have more ingredients for this pizza growing in one of my gardens.  My pizza was so yummy, it was… is  yummilicious a word? If not, it should be.

Gathered around the dinner table tonight were my husband and one of my twin daughters. I made pizza sauce for their pizzas (my basic recipe: tomato sauce, garlic, basil, oregano, onion salt, and pepper).  My husband’s pizza was pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, pineapple and fresh basil.  He loved it.

 

 

My daughter made a pineapple and jalapeno pizza and as you can see I couldn’t get to her soon enough to take the picture before she started in on it.  She loved hers too.

 

 

Remember, it’s all about you.  What tickles your taste buds?  This isn’t a pizza you have to share; it’s yours, all yours.  Don’t be afraid to use this philosophy in other recipes too.  There are some rules you should stick to, like fish and cheese shouldn’t be served together, but for the most part, think outside the box.  If you like an ingredient, throw it in there.  If it doesn’t turn out, chalk it up to a learning experience, but imagine if it’s fantastic!  You could be the next big thing, if not on Food Network, at least in your very own kitchen. And which place is more important anyway?

 

Happy cooking.

A Happy Home Recipe

24 Jul

From the time I was about 5 years old my parents owned a vacation home in the Palm Desert area.  They started out with a mobile home in a private community and worked their way up to different condominiums in private, gated communities.  It was my favorite place to be.  Pool, tennis court, golf course, shopping. 

A typical day would find me and my mom sitting by the pool or curled up on the couch reading our books.  It was the definition of relaxation for me. 

Breakfast could be something as simple as a bowl of cereal or cantaloupe but for my mom and me it was bagels with lox, cream cheese and capers.  When lunchtime rolled around we took out all the fixins to make the best deli sandwiches.  Today, that’s still my favorite lunch!  At night, my dad might barbeque steaks, or we’d make homemade pizzas (each person made their own!).  It didn’t matter what we had, meals always tasted better when we were at our house in the desert.  I slept better too.  Maybe it was because the environment just encouraged rest and relaxation. 

We rented a lot of movies too.  After dinner, we’d gather around the couch with our bowl of popcorn and watch the newest flick or two.  I know how fortunate I was to grow up in a family that could afford such a place and it not even be our primary residence.  I know how blessed I am to have such incredible memories and grateful I was able to share the house and “lifestyle” with my own daughters.  For almost 40 years I had access to this mini-retreat. 

My mom passed away from cancer in 1994.  Her death is still the most emotionally devastating event I’ve ever experienced.  Spending time there after she died was bittersweet.  I could still feel her in every room.  I’d walk past the living room and my mind’s eye would see us both curled up reading.  I’d step out on the patio and see her eating breakfast while she and my dad shared the morning paper.  As I walked through the house I was reminded of her creative side.  Much of the artwork on the walls was painted by her. 

A few years ago my dad finally sold the house, and as you can imagine, it was really difficult for me.  I’d grown up there and most of my memories are tied to the special times with my mom.  In addition to the various art and sculptures, there was a framed recipe that hung in the kitchen.  It was there for as long as I can remember.  I don’t know where she got it or how much it cost, but it’s hanging in my kitchen now and its value is priceless.  Of all the recipes I have, this is by far my favorite.  I hope you enjoy it and prepare it often.

Anti-Inflammatory Toast (bad name, great dish!)

15 Jul

I’ve mentioned my fondness for Dr. Oz and here’s another recipe courtesy of his website.  I admit the title of the dish might not seem very appetizing, but keep an open mind.  Give this toast a try and I bet you’ll like it.

Ingredients

2 slices whole grain bread

1 fresh lemon

1 avocado, sliced

Extra virgin olive oil

Chili powder*

Directions: Toast slices of bread.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon.  Top off with avocado slices and a sprinkling of Chili powder.

*The recipe called for Chili flakes, but I used powder instead.

I’m not a big fan of breakfast and am always looking at new recipes to encourage me to eat the most important meal of the day.  I’m a huge avocado lover and every bit of this recipe sounded delicious to me (except the name).  Not sure why it’s anti-inflammatory and if you happen to know, please share with us all.  Whatever the reason, it was scrumptious, super simple to make and quick.  I made two pieces and was actually quite full afterward. Next time I’ll probably just make one slice and have a full glass of water with it.  The tang of the lemon combined with the spice of the chili powder were great complements with the avocado.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Crab Salad with Melon and Citrus Marinade

13 Jul

I came across this recipe on The Dr. Oz Show website.  Don’t know how many of you are fans of the good doctor, but I love him and have found some pretty tasty and healthy recipes on the show and site. As with most recipes I make little adjustments here and there, and this one was no exception. Here’s the original version if you’re interested:  Crab Salad

The biggest tweak was that I substituted imitation crabmeat for the lump crab.  I always have the imitation stuff on hand, but it’s a matter of personal taste and preference.

Like all recipes it’s important you read them all the way through before you begin in the kitchen.  You’ll notice below that between the first list of ingredients and the marinade, there are some duplicates when it comes to herbs.  I’m not sure it’s necessary to separate them personally.  The important thing is to make the marinade full of flavor. The rest is essentially garnish.

 

 

Ingredients

2 pkgs frozen imitation crab, (thawed)

½ cantaloupe melon

4 or 5 large basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons

3 or 4 sprigs cilantro, chopped up

Citrus Marinade (see below)

 

Citrus Marinade

1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped

¼ bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped

½ bunch basil (I used about 12-15 leaves), finely chopped

1 tsp ground fresh chili paste

4 lemons, juiced

4 limes, juiced

1 orange, juiced

¼ cup honey

¾ cup olive oil

 

Directions

Season crab meat with marinade and half of the herbs.  Arrange the melon around the plate and top with the crab mix.  Sprinkle remaining herbs over the top.

 

What I ended up with was an incredibly delicious ceviche of sorts.  I didn’t know what to expect by combining the crab “salad” and melon on my palette but the answer was surprisingly refreshing.  The recipe said it served 4 but when I divided it up into containers to take to work, I ended up with only 3.  Definitely could’ve stretched to 4, but you could put a bit more on your plate and call in a wonderful summer lunch.  Enjoy!

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