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Caprese Salad

I was reading a stack of Cook’s Country, that my Mother In-Law had left for me, and one of the issues had an article on making a fussy caprese salad. And it left my mind wandering in a way. Mostly in a bitter-sweet way. My Mom passed away in the summer of 2006, in late July. I still, 7 years later, to pick up the phone and talk to her. I miss her more every year, as I watch my youngest two growing up and knowing she would have loved every second with them. She spent the majority of every day with my oldest son till he was 5. Even when she was on dialysis, we’d drive into the mountains and go places together. She would do her afternoon transfer while a very young Ford and I would dayhike.

Mom

But more so….I know that my now expanded view of the world and of food, she would have loved being there with me. My Dad wasn’t very adventurous in eating to put it bluntly. We ate a lot of casseroles and bland food. In talking to my Mom’s younger sister, the last of the 3 sisters alive, she has mentioned how my Mom loved to eat out, and would order the oddest item on the menu. I don’t blame her. Even then I was influenced by my Dad’s view of food. I didn’t knowingly eat a caper until on my honeymoon in 2006!

When I was pregnant with Ford, in the summer of 1997, my Mom came with me to many of my midwife appointments and to birthing classes. Ford’s bio-dad had left me feeling hopeless at 24, my Mom helped me get through the pregnancy without judging me. It was hard enough knowing I’d be a single mom, but even harder knowing I’d be going through everything alone. My Mom was there for me the whole time, even at his birth. She even held him before I did. One day when I was maybe halfway through my pregnancy we went out to dinner, between my midwife visit and the birthing class. We lived on the Island then, and we lived on the far north, while everything was down south – and a good 30 miles or so apart. There was an Italian restaurant near the end of the island. We went there and perused the menu. What I remember is we split a Caprese Salad. It was phenomenal  The tomatoes were ripe, the olive oil fruity. And the mozzarella  I hadn’t known it came that way. It was one of those first awakenings I had to real food. She and I sat there and quietly enjoyed our treat. My Dad would have blanched at it.

To you Mom, I offer this lunch as a toast to my memory of a life not lived long enough. The last time I talked with my Mom, she was in a hospital. I didn’t handle it gracefully, I knew in my soul she wasn’t going to recover. We talked and she kept falling asleep. I didn’t know what to do. We said goodbye and Kirk drove me into the mountains and I spent a very lonely day staring at rock and snow.

Baker

So in that long way, as I thought about her all day, I set out to make a Caprese Salad once again, just for me. No one else was interested which simply meant I enjoyed a luscious lunch by myself. The simplicity of the salad is everything, which was why I found Cook’s recipe so fussy (cubed salad? With dressing? Please!).

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It was a good lunch, and it put a smile on my face! Mom would have loved it.

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Caprese Salad

Ingredients:

  • Small ripe tomatoes, used “cocktail” size
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Fine sea salt

Directions:

Rinse and gently dry tomatoes. Slice a thin piece off the top and bottom to pretty up each tomato, discard. Thinly slice the tomatoes.

Drain mozzarella, slice same thickness as tomatoes.

To assemble, make alternating layers of tomatoes and cheese, inserting basil leaves (preferably small ones) between, garnish as desired with larger leaves.

Drizzle olive oil over the top, dusting generously with pepper and salt.

Serve immediately.

Serving size depends on how many you are serving. For myself, I used 4 “cocktail” sized tomatoes (these are smaller than an average hot-house tomato, yet bigger than a cherry tomato). For best taste, make sure your fresh mozzarella is packed in water, take out what you need and leave the rest in the water. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar on top is wonderful as well.

~Sarah

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Farro and Tuna Salad

Last month I found at Trader Joe’s pre-cooked farro (wheat berries), which was a neat find. here are usually 2 options for farro, pearled and whole. Pearled farro is like pearled barley in how it is processed, which you can cook in about 30 minutes, where whole farro takes 45 minutes to an hour to cook. The Trader Joe’s takes 10 minutes to rehydrate, which I have to admit was tempting, so I stocked up on the bags. If anything, a little help in whole grains encourages them to be used!

Since I like to play “Let’s guess where TJ’s gets their products”, my guess is Pedon, an Italian company. I could be wrong…but considering they sell 10 minute farro in 8.8 ounce packages, the same as TJ’s….well, I could be right. No fear though, pearled farro can be used just as easily, it just takes longer is all.

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Farro and Tuna Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups quick-cook Farro (see below)
  • 2 5-ounce cans olive oil packed tuna, drained
  • 5 ounces arugula leaves, washed, spinned and chopped
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • 6 pitted olives, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp capers, drained and chopped
  • 1 lemon, juiced (about 3 Tbsp)
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper

Directions:

Bring a tall saucepan of water to boil, salt lightly and add in farro. Boil gently for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring as needed. Drain and set aside.

Flake the tuna in a large mixing bowl, add ion cranberries, olives and capers, toss together.

Whisk the lemon juice through pepper, add and toss with the arugula and farro till coated.

Serve warm or chill for later.

Serves 4.

Notes:

To use pearled farro follow package directions or use these: Bring 2½ cups lightly salted water to boil, add in ¾ cup pearled farro. Simmer partially covered for 30 minutes. Cover pot, take off heat and let rest for 5 minutes.

If using whole farro, follow package directions for cooking.

Be wary when buying oil packed tuna. It should have only 3 ingredients – tuna, olive oil and salt. Avoid those with vegetable broth and soybean oil!

~Sarah

Success Is The Teen Asking For Seconds

Kirk was gone last week on a business trip on the East Coast, which for me leads to feeling stagnant. It is hard to get inspired to cook when I am facing a picky teen and a small stomach toddler as my companions. The toddler will eat most anything, but what, eats 10 bites and is full. So yeah, my dinners were not creative. Heck, we ate leftovers for 2 nights! Having Kirk home again means I wanted to create. I came across a deal on pretzel rolls at Costco which were everything I had dreamed of in a roll – and of which I blow at making. Hence, I cheated and brought home a package. Thinking of Sunday lunch ideas I looked at what we had in the pantry – and this is what I created:

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Pretzel rolls stuffed with a snappy chickpea salad. So the blog title? Well, The Teen went out and came back mid-afternoon and was hungry. I offered to make him a sandwich. He muttered and grumbled but finally agreed to try it at least. A few minutes later I hear “Hey Mom!! Is there anymore? If so, can I have another one?”

That is success. Gold. I made him another one. I mentioned it to Kirk, who after watching The Teen finish up his lunch, told him that not only had he had pickles, but also pickled carrots and bell peppers. Hehe. And enjoyed them.

Btw, this was a great recipe to use up garlic chip pickles I had on hand. I had grabbed them on accident one time, when I meant to buy bread and butter ones. They were very strong in flavor for snacking on, in a chickpea sammie filling though? Perfect. I used a bit of everything in the jar.

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Chickpea Salad 

Ingredients:

  • 1 can 15 to 19 ounces chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
  • ½ cup pickles & veggies, drained
  • Italian dressing, to taste

Directions:

Finely chop the pickles (I used an equal assortment of pickles, pickled carrots, red bell pepper and garlic), add to a mixing bowl.

Add the beans to a mini food-chopper, drizzle in a Tablespoon or two of dressing, process until smooth as you like, adding more dressing if needed (or to taste). Mix into pickles, chill for a couple of hours for flavors to develop.

Seve on pretzel rolls or other favorite crusty bread.

Makes about 8 mini bun sammies.

~Sarah

Walker had us laughing on Sunday. When he was around a year old we bought him a chair that matches our couch. It sits next to the couch, so he has his own seat. Hence, that means then, if a box is around, why should he use his fancy seat, no? So yes, he pulled a Wholesome Sweeteners box out of the recycling and plopped it down in front of the TV and sat down. He loved it 😉

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Vegan Comfort Food: Avo-Ranch Pasta Salad

Rustic and filling, but more so really easy to make a batch up. The only downside is waiting for 3 days for an avocado to get around to ripening 😉

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Avo-Ranch Pasta Salad

Ingredients:

Dressing –

  • 1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
  • 1 large lemon, juiced
  • 1 large ripe avocado
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 clove fresh garlic
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Sea salt, to taste

Salad –

  • 13.25 ounce package multi-grain elbow macaroni
  • 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped small
  • 1 cup frozen corn

Directions:

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil, add pasta and cook for time on package. In the last-minute, add in the corn. Drain and shake off.

Add the pasta and corn with beans and bell pepper in a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, spilt avocado in half, discard pit and scoop out flesh, add to a high-speed blender with reaming dressing ingredients. Blend until smooth, salt to taste.

Toss salad with dressing, serve warm or chilled.

~Sarah

A Field Trip, Grain-Free Bread & Garden Frittata

Yesterday I took the boys out to a local farm to pick up some lovely blue potatoes and tomatoes. Alistaire was asleep in the van, Ford stayed there with him, so Walker came with me and checked out everything. He was being very shy for once, so unlike him! Annette, the lady who runs the farm, dug us up a couple of pounds of potatoes while we poked around:

We checked out part of their chickens – the older hens were in the fenced yard while the younger ones were out in the sun. She keeps them apart to keep down bickering. Walker was very fascinated, I don’t think he had seen a live chicken up close before!

When we got home I made this pan of bread. Consider it a focaccia style bread. It is creamy, moist and flavorful. A little goes a long way! It wraps up well and stores for a couple of days. While I spent the money for both goat cheeses used, you could substitute, in theory, cream cheese for the soft cheese and any hard cheese for the hard goat cheese. It won’t be the same but would be a lot cheaper. Still, if I am going to indulge in bread like this, buying the best just seems worth it.

Walker (our toddler) enjoyed the bread quite a bit. He ate the same size square as us!

Grain-Free Almond Herb Bread

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Almond Meal/Flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • ½ cup finely shredded hard goat cheese
  • 4 ounces soft goat cheese
  • 3 whole eggs, preferably organic & local
  • 3 Tbsp walnut oil or other cold-pressed oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced onion (fresh or rehydrated dried)
  • 4 ounces soft goat cheese
  • Fine sea salt for topping

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°, lightly oil a 9×13″ glass baking pan with a bit more oil, set aside.

Stir the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Whisk the eggs smooth, add the soft goat cheese and beat in, then the remaining ingredients. Add to the dry, stir to mix. Spread evenly in the prepared pan. Dust very lightly with a pinch more salt on top.

Bake for 30 minutes, until golden on top. Let cool on a rack, then cut into wedges or squares, pop out with a small spatula. Store leftovers in the refrigerator wrapped up.

The bread is sturdy enough it can be split in half for use as a sandwich bread as well. And served with fresh tomatoes!

Well…here is something to admit: I hadn’t ever bought a Parsnip before. I know….sheesh. I finally found some nice looking ones that were not limp (I am looking at you local Safeway! Your Parsnips could be tied into bows!!) This is a very pretty dish, and yes, it is egg-centric, but I have so many lovely eggs to use up from the farmers market and Saturday is fast approaching! This is a nice way to approach vegetables in children.

But alas, my Garden Frittata needs a little more work. I had baked it and it was a bit soft in the center for my taste (but done on the outside). I ended up crisping it in a skillet in a bit of oil – and then it was quite tasty – and crispy. Back to the drawing, er, recipe board!

~Sarah

Avocado Egg Salad Sammies & Lime Cumin Tortilla Chips

I have found a love of eggs once again, even with our vegan leanings. What changed that? Fresh eggs from a local farm. Glorious eggs. With deeply intense yolks, so orange inside. They remind me of how eggs tasted when I was little. Clean, fresh tasting, unlike store-bought eggs. The farm is just down the road, a small farm where the hens run free. Granted at $5 a dozen they get used in recipes where they shine. And this recipe is tasty golden yolks, green avo, curry powder…..and yes, it is a full fat recipe. I do allow myself mayonnaise now but only made from organic ingredients and only full fat!

Avocado Egg Salad Sammies

Ingredients:

  • 7 hard-boiled eggs
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp mild curry powder
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper

Directions:

Peel the eggs and split in half. I used all the whites and 4 of the yolks. Mash up with the mayo, curry and pepper. Split the avocados in half, scoop out the flesh. Mash it and add to the eggs, mixing well.

Serve open-faced on bread or crackers.

Serves 4.

I came across this recipe in Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free: 180 Easy and Delicious Recipes You Can Make in 20 Minutes or Less, on page 35.

I have had so many fails at making baked tortilla chips, these I was happy with. The secret seemed to be a lower baking temperature combined with a longer baking time. Crisp, crunchy. But be wary – many corn tortillas now have cellulose in them to keep them fresher longer. Yech.

Lime Cumin Tortilla Chips

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower or similar vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 8 6″ corn tortillas
  • Fine sea salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°, line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together the lime juice, oil and cumin and a pinch of salt.

Cut the tortillas in half, then each half into thirds. Add to a mixing bowl, drizzle the dressing on and quickly toss with fingers to coat. Place in rows, not touching, on the baking sheets. Bake for 12 minutes, take out and flip each chip over and move the top sheet to the bottom of the oven, bake for 13 minutes more. Remove and transfer the chips to a cooling rack. Once cooled store in a clean paper lunch bag.

Serves 4.

~Sarah

Chickpea Sammies

Well…I hit a stumbling block in our un-processed world. It appears that fresh-baked bread is giving Kirk really bad gut aches and the culprit seems to be the yeast. It got worse when I opened a new bag of yeast (since I buy it in huge quantities from Costco). Every symptom he was having led back to intolerance of yeast. Oh yay. So if my yeast is a year old in the frig, not so bad. The worst is when our daily loaf doesn’t have proper cooling time and we eat lunch with warm bread.Staler yeast, maybe less whole wheat? Make the bread the night before? I don’t know….

To test it I went back to Dave’s Killer Bread and no tummy aches. Sigh. At least I can get a quality product but ya know…it messes up my goals! 😉 Until I can work around it I will get the Good Seed Light for the guys (it is the same as their regular bread but is a smaller loaf!)

Yesterday I made egg salad with organic eggs I sourced at the farmers market from a local farm. I hadn’t had an egg salad sandwich in years, if not a decade or more and I truly enjoyed it. It had SO much flavor. The eggs had bright yellow yolks and tasted so clean. Sure, they are $5 a dozen (ack!) but it was worth every bit!

Anyhow, our lunch today was a chickpea salad with provolone cheese. Crunchy and satisfying.

Chickpea Sandwiches

Ingredeints:

  • 15 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 Tbsp dried onion (see notes)
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp dried dill weed
  • Fine sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

Cover the dried onions with ¼ cup cool water, let rehydrate for at least 30 minutes.

Mash the chickpeas in a mixing bowl, add the onions and remaining ingredients, stir to mix.

Serve on bread with cheese if desired.

Makes 4 sandwiches.

Note:

Why do I call for dried onion? Pretty simple. It doesn’t have the harsh “onion” flavor and smell that fresh does. In cold dishes I prefer it. Most grocery stores sell it in the spice aisle, I get mine at Costco – cheaper and fresher. 2 Tbsp soaked gives about half an average onion. And hey, no work either!

~Sarah

Tuscan White Bean Salad from Fine Cooking Italian

Released this past winter in January, Fine Cooking Italian: 200 Recipes for Authentic Italian Food, is a lovely cookbook full of inspiration. I will be making more from the cookbook, especially the pizza and dessert sections…..the pasta section is delicious looking as well.

While going through it, I came across a recipe for a bean and pasta salad on page 28 that sounded interesting. I adapted it a bit, adding 3 ounces more pasta to make it heartier and a bit more tuna, although the recipe didn’t specify what size can, most likely it would have been for a 6 ounce can.

Tuscan White Bean Salad (adapted)

Ingredients:

  • 7 ounces small tube pasta
  • 15 ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 4.5-ounce cans tuna packed in olive oil, drained

Directions:

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to boil, add past and cook for time on package, drain. Toss the beans and pasta together in a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile whisk the onion through pepper together, add to pasta and toss gently to coat. Flake the drained tuna on top and gently fold in. Cover and refrigerate.

Serves 4 to 8, depending on serving size (main dish or side dish).

~Sarah

FTC Disclaimer: We received a copy of the book for potential review.

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