Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Dog Days are Over

A treat we enjoyed on the 4th of July with my family. Insalata Caprese, or Caprese Salad with Crostini.

If you live anywhere in the midwest, or west, or east, err.... if you are alive right now, you are experiencing the dog days of summer. Days are blazing hot, nights are sultry, and dinnertime can be scary. I mean, who in their right mind wants to turn on an oven, stand over the stove, or even eat hot food for that matter. Not this ninja, I will tell you that much! (And though I'm pretty sure I've posted something similar to this before [I'm too hot to look back and see], it warrants repeating.) 

So, might I suggest a simply delicious, light, and beautiful dinner. Caprese Salad with Crostini. That is the fancy name for which you will pay $18 an appetizer in a restaurant. But you can do is easily, inexpensively, and probably even more deliciously at home. Ready for an added bonus? It is so beautiful, you can impress friends and neighbors with your culinary awesomeness. And if you have a garden, the awesomeness is off the charts!

Caprese Salad with Crostini

  • a baguette or loaf of yummy crusty bread sliced into pieces 1/2-1 inch thick
  • ripe, firm, room temperature tomatoes, sliced (NEVER refrigerate tomatoes!!! PLEASE) romas are great if store bought, home grown garden of any variety are best
  • fresh mozzarella cheese (in a log pre-sliced or solid)
  • extra virgin olive oil (the EXTRA virgin is important)
  • fresh basil leaves
  • fresh cracked pepper
  • sea salt or kosher salt
  • balsamic vinegar
  • optional: dried thyme, garlic salt, capers, thinly sliced cured meats

Lay sliced bread flat on baking sheet (covered with foil for easier clean up) and drizzle with oil. If desired, sprinkle lightly with a bit of dried thyme and garlic salt. Bake until crisp at 350 degrees (about 8 minutes). The term "crostini" refers to crisp pieces of bread in Italian. For hot weather.... grill the bread outside~ either on foil or directly onto the grate. Keep the heat low-med to avoid charring.

While the crostini toasts, wash tomatoes and slice into 1/4- 1/2 inch slices. Slice fresh mozzarella. You really cannot substitute for this. It really needs to be FRESH mozzarella... the soft and creamy stuff. You can make it yourself, or buy it in a log shaped package. You want to aim to have your cheese and tomato slices the same thickness. 

Arrange tomato, mozzarella, and basil on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic, season with salt and pepper. If you have them or want to use them, add the capers and slices of cured meat (salami, prosciutto, capicola). Serve on platter alongside a bowl of crostini. When digging in, I like to assemble it with the tomato on the bread, then basil, then cheese on top. That way the bread absorbs any juices from the tomato and makes it less messy. You could also certainly ditch the bread to cut the carbs and eat it truly as a salad. Which I LOVE. But, if you want this to satisfy you as a meal, the bread sure helps. And man, is it good! The only thing missing from this is a very chilled glass of a crisp pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc wine. Cheers!

Buon appetito... and happy summer!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Stuffed Sweet Peppers: A Fiesta on a Plate!

Beautiful and brightly colored sweet bell peppers

Back in college I spent a semester studying in Colima, Mexico, where I took an extra curricular cooking class to learn how to make some of the local specialties. Chiles Rellenos Colimenses (Colima style stuffed peppers) was my favorite dish I learned to prepare. So, inspired by my days in Mexico, I cooked up a fresh new version and boosted the nutrition in some clever little ways. Wow, was it delicious. I knew it was going to be tasty, but it was truly spectacular. I love it when things turn out even better than planned!

Traditionally, this dish uses poblano peppers, but I opted to use some beautiful and sweet bell peppers. I used red, orange and yellow. Figure a half of a pepper per person per serving. But I suspect you will want more than just one serving;)

Savory filling simmers as the sweet peppers prepare to be stuffed!


  • 3-4 of your favorite colors of bell peppers cut in half and cleaned out
  • 1 cup of quinoa, cooked according to package instructions (could sub brown rice)
  • 1/2 cup raisins, diced (could sub dried cherries or cranberries)
  • 2 cups fresh spinach leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 white or red onion diced
  • 1/2 cup nuts (pepitas, almond slivers, or walnut pieces are all good)
  • 1 jar/can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 large jar/can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 lb lean ground turkey
  • 2 cups potatoes (boiled until tender, then diced into cubes)
  • 1-2 cups of diced cooked carrots
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • cumin, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic and onion powders, olive oil (or your preferred cooking oil)
  • * Optional toppings: 1 cup shredded or crumbled cheese; salsa verde/tomatillo salsa; jalepenos, chipotle salsa.
Sweet and Savory Stuffed Peppers (chiles rellenos)

Start by halving and cleaning the peppers and place in a glass baking dish, and roast at 350 degrees until they are beginning to caramelize around the edges and flesh is tender (15-ish minutes). While they roast, brown the turkey in a large skillet, seasoning liberally with cumin, salt, pepper. Add a bit of olive oil and mix in onions, garlic, spinach and stir until the spinach wilts down. Next, add the carrots, potatoes, quinoa, raisins and  nuts. Mix well, and add tomatoes (do not drain them). Season with oregano, garlic and onion powders. Cover and turn off heat. When the peppers are soft but still hold their bowl like shape, spoon in the mixture.You will have extra filling that can be used as a sauce to top them off when serving. Top with your favorite shredded or crumbled cheese*, and put back into the oven for 10-15 minutes. I used feta crumbles, just a few on top. Too much cheese will make it a much heavier meal and take away from all of the flavors and textures.

This really has everything you could need or want all in one pretty and delicious little package. The dried fruit and roasted tomatoes add a nice but subtle sweetness to the otherwise savory dish. The quinoa and nuts add some texture, and the spinach and peppers pack a nutritional punch to round out the meal. I like mine with a little more heat, so I add sliced jalepenos and chipotle sauce to the ones for the grown ups.

I hope you enjoy this fresh fiesta on a plate!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Make Your Own Liquid Gold

Garlic and Herb Infused Olive Oil
Sometimes it's the simple things in life that are just so good. For me, there is nothing better than the smell of garlic heating in olive oil. It gets all of my senses going, and I start to imagine all of the delicious forms this smell could physically take on... oven roasted vegetables, sauteed seafood, a classic spaghetti and marina or a simple dipping oil for some good crusty bread. The possibilities are endless... and it all starts with a few simple ingredients. So today I decided to bottle that smell, and preserve that flavor so that it is ready in a moment's notice. It's silly how easy it is, yet incredibly delicious.

Garlic and Herb Infused Olive Oil

  • 1 bottle of olive oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • pinch of dried herb mix and salt

Empty a bottle of oil into a pan and heat on medium-low. Peel several cloves of garlic and smash them to release their juices (don't chop) then add to hot oil. Next, add a pinch of sea salt or kosher salt, and any dried herbs you really like. An Italian blend would work great and be very versatile, or you can use something more particular like rosemary. I chose to use my new favorite seasoning of ALL time... Bragg Organic Sprinkle. It's a blend of 24 organic herbs and spices, with no salt. It is SO stinking delicious. I now use it in EVERYTHING! I'm slightly obsessed.

There are two reasons you need to saute the garlic and herbs in the oil, rather than just plunking them into the bottle and letting them marinate. First, the heat will bring out the flavor of the garlic and herbs and actually infuse it into the oil, and you get to experience the heavenly aroma. And second, by bringing up the temperature enough to kill bacteria in or on the garlic, you save yourself from a nasty case of food poisoning. Let it bubble for a few minutes, but do not get it going so hot that you are frying the garlic. Excessive heat destroys the olive oil and changes it's chemical properties so that it could actually be carcinogenic. Olive oil should never get to the smoking point, and is well suited for low to medium heat cooking, or unheated in dressings, dips, etc.

Put a strainer on top of a glass measuring cup with a spout for easy pouring, and carefully pour the hot oil through. All of the garlic and large pieces of herbs will then be removed from the oil, and you can carefully pour it back into the original bottle. Allow it to cool with the lid off. Now don't go throwing away that garlic! Now that it's been cooked it has a really mild flavor and you can eat it on bread, or if you're like me, eat it all by its delicious self. 

Use the infused oil in salad dressings, drizzle over pasta, add some Parmesan cheese and black pepper and dip in some hot and crusty bread, whip it up with some goat cheese for a delicious spread, drizzle it over sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese for a Caprese type snack, or toss with fresh basil, diced tomato and onion for a tasty bruschetta. And, savor every golden drop!