Insalata Caprese

Sometimes the most simple dishes prepared with high quality ingredients are the best. I am not here to teach complicated techniques or use hard to find ingredients. My goal is to help inspire home cooks to enjoy fresh, beautiful and healthy food. It is easy to eat this way every day.

It is tomato season again. My garden is overflowing with ripe tomatoes and basil. There  is nothing more simple to prepare in this season than an insalata Caprese. If you don’t have a garden, don’t worry, most markets have beautiful heirloom tomatoes and bunches of fresh basil. You’ll need to go shopping anyway because you will need some nice mozzarella or burrata cheese, good quality olive oil and, even though it’s not traditional, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Here are my basil “trees” that have gone a little to seed. I pop off the tops of the basil plant and fill a vase with the fragrant buds. Then I carefully pick healthy looking leaves to wash and use.

Garden Basil

Garden Basil

I am growing several varieties of tomatoes this year. These are Sun Gold tomatoes and are delicious and sweet.

Sun Gold Tomatoes

Sun Gold Tomatoes

I also have Early Girl, Juliet and Pineapple tomatoes growing out of control.  I like to mix up the tomato variety in my salads. Slice the larger tomato into rounds, and quarter the smaller tomatoes – leave some whole too. Slice the mozzarella into rounds or tear it for more texture. If you are using burrata cheese place it in the center of the dish and cut into quarters to be shared. Distribute the basil evenly over the salad so each serving gets a little. Drizzle with a generous amount of olive oil, squeeze lemon juice then generously salt and pepper.

Insalata Caprese

Insalata Caprese

Serve with a crusty loaf of bread.

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Summer Salad

Grapefruit Slices

Grapefruit Slices

I grill a lot of our meals in the warmer months of summer. I love to offset the charred meats and vegetables with a refreshing, crisp salad. One of my favorite salad ingredients is grapefruit. I take a whole grapefruit and slice off the rind – white pith and all – with a sharp knife. This is similar to removing the outside skin of a cantaloupe melon. Then, using the knife, slice out the grapefruit sections leaving the inner membrane behind. Squeeze all of the juice from the remaining membrane into a bowl to use as dressing.

Today I had some celery, radishes, cucumber, avocado and cilantro in my vegetable drawer. You can use lettuce, parsley, tomatoes, carrots – any fresh vegetable on hand that can be eaten raw.

Salad Ingredients

Salad Ingredients

I make the dressing by taking three tablespoons of the grapefruit juice, one tablespoon of red wine vinegar, and three tablespoons of olive oil. Shake these ingredients in a small jar or just whisk in a bowl. Salt and pepper to taste.

Fresh Summer Salad

Fresh Summer Salad

Arrange the ingredients on a plate or shallow bowl. Spoon the dressing over the salad making sure to evenly distribute. Enjoy!

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Some Basics

Part of the fun and challenge of loving to cook is deciding each day what to prepare for dinner. Like most people I get stuck in a rut making the same five dishes over and over. My teenage daughters are great about reminding me that I should switch it up. Usually the look of disappointment and the deadpanned “(salmon – chicken – tacos) again?” works. I do, however, rely of some basics to create new dishes. Homemade pesto is one ingredient I never tire of.

As I have mentioned earlier I am allergic to tree nuts. That hasn’t stopped me from creating some wonderful pesto by either eliminating the pine nuts or using sunflower or sesame seeds in their place. I always have basil growing in my garden, but I have also used arugula, parsley and cilantro for the green ingredient. A good amount of olive oil, parmesan cheese and garlic bind it all together for a delicious boost to many dishes. As usual, I don’t use a recipe. I gather as much basil (washed) as can fit into my food processor and pour a generous amount of olive oil to get it started. Toss in a few peeled garlic cloves, a generous grinding of black pepper and sea salt. Then blend away! I add more olive oil until the consistency looks right. Add a handful of grated parmesan cheese, blend again, and you have pesto. Add this to scrambled eggs, meatloaf, risotto, beans and of course pasta.

Tonight I have grabbed the remains of some of that pesto and a hard boiled egg.

Pesto and Egg

Pesto and Egg

I have prepared some al dente spaghetti and have tossed it with the pesto. I have drained and rinsed a can of cannellini beans and quickly sautéed them in some olive oil and chopped garlic.

Cannellini Beans

Cannellini Beans

Place the pesto spaghetti in a bowl, top with the beans, garnish with a half hardboiled egg and a dollop of pesto.

Pesto Spaghetti with Beans and Egg

Pesto Spaghetti with Beans and Egg

Add grated cheese – simple and delicious!

 

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Roasted Vegetables and Farro

In an effort to eat healthy and be considerate of the environment, I cook at least four vegetarian meals a week. Generally I combine a seasonal vegetable with a grain or legume and call it dinner. Today I am roasting half of a butternut squash, a handful of brussel sprouts, and an apple. I am combining these with some sautéed mushrooms and onions, and stirring in some cooked farro. If you are not familiar with farro it is an Italian wheat product that is sold in the pasta section of most supermarkets. It looks similar to wheat berries and cooks up in 20 minutes in boiling water.

I cut the vegetables and apple into similar sized pieces.

Cut squash, apple and brussel sprouts

Cut squash, apple and brussel sprouts

I toss these with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet at 375 F. It is ready when the squash can be pierced by a fork – about 20-30 minutes.

Roasted Apple and Vegetables

Roasted Apple and Vegetables

While the vegetables are roasting I sauté some chopped onion and mushrooms.

Saute of Onion and Mushroom

Saute of Onion and Mushroom

I have boiled one cup of farro in water for 20 minutes and have drained it. I combine the roasted vegetables in the mushroom pan with the farro and cook over medium heat until heated through. This can be served as a main course or a side dish with grated parmesan cheese or hot sauce.

Vegetarian Dinner

Vegetarian Dinner

You can enjoy a few helpings without any guilt!

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Arroz con Pollo

On our way back from an amazing sailing vacation in the British Virgin Islands we had a longer than expected layover in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We decided to take a car into San Juan and get a feel for the the city instead of sitting at the airport reading People magazine. I am so glad we did. We started by heading into “old town” and getting a coffee and pastry.

Coffee in Old Town

Coffee in Old Town

After finishing our coffee, and, buying a bag of the beans to take home, we strolled through  cobblestone streets and enjoyed the Colonial-era architecture. San Juan was founded in 1509.

Colonial-era San Juan

Colonial-era San Juan

As a military city the town was built inside a fortress.

Old San Juan

Old San Juan

After a good long walk we decided to try some authentic Puerto Rican cuisine – “the kind Grandma cooks”. We were directed to a residential neighborhood near the airport and a wonderful restaurant called “La Casita Blanca”.

La Casita Blanca

La Casita Blanca

The warm hospitality and charming interior brought nostalgic feelings for 1960’s era San Juan. Old T.V.’s, mid century patio furniture, framed yellowed newspaper articles all reminiscent of a time gone by. Grandma’s food did not disappoint. Our gracious waiter offered us an appetizer of local avocado (how did he know about this obsession of mine?)…

Local Giant Avocado's

Local Giant Avocado’s

He returned with one sliced and sprinkled with oregano – large enough to feed a family of six.

Sliced Avocado

Sliced Avocado

It was a Saturday, and Saturday is the only day they cook Arroz con Pollo. A traditional Puerto Rican dish of braised chicken, rice and tomato Arroz con Pollo is easy to make. Brown a cut up chicken that has been seasoned with salt and pepper in olive oil. Remove from pan. Add a chopped onion, a chopped red pepper and a chopped green pepper to the hot oil and cook until it has softened. Add the chicken back to the pan. Add a cup of white rice and stir to coat with the oil and other ingredients. Pour in two cups of chicken broth and one cup of chopped tomato. Stir to scrape off any brown bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Salt and pepper liberally – I also like to add a few cloves of garlic that have been smashed. Cover and cook on low until the rice is done (about 30 – 40 minutes).

Here is La Casita Blanca’s version. Far better than mine – but I can keep trying.

Arroz con Pollo

Arroz con Pollo

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Late Summer Salad

I returned from all my travels this summer to find my tomato plants the height of small trees. The amount of ripe fruit on them ensures that I, along with my friends and neighbors, will be eating these beautiful tomatoes for months to come.

Tomatoes in Every Size

Tomatoes in Every Size

Today at the market avocados were $1 each and perfectly ripe so I bought five. Tonight I am grilling some cumin rubbed steaks so I naturally thought of guacamole – but extra chunky and as a salad.

Beautiful Ingredients

Beautiful Ingredients

Tomatoes, avocado, minced garlic, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper – that’s it.

Chopped

Chopped

Mix together – season to taste – and watch it disappear!

Guacamole Salad

Guacamole Salad

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Bali Hai

This summer I completed my own version of Eat-Pray-Love…the travel and food version. I have just returned from the most exotic place I have ever visited – Bali, Indonesia.

 

Bali

Bali

I had no experience with Indonesian food and wondered what I might learn from this trip. I was fortunate enough to join a very talented cook while he prepared a beautiful lunch for us. We had requested an authentic Balinese meal and he transformed some very simple ingredients into one of the most delicious meals I have ever had. He started with diced garlic, shallot, green pepper, red pepper and stir fried it in some oil.

Diced and ready to stir fry.

Diced and ready to stir fry.

Then he added purple cabbage, carrot and bok choy tossing it over high heat he added leftover white rice, paprika and some soy sauce. After some more tossing and seasoning adjustment – here’s the result:

Nasi Goreng

Nasi Goreng

Really delicious – then he tossed some cubed chicken breast in salt, pepper and chopped garlic. Arranged them onto bamboo skewers and grilled brushing with dark soy sauce.

Chicken breast for skewers.

Chicken breast for skewers.

Turning them into this:

Chicken Satay

Chicken Satay

Yum – Finally he took the legs and wings from the whole chickens he had dismantled for the skewers and browned them in oil adding red peppers, green peppers, onion, carrot, coconut milk and a magic curry packet:

Magic Curry Packet

Magic Curry Packet

We ate this way almost every day we were in Bali – amazing food.

Chicken Curry

Chicken Curry

And an amazing place.

DSCF0109

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California Egg Sandwich

I have already mentioned the mustard green and egg sandwiches I would carry to school for lunch on freshly baked Italian bread. Here’s a slight modification on that to give it a healthier twist. I take a beautiful, locally grown bunch of mustard greens and wash them well. I trim the tough stems off at the part where the leaf starts.

I then chop the greens into bite size pieces and mince a few cloves of garlic.

I start by adding the greens to olive oil that has been heated in a cast iron pan. I add salt and pepper and let the greens wilt a bit while they give off some moisture. This is when I add the garlic – adding it now prevents it from burning when it hits the hot oil. I let this cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat – test the greens to see if they have become tender – it may take a little longer.

Now I beat about four eggs with a fork and turn up the heat under the greens. Pour the eggs into the greens and scramble until satisfied. Instead of Italian bread I use a sprouted whole wheat, toasted and lightly spread with mayonnaise. You can add tomato, mustard, hot sauce – whatever you enjoy on a sandwich – but here’s how I like it:

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Simple – Steamed Artichokes

The most beautiful artichokes start arriving in March. Unscathed by their short trip over the Santa Cruz mountains to our local market they are green and blemish free. A short hour away in Castroville one can see artichoke bushes fading into the horizon in every direction. This is a dream come true for an Italian artichoke lover!

A very simple way to serve artichokes that showcases their wonderful flavor is to steam them and serve them with an herb and garlic mayonnaise.

I start by trimming the stem and the sharp side leaves. then slice the tight remaining leaves at the top.

I set the artichokes in a steamer over about 2 inches of water and steam until the stem is pierced easily by a fork. The dip is made by mixing mayonnaise with finely chopped fresh dill, a minced garlic clove and a twist of black pepper.

 

Using a grater dust the mayonnaise blend with some lemon zest to finish.

The final product – the purple choke in the center of the artichoke is easily scooped out with a spoon.

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