Caprese Salad

One of my all time favorite summer flavor combinations is tomato & basil! There is nothing quite like a garden fresh, homegrown tomato and gorgeous, fresh basil leaves – add some fresh mozzarella and you have an amazing salad! We have had the nicest basil I have ever seen through our CSA and we have been thoroughly enjoying it.

I generally make my caprese salad fairly structured on a plate but you can make it however you like! The amount of ingredients are completely up to you – I used 4 small tomatoes and 3-4 ounces of cheese with about 12 large basil leaves on the salad below.

You can serve this with some sliced and toasted Italian bread rubbed with fresh garlic for a nod to bruschetta. Totally delicious!

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CAPRESE SALAD

Tomato
Basil
Fresh Mozzarella (usually available in the deli area)
Salt & Pepper
Balsamic Vinegar

Thinly slice the tomato(es) and fresh mozzarella. Chiffonade the basil (to do this: stack the leaves on top of each other and roll them together from the long side to the other long side and then thinly slice). Arrange the tomato and cheese in an alternating pattern on a plate. Sprinkle with the basil chiffonade. Freshly grind Salt & Pepper to taste. Drizzle with a good quality Balsamic Vinegar (I have some general use vinegar and then I have  some amazing vinegar that I reserve for uses such as this). Let stand at room temperature for 20-30 minutes to allow flavors to mingle. Enjoy!

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Grits Dressing

I saw this recipe in this month’s issue of Bon Appetit and was immediately intrigued – no bread in dressing? However, grits are one of my favorite things – I simply love them. Yes, I know I was born (and live) a little farther north than the normal grit suspects. 🙂 If you want a traditional, stuff-in-the bird dressing than this probably isn’t for you. If you want something new or want a unique and delicious side dish (maybe instead of corn?) than I definitely recommend  it.

As for me, I’m sitting in the kitchen hoarding the dish and wishing I hadn’t made only half of the recipe. Do I really have to share? The thing about this rich and creamy side is that I would actually make it for brunch or for a holiday side. While my waistline may not approve of frequent feasting on this dish, it is a wonderful treat. Mmmm, I love the holidays.   


GRITS DRESSING

(adapted very slightly from Bon Appetit, November 2011)
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Unsalted butter (for dish)
1 c. coarse stone-ground grits (I used Bob’s Red Mill Yellow Corn Grits)
1 c. (about 10 ounces) chopped bacon
6 large eggs
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 c. coarsely grated cheddar (about 8 ounces), divided
2 Tb. chopped fresh chives
1/4 tsp. sweet paprika (I only had smoky and since there was bacon in it, I went with it)
Kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Butter a 2-qt. baking dish. Bring 4 cups water (or chicken stock would be really great) to a simmer in a large saucepan. Gradually whisk in grits. Reduce heat to low; gently simmer, stirring often, until grits begin to thicken. Continue cooking, stirring often and adding water by 1/4 cupfuls it too thick, until tender and very thick* (about 5 cups), about 1 hour. (The amount of water and cooking time will vary depending on the type of grits used – mine took 1/2 hour or a little less.) Remove pan from heat and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp, 5–7 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain.

Preheat oven to 350°. Whisk eggs and cream in a medium bowl; whisk into grits in 3 additions. Stir in 1 3/4 cups cheese, chives, paprika, and bacon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer grits mixture to prepared dish and smooth top with a spoon. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup cheese over.

Transfer baking dish to oven and bake until puffed, golden, and just set in the middle, about 1 hour. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

*When they say VERY THICK, they really mean it. Mine were not thick enough – I did not need to smooth the top with a spoon (it was thin enough to settle out on it’s own). 🙂 They still worked out great!

Appetizer: Grilled Stuffed Jalapeno Chilis

These were the star of dinner last week! They were easy and incredibly delicious. Don’t skip the sauce – it took the dish to a whole ‘notha level. The grill flavor and the melty, cheesy goodness with the slight heat/spice was perfection. The grilling of the jalapeno made these less spicy than I would have expected. The recipe says this serves 4 but really, this easily served 8 for us. Just writing this post makes me want to go make more – a winning recipe from Bobby Flay!

GRILLED STUFFED JALAPENO CHILIS W/GRILLED RED PEPPER-TOMATO SAUCE
From Bobby Flay/Food Network
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8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces soft goat cheese
4 ounces shredded aged white Cheddar cheese (I used regular sharp cheddar)
2 ears corn, grilled in husk and kernels removed
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
12 jalapeno chiles, halved, stemmed and seeded
1 heaping tablespoon ancho chili powder
Grilled Red Pepper-Tomato Sauce, recipe follows

Heat grill to medium.

Whisk together the cream cheese and goat cheese in a medium bowl until smooth. Fold in the Cheddar, corn and green onions and season with salt and pepper. Fill each jalapeno half with about 2 tablespoons of the mixture and sprinkle the top with some of the ancho powder.

Place on the grill, filling-side up and cook until slightly charred and tender, about 7 to 8 minutes. Spoon the red pepper sauce onto a platter and top with the jalapenos.

GRILLED RED PEPPER-TOMATO SAUCE

2 red peppers, grilled, peeled and chopped
2 plum tomatoes, grilled until charred on all sides, and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the pepper, tomatoes, vinegar, honey and cilantro in a food processor and process until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add oil and season with salt and pepper.

Baker’s Delight: Kazakh Cheese Pastries

These savory pastries would be perfect for brunch or a snack or a dinner or any time. They are seriously delicious! They were a hit with children and adults alike. The buttery, flaky crust with the creamy cheese filling was pretty much perfect. I’m think these may be added to the Easter brunch menu this year.

KAZAKH CHEESE PASTRIES
adapted from Cooking for Kaz: Meals for Hope, Volume 2
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Pastry:
1 ½ c. flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cream of tartar
8 Tb. butter
¼ c. ice water

Place flour, salt, cream of tartar, and butter in a food processor, Blend until texture is coarse and add water. Blend just until the mixture is combined and begins to mass together (add more water if needed). Place on plastic wrap, flatten to disk and wrap airtight. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Roll dough on floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out 24 circles with 3 inch water glass or biscuit cutter. Pleat edges of circles and fit in bottom of muffin tins. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cheese filling:
1 egg
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese (I used sharp & 3-cheese blend)
3 T. grated parmesan cheese
2 Tb. parsley, chopped
2 T. chives, chopped

Beat egg in bowl. Add remaining ingredients. Spoon 2-3 tsp. filling in each pastry shell; spread level. Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes or until the filling is golden brown. Cool on rack and serve warm.

*These could be made ahead, refrigerated and warmed in the oven.

On the Side: Chipotle Cheddar Chard

We’re all in need of a little more green in our lives–be that greenbacks, a green thumb, or green consciousness. I’d happily have a little more of any of that in my life, but one green thing I’m always searching for is new recipes for greens. Typically I make a batch of green soup to enjoy throughout the week. But sometimes that just doesn’t cut it.

My default bunch of greens to purchase at the grocery or farmer’s market is usually spinach or kale. However, in an attempt to bring versatility to our diet and knowing greens are the heavy lifters of good nutrients, I’ve been experimenting with other varieties and recipes.

Last week I grabbed a bunch of swiss chard and tried out this recipe from the new cookbook The Simple Art of Eating Well. My greens-hesitant husband asked for the leftovers in his lunch. The chipotle powder adds a delightful smoky edge to this tasty, cheesy dish.

CHIPOTLE CHEDDAR CHARD
(from The Simple Art of Eating Well)
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1 lb chard
2 tsp canola oil
1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/4 c. chicken broth or water
1/4-1/2 tsp ground chipotle powder
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Wash chard and let water cling to the leaves (it helps steam the chard and keeps the dish room drying out); separate stems and leaves and chop.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the stems and onion; cook, stirring often, until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add tomato, broth (or water), chipotle to taste and salt; bring to a simmer. Add the leaves; cook, covered, stirring once, until just tender, about 2 minutes. Scatter cheese on top and cook, uncovered, until it is melted, 1-2 minutes more. Serves 4-6.

Weekend Fare: Stuffed Shells

It had been far too long since I had made stuffed shells and so I decided to make them again. They are great for freezing and they are great for taking a meal to someone. They take a little bit of time but really, they are not hard at all and they look so pretty. You can easily make these vegetarian by omitting the sausage – they are delicious either way. My kids loved them and I like that the spinach adds some excellent nutrients!

SPINACH, SAUSAGE & CHEESE STUFFED SHELLS
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1 (12 oz.) package jumbo pasta shells
1 lb. Italian sausage
1 (10 oz.) package frozen chopped spinach – thawed, drained and squeezed dry
1 (15 oz.) container ricotta cheese
2 c. mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 eggs
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
pinch of nutmeg
4 c. spaghetti sauce (you can make your own or use jarred sauce)
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 c. parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add shells and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain and rinse in cold water.

Place sausage in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until evenly brown. Drain and crumble. In a large bowl, combine cooked sausage, spinach, ricotta cheese, mozzarella, egg, garlic, lemon juice and parmesan cheese. Season with salt, pepper, oregano, nutmeg.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease a 9×13 pan and spread 1/4 c. spaghetti sauce in the bottom. Generously stuff pasta shells with the sausage and cheese mixture and place in baking dish. Top with remaining spaghetti sauce. Cover with foil and bake for 20 – 30 minutes until hot. Remove foil and sprinkle on the remaining 1 c. mozzarella and 1/4 c. parmesan. Bake for another 10 minutes uncovered until cheese is melted and dish is bubbly.

Market Fresh: Marinated Mozzarella

Antipasti Platters are a beautiful and easy appetizer or snack or simple supper. With a little forethought and an attractive platter, you can quickly put on together. I include cooked and chilled cheese tortellini seasoned with salt, pepper  oil, & vinegar, marinated green olives (the jar salso included pepperoncinis & garlic), crispy breadsticks, salami, and marinated mozzarella. I wish I had a good picture of the platter but alas, the lighting was horrible and we were expecting company at any minute. Hopefully I will have the occasion to make another one soon and take a proper picture.

The marinated mozzarrella cheese is easy to make and absolutely delicious!

MARINATED MOZZARELLA
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1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tb. dried parsley
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 tsp. dried Italian Seasoning
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 lb. cubed part-skim mozzarella cheese

In a large resealable plastic bag, combine all ingredients. Seal bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for at least 30 minutes turning occasionally.

Take out of the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature 20-30 minutes before serving. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Weekend Fare: Caprese Meatballs

I was contemplating dinner and decided to incorporate the ingredients of a caprese salad into a meatball. So I picked some fresh basil, chopped some tomato, grated some parmesan, added a few other things and realized I was out of mozzarella. Oh well. They were good anyway. My original plan was to cube some mozzarella and form the meatball around it creating a melted, cheesy center when they were baked. I recommend it…it would be delicious.

I served these meatballs with a spiral, brown rice pasta tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I garnished the plates with fresh basil, grated parmesan, and another drizzle of olive oil. My family devoured it. I like how the tomatoes roasted in the meatballs and how light and simple yet beautiful this was. Next time, I will definitely stuff the cheese in them creating more of a twist on one my favorite salads – the caprese.

And as a side note, I’m hosting a family get together/family anniversary party this weekend and planning to make caprese salad on a skewer. We shall see how it turns out! I think it will be a beautiful presentation and a somewhat de-constructed version of the summery salad.

CAPRESE MEATBALLS
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1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1/2 c. oatmeal
1/2 onion, finely chopped or grated (I was in a hurry and wished I had chopped it smaller)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1/4 c. fresh basil, chopped
1/2 c. parmesan, grated
2 eggs
1 Tb. olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients. Shape into 1 – inch meatballs. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until done. Makes about 35 – 40 meatballs.

*If desired, cube a block of mozarella cheese and form meatballs around the cheese before baking. Bake as directed.

Weekend Fare: Grilled Sandwiches

It’s impossible to describe just how much I love grilled sandwiches and paninis. Let’s just say, I can get pretty excited about a good sandwich. I don’t have a panini press so I order them out sometimes. And for us, the sky is the limit when we are grilling sandwiches. So today, I’m going to give you some ideas that hopefully you can take off with to make your own perfect sandwich. Grilled sandwiches are great for on-the-go weekends or for enjoying with a bowl of soup and company.

All sandwiches start the same – two pieces of bread buttered (or drizzled with oil) on the outside. The kind of bread is totally up to you.

Some Favorites:
Sourdough
Rye or Pumpernickel
Farm
Whole wheat
White
Raisin Cinnamon

Then add some kind of spread to the inside of the bread.

Some Ideas:
Mustard – brown, spicy, dijon, yellow, champagne – there are so many varieties!
Mayonnaise (or Miracle Whip if you are so inclined – we are not :))
Peanut Butter
Honey Mustard (I make my own by combining dijon, mayo, and honey)
BBQ Sauce
Honey
Cranberry Sauce or a Chutney
Olive oil
Flavored Mayonnaise (I like to add Balsamic Vinegar)
Marinara

Next, choose a protein (or two or three).

A Few Ideas:
Cheese
Turkey
Ham
Beef
Pastrami
Peanut Butter (yes, I’m listing it twice – my kids love it!)

Then add toppings. You can add however many you want, in whatever order you want, and at any time (before or after grilling).

Some Many Ideas:
Cheese
Avacado
Cucumber
Pear (thinly sliced)
Apple (thinly sliced)
Orange
Bananas
Tomato
Bacon
Pancetta
Carmalized Onions (or raw – I like red onions)
Peppers (any color – grilled or raw)
Olives
Sauerkraut
Fresh Herbs
Lettuce
Arugula
Spring Mix
Sprouts

I must note that I think most (though definitely not all!) good sandwiches include cheese. So I will list a few that I think are especially excellent on grilled sandwiches but again – choose your favorite!

Cheese (probably my favorite food ever):
Swiss
Provolone (smoked or otherwise)
Fresh Mozzarella
Brie
Havarti
Sharp (or even extra sharp!) Cheddar
Gouda

Choose the ingredients, build your sandwich, and grill it over medium heat (turning once) until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden on each side. Cut in half (or not – I like mine cut diagonally) and enjoy. My kids really like grilled pb & j or pb & honey with bananas. I like pretty much any kind as long as it has cheese.

Yum. Now I want a sandwich!

Slow Cooker: Appetizers

What do you have planned for the weekend? Company? Olympics? I think these two cheesy appetizers will be perfect for your weekend plans.

We loved this orange cranberry dip. It was delicious! I used the zest and juice of one fresh orange – yum!

ORANGE CRANBERRY DIP
(Adapted from crockpot 365)
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8 oz. cream cheese
2/3 c. shredded swiss cheese
2 Tb. orange juice
1 tsp. orange zest
1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/2 c.  dried cranberries

Plug in your Little Dipper to get it started warming up. Shove the block of cream cheese down into it. You may need to squish it in with a spoon. Shred the swiss, and add it. Grate the orange and add the zest. Add the orange juice and pecans. Cover and let it cook for 45 minutes to an hour. When the cream and swiss cheese have fully melted, stir in the dried cranberries.

Serve with your favorite crackers or fruit slices.

We’ve established how much I LOVE brie. And so when I saw that the crockpot lady had a slow cooker brie recipe, I really, really wanted to try it! However, I haven’t tried it yet. I have all the ingredients and I plan to but instead we’ve had strep and haven’t felt like eating a whole lot. But I decided that I should still share it so you can try it. And I will try it when we are feeling better. 🙂 It looks amazing!

APRICOT WALNUT BRIE
(Adapted from crockpot 365)
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1 large round or wedge of brie (the round I used was 13.2 oz)
1/2 c. chopped dried apricots
2 Tb. brown sugar
2 Tb. water
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp. dried rosemary
1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Use a 1.5 mini round crockpot. If you are going to use a big one, put the brie in an oven-safe dish. As long as the dish and the crockpot heat together, you’re all good.

Cut the top rind off. Put the brie into the crockpot. In a bowl, mix the chopped apricots, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, water and rosemary together. Spoon on top of the brie. Sprinkle on the chopped walnuts.

Cover and cook on high for 1-2 hours, or on low for about 3. Check after an hour in both cases just in case. Serve with your favorite crackers or fruit slices.