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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CSA

Our family is participating in a Community Supported Agriculture share this summer/fall. We had our first share this week and I am so excited! It is wonderfully fresh and beautiful produce that will stretch my creativity. This week, we are enjoying fresh herbs, peas (2 kinds!), onions, swiss chard, strawberries, garlic scapes, asparagus, and lettuce. I made creamed peas & potatoes last night and topped it with fresh chives and just had to make strawberry shortcake. We LOVED both (I’ll post the recipes in coming posts). Anyway, check out CSAs in your area – buying local is awesome!

Organic Fruit & Vegetables

Here’s to a summer full of fresh, local, and delicious produce and all of the recipes that will follow!

Counter Culture

My counters have been busy this week: from the stacks of china and glass to be put away after my daughter’s baptism dinner to the mountain of baking on my to-do list, and then the testing of our new ice-cream machine! Yes, we are now the proud owners of a Cuisinart Automatic Ice-Cream Maker!!! This was our first attempt:

The kids decided on mint chocolate chip and we happened to have the chocolate and green chocolate chips to add. We all loved the results and the next night we tried raspberry frozen yogurt — also very delicious. Making one’s own ice-cream means you can control the ingredients, especially the sugar. So far we’ve been using about 1/3 of the amount called for in ice-cream recipes. No doubt ice-cream recipes will begin to appear on The Cooks Next Door.

Getting my CSA each week is something I really look forward to. I love the challenge of using the vegetables we get.

Here’s some of what we’ve eaten recently:

Swiss Chard — I made this Swiss Chard Lasagna and it was so good I hope to make it again soon
Kohlrabi — a relative of the cabbage, I added mine to coleslaw
Peas — we ate the sugar snaps raw and the boys shelled the shell peas to be steamed for dinner
Cabbage — we all love coleslaw and that’s what we did with our beautiful cabbage
Kale — I made an amazing Italian sausage, white bean and kale soup which I plan to make again this week
Mustard Greens — I used these greens in place of spinach in a Greek rice salad
Herbs — we’ve been given a lot of “cutting celery” which I’ve never heard of before. It has the appearance of overgrown parsley but tastes more like celery. I’ve been using it in salads and as a substitute for parsley.
Basil — I came home with a shopping bag full of basil and decided pesto was in order. The recipe I found gave options for freezing, which was perfect for me. Seven little jars found their way into the freezer.

BASIL PESTO
(Food Network)
Print this recipe

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts (I left these out)
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

Combine the basil, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.

If freezing, transfer to air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in the cheese.

Makes 1 cup.

Last, but not least, the children and I went black raspberry picking in the nearby woods last week. When we got home we made handpies with the berries we found. It made me think of my childhood and the memories I have of berry picking. Hopefully my children will someday look back and remember the fun we had (even though we all ended up being eaten up by bugs!!).

Counter Culture

I’ve spent a lot of time in my kitchen this past week. The result: we’ve eaten some really good food. Not only have I been preparing recipes for the blog, but I’ve been working hard to make good use of the produce we’ve received through out CSA. And, as always, I haven’t just been cooking, I’ve been cleaning up too. All that cooking generates an amazing mountain of dishes. Our dishwasher has been out of commission the last two months and will continue to be so for awhile. That means dishes by hand, the old-fashioned way.

Here’s a picture of what we’ve received through the CSA this past week:

We’ve gotten strawberries the past two weeks and I could hardly wait to pick up our share and get the berries! I could smell them from afar — that smell I remember from the hot strawberry fields of my childhood when mom took us for our yearly berry-picking. I contemplated long and hard what to do with the berries, since they were superior to the kind obtained at the grocery store. Finally I decided on scones, strawberries and cream for breakfast (with tea of course). Everyone loved it!

I’m amazed at the amount of greens we’ve been getting and I’ve tried to use some creativity in making our nightly salads. One evening I threw this together, hindered by little time and few ingredients. I tore up a head of lettuce, sliced a cucumber (from the store) and sprinkled over torn tarragon. My easiest dressing consists of 1/4 cup whipping cream, one tablespoon water and one tablespoon red wine vinegar with salt and pepper.

We’re also eating plenty of Kale, and enjoying the fresh asparagus. The radishes and chives head straight into salads and I’ve been especially enjoying having so much fresh mint, peppermint, tarragon and oregano around. It certainly adds a different dimension to cooking when you can add flavor and color with herbs.

And, here’s a nice little recipe we tried recently that makes a hearty lunch or a light supper (perfect for summer):

EMERIL’S KICKED-UP TUNA MELTS
(Everyday Food, May 2010)
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4 cans (5 ounces each) solid white tuna packed in water, drained
1/3 cup mayonnaise, plus more for spreading
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
4 teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained (I left these out)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled between your fingers
4 slices crusty bread
8 thin slices tomato
4 slices provolone

Heat broiler, with rack in highest position. In a medium bowl, combine tuna, mayonnaise, onion, capers, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and oregano and stir until thoroughly combined.

Arrange bread on a baking sheet and spread a little mayonnaise on each slice (I toasted my bread on each side first — using the broiler). Divide tuna salad evenly among slices, then top each with 2 slices tomato and 1 slice cheese. Broil until cheese is golden brown and bubbling, 3 to 4 minutes.

Serves 4.

Counter Culture

This past week marked the opening of my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I was so excited to go and pick up the first produce of the season. Here’s what we received: one bag of mixed greens, one bunch of asparagus, kale, two heads of lettuce, radishes, eggs, chives, tarragon, spearmint and peppermint.

And here is what we’ve done with this delicious food:

asparagus — steamed with butter, salt and pepper
radishes — although I wanted to make this salad again, I’ve just been putting these into regular green salads
mixed greens and lettuce — salad; the first salad I made needed to be quick and consisted of the greens plus snipped chives, including the chive blossoms. Salad dressing also needed to be quick and so I used cream, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. A perfect combination!
chives — the chives have appeared in salads and our egg supper, and I’m thinking of trying to dry some to use in the winter. I’ll have to let you know how that goes.
tarragon — I’m envisioning turning this into a lemon-tarragon sauce for chicken

kale — I browned a bit of garlic in some olive oil and then threw in the washed and chopped kale to cook until it was tender. Balsamic vinegar finished it off as a delicious side dish to our pasta dinner.
eggs — we often have eggs on Saturday night since I plan for a large meal on Sunday. Most frequently I mix five eggs with 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 cup grated cheese, salt and pepper and bake it in a greased pie plate. This week I added snipped chives.
spearmint and peppermint — my favorite way to enjoy these herbs is in my tea. I drink Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast Decaf and add a sprig of mint to my mug when brewing the tea (or make a large pot with several teabags and a few sprigs of mint). I drink this hot with milk, but it’s also excellent chilled. Some of the mint found its way into the cucumber and sugar snap pea salad that I made again this week.

We enjoyed a delicious meal for Mother’s Day, cooked for us by my sister. She made hamburgers on the grill with various toppings such as lettuce, tomato, onion, blue cheese, avocado, and bacon. Side dishes included oven fries, rice salad, and Israeli salad.

Of course the most exciting thing happening in our kitchen right now is the presence of our baby girl — Laura Elizabeth — who arrived on April 27th.

And, since Laura’s arrival, our family has been enjoying the cooking of many friends who have kindly provided meals for us. We’ve all enjoyed the variety and I think the kids are sorry to see the meals coming to an end.

Counter Culture

I’ve decided to name my bi-weekly post Counter Culture for several reasons. First off, these posts are meant to be about what is going on in my kitchen, and thus on my counters. Second, I often feel as though what does go on my counters is often very counter-culture to the way the general population of America is eating these days. So what is happening in my kitchen at the moment?


(Homemade bread from the freezer and ranunculus to adorn the dining table)

I’ve signed up for my very first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). For those unfamilar with that term, what it essentially means is that I’ve paid a certain amount to a local farmer and in return I will be getting a share of what his farm produces over the 25 week growing period in our area.

I’m really excited about this new adventure. “My” farmer provided a list of all the vegetables, herbs and fruits he grows and when I might expect to receive them. I cannot wait until the season starts in May and I begin to collect fresh greens, herbs like applemint, organo and peppermint, as well as asparagus. I’m planning to keep you up-to-date with how the CSA works for our family and what ideas we come up with for using our produce.

I’m also planning to get some peas, swiss chard and spinach planted in my garden any day now. We don’t have a very big plot, since we live in the suburbs and our yard is small. But, having a garden of any size is a great way to help the children learn where our food comes from and how much hard work it takes to actually grow it!

This week I’ll leave you with my new favorite recipe: a spring salad made with fresh, mixed berries. A friend brought it to our spring tea and we all couldn’t get enough of it. Admittedly, it is a rather expensive salad, but if you are having a special occassion, and need something stunning, this is the salad to make!

SPRING BERRY SALAD
(Heather, as passed on to me from Heidi and Michelle; dressing is from Country Living)
Print this recipe

spring salad mix
arugula
romaine lettuce

fresh blueberries
fresh strawberries, sliced
fresh raspberries

pecans

Mix salad ingredients in whatever proportions you prefer. Toss with dressing just before serving.

Dressing:
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or canola oil if you prefer a milder taste)

Combine all dressing ingredients in a bowl or jar and mix well. Remove garlic and serve. Store refrigerated up to one week.