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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Easy Lasagna

My mom is the one who introduced us to this easy version of lasagna. The layers are beautiful and it is such a delicious dish. I like it for company, providing a meal for someone, Sunday dinner, or even as a non-traditional holiday main dish – this is probably how I most remember having it growing up. I gave my husband a choice of things to serve for a dinner we were hosting recently and I didn’t get past the lasagna suggestion 🙂 – I don’t make it often but it is definitely a family favorite.

Lasagna can be involved with bechamel sauce, meat sauce and more but this version will achieve the levels of flavor and takes a fraction of the time. I always use sausage because I think it adds incredible flavor! Also, the spinach is optional but I like the color it provides and, of course, the nutrients. Serve this with garlic bread or homemade breadsticks, and a lettuce salad. Hope you enjoy this as much as we do!

EASY LASAGNA
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1 – 16 oz. pkg. lasagna noodles
1 qt. spaghetti sauce (jarred or make your favorite homemade!)
1 lb. sausage or ground beef
1 c. water
1 – 15 oz. carton ricotta cheese
1 egg beaten
8 oz. shredded mozzarella or Italian cheese blend
6-8 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
1/3 c. water
1/4 c. parmesan cheese
1 Tb. parsley flakes
dash nutmeg
salt, pepper to taste
1/2 c. parmesan cheese

Brown meat, add spaghetti sauce and 1 c. water, bring to a boil.  In mixing bowl combine ricotta cheese, egg, mozzeralla, spinach 1/3 c. water, 1/4 x. parmesan, parsley flakes, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

TO ASSEMBLE: Use uncooked lasagna strips bu rinse in hot water before layering in a 9×13 pan (about 4 lasagna strips fit in a single layer – 3 lengthwise, 1 crosswise). Layers: 1 2/3 c. sauce, lasagna strips, 1/2 cheese mixture, 1 2/3 c. sauce, lasagna strips, remaining cheese mixture, 1 2/3 c. sauce, lasagna strips, remaining sauce, top w/1/4 c. parmesan cheese.

Bake at 375 degress covered w/foil for 40 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for 15 more minutes.  Let stand 5-10 minutes before cutting.

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.

Market Fresh: Russian Zucchini Dill Casserole

This is another Kazakh/Russian dish. My husband didn’t love this one as much as I did. I liked the flavors and textures together a lot! It is healthy and hearty. Dill is such a big part of many of the Kazakh dishes I’ve enjoyed. I will be growing it in my garden this year for sure!

RUSSIAN ZUCCHINI DILL CASSEROLE
adapted from Cooking for Kaz: Meals for Hope, Volume 2
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6 zucchini, sliced
3 med. carrots, peeled & chopped
2 c. onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 Tb. tomato paste
 3 T. fresh parsley, chopped
 2 Tb. fresh dill, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 c. tomato juice
¾ tsp. sugar
1 ½ Tb. cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large skillet or dutch oven, sauté carrots in water or vegetable stock over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Add the onion, celery, and zucchini and sauté, stirring, until all the vegetables are starting to tenderize.

Stir in the tomato paste and sauté for 3-4 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley and dill. Mix the tomato juice with the sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Stir this mixture in as well and just bring to a boil. Pour the mixture into a flat-bottomed heatproof casserole that will accommodate the entire amount. Bake in the oven until tender – about 40 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley before serving if desired.

Easiest Tomato Soup

We don’t frequently have tomato soup at our house, but it is a comfort food that I crave every so often. And, I never have the cans of tomato soup sitting around when that craving hits (nor do I really relish canned soup). This problem is now solved for all time. This tomato soup is so easy to make, and the ingredients are nearly always in my pantry, that I think we’ll be enjoying this for lunch regularly.

EASY TOMATO SOUP
(The Cooks Next Door)
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1 jar (32 oz.) good quality spaghetti sauce (I used Bertolli)
32 oz. chicken stock (I use “Better than Bouillon” paste mixed with water)
1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat the spaghetti sauce and stock in a saucepan until piping hot. Stir in the heavy cream and serve.

Serves 4-6.

Market Fresh: Melons

I will admit that I’m not very creative when it comes to melon – usually, I cut them and serve them. For this post, however, I decided to step outside the box since you probably don’t need tips on how to cut your melon into 1-inch pieces.

A couple notes on picking a melons: For honeydew and cantaloupe, I smell them – if it smells faintly like the fruit, it’s probably good, if it smells really strong, it’s probably past. For watermelon, I really do smack the melon and I can tell by the way it feels if it’s likely a good one.  I want to feel the juice “ripple” inside.

Now on to the recipes for today. I really liked this first one, it seemed like an unusual combination (I adapted the recipe from one I found) but the juicy melon with the classic tomato and basil combination was fabulous. It was a sophisticated and unexpected salad.

 

WATERMELON, TOMATO, & BASIL SALAD
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1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. sugar (next time I would try honey)
1/2 watermelon cut into chunks,
1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
2 Tb. fresh basil, chopped
2 Tb. Olive oil

Combine the balsamic vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Combine watermelon, tomatoes, & basil in a large bowl. Pour cooled vinegar mixture and olive oil over the fruit. Gently stir to combine. Can season with salt if desired. Chill until serving.

My sister recommended this recipe and I couldn’t resist trying another fruit soup. It’s so refreshing and quite good. It would be lovely as a light dessert.


CHILLED CANTALOUPE SOUP
(allrecipes.com)
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1 cantaloupe – peeled, seeded and cubed
2 c. orange juice
1 Tb. fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Peel, seed, and cube the cantaloupe. Place cantaloupe and 1/2 cup orange juice in a blender or food processor; cover, and process until smooth. Transfer to large bowl. Stir in lime juice, cinnamon, and remaining orange juice. Cover, and refrigerate for at least one hour. Garnish with mint if desired.

My Kitchen View

This past weekend, I had a chance to rediscover my love for cooking and baking. Life has been busy enough lately with many things and I have really missed just enjoying the kitchen. It was wonderful. I paged through my new magazines, planned a menu to serve my brother and his girlfriend for Sunday dinner, and then made three new recipes. They were successful, dinner was lovely, and I loved having some creative time in the kitchen!

Our garden is getting closer to having ripe produce and I can’t wait. The green tomatoes are just starting to turn red and yellow and the zuchinni is almost ready to harvest. I’ve been using a lot of basil from my plants and using some thyme as well.

We are looking forward to the Indianapolis Devour Downtown which is August 2-15! You can check out all the amazing restaurants that are participating – they have some delicious looking menus!

I’m going to give you a little preview of the August issue of Saveur and share this yummy Greek Salad. It was flavorful, fresh, colorful, and really tasty. I used less feta then the recipe suggested but put a little extra on the table to pass for those who wanted more. We really enjoyed this salad!


GREEK SALAD (Horiatiki) – Saveur, August 2010
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2 tbsp. roughly chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into 1 1⁄2″ pieces  
1 small cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced crosswise into 1⁄4″ pieces
1⁄2 medium white onion, thinly sliced
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1⁄8 tsp. dried oregano, plus more
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 
6 oz. feta, cut into thick slabs
8 kalamata olives
Combine parsley, tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions in a bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, and oregano; season with salt and pepper and pour over cucumber mixture. Toss. Transfer salad to a serving bowl and top with feta and olives. Garnish with more oregano; season with pepper. Serves 2

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.

Off The Shelf: July Magazines

Here it is time for another edition of monthly cooking magazines! We hope you enjoy!

Cooking Light (Heather) – this is a big, beautiful summer issue but I found it sad that the only thing that really grabbed me, after several perusals, was the Greek Yogurt Parfaits. There is an attractive article on main dish salads, but they all seemed exotic except for the Southwestern Cobb Salad. I did find the melon and ketchup articles helpful but found many of the other summer recipes to be things I may never attempt (filet mignon, striped bass, shrimp salad).

I will say that the article on fruit cobblers looked amazing! Blueberry-Peach Cobbler, Plum Cobbler, and Blackberry Cobbler sound like perfect desserts for summer evenings.

If you are interested in alternative burgers you will love their Lamb Burger, Poblano Beef Burger, Salmon Burger, Turkey Burger, and Brisket Burger. There are also articles on a Sydney Beach BBQ and Food in Singapore.

My take: If you are into gourmet grilling and lots of seafood this is a great issue for you.

We tried the Greek Yogurt Parfaits with wheat berries and the result was a lovely, nutritious (and festive) breakfast.

GREEK YOGURT PARFAITS
(Cooking Light, July 2010)
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1 cup uncooked grano (or wheat berries, brown rice or barley)
12 cups water, divided
1/4 cup orange blossom honey (I used local honey)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
4 cups plain 2% Greek-style yogurt (I strained 6 cups plain yogurt through cheesecloth for an hour or so to thicken it)
2 cups fresh berries (such as blackberries, blueberries, or sliced strawberries)

Soak grano in 6 cups water overnight. Drain. Place in a medium saucepan with remaining 6 cups water over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until grano is just tender. Drain well. Stir in honey and salt.

Spoon 1/4 cup yogurt into each of 8 parfait glasses. Top yogurt with 3 Tbsp. grano and 2 Tbsp. berries. Repeat layers with the remaining ingredients.

Serves 8.

Everyday Food (Heather) — This issue is a devoted to summer fun and food and I found it very inspiring. You will find an article on wax beans, recipes for potato salad, picnic sides, beautiful summer drinks, summer roll how-to’s, main dish salads, grilled pizzas (my new fascination), an amazing array of burgers, dinners on the grill (complete with desserts), uses for tomatoes and cucumbers, and cool fruit desserts.

I’ll be keeping this issue close by for future summer inspiration.

At first glance I thought the Antipasti Sandwich was too complicated for my budget, but when I realized I could create a cheap date for my husband and I by making this, I didn’t have to think twice. It was so delicious! Of course a big part of making a good sandwich is finding good bread and I just happened to luck out on that one. So, if you try this sandwich, be sure to look for a loaf that will do the recipe justice.

ANTIPASTI SANDWICH
(Everyday Food, July/August 2010)
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coarse salt and pepper
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 red bell pepper
1 loaf crusty bread (about 1 pound), sliced in half lengthwise
1 can (15.5 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (or garbanzo)
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound mortadella, prosciutto, or thinly sliced deli ham
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained and quartered or sliced
1/2 cup shaved Parmesan (1 ounce)
1/2 cup pepperoncini, drained and halved if large

Sprinkle a double layer of paper towels with salt and place zucchini on top. Sprinkle with salt and roll up like a newspaper. Let sit 10 minutes to draw out excess liquid.

Over a low gas flame or under the broiler, roast bell pepper until skin is charred, 10 minutes, turning frequently. Place in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let sit 10 minutes. Rub bell pepper with a paper towel to remove skin, then core, discard seeds, and slice fresh into strips.

Pull out about 2 cups bread from inside loaf halves. In a food processor, combine beans, garlic, lemon juice, and oil and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Completely cover inside of both bread halves with an even layer of bean puree.

Arrange zucchini on bottom half of bread. Top with meat, parsley, roasted pepper, artichokes, Parmesan, and pepperoncini. Sandwich with top half of bread and wrap tightly in plastic. Place on a baking sheet in refrigerator. Place another baking sheet on top and weight with several heavy cans. Let sit at least 3 hours (or up to overnight). To serve, unwrap and cut into wedges with a serrated knife.

Serves 6 to 8. (My sandwich served almost 3)

Bon Appetit (Alaina) – What a wonderful issue filled with delicious looking photos and recipes. There were many dishes that are perfect for summer entertaining and grilling – there is a whole grilling section! There are a few versatile sauce recipes which looked so good. There is also a fantastic drink and dessert sections – the dishes look absolutely wonderful.

After perusing the issue and looking at the lovely pictures, I decided to make the grilled corn. It was excellent except for the fact that the corn I purchased was rather disappointing. I have yet to enjoy a truly excellent ear of corn this summer and to be fair, it’s a bit early for it. But the butter on this was simple to make and the flavor was delightful!

GRILLED CORN with HONEY-ANCHO CHILE BUTTER
(Bon Appetit, July 2010)
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8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
8 ears of corn, husked

Ingredient Tip: Ancho chile powder is available in the spice section of many supermarkets and at Latin markets.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in small skillet over medium-low heat. Add chile powder and cumin; stir 10 seconds. Transfer to medium bowl; stir in honey and cool.

Add oregano, coarse salt, granulated garlic, onion powder, and 6 tablespoons butter to butter mixture. Mix until smooth. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover; chill. Bring to room temperature.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Grill corn until charred in spots, turning often, about 13 minutes. Transfer corn to platter. Serve with honey-ancho butter.

Food Network Magazine (Alaina) – Well, I already gave you a coleslaw recipe yesterday from this inspiring issue. The pull-out was for different kabobs and they have great ideas! I’m looking forward to using a couple of the kabob recipes for a family dinner later this month. The magazine features many summer drinks, great grilling and cook-out recipes, a variety of side dishes, and a delightful collection of desserts.

 One section was especially intriguing – 30 ideas for serving hotdogs. And so, the recipe I chose came from there. I was so surprised at how truly wonderful this recipe came out – the tomato and basil with the hotdogs provided an excellent flavor combination. And I’m excited to try some the other great ideas! [On a side note, I purchase hotdogs at Costco that are nitrite/nitrate-free, msg free, and are all beef hotdogs. They are very good, fairly affordable, and I feel okay about serving them to my family! ]

BRUSCHETTA HOTDOGS
(Food Network Magazine July/August 2010)
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Toss 2 diced tomatoes with 1 chopped garlic clove, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, some torn basil and salt. Serve grilled hot dogs on toasted Italian buns; top with the tomato mixture and drizzle with olive oil.

Market Fresh: Cucumbers

Cucumbers are one of my favorite raw vegetables. I especially like the English cucumbers – they are the seedless ones that are usually wrapped in plastic. I’ve noticed that cucumbers are generally the first to go on a vegetable platters and they make a great addition to lettuce salad.

We always grow cucumbers in our garden and I enjoy coming up with different use for them. One of the simplest ways to serve it is sliced on a platter with salt, pepper, and vinegar. Today, I’m sharing a couple of other recipes that we enjoy.

 The inspiration for the first is a combination of my love tomatoes & cucumber together (I’ve been combining them in salads for years!) and the salads we ate in Kazakhstan which included lots and lots of dill. We ate something very similar to this and I loved it!

CUCUMBER-TOMATO SALAD
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1 english cucumber, cubed
2 tomatoes, diced (olr a 1/2 pint of tomatoes halved)
1/4 c. fresh dill, chopped
2 Tb. Olive oil
2 Tb. Vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
salt & pepper to taste

Combine cucumber, tomato, and dill. Sprinkle on sugar. Add salt & pepper to taste. Dress with olive oil and vinegar. Can be served chilled or at room temperature. The flavors develop if you allow the salad to marinate for at least 2 hours before serving. Serves 4.

My mom has made cucumber onion salad for as long as I can remember. It frequents our family gatherings. It’s also wonderful dressed with vinegar and oil.

CUCUMBER ONION SALAD
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1 Cucumber, thinly sliced
1 Onion, thinly sliced into rings
1/3 c. Mayonnaise
2 Tb. white vinegar or lemon juice 
Seasoned Salt or regular salt
Pepper 

Combine cucumber and onion. Season with seasoned salt and pepper. Dress with mayonnaise & vinegar. Serve chilled and allow to marinate for 1-2 hours before serving. Serves 4.