August 10, 2010

Tomatoes with Feta Cheese, Basil and Reduced Balsamic

Filed under: Salads — by Carla



For the last 25 years we’ve spent a summer week in Hilton Head with our best friends from college, Tim and Jan. Playing tennis, exploring the island on bicycles, afternoon bocce games and evenings on the beach with Manhattans in hand;  it’s a yin/yang of action and inaction. Our evenings on the beach are the high point of our day (remember the Manhattans), so most nights we prepare simple meals in our scantily stocked rental kitchen. But just because we’re on vacation doesn’t mean we take a vacation from taste.

You see, I stumbled upon some of the best tasting produce I’ve had all year on Hwy. 278, right in the middle of the island. Operated by a man with gentle eyes and what appeared to be his mother, their stand was an oasis of shade and cool in the 100 plus heat of midday. As I approached the stand, the elderly lady methodically shelled beans and dumped them into a plastic bin.


The gentleman was shy but his produce teased me closer. I picked up a furry peach and smelled it. A wave of heavenly peachy aroma enveloped me and I realized in that crystalline moment that I hadn’t smelled a tree ripened peach in a very long while.

I moved on to the cantaloupe. Same kind of aroma, only cataloupy.

Trying to keep my cool, I chose a few peaches, gently nestling them into one of the recycled Bi-Lo bags I’d brought with me but then my eyes wandered to the obviously home-grown tomatoes. They literally whistled and winked at me to pick them up and give them a light squeeze. I couldn’t take the produce porn any longer and I complimented the owners about the beauty and aroma of their fruits and veggies. I guess that doesn’t happen often down there. The lady calmly said something to the effect that it’s a good thing that someone grows gardens and I agreed.

pict143111We ate the juice dripping down our chins peaches as they were meant to be eaten…out of hand. The cantaloupe was probably the best I’ve ever had. It was wonderful cold and sweet first thing in the morning before tennis and the tomatoes were perfect. It’s always sad to leave the beach at the end of a good vacation, but I was especially sad this year to say goodbye to that produce stand. Thankfully our local tomatoes are nearly as tasty and since our return I’ve had a few that were close to being as good as their distant cousins down south. I helped them out with a little balsamic reduction, fresh basil and feta cheese and share the recipe below. In the meantime, I’m still searching for the perfect Ohio tomato, peach and canataloupe to thrill me like those at that stand on Hwy. 278. Where’s your favorite local stand? Please share!

Kitchen Counter Point: If your tomatoes aren’t the best of the best (or even if they are)  try reducing balsamic vinegar for drizzling. The acids and sugars are heightened in the reduced mixture so it imparts a bit more zip than regular vinegar. The salt I call out for is fleur de sel. Translated as “flower of salt” it’s a bit pricey, but worth every penny. If you don’t happen to have any in your pantry, go ahead and use a sprinkling of kosher salt.


Tomatoes with Feta Cheese, Basil and Reduced Balsamic

1/2 cup cheap balsamic vinegar

3 ripe, local tomatoes, sliced
Fleur de sel to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
About 10 fresh basil leaves, torn
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for drizzling, plus more if you prefer

In a small saucepan, reduce the vinegar over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes or until it has reduced by half. It will thicken a little as it cools.

Arrange the tomato slices in a single layer on your favorite platter. Sprinkle over the fleur de sel and pepper to taste. Drizzle about half of the reduced balsamic over the tomatoes and then scatter the feta cheese over all. Top with the basil and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Eat immediately. If making the dish ahead, let it sit at room temperature for up to 1 hour. Do not refrigerate as the flavor of the tomatoes will fade.

June 9, 2010

Barley and Wild Grain Salad with Fresh Herbs, Dried Fruit and Walnuts

Filed under: Salads — by Carla

I’ve never been, and never expect to be, a lady who lunches.
It’s not only the nap inducing glass of Sauvingnon Blanc and overdressed Caesar salad topped with either chicken or salmon that I shun. I don’t even like to take the time to eat lunch when working at home. Sometimes it’s hard to resume  focus after a lunch break and let’s face it, the mid day meal just isn’t as much fun as, say, dinner. I need something as easy and quick to eat as an apple and a handful of peanuts. That means any potential lunch must be sitting in the fridge waiting to be scarfed down at my desk or over the sink. That’s where this chewy barley and wild grain salad comes in. Because I make a big batch as a side for dinner the night before, there’s  plenty of delicious and quick leftovers for days of future lunches to come.

Multiple grains form the backbone of this fiber rich, tart and sweet salad so it not only tastes good, but is good for you as well. It’s not only fast, but  it fills me up and keeps me from pecking around for that  five o’clock before-dinner snack. Once the grains are cooked, there really isn’t a hard and fast recipe that must be followed. For example, my herb garden is flush with parsley, oregano, chives and thyme so I just add a variety of whatever suits my fancy. The simple vinaigrette is just a squeezed lemon and a splash of olive oil. Just add tart-sweet dried fruit and toasted nuts and dig right in.

So, maybe with a bit of planning, I’m a luncher after all.

Kitchen Counter Point: I think it’s important to add the cooked grains to the vinaigrette hot from the pan. That way, they seem to absorb the flavor into the grain and not just coat it on the outside. It’s also a pet peeve of mine when grains, beans or pasta aren’t cooked in salted water. It’s kind of the same concept as adding warm grains to the vinaigrette. When grains, pasta or beans are cooking ( or hot), they absorb some of the cooking liquid and if it is seasoned, so much the better. Since flat tasting insipid grains are a big no-no, add about 1 teaspoon salt to 2 cups cooking water. You’ll be glad you did.

Serves 6 to 8

1 cup pearled barley
1 cup wild rice mix (Lundgrens is nice)
Juice of one lemon or about 1/4 cup
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup currants or raisins
1 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 teaspoons minced thyme
2 teaspoons minced chives
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Add the barley to a 2-quart saucepan with a lid and cover with 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, uncovered, reduce the heat and cook covered for 20 minutes or until the barley is cooked through, but still firm to the bite. Dump the grains in a strainer to remove any unwanted extra liquid.

Add the wild rice mix to a 2-quart saucepan with a lid and cover with 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer uncovered, reduce the heat and cook covered for about 45 minutes or until tender. Dump the grains in a strainer to remove any unwanted extra liquid.

Add the lemon juice and salt to a large bowl and stir to dissolve the salt. Add the olive oil to the bowl and blend with a fork until mixed. Add the warm grains, cranberries, currants, nuts and herbs to the bowl and toss to mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Refrigerate unused salad and bring to room temperature before serving as leftovers or just nuke for a few moments to take the chill off.

March 23, 2010

Fiery Thai Beef Salad

Filed under: Salads, Stews, Uncategorized — by Meredith


I pride myself on being a hardy soul. Someone that never gets the winter blues. But I have to admit, with the sun shining and warm weather on the way, I’m happier than usual that Spring has sprung. This is the time of year I’m ready to put away my beloved, hard working Le Creuset and fire up the grill, even if my neighbors think I’m crazy. Apparently they don’t find 40 degrees to be short sleeve weather. It is to me though. Especially after months of 20 degrees and lower. This is exactly the time when I need to heat up from the inside out with something bright and fresh like this Fiery Thai Beef Salad.

They say that the heat from chiles, or capsaicin, prompts the release of endorphins, those “feel good” opiates naturally released in the body. If that’s true then my, oh my, does this salad feel good!

Light and refreshing, flank steak is nestled with lemongrass and mint on a bed of romaine and drizzled with a lime-chile vinaigrette. If you’re a chilehead, this is the dish for you and feel free to add as many chiles as you dare. This is the perfect dish for those trying to cut back on fat, because the steak is lean and the dressing is fat free.

0141Kitchen Counter Point: When working with fresh lemongrass it’s important to use the tender part of the inner stalk. When you trim the root end, you should be able to see rings. If you still see a woody center, you’re not far enough up the stalk. Once you trim the root end, you should have about 4 inches of tender stalk before you get to the tough section towards the end.

Fiery Thai Beef Salad

Serves 4

1 pound lean flank steak
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup cilantro plus additional for garnish
2-4 Thai bird or Serrano chilies
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1-1/2 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/3 cup lime juice
6 cups romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
16 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1 stalk lemon grass, tough outer leaves removed, finely chopped (see tip)
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

Season the steak with salt and pepper. Prepare grill or broiler. Place steak on grill rack or broiler pan and cook 5 minutes on each side or until the meat is a medium rare. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine cilantro, chilies, garlic, fish sauce, sugar and lime juice in a blender. Blend until smooth.

Cut steak thinly across grain.

Mound the lettuce in the middle of a serving tray. Drape the beef slices on top of the lettuce and surround with the tomatoes, lemongrass, onion and mint. Drizzle with the dressing and garnish with additional cilantro leaves. Serve immediately.

September 3, 2009

Celery Root Remoulade

Filed under: Salads — by Carla



In the waning days of summer there are always a few balmy evenings when you just want to eat a thick, juicy steak. Which, oddly enough, brings me to celery root remoulade. There is nothing, and I mean nothing that goes better with a fine slab of protein than this Frenchified version of cole slaw. This crunchy root, lightly scented with the flavor of celery makes a delicious stand-in for everyday cabbage. The tangy acid in the dressing tenderizes the awkward looking vegetable and also provides a foil for the rich flavor of the meat. I love to eat a bit of steak and remoulade in each and every bite. In la belle France, they would serve this bistro favorite with pommes frites, but you could easily slice up some potatoes tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and brown them in a hot oven (or on the grill) to round out an easy, but delicious meal for family and friends alike.





Kitchen Counter Point: You’ve probably seen celery root in the produce section and wondered what you could possibly do with it. It looks like a brown, dirty, knobby round with lots of squiggly little roots growing out in all directions. I find it easiest to quarter it and then peel it with a paring knife. Sometimes it has the green celery like top still attached. Because it is a bit on the tough side, I like to thinly slice it and cut it down into little thin matchsticks with a super sharp knife, but sometimes I just shred it in my food processor with the medium shredding disk. If you happen to have a mandoline or benriner, they will make short work of the task as well. The mandatory rest in the refrigerator with the acid packed dressing tenderizes this ungainly root and transforms it, Pygmalion-like into a toothsome salad fit for filet mignon.


 Makes 6 generous servings


1 large celery root, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks (if you cut them too thickly, they won’t tenderize) or shredded with the medium shredding disk of a food processor
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoonsDijon whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper or lemon juice to taste. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours before serving. The remoulade keeps covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Tip: Remoulade goes well with a hamburger as well. Just sandwich your burger with the salad on a lovely toasted bun. Or, if you’re watching your calories, how about pairing remoulade with a simple grilled chicken breast or salmon filet? Your choice!

August 21, 2009

Composed Salad of Greens, Roasted Vegetables, Chicken, Feta and Walnuts

Filed under: Salads — by Carla



We frequently eat salad for dinner at our house, especially in the summer months when eating lighter and fresher is so appealing. But, don’t think for a moment that our appetites are discouraged by the humid dog days of a Cleveland summer. No wimpy little salad for us. We want to feel like we ate dinner (not to be confused with lunch) even if it is 90 degrees outside.

That’s where this salade composée comes in. This hearty dinner in a bowl begins with an interesting mix of various textured greens like tender Bibb, bitter radicchio, chewy romaine and peppery arugula lettuce. By simply adding grilled zucchini, red onion, peppers, chunky chicken, crumbled feta cheese, herbs fresh picked from the garden and toasted walnuts to the mix, all that remains is to whip up a simple balsamic vinaigrette. It sounds like a lot of flavors, but believe me, this is one of our favorite meals when dining alfresco. I especially like the contrast of warm from the grill vegetables and chicken with the chilly greens, salty cheese and crunchy nuts. A lively sauvignon blanc and a chewy baguette makes this a great meal for entertaining or for an indulgent over the hump Wednesday night dinner for two.

Kitchen Counter Point: I make it a point to wash greens as soon as I get them home, spin them dry, roll them up in kitchen towels and zip them up in plastic bags in the crisper drawer. That way they are always crisp and cold when I need them instead of watery and limp from a recent wash. I also occasionally take advantage of the organic packaged arugula in the plastic bin but I never buy the pre-bagged greens anymore because they taste of chemicals and are generally of very poor quality.

Serves 2 large dinner salads or 4 side-dish salads

2 chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
1 lemon, zested and cut in half, divided use
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
1/4 large red onion, thickly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium zucchini, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into 2-inch squares
1/2 cup whole walnuts
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 small shallot, peeled and minced
Pinch salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 large handfuls of a mix of Bibb, radicchio, romaine and arugula or mixed greens of your choice
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or other fresh herbs you have growing in the yard

Lay out the cold from the refrigerator chicken breasts on a sheet pan sprinkle with half the zest and squeeze half the lemon over them. Season with lots of salt and pepper on both sides, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and let them sit for an hour on the counter. They’ll soak up more flavor as they warm up and will cook more evenly if they aren’t freezing cold from the frig when you put them on the grill.

Heat up the grill to medium-high heat.

While the chicken sits, toss the vegetables with the remaining zest, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper and transfer them to a grill basket and cook for about 20 to 25 minutes, giving them a toss every now and then. You want them to be tender and lightly charred. Add the walnuts the last 5 minutes to toast them lightly. Remove from the grill and let cool slightly.

Once the vegetables have cooked for about 15 minutes, add the chicken, skin side down. Grill for 10 minutes, turn and grill another 7 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a sheet pan and let sit for 10 minutes. Pull the chicken from the bone and shred or cut into chunks.

While the chicken and vegetables cook, make the vinaigrette. In a large bowl (large enough to toss the salad) combine the vinegar along with the other half of the lemon, squeezed. Add a pinch of salt and shallot and swirl until the salt melts. Whisk in the remaining olive oil and taste for seasoning, adding more vinegar or oil to taste. Add a few grinds of pepper to taste.

Drizzle the chicken with 2 tablespoons of the dressing.

When ready to serve, add the lettuce to the bowl with the dressing and toss to mix.

Divide the lettuce between two serving bowls and top with the still warm vegetables, chicken, feta cheese and fresh herbs. Grind a little freshly ground black pepper over the top and dig in.