Friday, August 22, 2014

Sorrel & Watermelon Salad with Feta

I always enjoy my little deck potager, but never so much as when the vegetable drawer in the fridge is relatively bare and I'm looking for a refreshing starter for dinner. I'm growing sorrel this year -- a first for me -- and was delighted to find that, unlike many leafy greens, its growing cycle extends well beyond spring. In fact, it seems to thrive in summer weather. 
I made great use of it last evening when I created this cool and refreshing watermelon and feta salad. Talk about easy!  Three ingredients, attractively layered on a plate, and drizzled with homemade poppyseed dressing. If you're short on time, a purchased poppyseed dressing would work just as well. It was well received at dinner, but would also make an excellent side salad for a special lunch. Cool, crisp, and easy, it's the perfect summer salad.

Poppyseed Dressing

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup raspberry vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon grated yellow onion
1 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

In a blender or food processor, combine sugar, vinegar, salt, mustard and onion and process for 20 seconds. With blender or food processor on high, gradually add oil in a slow, steady stream. Stir in poppy seeds. 

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hatch Chile Tablescape

I love setting a seasonal table; any season, any holiday, is reason enough for me.  I truly believe in taking joy in little things, and letting my home reflect that joy.  One season that I find particularly enjoyable is one with which you are probably unfamiliar, and that is Hatch Chile season. 
What are Hatch Chiles, you ask?  Considered to be one of the most flavorful peppers in the world (and the official state vegetable of New Mexico), this species of the genus Capsicum is grown in the Hatch Valley.  The soil and growing conditions in the area contribute to the unique flavor, enhanced during roasting.  I had my own hatch chile roast last weekend, where I scented the air (and myself) with a woodsy deliciousness.  Melissa’s Produce is a distributor of these chiles and have produced an amazing cookbook using these peppers that they were kind enough to send me, and that I cannot wait to try.  Spread the word on these tasty chiles!
Hatch Chile Powder allows for the taste of these chiles all year long.  A great enhancer in Mexican food, I pretty much use it for any dish where I want to inject a lot of taste.
I love these placemats that I bought a number of years ago at Pier One (They are still available if you love them too. Plus, napkins to match!  I don’t have those, but they are on my list.)  With all of the colors they contain, it is just impossible not to have something to match. I have used them in many a table setting over the years, but find them particularly lovely with the bold colors of Fiestaware.

This lovely napkin fold is shockingly easy to do.  It does require two napkins in two different colors, but think of the possibilities here.  Pastels for Mother’s Day, springtime, or Easter, earth tones for autumn, patriotic colors for the Fourth of July, or red and green as I have used here for Christmas, or anything boldly festive.  You can find a step-by-step tutorial here.
Plunk a pepper in each mug at the table to add a touch of whimsy, and spread the hatch chile joy.
 I use this yellow flatware in more table settings that you can possibly imagine.  I have had it for decades and never knew the pattern, but someone recently told me that it is Radiant by Noritake, available occasionally from Replacements.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

French Toast with Warm Blueberry Sauce

Do Produce Stands and Roadside Markets beckon to you?  They do me.  I can’t drive by one of them without stopping to have a look around.  Some may think this nosey, but I consider it to be one of the precious joys of summer.  The bright colors of fresh produce, the crisp, fresh fragrance of newly picked berries and herbs, the varied shapes and textures, all of this is nature’s edible art.  This week blueberries called my name.  I bought three very large containers of them, much to the dismay of my overcrowded fridge, and am now using them in as many ways as possible.  What delicious fun! This morning I made a quick French toast topped with warm blueberry sauce.  Having previously made a loaf of ABM Challah, this delicious dish came together fast.  While the bread was soaking, the sauce was simmering on the stove.  Dust with powdered sugar, if desired, either way this is an easy and elegant breakfast.

French Toast with Warm Blueberry Sauce

3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon orange zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 (1-lb) challah loaf, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk together eggs, milk, juice, syrup, vanilla, zest, and salt until blended. Pour into a large baking pan and soak bread slices in 1 layer for 4 minutes, flip over and soak for another 4 minutes.

Heat half of the butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet or griddle over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Transfer 4 soaked bread slices to skillet and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Cook remaining bread in 2 batches, adding more butter as needed. Transfer slices as cooked to a large shallow baking pan and, when all are browned, bake in middle of oven until hot, about 5 minutes.  Serve with Warm Blueberry Sauce.

Warm Blueberry Sauce

2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon cornstarch
3 ½ cups blueberries
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon lemon zest

In 1-quart saucepan, combine water, cornstarch, blueberries, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Boil 1 to 2 minutes or until berries burst. Remove from heat; serve. 

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Blueberry & Hearts of Palm Salad with Creamy Basil Dressing

If late summer had a fragrance, surely it would be the peppery scent of fresh basil. It is one, I confess, that I find irresistible. There is just nothing like growing and harvesting your own small plot (or, as in my case, pot) of basil, to be able to use it at is freshest best. It is wonderful in pesto, of course, but equally delicious when added to salads, light soups, wrap sandwiches, chicken salad, Caprese salads, deviled eggs, you name it!  There are so many ways to use this wonderful herb, and I thought I knew them all.  Then I wandered over to Annie's Eats blog and spotted her Creamy Basil Dressing. Oh, my!  This must be what they serve in basil heaven.

Fresh, flavorful, and with the spicy kick that only fresh basil can provide, this will excite any salad that you throw at it. Me?  I'm a simple salad fan. A few carefully chosen ingredients, and a dynamite dressing and I am a happy camper. Nothing is easier, or more refreshing on a warm summer day.

Blueberry & Hearts of Palm Salad
with Creamy Basil Dressing

1 head Romaine lettuce, cleaned and torn into medium pieces
1/2 pint fresh blueberries, washed and stemmed
2-3 stalks Melissa's Hearts of Palm, cut into coins

Arrange lettuce on individual serving plates.  Top with blueberries and hearts of palm.  Drizzle with Creamy Basil Dressing and serve immediately.

Creamy Basil Dressing

1/2 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt
1/3 cup packed fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons buttermilk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until thoroughly blended. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use.

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