Monthly Archives: July 2013

Festive Black Bean Salad

Easy, pretty and delicious.  This salad is hearty enough to eat as a main dish – I usually throw it over the top of a pile of greens in that case – or great as a side with pretty much anything.  I especially like it for BBQs and potlucks because it doesn’t have to be refrigerated and tastes great at room temperature.  This will also keep in the fridge for several days so I usually double the recipe so I have yummy leftovers.  If you like it spicy, toss in a little finely diced jalapeno for an extra kick.

Festive Black Bean Salad

Festive Black Bean Salad

Festive Black Bean Salad

1-2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 orange (or red or yellow) bell pepper, diced
1-2 diced tomato
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1-2 tbsp. lime juice
1/2 tsp. cumin
Salt & pepper

Combine all ingredients.  Eat!

Festive Black Bean Salad

Festive Black Bean Salad

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April’s Famous Salsa

I recently reconnected with my stepbrother after a number of years.  The first thing he told me (not kidding!) was that in all the years since we’d seen each other he had yet to find a salsa that measured up to mine.  A proud moment for me as a big sister, a cook, and a salsa lover.  🙂

And he’s not wrong.  Not to toot my own horn (okay, maybe a little), but this stuff is pretty awesome.

You can make this chunky by just pulsing in a food processor, or smoother by using a blender.  For this batch, I used the blender.  During the height of tomato season I use fresh tomatoes, but most of the year canned tomatoes work just fine.  I especially like the newish “fire-roasted” diced tomato variety, for a little extra smoky flavor.  You can also roast the veggies before throwing them in for an extra smoky finish as well.

April's Famous Salsa

April’s Famous Salsa

April’s Famous Salsa

1/2 cup red or yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 – 1 jalapeno, (green or red or a bit of both – stemmed & seeded)
3-4 tomatillos, husked and quartered
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp. lime juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin
1 handful fresh cilantro (about 1/3 – 1/2 cup)
1 can diced (fire-roasted or regular) tomatoes (or use 3-4 large ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped)

In a blender or food processor, add onion, jalapeno, garlic, tomatillos, lime juice and cilantro.  Pulse or puree (pulse for chunkier texture, puree for smoother salsa).  Scrape down sides and add tomatoes, salt and cumin.  Pulse to combine.  Check texture and blend more if you’d like it smoother.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

Makes about 2 cups.  Store in an airtight container.  This will keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks (if it lasts that long!).

April's Famous Salsa.  I eat this on just about everything.

April’s Famous Salsa. I eat this on just about everything.

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Perfect Pesto

I’ve written entries that involve pesto before, but I don’t think I’ve ever done one JUST for pesto.  But I just made a fresh batch and thought it was blog-worthy all by its lonesome.

Maybe you’ve bought pesto at the store.  If you have you know it can be a little on the spendy side, and sometimes it’s not that wonderful either.  Much more economical to make it yourself, and you can’t beat the taste.

Welcome to my basil patch. I’m normally a pretty lousy gardner, but halfway through summer these are looking pretty great, huh?  Although I kill many plants, I usually do well with basil.  Here I have purple basil, Thai basil, and sweet Italian basil (probably your most common variety).

My basil patch.  Pay no attention to the accompanying weed patch.

My basil patch. Pay no attention to the accompanying weed patch.

I bought my basil plants for $2.50 each at farmer’s market, but you can find them all over the place this time of year. If you keep pinching the little flowers off the tops, they will keep growing for most of the summer, especially if you harvest fairly frequently.  I’m about ready to chop another bunch off of these.

I keep the other ingredients for pesto on hand most of the time, so whipping up a batch is super fast, which is good because I love this stuff.  Sandwich spread, pizza topping, tossed with pasta, spread over fish or chicken, mixed into salad dressing, beaten into scrambled eggs…it’s delicious just about any way you can think to eat it.

Perfect Pesto

Perfect Pesto

Perfect Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves (remove any large stems)
2-3 tbsp. walnuts
2-3 tbsp. pine nuts
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan
3 cloves garlic
Salt & pepper
Olive oil (around 1/2 cup)

Put all ingredients except oil into a food processor.

All ready to whirl up.

All ready to whirl up.

Pulse until ingredients are finely chopped, scraping down the sides once or twice to make sure everything is incorporated.  (Pulsing instead of puréeing is better since it doesn’t mangle the basil as much, which will result in brighter pesto color!) Drizzle olive oil in a little at a time until the mixture is the consistency you like.  I prefer it to be spreadable, but not soupy.  Taste for seasoning, add salt & pepper if needed.

Be sure to add the oil slowly so it can incorporate as it blends.  That way you can really control the thickness.

Be sure to add the oil slowly so it can incorporate as it blends. That way you can really control the thickness.

Store in an airtight container with a lid.  After putting the pesto in the container, drizzle with a layer of olive oil or cover with plastic wrap (set right on top of the pesto).  This will help keep it from turning brown.  It will keep in the fridge for 1-2 weeks.  It also freezes well.  I usually store mine in smallish containers so I can have one in the fridge and the rest in the freezer to dole out as needed.

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Fresh & Crunchy Chicken Salad

I like chicken salad.  I especially like it when it’s got some fruit and crunch.  I make this often when I have leftover chicken or turkey.  Now you could use canned chicken for this, but call me crazy, I prefer actual chicken.  It’s cheaper, and it tastes better, and it’s not loaded with extra sodium and preservatives.  Not much of a contest there.  If I don’t have leftovers from the night before, I usually buy a rotisserie chicken.  In a taste test with a can, the bird is going to win every time.

Fresh & Crunchy Chicken Salad in Pitas

Fresh & Crunchy Chicken Salad in Pitas

Fresh & Crunchy Chicken Salad

2-3 cups shredded chicken (or turkey)
2-3 stalks celery, sliced
1 cup grapes, halved
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
1/2 -1 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
Salt & pepper

Shred chicken, and add chopped celery, grapes and walnuts to bowl.

Lots of good stuff to keep it interesting.

Lots of good stuff to keep it interesting.

Add mayo, starting with 1/2 cup.  You can add more if you like it more creamy.  I just like to add enough where everything is moistened but not too mayonnaisy.  Add other ingredients and mix well.  Adjust seasonings and add more mayo if needed.

Serve in pitas or on a bed of greens.  Or if you want to get fancy you can fill a half pepper or tomato with it.  Or just eat it with a fork.

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Roasted Beet and Pear Salad

I have been absolutely loving farmer’s market this year!  This week I bought red and golden beets, blueberries, pears and goat cheese.  Since I couldn’t decide what to eat first, I decided to throw it all together into a yummy salad, perfect for a warm summer evening.

My first big bunch of basil was ready to harvest so I whipped up a batch of pesto this week.  It made the perfect vinaigrette to complement a summery salad. Along with the goat cheese and walnuts, it balances the flavors and keeps it all from being too sweet.

Roasted Beet and Pear Salad

Roasted Beet and Pear Salad

Roasted Beet and Pear Salad

*Note: adjust the quantities of the ingredients for your own tastes.  I used one pear and 2-3 beets for each salad.

Beets – red or golden or a mixture of both
Pears, peeled and sliced
Blueberries
Walnuts
Goat cheese

Preheat oven to 400˚.  Scrub beets and place on a roasting pan.  Roast for 30 minutes or until fork tender (this will depend on the size of your beets, check them after 20).  Peel and slice beets.  Layer beets and pears.  Sprinkle blueberries, walnuts and goat cheese over the top of the salad.  Serve with pesto vinaigrette (see below).

Pesto Vinaigrette:

1 tbsp. basil pesto
2 tbsp. minced red onion
2-3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2-3 tbsp. olive oil
Salt & pepper

Whisk together all ingredients.

Pesto Vinaigrette.  Drizzle over the top of the salad (or on anything!) or serve on the side.

Pesto Vinaigrette. Drizzle over the top of the salad (or on anything!) or serve on the side.

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Spicy Rainbow Chard with Bacon and Polenta

Even though I love veggies, I still occasionally come across one I haven’t tried before.  This week at farmer’s market, a beautiful bunch of rainbow chard caught my eye.  I had to buy it.

Rainbow Chard.  Isn't it pretty?

Rainbow Chard. Isn’t it pretty?

I asked the vendor how he normally cooks it and he sheepishly admitted that he’d never actually tried it himself.  What?  So…left to my own devices I went home and dug up some recipes online and hit on one that we all really liked.

I’m usually not a big fan of greens.  I didn’t grow up eating them, so I’ve slowly introduced myself to them.  I like almost all of them raw, and just recently have started cooking them now and then.  While I would not consider chard (or any leafy greens really) to be an entry level vegetable, I really enjoyed this.  While raw, it was quite bitter, but a quick saute mellowed the bite substantially.  The sweetness of the shallot and vinegar and smokiness of the bacon complemented the slight bitterness of the greens, adding up to a tasty dish indeed.   Add a creamy, cheesy polenta for contrast and it was absolutely delicious.  If you’re wondering if the kids will eat it, I can only say that mine both cleaned their plates with a smile on their faces.

Spicy Rainbow Chard with Bacon and Polenta

Spicy Rainbow Chard with Bacon and Polenta

Spicy Rainbow Chard with Bacon and Polenta
(from Sunset)

1 cup polenta
1/2 tsp. salt
4 slices thick cut bacon
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 large shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large bunches rainbow chard, ribs cut into 1/2 inch sections and leaves roughly chopped
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar

Cook polenta with salt as package directs.  Meanwhile, cook bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels.

Discard bacon fat and heat olive oil in the same pan. Cook shallots, garlic and chard ribs until softened, about 4 minutes.  Stir in chard leaves, chile flakes and 1/3 cup water.  Cover, reduce heat to low and cook until wilted, 2-3 minutes.

Stir butter and cheese into polenta and spoon into bowls.  Toss chard with vinegar and spoon over polenta.  Crumble bacon and sprinkle on top.  Serves 4.

Note:  This meal can easily be made vegetarian by simply eliminating the bacon.

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