Dreamy's Delights

It's all about the food!

Caprese Salad

Caprese Salad is almost the most basic thing you can make. It has a whopping five ingredients (seven if count salt and pepper). What makes MY caprese salad amazing is that I’m using mozzarella that I made myself and basil that I grew myself. Later this summer, I’ll even be able to use my home grown tomatoes. How’s that for home made! lol

So the recipe is really simple. Slices of mozzarella cheese layered with a basil leaf and a slice of tomato, topped off with either olive oil or a balsamic vinegar reduction (or just the vinegar out of the bottle if you’re lazy like me).  Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper if you choose. I don’t but Jene loves lots of black pepper on his. 🙂

To me, this recipe is the epitome of summer decadence. If you’re lucky, you can eat it with tomatoes that are so fresh from the vine that they’re still warm from the kiss of the sun.

A note about the balsamic vinegar reduction. Reducing the vinegar will give you a thick, syrupy sauce to make graceful and elegant zig zag lines across your salad. It also refines and concentrates the flavor. If I were serving this for a party, I would make the reduction. When it’s just Jene and I and just a couple of bites worth, I don’t bother. 🙂

And here’s a lovely picture of my salad that I’m about to eat!capresesalad

You can see a tiny little corner of basil leaf sticking out from the top right bit. It’s lovely to be able to wander out onto the desk and pick a couple of basil leaves for this. I’m growing Genovese Basil and African Blue Basil. This particular one is the African. It’s milder than the Genovese which makes it rather nice for this dish. The basil flavor isn’t quite so over whelming. Enjoy!

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Balsamic Vinaigrette

Salad dressing is one of those things that it’s just soooo easy to buy at the store. We can have half a dozen flavors in the fridge and not even think about it. Unfortunately, many (if not most) of them have added sugar and too much salt, not to mention all the preservatives. One easy way to make your salads healthier is to make your own dressing. People tend to think this is hard to do but it’s really not. I prefer the tangy sharpness of a vinaigrette over a creamy dressing so that’s what I make most.

Tonight Jene was making a salad and realized we were out of our favorite store bought dressing, Marie Callendar’s Creamy Greek Vinaigrette. He asked me if I thought it would be ok to mix some balsamic vinegar and oil to season his salad. I told him sure but if he would give me a couple of minutes I’d make him something with a bit more flavor. So, here’s what I put together.

Recipe

1/2 cup oil

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1 TB freeze dried shallots (or finely minced fresh)

1 TB dijon mustard

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp dried dill

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/4 tsp black pepper

You can use a salad cruet or a pint jar, which ever you have on hand. Add the vinegar and seasonings and give it a shake to combine them. Let it sit for a few minutes for the salt to dissolve and the flavors to absorb into the vinegar. Then add the mustard and oil. Shake vigorously for a couple of minutes until everything is blended up. Serve immediately.

Now, as far as the mustard goes, you can use any flavor you like, I just prefer dijon. The purpose of the mustard is to act as an emulsifier and keep the oil and vinegar blended together longer.

Store the dressing in the fridge and just give it a good shake before you use it next time.

Oh! Before I forget, the standard ratio of vinegar to oil is 1 part vinegar to 2 parts oil. I like my dressing to be a bit sharper so I use a bit more vinegar. If you want this a bit mellower, go with 1/4 cup of vinegar.

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Garden Potato Salad

This recipe comes from my mom’s mom (Grandma Elaine) and it’s been a family tradition my whole life. It is the potato salad to which I compare all other potato salads. I take it to parties and my friends refer to it as THE potato salad. So for the first time ever, here is the recipe, written (or typed) down.

Base Potato Salad– for those who don’t like their veggies (like my dad)

5 lbs of russet or yukon gold potatoes (my parents like russet and i like the yukon gold)

6 hard boiled eggs, finely diced

1 1/2 cups celery, diced

1/2 – 1 whole onion, diced or minced (I HATE big pieces of onion in my salad so I run it through the food processor to make it mush. Then I have the flavor but no big pieces. My mom loves big pieces, so it’s strictly personal preference.)

This next list of ingredients is by weight. I eyeball the measurements so I couldn’t tell you how many cups. I decided it was easiest to put the bowl on a kitchen scale and get the weight as I went along.

9 ounces of Miracle Whip (NOT Mayonnaise! Trust me on this. By the time you get it all mixed up you would never know it was Miracle Whip but the flavor of mayo is just not quite right.)

5 ounces sweet pickle relish

1 1/2 ounces yellow mustard

1 TB kosher salt

2 tsp Salad Herbs (recipe to follow)

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

The first thing to do is cook the potatoes. I leave them skin on and whole, put them in a pot of water and boil until fork tender. Let them cook then skin them. Leave them whole and then use a potato masher to mash each potato ONE time. This will give a combination of very small pieces and larger pieces which a consistency similar to very chunky mashed potatoes. It allows the potatoes to soak up the Miracle Whip, mustard and pickle relish without being soupy. I really, really hate soupy potato salad.

potatosalad1

This picture shows me in the process of mashing the taters. If there are any really big pieces, I break them up with my fingers to something resembling bite sized. Once this is done, add the egg, onion, celery, miracle whip, mustard, pickle relish, salt, salad herbs and pepper. Mix thoroughly. This what we call our “base” potato salad. You can stop right here and it’s a very good, very basic potato salad. Or you can add some extra veggies to kick it up.

2 cups cucumber, diced

2 cups bell pepper, diced

2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced

Mix all that in and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

A word on veggies… If you’re making this during the summer, take the time to get stuff at the farmer’s market. There’s nothing like a good tomato to make this out of the world. During the other seasons I used English Cucumbers (the ones that come wrapped in plastic) for a couple of reasons. 1. the seeds are smaller and 2. the flavor is closer to what you get from a fresh garden grown cuke. I use NatureSweet Cherub tomatoes because again, the flavor is closer to what you get during the summer from your own garden. 99% of store bought tomatoes are horrible and I refuse to use them. That said, since it’s only April I used an english cucumber and cherub tomatoes.

potatosaladfinished

This is what it looks like finished. It sticks together kind of like mashed potatoes but it’s not that smooth. If anyone tries to make this, I’d really be interested to know what you think.

Finally, here’s the recipe for the Salad Herbs. This was a blend that was originally made by McCormick. We used it for years as the “secret ingredient” to finish this off. Then one day we couldn’t find it. McCormick had stopped making it. Woe and ruin! However, on a whim I emailed the company and surprisingly, they emailed me back with the recipe so that we could make it ourselves. I will always admire McCormick for being will to share that with our family.

Recipe for Salad Herbs

2 teaspoons dried tarragon
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried spearmint

Combine all ingredients. Mix gently. Store in an airtight container.

This mix gives the salad an herby touch that catches you a bit by surprise but not in a bad way. It gives a depth of flavor you usually don’t expect from a potato salad and high lights the sweetness of the extra veggies. Now that

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A busy day!

My youngest brother was supposed to be in town last night with his family as they move from San Diego, CA to Portland, OR. However, life being what it is, he didn’t make it until late tonight. In fact, at almost 8pm, he is at his hotel but has yet to make it to my house. Anyway, all of that aside, I did some cooking for them. Yesterday we smoked a brisket in anticipation. When we realized they wouldn’t be arriving we tested it for flavor (snicker) and put it in the fridge. This evening we sliced it thin and warmed it up in some duck stock.

After cooking the tomatoes I started yesterday for 12-14 hours or so I ran them through the food mill and have two pots of sauce simmering gently on the stove.

I made mayonnaise from scratch and used it to make coleslaw dressing. It’s incredibly rich and creamy. The dressing recipe makes a LOT. I used two bags of pre-cut coleslaw mix and a bag of broccoli slaw mix.

Recipe

2 cups mayonnaise

4-5 TB white wine vinegar

4 TB honey

2-3 TB Penzeys English Prime Rib Rub Seasoning

2-3 TB celery seed

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until everything combines and becomes smooth and creamy. Pour  over coleslaw and mix well.

I also sauteed some grey squash with onions, garlic and dill.

The only thing I’m missing is dessert and honestly, I’m worn out lol. I should go make brownies but honestly, I don’t have any room left on the stove top!

The picture on the right is the coleslaw looking all pretty in its bowl. The picture on the left is the pots of tomato sauce and the brisket in duck stock. The tomato sauce will reduce by about half over the course of the night on very low heat. I’m thinking I’ll get 5-6 quarts of sauce which is a lot better than I hoped.

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Tomato Salad

This recipe comes from my mom. I really can’t remember where she got it and I’m too lazy to call and ask. However, it is my absolute favorite summer salad recipe. I only make it during the summer when I can get true home-grown (preferably heirloom) tomatoes. This salad highlights the best flavors of summer’s bounty.

Recipe

4 cups, chopped fresh tomatoes

1 cup diced cucumber

1 cup diced celery

1/2 cup diced green/yellow/red sweet bell pepper

1/4 cup diced onion

1/2 cup oil

1/3 cup vinegar

1 TB sugar or honey (I prefer honey)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp dry mustard

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Mix the veggies in a large plastic or glass bowl. (Don’t use metal because it can react to the tomatoes and vinegar.) In a small bowl combine the vinegar, honey, and spices. Stir to combine and let sit for a couple of minutes to dissolve. Whisk in the oil and stir briskly. Pour over the salad and stir to combine. Serve chilled. As the salad level goes down, add more veggies to refresh. The vinegar based dressing works to semi-pickle the veggies and it keeps well for up to two weeks. It never lasts that long though lol.

I usually don’t take a distance picture of my food but I wanted to give you an idea of how big the bowl we filled was 😀 I’m extremely proud to say that ever bit of tomato and cucumber in that bowl was grown in my own garden. Jene has lovingly tended it for me this summer while my ankle was healing. There are four different types of tomato and two types of cucumber, all heirloom varieties.

This second picture is a close up where you can see the beautiful colors of the veggies.

This is a super easy to make salad but again, I only make it during the summer. I look forward to it all winter and dream of it as I plant my tomatoes each spring. Take the time to make it and try it. It’s worth the time spent chopping the ingredients.

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Dead Cow! It’s what’s for dinner.

I have an odd sense of humor. And it becomes rapidly apparent in the way I refer to beef as “dead cow.” It IS an accurate description!

Anyway… today we got our monthly shipment from Brandon Natural Beef. This is free-range, grass-fed beef that we get delivered to our doorstep once a month. It’s not the cheapest beef. We pay $90/mo for about 10 lbs of various cuts but it is VERY much worth the price. This beef has a richness of flavor you can’t get from commercially grown beef. You can actually taste hints of the herbaceous grassyness it gets from what it eats. It is also much more tender and juicy.

Edit: Brandon Natural Beef has this to say about the price on their Facebook page “Also, we know 100% grass fed beef is more expensive. Our $90.00 club package is the best priced grass fed package in the Bay area. If you bought the same range of steaks from other purveyors of grass fed beef, it would cost you 15 to 25% more. Online options are even more expensive. We have structured our program to provide the very best value and free delivery! All that said, thank you for your kind words about our program.”

I agree that this program is a great value. After all, these cows are taking up a lot more pasture space and that costs money. Plus, it’s brought right to my doorstep. I LOVE the delivery!!

Each month we get 3 lbs of ground beef (makes awesome burgers!!), and a mix of other cuts. We’ve gotten tri-tip, flank steak, ribeyes, new york strip, filet mignon, and culotte steak. Everything has been fantastic. So today we got the ground beef, new york stips and filet mignon. I’ve currently got two filets and two strips thawing for dinner tonight.

With  beef this good you don’t really need to do anything fancy to it. These steaks are going to be super tender and flavorful, only requiring about 3-4 minutes per side on the grill. I’ll probably season them with some of Penzeys Chicago Steak Seasoning and call it good. Very simple but very tasty.

Now, this wouldn’t be much of a blog post if I stopped here lol. So I’ll talk about what else I’m going to make tonight. It’s been hot and it’s an excellent reason to make my Asparagus and Tomato Salad.

This recipe originally came from Epicurious (click the link to see the original) but I did a lot of tweaking to create the salad instead of just a tomato relish.

Recipe

20 ounces of cherry or cherub tomatoes (I like to use the Nature Sweet Cherubs if I can’t get home grown. They have the best flavor.)

1 lb thin asparagus

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped

6 TB finely minced fresh shallots (I use my freeze dried shallots)

2 TB white wine vinegar

2 TB grainy mustard

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Steam the asparagus until it’s just barely beginning to soften. Immediately place in ice water to stop the cooking process. Cut into 1″ lengths. Place in serving bowl. Cut tomatoes in half and place in bowl with asparagus.

Mix together olive oil, dill, shallots, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. I use a whisk to get everything combined thoroughly. The mustard acts as an emulsifier and helps to bind the vinegar and oil together.

Once the dressing is well mixed, pour it over the tomatoes and asparagus. Stir to coat.

This salad can be served at room temperature or chilled. Just be warned that the olive oil will get a little gloppy if it’s chilled.

This salad goes great with just about anything. I love it because there’s almost no cooking involved. You could even make it with raw asparagus. I just prefer mine cooked a little bit.

There you have it, dead cow and a wonderful salad for dinner. Almost no cooking involved and the house doesn’t get all hot and icky.

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How to build a salad

Making a salad is easy. Making a salad that won’t leave you hungry two hours later takes a bit more work. I’m not really cooking anything today so I thought I’d post about a great way to use up that left over tri tip I smoked yesterday.

First, get a nice big bowl. This salad is a meal and should be large enough to hold all the stuff I like to put in it. The bowls I use are usually considered serving bowls but they work great for a salad.

Now you can start prepping the ingredients. I like to use cucumbers, sweet bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, cheese, hard boiled egg, some type (or two) of meat, croutons, and baby greens. Basically, cut everything up into small bite sized pieces.

Once everything is prepped it’s time to start building. Jene and I take two different approaches. I like to start with my greens on the bottom and build up from there. Jene puts all the chopped up bits on the bottom and the greens on top. However you like to do it, you basically put everything in the bowl. Top with dressing there you have it, dinner!

Some notes on dressings. I will admit that I use a lot of bottled dressing. It’s fast, it’s easy and I don’t have to lift a finger other than opening the bottle. I do make my own dressing sometimes but I’ll save that post for another day when I’ve run out of things to write about. 🙂  In the meantime, when shopping for a dressing, try for something that is relatively low in sugar. A salad gets a lot less healthy if it’s smothered in a sugary dressing lol.

Now this wouldn’t be much of a post if I didn’t explain why I make my salad this way and why I’m not hungry two hours later. The biggest key is the protein. Protein is what powers our bodies and helps us feel full. By adding at least two types of protein it gives your body something to do once the greens are mush inside your stomach. So the key is to make sure you have enough proteins in your salad. I love to add hard boiled eggs but Jene doesn’t like them. (Which is the nice thing about this salad, you make them separately for each person.) However, the cheese and meat(s) provide more protein so it’s not a big deal if you don’t like one or another type of protein. If you’re a vegetarian, you can toss in some tofu, a couple handfuls of beans, or some seeds and nuts. Again, the big thing here is to make sure you’re adding protein to your salad.

Finally, here are a few ideas for some things to put in your salad that you might not think about.

Asparagus

Fresh herbs (fresh dill is my favorite, Jene likes cilantro)

Shredded Brussels Sprouts

Cold noodles

Edamame (soy beans)

Steak (I know this seems sort of obvious but if you didn’t eat that whole piece of ribeye at dinner, the leftover piece makes a great salad)

Sprouts (There are a lot of good sprouts out there that are more interesting than alfalfa or bean sprouts. My personal favorites are broccoli, radish and onion sprouts. I hope to post in the future about adventures in growing my own sprouts.)

So I know this hasn’t been an “OMG that’s an amazing dish!” sort of post. Some days you just can’t cook something amazing but there’s no reason not to make something good. Even super easy food can be good and tasty.

 

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Quinoa Salad – Greek Style

So the first thing to know about Quinoa is how to say it… It’s pronounced Keen-wah. Don’t blame me, I didn’t come up with it. 🙂  The next thing to know is that it’s a small, round grain and comes in either white or red. According to the Quinoa Corporation website (www.quinoa.com) this grain was grown and used by the ancient Incas. Additionally, “Quinoa contains  more protein than any other grain; an average of 16.2  percent, compared with 7.5 percent for rice, 9.9 percent for millet, and 14 percent for wheat. Some varieties of quinoa are more than 20 percent protein” (Quinoa Corporation, n.d.). What this means is that it’s a good source of protein, especially if you’re trying to eat less meat (for some strange reason). It’s got a really nice nutty taste and makes an excellent pilaf as well as a salad.

Some comments about this salad… The recipe is actually based off a couscous salad recipe I got from the girlfriend of the best friend of an ex-boyfriend. Her name was Marcia and that’s about all I remember besides the recipe and the fact that I got it in 1998 sometime lol. So, enough babbling, let’s get down to the actual recipe…

Recipe

1 cup quinoa or couscous

2 cups water (you can use chicken broth if you want more flavor)

1/2 cup finely diced cucumber (Use the English kind that come wrapped in plastic.. It doesn’t have big seeds like the regular cucumbers you buy at the store)

1/2 cup finely diced red/yellow/orange bell pepper (I prefer the colored peppers because they’re sweeter than the basic green. You can use green if you don’t have a colored pepper)

1/2 cup finely diced tomato (Heirloom are best because of their flavor but not always available. Try to use vine ripened at least.)

Salad Dressing of choice. Ok, this part doesn’t have an actual measurement. You want enough dressing to help the quinoa stick together but you don’t want it soupy. I prefer to use a vinaigrette type dressing with lots of tang to it. The original salad I had was dressed with a home-made mustard vinaigrette. Today’s salad is going to have a Greek flair so I’m using Marie Callendar’s Greek Vinaigrette. I frequently make my own dressing too.

Put the quinoa and the liquid in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cover. Cook 10-15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. (Basically, follow the directions on the box. If you’re making couscous, same thing.. follow the directions on the box. For couscous, I like to buy a box of seasoned couscous like Near East Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil flavor.) Once the grain is cooked, set it aside to cool.

While the quinoa/couscous is cooling you can chop the veggies. They need to be a very fine dice, about an 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch.

When the quinoa is cool, stir in the vegetables. (If you need to cool the grain/couscous quickly, stick it in the freezer and stir it every 2-3 minutes. Do NOT sit the bowl/pan on top of the ice cream! It will cause the ice cream to melt.) Mix in the dressing, making sure not to add too much. By itself quinoa (and couscous) can be pretty light and fluffy so you want the dressing to make the grains stick together a bit. Sprinkle with feta cheese and serve.

This is an awesome summer time salad!

Reference

Quinoa Corporation. (n.d.). Quinoa. Retrieved from http://www.quinoa.net/

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