Salad season is upon us.  I’m happy any time I can make a main dish salad and avoid heating up the kitchen.  Heating up the grill, however, is a not a problem.  My husband grilled a beef tenderloin the other night, and with the leftovers we made Thai Beef Salad (flank steak works well too).

If you don’t have lemongrass for the dressing, you can omit it.  I usually have some growing in a pot, and it’s very easy to propagate (I’ve done this before with lemongrass purchased at the grocery store).  My biggest problem is keeping my dogs away from it — they chew it, I think, to help with digestion.  I keep moving it higher, and they keep seeking it out:


Jasper munching on some lemongrass

But don’t omit the fish sauce!  I keep a bottle of Three Crab fish sauce on hand.  It’s available in asian markets and most large grocery stores, and was recommended to me by a Vietnamese chef:

fish sauce

Adjust the heat of the dressing to your liking by altering the amount of crushed red pepper. The vegetables for the salad are suggestions — use whatever you like in whatever quantity you desire (I like the cool crunch that cucumbers provide, but didn’t have any on hand when I made it this time).

Recipe type: Salad, Beef
  • For the dressing:
  • 4 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced lemongrass stalk*
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • For the salad:
  • Thinly sliced grilled beef
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Chopped lettuce
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Thinly sliced red onion
  • Thinly sliced shallot
  • Thinly sliced serrano peppers or thai chiles
  • Mint sprigs, for garnish
  1. Place all dressing ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix together until brown sugar is dissolved and ingredients are well combined. Add the sliced beef and allow to sit in dressing while preparing the rest of the salad.
  2. Place chopped lettuce in a large shallow bowl or platter. Using tongs, remove beef from dressing and mound in center of lettuce. Pour dressing over lettuce around beef. Arrange tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers (or whatever vegetables you are using) decoratively around beef. Scatter shallots and chiles over salad. Garnish with mint. Serve at room temperature.
  3. *To mince the lemongrass, use the woody stalk, peeling off the outer layer. Mash the stalk by whacking it with the flat side of a knife, then finely mince.

thai beef salad

A great warm weather meal

salad closeup

Grilled tenderloin is the star of this salad

Special thanks to my friend Tori for the exotic wood salad servers she brought me as a souvenir from her recent trip to Thailand:

salad servers


I recently discovered Sweet Scarletts — sweet red grapefruit from the Rio Grande Valley.


These are the sweetest grapefruits I have ever tasted.

IMG_2334 IMG_2337We’ve been enjoying them in salads, and thought I’d share one that was particularly nice.  I started with beautiful baby lettuces from Sustainable Harvesters, which I bought at the Eastside Farmers Market.  Next I added sliced red endive, grapefruit, and chopped pistachios.  Finally, I drizzled a simple dressing over it made with olive oil and Peach Balsamic Vinegar from Texas Hill Country Olive Company (which I also bought at the farmers market).  So pretty, and really great tasting.

Recipe type: Salad
  • 2 heads baby lettuces (a mix of red and green is pretty), chopped
  • 1 head red endive, sliced
  • 2 large red grapefruits, peel and pith removed, cut into sections (reserve 1 tablespoon juice for dressing)
  • ¼ cup chopped pistachios
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons peach balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon reserved grapefruit juice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Divide lettuces among 2 salad plates. Scatter endive over lettuce. (Note: If you carefully slice the bottom of the endive and hold it together, you will have a rosette-like piece to place in the center of the salad). Arrange grapefruit sections over salad. Sprinkle pistachios over salad.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, peach balsamic vinegar, and grapefruit juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle dressing over salad and serve.

Great colors


Slice the end of the endive carefully for a pretty endive rosette


While grocery shopping over the Memorial Day weekend, these patriotic-looking Pop-Tarts caught my eye:

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But as I moved in for a closer look, I couldn’t help but think “WTF?”  I think the idea of a “different team on every Pop-Tart toaster pastry” is kinda clever:

poptart header

But here’s where they lost me:

poptart save

 “Collect all 30 teams?”  In my estate sale adventures, I have seen all kinds of bizarre collections (like dismembered mannequins, for example).  But who in their right mind is going to collect toaster pastries?  I don’t even know how you would collect toaster pastries?  Do you display them on little acrylic stands with a dozen roach traps around them?  Encase them in lucite?  Take pictures of the toaster pastries and hang them on your wall?  Help me out here — how do you collect Pop-Tarts?  Why would you collect Pop-Tarts?

Yep, sometimes you just have to shake your head and say “WTF?”  And on this particular day, WTF means Watermelon, Tomato, and Feta Salad.  At this point, I’m guessing most of you have heard of, if not tried, a watermelon salad of some sort.  This one, with tomato slices alternated with watermelon slices, sprinkled with feta, and drizzled with a sherry vinaigrette, is a light, refreshing, and easy summer salad.  And besides, it’s fun to tell folks you made a WTF Salad.  😉

Recipe type: Salad
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 or 5 firm ripe tomatoes
  • ¼ of a seedless watermelon
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, for garnish
  1. Place the vinegar in a small bowl. Add the olive oil in a slow stream and whisk until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until ready to use.
  2. Slice the tomatoes and watermelon into ⅜-inch thick slices. Trim the watermelon slices to approximate the same round shape as the tomatoes. You'll need an equal number of tomato and watermelon slices. Arrange the tomato and watermelon slices on a serving platter, overlapping slices of tomato and watermelon. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Top with feta cheese. Just before serving, drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle with chives and serve.


 Plated and ready to be dressed

For those WTF kinda days


Recently I ran across fresh chickpeas at Central Market and the farmers market.  If you’ve never had them before, I encourage you to give them a try.


Each cute little pod holds one or two chickpeas.


Don’t let those fuzzy little pods fool you, though — these things are a pain in the neck to shell, although they’re worth the effort.  The pods don’t pop open very easily, and they’re surprisingly tough.  I suggest starting with a small quantity, perhaps 1/3 pound, which should yield enough for this salad (plus, they tend to be kinda pricey).

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzos in Spain and Latin American countries, are a member of the pea family.  I was disappointed to learn that they are not called chickpeas because they look like fat little chicks.  I can’t be the only one that thought this, can I?  I mean, it’s not that big a stretch, is it?


In fact, the name chickpea comes from the French chiche, which comes from the Latin cicer arietinum, meaning “small ram,” which, according to one source reflects “the unique shape of this legume that somewhat resembles a ram’s head.”  If you say so.  Oh well, yet another step closer to being Cliff Clavin.

I tried roasting fresh chickpeas a few years ago when they first started appearing in stores, based on raves in the blogosphere.  I didn’t think the final product was significantly better than if I had used canned chickpeas, and it was definitely not worth the extra time involved, in my opinion.  But blanching them until they are tender is a different story.  The chickpeas turn a bright green, and they taste very much like fava beans with a firmer texture.  Plus, they’re so chirpin’ cute.

So after shelling my pound of fresh chick peas for what seemed like a very long time, I blanched them and used them in this pleasing salad.  The combination of arugula, pea shoots, chickpeas, and parmesan is just different enough to be interesting.  I used a slightly sweet vinaigrette, but I think it would also be nice with a creamy herbed dressing or even ranch dressing.  All amounts given are approximate.

Recipe type: Salad, Vegetarian
  • For the salad:
  • 6-8 cups baby arugula
  • ⅓ pound fresh chickpeas
  • 1 cup fresh pea shoots
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese
  • For the dressing:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil, and add chickpeas. Boil for 3 to 5 minutes, until tender. Drain and rinse with cool water to stop cooking. When cool enough to handle, shell chickpeas.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare vinaigrette by whisking together oil, vinegars, and honey in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Place arugula, pea shoots, and chickpeas in a large salad bowl. Just before serving, drizzle with vinaigrette, reserving any extra for another use. Using a vegetable peeler, shave long strips of Parmesan cheese on top of salad, and serve.


Blanched fresh chickpeas


Waiting to get dressed



I found this 1940s produce crate label for Dominator Tomatoes, used by the T.O. Tomasello Company of Watsonville, California, on ebay.  It features a U.S. fighter plane.  I got it along with several other labels featuring airplanes, thinking it would be cute to frame them for my then-young son’s airplane-themed room.

I never did get around to framing those labels.  Never finished collecting all of the state quarters with him either, but somehow we’ve managed to carry on.

This time of year, tomatoes do indeed dominate.  The tomato season in Houston is short, and the tomatoes are not pretty, but they taste great.  These heirloom tomatoes from the farmers market a few weeks ago were wonderful with sliced red onions and kirby cucumbers, drizzled with a little olive oil and red wine vinegar.


Although the Houston tomato season is pretty much over, we’re enjoying vine-ripened tomatoes from other parts of the U.S.  My research indicates that Florida is the largest producer of fresh market tomatoes, whereas California produces almost all of the tomatoes processed in the U.S.  The USDA says that we eat between 22-24 pounds of tomatoes per person annually, with more than half of those tomatoes used in ketchup and tomato sauce.  And according to one survey, 93% of U.S. gardening households grow tomatoes.

The scientific name for tomatoes is lycopersicum (technically, either lycopersicon lycopersicum or solanum lycopersicum, depending on who you think is correct — oh, the controversies that arise in the plant-naming world!), which means “wolf peach,” and has its origins in German werewolf myths.  According to legend, the nightshade plant (tomatoes are in the nightshade family) was used in potions by witches and sorcerers to change themselves into werewolves.  When the similar, but larger tomato arrived in Europe, it was called “wolf peach.”

Tomatoes are believed to have originated in the Andes.  The word tomato comes from the Aztec “xitomate,” which means “plump thing with a navel.”  So the next time your loved one refers to you as a hot tomato, don’t be so flattered.

Botanically speaking, a tomato is a fruit.  For culinary purposes, which, let’s face it, are far more important than botanical purposes, a tomato is considered a vegetable.  As I told my son, when he was studying for his theology final and trying to explain the difference between knowledge and wisdom:

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; 

Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad
Well, they may not be great in fruit salad, but tomatoes — especially ripe summer tomatoes — are wonderful in vegetable salads.  Inspired by the Dominator tomato crate label, this recipe for Pomodoro Basilico Salad makes great use of the season’s fresh tomatoes, and really allows the tomato to be the star of this salad.  For the very best results, use a good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Recipe type: Salad, Vegetable, Vegetarian
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
  • 12 calamata olives, sliced
  • 6 large basil leaves, thinly sliced into ribbons
  • ½ of a small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Place tomatoes, olives, basil, and onion in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together oil and vinegars, and pour over tomato mixture. Stir gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.




You say to-may-to, I say delicious


Memorial Day is a time to remember and give thanks for the many men and women who died while serving in our country’s armed forces.  Because it is observed on the last Monday in May, it has also come to mark the start of the summer vacation season, and many families use the three-day weekend to spend time together, often culminating in a backyard barbecue.

As I wrote last year, after WWI, poppies became a symbol of remembrance of soldiers who have died in war.  Wearing a poppy on Memorial Day has been a tradition in the U.S. since 1924.  With that in mind, I made Poppy Seed Dressing to serve with our Memorial Day dinner.  I’ll save the red, white, and blue food for the 4th of July. This recipe for Poppy Seed Dressing comes from the late, great Helen Corbitt’s Cook Book.  Helen had an illustrious career as a chef, cookbook author, cooking school instructor and lecturer, and hostess, but she is perhaps most often remembered for her days as manager of the Houston Country Club and the Zodiac Room at Neiman Marcus in Dallas.  Helen died in 1978, but her memory and recipes linger on.

Although Helen was often credited with creating the dressing, she was quick to deny it, but readily admitted to having popularized it.  According to her, it’s delicious on any fruit salad, and goes especially well with grapefruit.   I think it goes nicely with melon.  One of Helen’s most popular salads on her country club buffet was finely shredded red cabbage, sliced avocado, and halved grapes with poppy seed dressing.  A recurring theme in Helen’s cookbooks is her concern that “the men” like the food that was served at parties and gatherings, and according to her, men like this dressing — because I know you were worried about that.  Reportedly, “a few even put it on their potatoes.”  :)  Why not remember someone with a jar of homemade Poppy Seed Dressing this year?

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup white vinegar
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons onion juice*
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  1. Mix together sugar, mustard, salt, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Add onion juice and stir until combined. Add oil slowly, beating constantly with an electric beater, and continuing to beat until thick. (Helen advises: "When you think the mixture is thick enough, beat 5 minutes longer.) Stir in poppy seeds. Store in refrigerator.
*To make onion juice, place a medium onion in a mini chopper or blender and puree. Strain puree through a fine-mesh colander set over a small bowl to catch the onion juice.


All decked out for Memorial Day.


Come and get it, men!


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I found a pair of these glass amaryllis ornaments at an estate sale.  Not sure about hanging them on a tree–they’re nearly a foot tall — but I liked all the sparkly detail, and thought I could find some other way to display them — maybe standing up in a pot with some dried moss.


I look forward to having amaryllis bulbs bloom in my house every winter.   I usually send one or two to my Dad for him to enjoy too, because he loves them and is the person who first taught me to appreciate their beauty.  Last year my Dad and I had something of a competition going with our bulbs.  He kept telling me how awesome his bulb was, and how many stalks and buds it was putting out.  I told him that my bulb had three stalks with buds, which is something of a rarity for us.  He didn’t believe me until I sent him pictures of the bulb in bloom.


Three stalks with buds


This bulb was quite a show-off

What is it about things in threes that’s so special?  According to Wikipedia, the “rule of three” is a writing principle that suggests that a trio of things is  “inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective” than other multiples of things.  Like “snap, crackle, and pop” or “Huey, Dewey, and Louie.”  The Latin phrase, omne trium perfectum (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete) is a variation of the rule of three.  Although when it comes to kids, I’m pretty glad we stopped at two.

And so the saying goes that good things come in threes.  Perhaps that’s why good fairies and genies grant three wishes.  And everyone knows that the third time’s a charm. But there’s another saying that misfortunes never come singly.  So if good things come in threes, what multiple do bad things come in?  I believe the answer to that question is that bad things come in poopstorms.  And I think that this is because when something bad happens in our life, we tend to start looking for all the other bad things surrounding us, and start adding everyday annoyances–like the dishwasher broke, the dog has an ear infection–to the list of bad things.  When things are going well, those small matters don’t even register, and we’re more inclined to count our blessings.

Caesar salad is one of my family’s favorite salads.  It’s simple enough to make, but keeping with the theme of things in threes that inspired this post, there are three surefire ways to ruin it — a veritable trifecta of no-nos.

No-no number 1 is: lemon juice

I’m not sure what I’d ever use bottled lemon juice for, but I certainly wouldn’t use it in a fresh salad.  Buy a lemon!

No-no number 2 is: kraft

Any resemblance to parmigiano reggiano cheese is purely coincidental, and this product lacks all of the taste and texture of the real stuff.  I’m hardly the first person to describe this as sawdust.  Perhaps the sawdust-like quality of this product is related to the addition of cellulose powder “to prevent caking.”  Cellulose powder is, after all, a product obtained from wood pulp.  According to this article from Forbes, Kraft Parmesan Cheese is “far enough from the real thing that Kraft was legally forced to stop selling its cheese labeled Parmesan in Europe.”  So why would you want to put it in your salad?

No-no number 3 is: croutons

These are just salt cubes.  It’s so easy to make your own delicious croutons, and a great way to use leftover bread — just cube the bread (a baguette or loaf of sourdough bread works great), toss with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, spread out on a cookie sheet, season to taste (we like salt, pepper, and a few red pepper flakes, sometimes a little garlic powder), and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp:


Our family’s version of Caesar Salad is adapted from Anthony’s Caesar Salad, a specialty at Anthony’s, a wonderful Vallone family restaurant that closed a decade ago. Our recipe doesn’t use anchovies, because we think they look like eyebrows, and the salad has enough salty flavors without them, and it also uses half of the unconscionable amount of olive oil.  It’s fresh and crisp and lemony, and great any time of the year.

Recipe type: Salad
  • 1-1/2 heads romaine lettuce, cleaned, rinsed, and torn into pieces
  • 2 small garlic cloves
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • Juice of 1 small lemon
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ⅔ cup grated parmigiano reggiano or romano cheese
  • 1 cup seasoned croutons
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Dry romaine, and keep chilled in refrigerator until just before serving. Mash garlic with a little kosher salt until it forms a paste. Transfer garlic to a medium mixing bowl and whisk in mustard, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and vinegar until smooth. Slowly whisk in olive oil, until smooth. Stir in grated cheese.
  2. Just before serving, place lettuce in a large salad bowl. Pour dressing over, season to taste with black pepper, and toss to combine. Add croutons, toss again, and serve.

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 The dressing is ready to go

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 Hail Caesar!