GREEK SALAD

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I found this Brownie Girl Scout Beanie at an estate sale.  I was a Brownie, and my daughter was a Brownie, and we both just could not get excited about being Brownies.  Maybe it was the hat, described as “a  six section beanie with loop at top.”  The Girl Scouts website states that it is made of “rayon/wool felt,” immediately followed by the statement that it is made of “100% polyester felt.”  So confusing, but really, it doesn’t matter — it could be made of cashmere and it would still look goofy.  The little dancing figure on it always looked vaguely satanic to me:

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Current beanies have blue figures, which look less sinister:

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My kids attended a middle school that was housed in a Greek Orthodox Church.  One day when I was picking up my son, a Brownie scout walked by.  My son pointed to her and said, “Look, she has a baklava on her head!”  He had recently been to a bar mitzvah, and meant to say she had a yarmulke on her head, but given that we were in front of the Greek church, confusing a Greek pastry with a Jewish skullcap was understandable and smirk-worthy.

Inspired by the Brownie beanie and Greek middle school memories, I made a Greek salad.  I believe purists would argue that a real Greek salad does not have lettuce, but I am neither Greek nor a purist, and I kinda like it with lettuce.  Some people like to add anchovies, but as I’ve mentioned before, we think they look like eyebrows and don’t add them to anything.  But really, it’s all about the dressing.  I’ve included photos for two different ways to prepare it, as a tossed salad and as a composed salad.  As with any vegetable salad, you can adjust the ingredients and amounts to suit your tastes.

GREEK SALAD
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Recipe type: Salad
Author:
Ingredients
  • For dressing:
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ⅓ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • For salad:
  • 1 large head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 12 grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced into ¼" thick slices
  • 1 small red or green bell pepper (optional), sliced into ¼" rings
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 12 Kalamata olives, pitted
  • 12 pepperoncini
  • Optional salad ingredients -- sliced celery, capers, sliced radishes
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Instructions
  1. Place all dressing ingredients in a jar, and shake vigorously to combine. Place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour before using.
  2. Place all salad ingredients except feta cheese in a large bowl and toss to combine. (Note: All salad ingredient measurements are approximate -- vary amounts as desired.) Pour dressing in desired amount over salad and toss to combine. Sprinkle with feta cheese and serve. (This salad is especially nice served on chilled plates.)

 

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It’s all about the dressing

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Just lettuce eat our Greek salad

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Prepare it as a composed salad, but only if you like the sound of oohs and ahs

FORTUNE TERIYAKI YAKISOBA NOODLE DISHES

From time to time, I get inspired to enter a recipe contest.  I’ve been entering them, as time and interest permit, for close to 20 years.  Sometimes I even win, and we’ve enjoyed some fun prizes over the years including a trip to Napa Valley with a cooking class at the CIA and chaffeur-driven winery tour, a year’s worth of ice cream, $$$, cookware, and products.  In addition to providing inspiration to get creative in the kitchen, I’ve also discovered some products along the way that I might not otherwise have tried.  For example, did you know that Betty Crocker’s cookie mixes are really quite good?  Or that Maple Leaf Farms sells fully cooked pulled duck leg meat, ready to use in salads, tacos, etc.?  I discovered these products and many others through recipe contesting.

My latest recipe contest find that will become a staple in our refrigerator is Fortune Yakisoba Stir Fry Noodles.  JSL Foods is sponsoring the Fortune Asian Noodle Blogger Recipe Challenge, in which bloggers were selected to create a recipe with a variety of either Fortune’s Yakisoba or Udon noodles.  You can purchase JSL Foods products at Albertson’s, Lucky’s, Von’s, Paviliions, WinCo, and Target, and you can learn more about JSL Foods by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

I chose the Teriyaki Yakisoba noodles, and the company sent me 3 packages to use in creating either a stir fry or cold salad recipe:

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Inside the package are yakisoba noodles and a seasoning packet:

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I chose the cold salad category because I live in Houston and summer is here — need I say more?  For my twist on a cold salad using the Teriyaki Yakisoba, I made Polynesian Summer Salad Noodle Rolls — grilled pork and pineapple, wrapped up with noodles, lettuce, and carrots, with a spicy peanut dipping sauce.  This was an easy and delicious fusion of tropical and asian flavors, great for a light summer meal.

To make the rolls, you’ll need spring roll wrappers — these can be found in the asian aisle of most large grocery stores (don’t confuse them with refrigerated egg roll wrappers):

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And here they are — Polynesian Summer Salad Noodle Rolls :

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The recipe isn’t difficult, although if you haven’t made spring rolls before, it might take you a try or two to get the hang of how much filling to use and how tight to roll them — have a few extra wrappers on hand, and above all, have fun!

POLYNESIAN SUMMER SALAD NOODLE ROLLS
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Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 package Fortune Teriyaki Yakisoba Stir Fry Noodles
  • 6 ounces pork tenderloin, pounded thin
  • ½ pineapple, peeled and cored
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1 cup julienned or grated carrots
  • 8 spring roll wrappers
  • 3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha sauce
Instructions
  1. Heat the noodles in the microwave according to package directions, and set aside to cool.
  2. Place pork in a plastic ziplock bag. Mix the seasoning packet with ½ cup water. Reserve 3 tablespoons for use in peanut sauce, and pour the rest over the pork. Allow pork to marinate for 30 minutes.
  3. Cut pineapple into long thin strips.
  4. Remove pork from marinade. Grill pork and pineapple, or alternatively, cook in a skillet over medium high heat, until pork is cooked through, and pork and pineapple have begun to caramelize and brown. Set aside to cool. Cut pork and pineapple into ½" wide strips.
  5. Have a shallow bowl of warm water ready to dip spring roll wrappers in. Dip 1 wrapper in water, making sure all surfaces are wet, and transfer to a cutting board. When sufficiently pliable (approximately 30-60 seconds), place a strip or two of pork and 1 strip of pineapple (cut pork and pineapple to fit in roll, if necessary) approximately 1" from edge of wrapper. Top with ⅛ of noodles, then top with some shredded lettuce and carrots. (Don't overstuff, or it will be difficult to roll.) To roll, bring the bottom up over the filing. Fold in sides, and continue rolling, keeping roll tight and neat, but taking care not to tear wrapper. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
  6. To prepare dipping sauce, mix together reserved teriyaki sauce, peanut butter, and sriracha in a small bowl. If necessary, add a teaspoon or two of water to thin to desired consistency. Serve rolls with dipping sauce.

But wait — there’s more!  My son took one look at those noodle packages in the refrigerator and asked if I’d make them for him.  We came up with what we call Fried Rice Style Yakisoba Noodles, and he loved them so much that we made them again a few nights later.

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Because they were so tasty and took just a few minutes to put together, I’m sharing this “bonus” stir fry recipe as well.  Enjoy!

FRIED RICE STYLE YAKISOBA NOODLES
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Ingredients
  • 1 package Fortune Teriyaki Yakisoba Noodles
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • ¼ cup cooked beef (can substitute chicken, pork, or shrimp)
  • ½ cup frozen peas and carrots
  • 1 teaspoon prepared black bean sauce
  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil
Instructions
  1. Heat noodles in microwave according to package directions. Set aside until ready to use.
  2. Mix seasoning packet with ¼ cup water.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add egg and cook for 1 minute on each side. Remove to cutting board, coarsely chop, and set aside.
  4. Add garlic skillet and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly and taking care not to let garlic burn. Add noodles, teriyaki seasoning, beef, peas and carrots, black bean sauce, and sesame oil. Continue cooking until all ingredients are thoroughly combined and heated through. Stir in egg. Serve hot.

 

 

THAI BEEF SALAD

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:

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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:

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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).

THAI BEEF SALAD
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Recipe type: Salad, Beef
Author:
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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

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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:

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GRAPEFRUIT AND RED ENDIVE SALAD WITH BABY LETTUCES

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

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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.

GRAPEFRUIT AND RED ENDIVE SALAD WITH BABY LETTUCES
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Recipe type: Salad
Author:
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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

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

WTF (WATERMELON, TOMATO, AND FETA) SALAD

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:

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But here’s where they lost me:

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 “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.  😉

WTF SALAD
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Recipe type: Salad
Author:
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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

ARUGULA AND FRESH CHICKPEA SALAD

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.

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Each cute little pod holds one or two chickpeas.

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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.

ARUGULA AND FRESH CHICKPEA SALAD
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Recipe type: Salad, Vegetarian
Author:
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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.

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Blanched fresh chickpeas

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Waiting to get dressed

POMODORO BASILICO SALAD

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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.

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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.

POMODORO BASILICO SALAD
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Recipe type: Salad, Vegetable, Vegetarian
Author:
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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.

 

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You say to-may-to, I say delicious