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Cucumber and Nasturtium Salad

Cucumber and Nasturtium Salad

If you read my Pesto, Tomato, and Mozzarella Pasta Salad post, you may have noticed my beginnings of an inventory of my urban container garden.  In addition to the tomatoes and basil, I’ve also planted a White Wonder cucumber.  I was attracted to this one because it grows well in a pot.  I’ve been very impressed by how abundant it’s produced cucumbers.  The only casualty so far has been a very early stage cucumber that the dog ran over – the cucumber has climbed down the side of the pot and is sidling its way toward the grass, so this wasn’t much of a surprise, as it’s in the dog’s traffic pattern for playing fetch.

I also planted a zucchini and an eggplant, neither of which seem particularly enthusiastic about producing anything.  I also planted some fennel, though they are taking their time to produce fennel bulbs as well. For now, my harvest has been cucumbers, three cherry tomatoes, basil, and some fennel fronds.   I can live with that.

I also planted a few edible flowers this year – scented geraniums, marigolds, chives, and nasturtiums.  The nasturtiums looked so pathetic for so long, I almost thought I was going to have to give up on them.  Then, one day in late June, they started blooming and I now have a pot of riotous dark red nasturtiums that are overwhelming the lavender plant I shoved in for good measure.  For some reason, our dog, Daisy, likes to nibble on the nasturtiums and the chives.  I guess she knows her edible flowers.

I gathered a handful of cucumbers last night and a few nasturtiums.  They blended together perfectly for this cucumber and nasturtium salad.  I had fennel salt on hand from last weekend: my fennel is producing fronds, at the very least.  The only part of this recipe that takes a little bit of time is the fennel salt – but most of that is very hands off.

cucumber and nasturtium salad

Cucumber and Nasturtium Salad with Fennel Salt
Serves 4

5 or 6 small to medium cucumbers, peeled and sliced.
8-10 nasturtium flowers, gently washed and patted dry.
3 or 4 tablespoons pine nuts
Fennel salt (link to recipe here) to taste
Olive oil to taste

Place the cucumbers in a bowl.  Separate the nasturtium petals and toss over the cucumbers.  Add the pine nuts and gently combine.  Sprinkle with fennel salt and drizzle with olive oil.

Enjoy!

Herbed Steak Salad

Herbed Steak Salad

Right now, the weather can’t make up its mind if it’s summer or not.  We’ve had outrageously hot days, followed up by weeks of cool, cloudy and rainy weather.  My cooking has remained optimistic: I’ve been aiming for lighter, easier to cook meals that don’t heat up the kitchen too much, like this steak salad for lunches this week.

The other reason I’m cooking this particular lunch item this week is in response to a blogging challenge on pulcetta.com focused on cooking a food found in a novel.  As you may have figured out by now, if I’m not cooking or gardening, I’m more than likely sitting in the garden and reading.  I read widely, though generally my favorite genre is mystery or suspense and I’m a particular fan of mysteries set in interesting places that have characters that reflect those places and cultures.  One of my favorite series is by Dana Stabenow and features Kate Shugak, a private investigator living in remote Alaska.  As I was thinking about this challenge and reading A Taint in the Blood, I realized how much Kate Shugak cooks throughout the series.  Often, the meals include moose and other locally hunted protein, but in this particular novel, Kate goes to Anchorage to work on a case and buys things like steak.  Since I doubted I’d find moose at Whole Foods, I decided to replicate a recipe Kate makes about mid-book: an herbed steak with spinach.

book and cocktail

(I spent some of the weekend hanging out, drinking Aperol spritzes – recipe coming out on Friday – and reading).

I thought I’d try flank steak, as it’s lean and quick cooking, but Whole Foods also didn’t have this cut (maybe I should have asked for moose after all?).  I decided to go for round steak instead, coating it in olive oil and then smothering it with herbs, searing it in a cast iron pan and then throwing it in the oven for a bit to finish off, a very similar technique to the one Kate uses in the book.  The original recipe in the novel has Kate then steaming some spinach and dressing it with red wine vinegar.  I had originally purchased spinach for my salad, but it got repurposed for an omelet on Sunday morning, so am going with mixed salad greens instead, lightly dressed with red wine vinegar and olive oil.  I also threw in some dill and garlic goat cheese.  Kate is not a drinker, but I couldn’t resist tasting the steak with a bit of red wine on the side, and I promise you, it’s heaven.  It was all I could do to resist munching on the sliced pieces of steak as I put my salad together.

steak

steak salad and wine

Herbed Steak Salad
Serves 4

4 small round steaks, about a pound total weight
3 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Olive oil
Spinach or salad greens
Red wine vinegar
Goat cheese

For the steaks:  Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Drizzle olive oil over the steaks and make sure both sides are liberally coated.  Combine the herbs, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Dredge the olive oil coated steaks in the herb mixture until both sides are well coated.  Add the steaks to the preheated skillet and cook about four minutes per side.  Steaks should be well seared on both sides and should reach an internal temperature of 130 degrees for medium rare.  I found it helped to cover the skillet between flipping the steak to keep the heat in.  Set the steaks aside, cover with foil and let rest or at least two minutes.

Slice the steak thinly.  Plate four plates or bowls with spinach or salad greens.  Place the sliced steak over the greens and then sprinkle with goat cheese (to taste), and drizzle with red wine vinegar and with olive oil.

For more novel food blogginess, head over to http://www.pulcetta.com/2016/05/announcing-novel-food-27.html

novel food

 

Blueberry Feta Salad

Blueberry Feta Salad

One of the greatest joys for me living in the PNW is berry season, which has come very early this year due to some of the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having.  Despite my very vocal complaining all last weekend about how hot it was, I was very, very happy with the blueberries and marionberries from the farmer’s market.  I will eat blueberries in just about anything: mixed with yogurt and granola, with cottage cheese, in muffins, in bread, and as a salad ingredient.  I especially like the combination of slightly sweet with intensely salty, so have often paired blueberries and feta cheese. 

This week, I could barely muster the energy to even tear up lettuce leaves for salad.  Still, I managed somehow, and threw together this salad with what I had on hand.  I couldn’t be bothered to mix up a proper vinaigrette though, so dashed a bit of balsamic vinegar and a bit of olive oil over the top and called it good.  I realize this isn’t the greatest recipe direction in the world – a dash of this and a dash of that, but so be it.  This salad paired nicely with the curried chickpea wrap.  I imagine it would also go well with a variety of other sandwiches.

blueberry feta salad

Blueberry and Feta Salad
Serves 4

½ pint blueberries
2 cups arugula
4 cups lettuce, torn into bite size pieces
½ cup chopped or slivered almonds
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
Balsamic vinegar to taste
Olive oil to taste

Combine all ingredients through the feta cheese in a bowl.  Toss gently.  Divide into four bowls and dress each with a dash of balsamic vinegar and a dash of olive oil.  Taste and add more balsamic vinegar and olive oil as needed. 

 

Picnic Potato Salad

Picnic Potato Salad

By and large I am not a huge fan of potato salad.  I have a fairly significant aversion to mayonnaise, though I will use it for tuna or chicken salad.  I used to not like hard-boiled eggs, so this may have something to do with it as well.  In recent years, I’ve started to experiment more with this type of salad, using a minimal amount of mayonnaise and skipping the eggs all together.  I went one step further with this salad and just ditched the mayonnaise, opting instead for a dressing of red wine vinegar, oil and mustard.  Even better, I threw in some nicoise salad touches: Kalamata olives, blanched snap peas, and a whole hard boiled egg in each serving.

On a side note, I recently discovered a new red wine vinegar (because generic red wine vinegar just isn’t that thrilling.)  Meet the chianti red wine vinegar of my dreams:

chianti red wine vinegar

Ok – maybe it’s not that exciting and maybe it does taste mostly like red wine vinegar, but still.

This is a great time of year for little potatoes straight out of the garden or from the farm or farmer’s market.  The snap peas could certainly be replaced with beans.  The dressing made plenty of extra, so save it for a green salad later in the week or to go with roasted chicken and focaccia.

potato salad

Picnic Potato Salad
Serves 4

10 – 12 small (fingerling size) potatoes
10 – 12 snap peas
10 – 12 Kalamata olives
4 hardboiled eggs
Chianti red wine dressing (below)

Chianti Red Wine Dressing
2/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup chianti red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
pinch salt
a few grinds fresh pepper

For the dressing: Combine all ingredients in a jar.  Cover with a tight lid, shake vigorously and set aside.

For the salad: Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, add the snap peas and boil for one minute.  Put the snap peas in a strainer and rinse with cool water.  Set aside. Add the potatoes to the boiling water and boil until tender.  Drain, cool and cut into quarters.  Combine the potatoes, blanched snap peas and Kalamata olives.  Dress with Chianti Red Wine Dressing – all ingredients should be well coated.  Chill for at least an hour for flavors to develop.  Add the hardboiled eggs on each plate when the dish is served.

Spicy Tuna Salad

Spicy Tuna Salad

I had a long and lazy Memorial Day weekend, punctuated only by a brief outing across the bridge from Vancouver to the Portland side of the Columbia River for lunch one day.  The days were fairly cool, but I did get some sunshine on Monday.  I want to keep the three-day weekend vibe going all week long, so decided a picnic at my desk was in order – thus, spicy tuna salad (a recipe for the potato salad that accompanies this will be on the blog later this week).

I’m a huge fan of spicy tuna rolls, but also much too lazy right now to roll my own sushi, much less make sushi rice.  I decided instead to go with canned tuna and spice it up with some siracha and sesame oil.  Otherwise, this is a fairly standard tuna salad – a little celery and a little mayo finishes it up.  I’m keeping all the other parts separate to serve at my desk on Tuesday: a piece of pita bread and a couple of lettuce leaves.

spicy tuna siracha and sesame oil

Spicy Tuna Salad
Serves 2

1 can tuna, drained
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Siracha
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.  Serve in either pita pockets or on romaine lettuce leaves.

Easy Chicken Salad

Easy Chicken Salad

I’m looking forward to a week or two that is a normal week.  These past two weeks have been anything but normal: I’ve spent a lot of time away from my desk for meetings and a good portion of the weekend away from home doing some work out-of-town.  I had high hopes for some interesting meals while I was out-of-town, and ended up eating Wendy’s chicken nuggets and fries for dinner one night and a Chipotle veggie burrito the next.  Not healthy, not interesting, and barely food in the case of the first meal.  This week isn’t much better, though I’m hoping for some interesting restaurant food in a few days – we’ll see if that actually works out. 

In the meantime, here’s a quick and easy recipe that makes for a great lunch you can easily eat at your desk. This is one of my favorite ways to use up leftovers from my favorite roast chicken recipe.

chickensalad1 chickensalad2

Easy Chicken Salad
Serves 4

2 cups chopped, roasted chicken
2 small pickles, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 tablespoons stone ground mustard
3 tablespoons ranch dressing

Combine all ingredients and mix.  Serve on romaine lettuce leaves for a low-carb meal or with tortilla chips. 

Massaged Kale Salad

Massaged Kale Salad

The first time I had a massaged kale salad was at a culinary event at a college where I worked.  The theme was farm to fork and the student chefs had prepared a curly kale salad massaged with a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette, served with shavings of parmesan.  The kale was raw, but not particularly chewy and definitely not tough.  It piqued my interest in figuring out how to duplicate this salad, and particularly how to go about massaging kale to make it so relaxed and happy.

I’ve played around with the technique here and there over the past year or so.  I’ve used oil and vinegar, a bit of lemon juice, as well as just plain salt.  The technique is what it says it is – you add your oil or acid or salt and just dig in, massaging the kale until it goes a little limp.  It will still maintain some shape and leafiness – this is just the nature of kale.  It’s definitely more robust than a lettuce salad.

radish and kale salad 2

Massaged Kale and Radish Salad
Serves 2

1 bunch curly or lacinato kale, de-stemmed and torn into small pieces
6 sliced radishes
½ teaspoon pink Himalayan salt
Dressing of your choice (I had ranch on hand, so used it; I can see this being tasty with a vinegar and oil dressing as well)

Combine the kale and the salt and use your hands to knead in the salt and massage the kale.  Add the radishes and toss with dressing.

Roasted Asparagus and Egg Salad

Roasted Asparagus and Egg Salad

I have an obsession with chickens. I blame my formative years of watching The Muppet Show and being particularly fond of Gonzo and his chickens. Someday, when I’m landed in one spot that allows for urban hens, I’m determined to have my own chicken flock. For the time being, however, in a rural agricultural area, it’s easy enough to have conversations with others at work that have, or have had, rural or urban livestock. I was fortunate at my past job to have a co-worker who raises hens and also has guinea fowl. I had the chance to hear many stories about her flock, including quite a few stories about the guinea rooster who has a propensity for chasing after the chickens. I don’t think it’s a guinea rooster who is going to be long for this world because of his bullying behavior, in fact. The guinea hens, however, are apparently champion layers. One day a few weeks ago, my co-worker offered to bring me a dozen guinea hen eggs, and of course, I accepted.

Guinea hen eggs are smaller than chicken eggs and a bit pointier on one end. As I did some research to figure out what to do with these, I learned that one major difference between guinea hen eggs and chicken eggs is that the former are have much thicker shells, so can be tougher to crack. The actual eggs are described as having a deeper yellow yolk and as being creamier and more egg-y than chicken eggs.

guineaheneggsincartonguinea_hen_eggs

I’m not sure why there is something a bit strange to me about eating an egg that didn’t come from a chicken. I’ve passed up duck eggs and geese eggs at the farmers market before, but I think I’m a convert now for non-chicken eggs. The guinea hen eggs are spectacular – the yolks are golden, and I think I may use the seven eggs I have left and make some homemade pasta with them. As is, they boiled up beautifully. Indeed, the only challenge was that I had to really whack them to break up the sh

ells – the shells are so thick!

Hard Boiled Guinea Eggs

This salad could definitely be made with hard-boiled chicken eggs as well. If you happen to have access to a different kind of bird egg, though, I encourage you to try them.

Roasted asparagus and egg salad

asparagus and egg salad, dressed

Roasted Asparagus and Egg Salad
Serves 2

4 hard boiled eggs, peeled
½ bunch asparagus, ends trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the asparagus in a single layer on the sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 10 minutes and then flip the asparagus. Bake for another 10 -15 minutes, until asparagus is a bit crisped and soft. Plate with the hard boiled eggs on top and drizzle with lemony avocado dressing.

Lemony Avocado Dressing
Juice from ½ lemon
½ avocado
2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Add a bit of water or more olive oil if the dressing is too thick.

Carrot, Beet, and Picked Fennel Salad

Carrot, Beet, and Picked Fennel Salad

I started canning, in earnest, about three years ago.  I started out of a combination of nostalgia – when I was a teenager, my mom and I used to make pickles in the summer – but also out of an effort to take an advantage of and stay on top of the extraordinary abundance of produce that can be found in the PNW in the summer.

Of course, abundance in produce leads to abundance in canning, which leads to having many, many jars of pickled vegetables and many, many jars of chutney, jam, and preserves. It’s a vicious cycle, because by the time spring rolls around, I’m ready to start canning again, even if I haven’t completely depleted the already existing supply from the last season. Thus, come February, I’m frantically looking for and creating recipes that use up the canned goods.

This salad was born from that desperation.  I have a few cans of pickled fennel left and thought it might complement some thinly shaved carrots and beets.  I was, fortunately, right.  This isn’t exactly a recipe – but more some general advice about how to combine a few ingredients into a simple salad.

SaladSalad with pickled fennel

Carrot, Beet, and Pickled Fennel Salad

Thinly slice four or five carrots into strips about 2 inches long.  Thinly slice a large beet into similar sized strips.  Drain a jar of pickled fennel, reserving the pickling liquid.  Combine the beets, carrots, and pickled fennel in a bowl.  Combine 4 tablespoons of the reserved pickling liquid with 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a jar.  Place a tight lid on the jar and shake vigorously.  Combine the pickling liquid and olive oil mix with the vegetables.  Grind a bit of black pepper over the top and serve.

Massaged Kale Salad with Preserved Meyer Lemons

Massaged Kale Salad with Preserved Meyer Lemons

kalesalad1 kalesalad3 Prior to moving to the PNW, there were a number of vegetables I’d encountered that only ever seemed to be served in cooked form. Kale was one of those vegetables, and though I liked it well enough, I started to really love when I realized it could be eaten raw. To balance the butter-load in this week’s prosciutto and swiss cheese croissants, I thought it might be wise to have a healthy salad on the side. I especially enjoy kale salad with preserved lemon, so this recipe does double-duty, as it showcases kale, but also is the first of several recipes using the preserved Meyer lemon recipe from last week. I also threw in some canned chickpeas, a little parmesan cheese, and a tahini and lemon salad dressing.

This salad holds up well in pint mason jars so can be prepared on Sunday for the entire week.

kalesalad2

Massaged Kale and Preserved Meyer Lemon Salad
Serves 6

Tahini and Lemon Dressing
1/3 cup olive oil
1 and ½ tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons lemon juice
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients and stir thoroughly until tahini is smoothly distributed.

Massaged Kale and Preserved Meyer Lemon Salad
1 bunch kale, washed and de-stemmed
2 preserved lemons, rinsed
1 can chickpeas
¼ cup parmesan cheese

In a large bowl, tear the de-stemmed kale into bite sized pieces. Add the tahini and lemon dressing and massage the kale until the dressing is well distributed and the kale starts to soften. Chop the preserved lemons into small strips and add the preserved lemons, chickpeas, and parmesan cheese to the kale. Toss and serve.

 

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