Warm Mediterranean Salad

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There is a nice shopping mall about 2 hours away that I visit when I have to go to a mall. Well, truth be told, I probably only shop at Williams-Sonoma there, unless I’m Christmas shopping. Then I’m a bit more adventurous.

The mall has a nice restaurant that I go to because of the convenience. But it’s good! You’ll all probably be shocked that it’s a chain restaurant, called Pepperoni Grill.

The menu is nice, the restaurant is always clean, and the service great. Surprisingly great.

Oddly enough, I’ve always ordered the same thing, which is a warm Mediterranean Tortellini and Vegetable salad, served with a creamy balsamic vinaigrette.

I say this is odd, because typically, I would order something new on the menu. But, after 20+ years, I keep ordering this salad. It’s so good, so well prepared, and so satisfying.

Then I had the brilliant idea to replicate the salad at home. It doesn’t look exactly the same because the restaurant uses tricolor tortellini, but mine tasted just as good! Being that it’s not springtime, I opted for green beans instead of asparagus.

Warm Mediterranean Salad
inspired by Pepperoni Grill’s salad
Serves 12

Vinaigrette:
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons yogurt
1 tablespoon agave syrup
2 teaspoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt

Salad:
2 pounds small, red-skinned potatoes, quartered
1 pound trimmed green Beans
1 pound yellow squash, coarsely chopped
32 ounces cheese tortellini
10 uncles spring lettuces
Sliced sun-dried tomatoes, the kind stored in oil
Kalamata olives, drained, halved
Grated Parmesan

To prepare the vinaigrette, place all of the ingredients in a small blender jar. Blend until smooth. Taste for salt. Can be made a day ahead, but bring the vinaigrette to room temperature before making the salad.


The vegetables must be prepared separately for the salad, in order to have them all at the proper cook. It’s also best for all of the vegetables and the tortellini to be warm when served, so one must move quickly!

In a steamer basket, cook the potatoes just until tender. Place in a large bowl, toss with a few tablespoons of vinaigrette, and set aside. If you don’t like a lot of dressing, use some olive oil instead.


Cook the green beans in the steamer basket and add them to the potatoes. Toss together gently, adding a little more vinaigrette to keep the vegetables moist.

Do the same with the yellow squash, making sure not to overcook. Add to the potatoes and beans.

Cook the cheese tortellini according to package directions. Drain and let cool slightly.

Add the still warm tortellini to the vegetables. Add the desired amount of vinaigrette and and toss gently.

Add the sun-dried tomatoes and olives to taste.

Then sprinkle on a generous amount of Parmesan. No mixing necessary.

Serve warm.

I like a lot of vinaigrette on my salads, but I’m aware that not everyone does. So when I suggest to add the desired amount of vinaigrette, that’s exactly what I mean!

My mother’s secret to a good potato salad was to always add some olive oil to the warm, just-cooked potatoes. So that’s what I did in this salad, using the vinaigrette instead of just olive oil, as well as adding some vinaigrette to the cooked tortellini. This keeps them moist and prevents sticking.

In anticipation of making this salad, I googled it to see if I was making something fairly unique or not. Turns out, there are tortellini/pasta salads, and there are potato salads. This salad really combines the two – a pasta salad with a significant amount of veggies.

The vegetables are along the lines of “primavera” vegetables, and can definitely be changed depending on what’s in season. Zucchini, broccoli, baby carrots, asparagus… all would be good. They could be grilled as well.

And of course this salad would be wonderful with grilled meat, but I prefer it the way it is.

So would I visit Pepperoni Grill for a special night out? No. But the fact that I can expect quality with what I’m ordering and enjoy a leisurely lunch, with a decent glass of wine, during a day of shopping, is really nice.

Korean Coleslaw

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Often when I’m browsing online for recipes, I print one I like, save it, and keep the stack of recipes in my kitchen.

Which is silly, because I have boxes of recipes glued on cards stemming from my childhood, and even folders for saved recipes that are organized by the season and, of course, my cookbooks. I guess one can never have too many recipes.

So I was browsing through my recipe “stack,” and I saw the words “gochujang” and “coleslaw” together. What? There it was – a coleslaw, with a dressing containing Gochujang!!

I only recently discovered the Korean barbecue paste, and used it on pork tenderloin. What a wonderful flavor this paste imparts.

Turns out that the coleslaw recipe is from Abbe’s blog “This is How I Cook.” Not only does she have a great blog, she has the cutest dog, Geordie.

I made a few adjustments, mostly adding more gochujang to the coleslaw dressing.

Korean Coleslaw

1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons gochujang
1-2 tablespoons Sriracha
1 tablespoon agave

4 cups shredded cabbage, purple and white
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 cup grated carrots
8 green onions, sliced
1 bunch cilantro, cleaned, chopped
Black sesame seeds, optional
Peanuts, optional

First prepare the gochujang dressing in a small blender jar and set aside.


Place the purple and white cabbages, red bell pepper, and carrots in a large bowl. Mix well.

Add the dressing and stir. Let sit for 1-2 hours to soften the cabbage slightly. Taste before continuing with the recipe.

Add the green onions and cilantro and mix together.

To serve, sprinkle the coleslaw with sesame seeds.

If I’d only used purple cabbage, I would have also used white sesame seeds.

Then add some peanuts.


If you want it spicier, add more Sriracha sauce and stir well, but you don’t want it to overpower the gochujang.

And for heaven’s sake, slice your own cabbage. Don’t buy those terrible bags of coleslaw!

It’s fresher and it’s cheaper!

This coleslaw was fantastic! It would be great with salmon or chicken on top as well. Thanks Abbe!

Herby Octopus Salad with Blueberries

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You’ve all put up with me lamenting about the fact that, living in the middle of the United States, with no nearby coastline, I can’t buy fresh seafood. And it’s pretty much my favorite thing to eat, well over beef and chicken.

I make up for it when on vacation, especially when it comes to squid and octopus. I eat them until tentacles are practically coming out my ears.

Besides being delicious, they’re fascinating creatures.

Instead of whining, I decided it was time to just order some frozen baby octopus. I actually see it frozen occasionally in recipes, so I’m not the only person who can’t always buy it fresh, or wants it out of season.

The company I ordered from is La Tienda, a Spanish website that I’ve used for years. Just about any Spanish product you desire, they sell.

It was a fluke that I found frozen octopus; I didn’t expect La Tienda to have it. I also bought some frozen cuttlefish at the same time – something I’d never tried before – at least not knowingly.

When I received the pound of baby octopus, there were only two, so about 8 ounces each, shown above. I expected baby octopuses to look like ones I’ve had on salads or seen at markets.

But it gave me the opportunity to learn how to break down an octopus. It’s a very straight-forward procedure, and takes minutes.

Herby Octopus Salad with Blueberries
Cause it’s still summer here….

1 pound frozen baby octopus, thawed
Olive oil
Greens of choice
Chopped basil, parsley, and cilantro, about 1/2 cup total
Fresh blueberries, about 1/2 cup
Lemon juice (I used 1 lemon for 1 pound of octopus)
Olive juice, to taste
Salt
Aleppo pepper, optional

Rinse the octopus well and lay on a cutting board. Admire it, because it’s a beautiful sea creature!

Slice just below the eyes, and just above the eyes and discard this middle piece.


Then get rid of the beak in the middle of the tentacles.


Turn the head, or hood, inside out. Pull out everything from inside, and discard.

Turn the hood back to outside-in. There is a thin skin covering the hood that can be removed by pulling firmly.

Cut the tentacles off at the very top.

Trim the base of the hood, then slice the remaining hood into 1/4″ thick slices.

With the remaining center “upper thighs”, if you will, cut them each into 8 pie pieces.

From the left, the legs, the hood, and the upper thighs.

The below photo shows the legs at the top, the hood rings in the middle, and the thighs at the bottom.

Rinse the octopus parts, if necessary, then dry them well.

Heat some olive oil in a skillet. Over high heat and with your vent on, and perhaps a few open doors and windows, sear some of the octopus, without crowding it in the skillet, until browned. I cooked the legs, rings, and thighs separately, just because of the various thicknesses.

Remove to a plate and continue in batches; set aside.

Meanwhile, place the greens on a platter or plate.


In a small bowl, toss together the herbs and top the salad with the herbs.


Add the octopus parts, still warm, and the blueberries to the salad.


Drizzle on some fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Sprinkle on a little salt.

If desired, add some Aleppo pepper for some zing!

And that’s it! The octopus was superb. All it takes is a little searing.

A simple combination of lemon juice and olive was wonderful. And the blueberries added fruitiness. The salad would also be good with warmed lentils.

I was very happy about the quality of the frozen octopus. It wasn’t old or water-logged.

At least I know now that I don’t need to turn up my nose at frozen octopus in the future. I will indeed be ordering it again.

I just have to find someone else to share it with…

And anyone who assumes that octopus is tough and rubbery, hasn’t tried it. (husband)

Cuttlefish with Raspberries

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French Bistro is not your typical cookbook. In fact, it’s more of an homage to traditional bistros, with references to real people and actual Parisian establishments.

The book would be a smart read prior to a Paris visit!

Instead of typical chapters, they are organized by ten bistro “essentials”: The Owner, The Chef, The Chalkboard Menu, The Wine, The Servers, The Table, The Decor, The Clients, The Ambiance, and The Aromas.

The authors are Bertrand Auboyneau and Francois Simon, and it was published in 2012.

If you have a love for bistros in general, especially with those quintessential French elements like vintage tiles, carved wood elements, the lamps, the windows, and so forth, you will love the photographs in the book, as I did.

There are recipes in the book, and they’re all exciting to me. But alas, if I were to make food that involved sweetbreads, sardines, liver and tongue, I’d be eating it all by myself.

I decided on a cuttlefish recipe. My husband won’t eat those, either, but I only ordered one pound’s worth in order to make this recipe.

After much searching, because I was not familiar with cuttlefish were, I discovered that they are short stubby squid, called Sepia in Italian. I knew I would like them, because I have a love affair with all creatures tentacled!

Following is the actual recipe from French Bistro, somewhat modified because my cuttlefish, about 4 ounces each, were much larger than the ones pictured in the book.

Cuttlefish Sautéed with Raspberries, Verjus-Style

1 pound cuttlefish, or 3 – 4 ounce cuttlefish
4 ounces raspberries
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon Vincotto
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
Chopped parsley, optional

Rinse the cuttlefish well in water before using.

Heat up a pot of water that they will fit in to a strong simmer. Poach the cuttlefish for 5 minutes.

Remove them to paper towels and dry well. Pop out the beak in the middle of the tentacles. It will just pop out.

Mash the raspberries with a fork and set aside.

Add about half of the olive oil to a skillet and heat over high heat. Add the cuttlefish and brown just slightly. It should take about 2 minutes.

Remove them to a plate, turn down the heat a bit, and add the raspberries and remaining olive oil.

I also added about a teaspoon of vincotto for some sweetness.

To serve, place some lettuce leaves on a plate (this is completely optional) and place the cuttlefish over them.

Add the raspberry-olive oil mixture, and season with salt and pepper.

I also added a little chopped parsley.

Enjoy warm.

These were so wonderful it’s hard to describe them. And with the raspberry mixture the whole meal was just divine.

Not only was this a great dish for warm weather, it would be good with strawberries as well in the spring. I love cuttlefish!

Peach Salsa

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I don’t buy into too many food trends, as you know. I don’t put lavender into ice cream, I don’t like rosemary in cocktails, I like lemongrass only in Thai food, and I don’t stick bacon into everything possible. It will probably be 20 more years before I ever make kale chips. No, I’ll probably never make them.

So years ago when I spotted peach salsa at a gourmet food store, I really surprised myself when I purchased it. I mean, peaches in tomato salsa? I don’t remember the brand, but it really was pretty tasty.

Being me, I knew I could make it even better. Not to say I’m that great of a cook, it’s just that anything home-made will beat anything jarred commercially.

IMG_9694

Anymore, peach salsa doesn’t really even sound very trendy. It’s become as commonplace as boysenberry barbecue sauce and the like.

The salsa works well with good canned tomatoes as well as fresh ones right out of the garden, but that peach needs to be ripe, so I only make it in the summer.

I serve this salsa slightly warmed. Oh, it’s good.

Peach Salsa

2 pounds of fresh ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 peach, peeled, finely chopped
4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Have all of your tomatoes seeded and chopped before you start with this recipe. It doesn’t take long to make.

In a medium enameled pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir it in for about 30 seconds, then add the tomatoes.

After cooking for a minute, stir in the peach, cilantro, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

salsa4

Give everything a stir, and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes. There should be little or no liquid in the salsa.

Add the apple cider vinegar, stir, and cook for about 1 minute.

Then add the lemon juice. Stir to distribute evenly.

Remove the pot from the stove and let cool slightly before serving.

This warm, slightly fruit-sweetened salsa is really good with tortilla chips. But it’s also good on a basic cheese quesadilla.

Try out this salsa if you’re skeptical like I once was. You’ll taste the peach and the touch of cinnamon, but also the ripe tomatoes with Mexican seasonings.

And think about how much less expensive this salsa is to make at home!

Whole Lemon Dressing

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Typically, I don’t have the television on while I’m cooking. In fact, I typically listen to my favorite music playlists. That is, unless my husband is in the kitchen first. He will invariably, mindlessly, turn on the tv. Which is what happened one morning a few years ago.

The Rachael Ray show was on, and I’m not a fan, but I was too busy to change channels. She had Carla Hall on for a cooking segment, which only caught my attention because I’d seen her compete in Top Chef.

So I was only watching with one eye, so to speak, but I saw Carla do something interesting.

We’ve all combined citrus juices with olive oil and made dressings. But here is the thing. Carla put the WHOLE lemon into a blender for her dressing.

Here’s what I did to replicate her recipe, which I just knew I’d love!

Lemon Dressing

1 clean, organic lemon
Olive oil
Salt, to taste
Salad of your choice

To make the dressing, trim the lemon ends and quarter it.

lemm1

Place the pieces in a blender or food processor. Blend away until you can’t.

lemm2

Add about 1/2 cup of olive oil and a generous pinch of salt, and re-blend the mixture.

lemm3

Strain the dressing through a fine strainer into a medium bowl. What you’re left with is a thickened emulsified lemon dressing.

I chose a salad of greens with avocado and raspberries so the dressing could really shine. Plus a little chunk of Parmesan.

I’m not even that much of a lemon freak, but this dressing is superb. It’s powerfully lemon, but not tart or bitter like you’d think.

I’m definitely making this dressing again. Next time I’ll add some toasted walnuts and crumbled goat cheese to the salad!

I also really love lemon dressing on salads that are grain-based, so that might be my next move!

Rustic Tomato Galette

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I’ve always preferred rustic food presentations over fancier ones, but that’s probably because I lack artistry and patience to create more formal presentations.

A perfect example is a pie. I’d much rather make a galette, which must actually look like it’s haphazardly put together, instead of a pretty tart with glistening, criss-crossing lattice.

This is a perfect example – a plum galette made by Tasha, from Tasha’s Artisan Food. Stunning, in spite of its rusticity.

I’ve admired every blogger’s beautiful, summer fruit galettes lately on Instagram. But being that I’ll always choose savory over sweet, I’ve been thinking about how to turn a galette into a savory summer version. Tomatoes, of course!

So I created this galette reminiscent of a pizza marguerite. It’s simple, rustic, and flavorful.

And with summer-ripe tomatoes, it’s perfect for summer!

Rustic Tomato Galette

Pie dough to make a 10″ pie crust
1 cup basil-seasoned red sauce, well-reduced
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, sliced, seeded
8 ounces fresh mozzarella pearls
Salt, freshly ground green or black pepper
Grated Parmesan, about 6 ounces
1 egg, well whisked
Garlic pepper
Fresh basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread a piece of parchment paper over a cookie sheet and set aside.

Using a minimal amount of flour, roll out the pie dough until it forms approximate 15″ in diameter. Gently slide it onto the parchment paper.

Have everything ready to go because the galette goes together quickly. The tomatoes must have drained on paper towels so as not to water down the pie.

Begin by placing the red sauce in the middle of the pie crust and spread around to about 8″ in diameter.

Add tomato slices in a round for form one layer. Add some of the mozzarella pearls, and season with salt and pepper.

After you’ve used about half of your tomatoes and mozzarella pearls, season again, then sprinkle with half of the Parmesan.

Continue with the layering until all the tomatoes are used up. Add the remaining pearls, remaining Parmesan, and season.

Brush the inside of the pie crust extension with the egg wash. Gently fold over the dough over the tomatoes, about every 5″ or so, letting the dough tell you where to place it.

Brush the egg wash inside the folds and all over the top of the dough. I seasoned it with a little garlic pepper, but that is optional.

Place the galette in the oven and set the timer for 45-50 minutes. Probably a real baker would have chilled the galette in the refrigerator for 30 minutes first, but I was hungry.

Let the galette sit for at least 25 minutes; this will firm up the cheese before slicing into it.

I sprinkled a few basil leaves over the top, and a few wisteria blossoms as well!

When you’re ready to slice into the galette, use a long sharp knife or a pizza cutter.

I must say, I like my addition of the basil-seasoned red sauce. It not only adds more flavor, but also a different texture to this galette.

And the cheeses are perfect. Grated Parmesan is always perfect, but I think the mozzarella pearls are preferable to slices.

This tomato galette is summer perfection, if I may say so myself!