A Few of my Favorite Things 4-7-16

Sometimes it’s nice to take a step back from recipes and blogging and just share some recent food finds. Products that I love, or my kiddos love or make my crazed life a little easier.  Today’s finds come from a store with a never ending supply of cool stuff: Trader Joe’s.

First up is a wine that we absolutely fell in love with for Easter. In fact after just one sipped my husband remarked “Go buy a case of this!”  When I told him it was just $7.99/bottle, he said “Buy TWO cases!”  Indeed, I am very tempted to do this since wines at TJ’s tend to come and go (ie. Chariot).

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Vouvray

This chenin blanc from the Loire Valley is all sorts of floral and crisp with honey and pear tones. It was a perfect pair with our Easter ham. And the label remarks that it also pairs well with spicy or Indian food, which is quite a feat!  Perfect for patio sipping this summer so yes, if you spot it at Trader Joe’s or anywhere else get it while it’s hot!

Trader Joe's Asparagus Risotto

Of course Trader Joe’s is well known for their convenience foods and this Asparagus Risotto is a shining example of how they do convenience so well. In fact I will go out on a limb here and state it’s darned near as good as risotto made from scratch (which we all know is a labor of total culinary love).

This risotto has that perfect “bite” to the texture, yet creamy. I love the asparagus too, fresh and crisp, which is not what you would expect in a frozen meal. Cooks up in minutes in the microwave and makes a perfect meatless, meal. Or a nice side dish served with just about anything. And coincidentally, pairs very nicely with the Vouvray😉

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Something that does not probably pair well with any wine but is nevertheless over-the-top addicting: TJ’s Sriracha Potato Chips. Something I got for the teens and of course ended up practically licking the crumbs from the inside of the bag, they were so good.

I know some feel that Sriracha has overstayed its welcome in our world, along with kale, quinoa and chia seeds. Fine, well let me just state that I hope these chips never go away.  Or maybe they should go away because I need to stay away from chips. Ahhhh the torture!

Bottom line though is that these potato chips have just the right amount of smoky heat to please the palate. The lattice cut keeps them crisp and ready for dipping although I prefer them as is. Preferably by the handful or bag full.Mango Iced Tea

Last but not least let me please put in a plug for Trader Joe’s Mango Green Tea. We’ve been big fans of their Mango Lemonade and Mango Black Tea, so not a surprise, the mango green tea is fantastic as well!

LOVE that this has just 12g of sugar per serving (compare to 26g of sugar in Arizona “Mucho Mango” Tea).   Since I am not keen on soda, this is a great alternative for the family and the teens love it.

More favorite things to come but for now, the paying job calls.  Until next time, my friends.  Eat well!

Ann

 

Celebrating 600+ Likes and a Giveaway!

DIS 600 Likes

I am celebrating breaking  600 “likes” on my Facebook page today. As a thank you to all who support me, I am doing a little giveaway here and also on my Facebook page.  The winner gets to choose between a $20 gift card for Penzeys Spices OR my most favorite grill accessory: Steve Raichlen’s Beer Can Chicken Rack.

To enter just leave a comment here or on my Facebook page and let me know which prize you would choose and why. Deadline for entering is next Monday, April 4th at 5:00pm

And last but not least share Dinner Is Served with friends and family.  Next stop: 700!!

Ann

Dinner Is Served

Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Garlic and Rosemary

Pot Roast CoverThings that cause amateur food bloggers to fall off the wagon:

  • Full time job
  • Being a parent
  • Being a wrestling (or fill-in-the-blank sport) parent
  • winter/dark at 5:00/NO GOOD NATURAL LIGHT FOR PHOTOS!

Indeed a perfect storm of all the above have caused me to take a brief hiatus from blogging. But trust all is well, and slowly but surely I am getting back into the swing of things in the kitchen. Dusting off my faithful slow cooker and ready to share with you this  slow cooker pot roast recipe that I more or less pulled out of my hat last week.

A few years back, I was introduced  to Three Envelope Slow Cooker Pot Roast which is quite possibly THE easiest slow cooker recipe in the history of slow cookery.  My Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Garlic and Rosemary is a version of that roast. In place of the “three envelopes” I’ve chosen just one envelope of Knorr Au Jus Gravy, enhanced with a little tomato paste. I then piled on the vegetables because, well,  who wants to come home after a busy day and fuss with more food prep!?Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast 1

Because this is a “classic” pot roast, I stuck to the basics: carrots, onions, parsnips and potatoes. The vegetables take on a wonderful flavor after cooking low and slow all day long.

Flavor enhancements are a must! I like to rub my chuck roast with a simple savory rub comprised of salt, pepper, granulated onion and garlic. All pantry staples!Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast 3

And finally to top it off, fresh rosemary and chopped fresh garlic. If rosemary is a deal breaker for you, fresh thyme makes an excellent substitute.Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast 5

Last but not least, check out my Time Saving Tips at the end of the recipe, with “make ahead” suggestions and product recommendations. Enjoy and happy cooking!

Pot Roast Cover 2

Classic Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Garlic and Rosemary

1 2 ½-3 pound boneless chuck roast

1 tsp Kosher salt

½ tsp each: pepper, granulated onion and granulated garlic

1 tsp olive oil

1 packet Knorr Au Jus Gravy

1 ½ cups water

1 tsp tomato paste

1 cup sliced sweet onion, about 1/2 of a large

1 # red skinned potatoes (about 4 large), scrubbed and cut into 1 ½-inch pieces

2 cups peeled and coarsely chopped carrots

1  to 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped parsnips, about one medium

1 TBS chopped fresh garlic

5-6 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 bay leaf

1 TBS cornstarch

1 TBS red wine or water

Chopped fresh chives (optional)

Combine salt, pepper and granulated onion and garlic in a small bowl to blend. Pat chuck roast dry with a paper towel and sprinkle spice blend all over roast.  In a large skillet, heat olive oil until shimmering.  Brown roast on both sides until well browned, about five minutes per side.

While roast is browning, combine au jus mix and water, whisking to combine.  Add tomato paste and whisk.

Place onions, a few rosemary sprigs and bay leaf on the bottom of a slow cooker. Place browned roast on top.  Scatter carrots, potatoes and parsnips around roast.  Pour au jus gravy mix on and around roast. Scatter chopped garlic on top and place remaining rosemary sprigs on top.

Cook on low for at least 8 hours or up to 9 ½ hours.

Using a large slotted spoon or strainer, carefully remove roast and vegetables to a platter (make sure all rosemary stalks and bay leaf are removed). Tent with foil to keep warm.  Strain and de-grease liquid and transfer to a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Whisk cornstarch and wine in a small bowl, then whisk into gravy.  Continue to simmer until slightly thickened, about five minutes.  Add additional salt and pepper to the gravy if necessary.

Break apart roast using a fork.  Sprinkle chives over all and serve with hot gravy.

Serves 4-5

time_saving

  • Onions, garlic, carrots and parsnips can all be chopped the night before. Just store in a zipper bag in the fridge
  • Peeled baby carrots can be used in place of whole carrots
  • The seasoning mix and gravy can both be mixed the night before. Store seasonings at room temperature and refrigerate the gravy.
  • Tired of throwing away unused tomato paste from a can? Try Savory Spice Shop’s Tomato Powder. Just dilute with water to whip up a little paste or sauce.  Keeps well in the fridge for months, so you can have quick tomato paste on hand whenever you need it!
  • While you’re checking out the Savory Spice Shop site, try a bottle of their Onion & Garlic Tableside Sprinkle. You can use 1 tsp of the blend in place of the granulated onion and garlic in this recipe. It’s salt free, so also a great way to add a dash of flavor for those on sodium restricted diets!

Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Garlic & Rosemary - Dinner Is Served

Holiday Hot Crab Dip

Holiday Hot Crab Dip  2 Dinner Is ServedI wanted to end 2015 with a treasured family recipe and can’t think of a better one than this Hot Crab Dip which was a specialty of my late mother-in-law, Jean.  Christmas was the holiday she pulled out all the stops with a house filled with family and friends. Her appetizer buffet was always a bounty of sweet and savory treats.

We were blessed to have that time with her, and I continue to be blessed this holiday season. Although not as grand in scale, my Christmas Day was filled with the love of family:Christmas 2015 CollageAnd of course great food!Christmas 2015 1Christmas 2015 2 Of all of Jean’s recipes, her hot crab dip remains one of my favorites. So rich and creamy. And always served from the copper chaffing dish she passed down to me (pictured above in upper right hand corner).  And always served with one of my most guilty pleasures in life: Fritos Corn Chips.Christmas 2015 3Really?

Yes, really.  Trust me this is one of those culinary matches made in heaven. And though Fritos may not fall under anyone’s definition of “fine dining” Jean’s hot crab dip will never be served with anything but!

This recipe is pretty straightforward, so I am not going to bother with photos of the ingredients or a lengthy discussion of cooking techniques (mainly because there are none involved!)  My only comment to you is an insistence that you use real crab meat, preferably chilled, fresh lump crab meat. I’ve had crab dip on occasion made with imitation crab meat, which to me is just a cheap, rubbery substitute.

Finally, keep in mind this is very rich, so a little goes a long way. Last night I doubled the recipe for 8 people and we still had some leftover!

And with this, I bid adieu to 2015.  Being able to share my passion for good food is a great gift that is impossible without your support and words of praise.  Hoping that 2016 brings much health and happiness to all of you and of course many many memorable meals and time spent with the ones you love!

Ann Baker

Dinner Is Served

December, 2015

Holiday Hot Crab Dip

  • 1-8 ounce package of cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp grated onion
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Dash seasoned salt (see Note>)
  • 5-6 oz. fresh crab meat
  • 3 TBS white wine or sherry

Melt the cream cheese over low heat until creamy.  Add remaining ingredients, adding wine or sherry one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency. Stir until just heated through and well combined. Serve hot with corn chips. Can be made ahead of time and reheated over very low heat.

Serves 4

Note> I’m a big fan of Penzey’s 4S Seasoned Salt Blend which has a nice delicate balance of flavor. Available at Penzey’s stores or online.

 

 

Hummus with Parsley Oil and Pine Nuts

Hummus with Parsley Oil and Pine Nuts 6 Dinner Is ServedAs we pass the halfway point in the month of wining and dining excesses (which shall heretofore be referred to as “the holidays), I thought it would be nice to take a little break and enjoy a little hummus. Time to step away from the peppermint bark, the fudge and fruitcake, eggnog lattes and gingerbread martinis.  Besides who doesn’t love hummus?  Especially THIS hummus!Hummus with Parsley Oil and Pine Nuts 8 Dinner Is ServedThis is a recipe I perfected long before hummus and pita chips became mass produced and ultimately, ubiquitous. Back in my personal chef days, I was a virtual one-woman assembly line, quadrupling this recipe and cranking out homemade pita chips like no one’s business. So popular was my hummus that upon introducing myself to another mom at a little league game, she exclaimed “Your name sounds so familiar.  You…you make something don’t you?”  I asked her if she was referring to hummus and she replied with an enthusiastic “YES!!! Yes, you’re the hummus person!”

I guess there are worst things to be famous for, right?

I have been asked what makes my hummus so good.  The parsley infused oil and toasted pine nuts are an obvious. They make it pretty. Different.  But beyond the obvious, there are a few pointers that I can offer from my vast experience of hummus-making:

  1. Use fresh ingredientsHummus with Parsley Oil and Pine Nuts Dinner Is ServedI know this tip sounds beyond obvious, but it deserves mention as we’re often tempted to cut corners. With this recipe, “fresh” means real lemons (not bottled lemon juice, fresh garlic (not from a jar), good quality olive oil, etc.
  1. Smash that garlic! This will bring out the full essence of the garlic and, it is kind of fun watching your going from this:IMAG0166

To this:IMAG0167

  1. Last but not least, process it WELL. Just when you think it’s smooth enough, process it some more. Not creamy enough?  Add a little extra water. Not zingy enough?  Add a little extra lemon juice.  Not rich enough?  Add some extra olive oil.   Process, taste, then process some more.  Your goal is a perfectly smooth, perfectly balanced final product:Hummus with Parsley Oil and Pine Nuts 2 Dinner Is Served

Everything here can be prepped well in advance then assembled at the last minute, making it perfect for holiday parties and gatherings.  And someday you too can join Hummus “royalty.”

š Hummus with Parsley Infused Oil  ›and Pine Nuts

  • 4 large cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 1-lb. 3 oz. cans chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • 2/3 cup well stirred tahini* (See Note>)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 Tbs. pine nuts

On a cutting board mince and mash the garlic and salt to a paste using a chef knife.  In a food processor, puree the chick peas with the garlic paste, tahini, lemon juice, 1/4 cup of the oil, and 1/2 cup water, scraping down the sides, until the hummus is smooth.  Add salt to taste.  Add additional water, olive oil and/or lemon juice, if necessary, to thin the hummus to desired consistency. Transfer to a bowl.

In the food processor, cleaned, puree the remaining 1/4 cup oil with the parsley until the oil is bright green and the parsley is minced; transfer the oil to a small jar. Or alternatively, mince the fresh parsley on a cutting board.  Add to the oil to combine.

Toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until fragrant and lightly browned (keep a close eye on the pine nuts as they can go from lightly browned to burned in a matter of minutes!)

Hummus, oil and pine nuts can be made 3 days in advance.  Cover and chill hummus and oil.  Cover nuts and keep at room temperature.

To serve, let dip and oil come to room temperature (about 30 minutes).  Place dip in a shallow serving dish.  Drizzle with parsley oil and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.  Serve with Toasted Pita Thins, fresh veggies or tortilla chips.

Yield> About 4 cups of hummus

Note> Tahini, or sesame seed paste, is a staple of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. It is often located in the ethnic section of most grocery stores, although sometimes locating it can be tricky. Sometimes I’ve located it in the same aisle as peanut butter!  It will separate in the jar, so be sure to give it a good stir before adding to the hummus. You can store an open jar of hummus in your fridge for several weeks.

Hummus with Parsley Oil and Pine Nuts Dinner Is Served Pinterest

Savory Slow Cooker Turkey Breast

Savory Slow Cooker Turkey Breast | Dinner Is ServedPretty sure I have mentioned on more than one occasion that I have a small kitchen, with about 5 ft. of usable but non-continuous counter space. It’s something that to be honest, I use to complain about. A lot.  But as with many struggles in life, you grow to accept the limitations, and these days instead of complaining, I just find creative ways of dealing with it.

That said, Thanksgiving has always proven to be a challenge. Definitely “think outside the box” time. And more than ever the appliance for which I am most thankful is my slow cooker.Savory Slow Cooker Turkey Breast | Dinner Is Served

In the past, I’ve put mine to use for preparing and serving mashed potatoes. ( Highly recommend this recipe from Cooking Classy! )  I’ve also put my smaller cooker to use to keep gravy warm.

This year with a larger-than-average group assembling at my house and most of them white-meat lovers, I’ve decided to cook an extra turkey breast in..you guessed it: the slow cooker!Savory Slow Cooker Turkey Breast 2 Dinner Is Served

You’ll definitely want to boost the flavor a bit and for that, I love this garlic and rosemary paste.Savory Slow Cooker Turkey Breast 3 Dinner Is Served

Just spread a little underneath the skin and again on top of the breast after browning. It adds just the right amount of savory touch.

Really that’s all there is too it.  Just simmer away in some chicken stock for about 5-6 hours. You can make slice the breast ahead of time and re-heat. Added bonus too: the reserved liquid makes a fantastic gravy (instructions follow recipe).

Of course you can make a slow cooker turkey breast any day of the year! But especially on Thanksgiving, if you are also blessed with a small kitchen, large crowd and need a little extra turkey to serve, this recipe is a lifesaver.

Savory Slow Cooker Turkey Breast 4 Dinner Is Served

Savory Slow Cooker Turkey Breast

  • 1 bone-in or boneless (rolled and tied) fresh turkey breast (about 5#)
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 TBS fresh minced rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 4 TBS olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup roughly chopped celery
  • 1 cup roughly chopped onion
  • 3/4 cups chicken or turkey stock

Puree the garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper & paprika in a mini food processor. Add 2 TBS of the olive oil ad process until a paste forms (this can also be done with a mortar and pestle).

Rinse the breast under cold water and pat thoroughly dry with paper towels.

Using your fingers, loosen the skin on the turkey breast and spread about half of the paste onto the meat, distributing evenly. Pull skin back over meat (use toothpicks to secure skin if necessary). Sprinkle with a little extra salt and pepper.

Heat the remaining 2 TBS olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear turkey breast on all sides until golden.

Place celery and onions in the bottom of the slow cooker. Place turkey on top of vegetables, breast side up. Spread remaining paste over top of breast, distributing evenly.  Pour in chicken broth.  Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours, until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.

Remove breast from slow cooker and let rest for about 10 minutes before slicing.

Serves 6

~~~~~~~~For Gravy~~~~~~~~

Strain the solids from the slow cooker and skim off any fat. You should have about 1-2 cups of stock,  Add additional chicken or turkey stock to bring to 4 cups. Bring to a simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes. Keep warm.

In a second saucepan, melt 2 TBS unsalted butter over medium heat. Whisk in 2 TBS all-purpose flour and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes or until mixture is golden.  Slowly whisk in reserved stock, whisking constantly, until smooth.

Reduce heat to low and simmer gravy, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened. If desired, add in a few drops of Kitchen Bouquet® in for a deep rich brown color.  Season to taste, adding additional salt and black pepper if desired.

Perfectly Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Perfectly Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Dinner Is Served

I seriously LIVE for these.  Halloween to me is not about dressing up, trick or treating, candy, haunted houses. Nope, it’s all about the seeds my friends.

The family is hooked as well and a batch of roasted pumpkin seeds will last a day, if that.  I suppose there are far worse things to be addicted to.  Perhaps it’s a blessing they come around but once a year.

Perfectly Roasted Pumpkin Seeds 2

Either way, should you find yourself in the carving mode this week here is my ultra simple and foolproof method for roasted pumpkin seeds.

~PERFECTLY ROASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS~

  • Seeds from about 2 large pumpkins, separated from flesh
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher Salt
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 large sheet pan

Place seeds in a large bowl and cover with water. Swish around a few times to remove any excess pulp.  Drain.  Spread seeds out on sheet pan in one layer (using two pans if necessary).  Pat dry with paper towels.  Leave at room temperature, uncovered, for 24 hours, tossing occasionally.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Transfer seeds to a large mixing bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil then sprinkle with salt and a few pinches of cayenne pepper.  Gently combine with your hands.

Transfer seeds back to the sheet pan.  Place in the center rack in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and stir.  Return to oven and continue to roast and stir about every 5 minutes until just golden (my seeds usually take about 40 minutes in total, but all ovens vary so best to just check on them every couple minutes).

Remove from oven and let cool slightly then devour.

Perfectly Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - Dinner Is Served

Linguine with Sun Dried Tomatoes

Linguine with Sun-Dried Tomatoes 1

With fall approaching peak splendor and the final bunches of herbs being picked, I find myself reflecting on the my little backyard garden.  I am  always happy for our successes but the failures nag at me.  Sometimes overshadowing the good and causing me to rethink just about every move I made. And of course there’s the cursed weather. Too much rain, not enough rain, too hot, too cool a spring. WHY CAN’T IT EVER BE PERFECT!

Last year I was lamenting our dismal crop of tomatoes (see Spice Rubbed Chicken with Fresh Tomato, Olive & Basil Salad made with tomatoes not from my garden).  This year?  COMPLETELY different story.  The tomato gods cooperated and the  produced a bumper crop!Linguine with Sun Dried Tomatoes

An interesting variety too, although I can’t remember the specific name but for about a 4-week period, the plants produced a near record amount of sweet, little Roma-shaped fruits that ended up in salads and salsas. In hopes of preserving these little gems beyond harvest time, we turned to our old, trusty Ronco Food Dehydrator and got busy.Linguine with Sun-Dried Tomatoes 2

Seasoned with a little dried herbs and packed with extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs, these chewy tomatoes have a burst of intense tomato flavor in every bite.Linguine with Sun-Dried Tomatoes 4

Oil packed tomatoes have countless uses but our favorite way to enjoy them is very simply with linguine, garlic and a little parsley. It’s a dish we used to cook frequently back in our downtown-Chicago-condo-no kids days. Although back then we used store bought brand oil packed dried tomatoes. And hey, nothing wrong with that! Just be sure you select a top notch brand (our favorite after much trial and error, is still California Sun-Dry Brand).

I still recommend trying your hand at drying tomatoes at home.  You will be amazed how easy it is and how even with off-season grocery store tomatoes, you can achieve fresh, intense flavor.  Having a dehydrator is handy, but your oven and a baking sheet work just as well.  Instructions for drying your own tomatoes at home come after the recipe.

Other than canning sauce this is the next best way (in my opinion) to preserve the summer tomato bounty. It was a good harvest indeed.

So what’s up next at Dinner is Served? Hint: I got out my slow cooker today ;) Linguine with Sun-Dried Tomatoes 3

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  • 12 ounces dried linguine pasta
  • 1 jar (about 8 oz.) oil-packed sun dried tomatoes
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, very thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or basil
  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Drain tomatoes and reserve oil. Place about 2 TBS of the reserved oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add sliced garlic and saute just until fragrant, under 1 minute (do not let the garlic brown). Add reserved tomatoes and turn heat to low. Stir to combine then turn off heat and cover pan.

In the meantime, cook linguine according to package directions until al dente. Drain pasta but do not rinse.  Add pasta and parsley to the pan with the tomatoes and the garlic, stirring to combine.  Add additional reserved oil if desired, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Serves 2 as a meatless entree, or 4 as a side dish


~How to Make Dried Tomatoes at Home~

  • About 6 cups fresh cherry tomatoes
  • Italian seasoning blend, about 1 TBS
  • Kosher salt
  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • Sprigs of fresh basil or thyme

Prepare the tomatoes by cutting each in half, trimming out the core in the middle. Using a paring knife, carefully scrape seeds from each tomato. Sprinkle each tomato half with some of the herb mixture and a pinch of salt.

DEHYDRATOR METHOD

Arrange tomatoes cut side up onto drying trays.Linguine with Sun Dried Tomatoes Dry for about 4-5 hours, then turn halves over and press flat with our finger or a spoon and return to drying.  Check occasionally, rotating racks and removing tomatoes that are finished.  Finished tomatoes should be dried, but still pliable and chewy.

OVEN METHOD

Preheat oven to 170°. Arrange tomato halves, cut side up on a rack set inside a sheet pan). Bake for about 10 hours, checking every couple of hours or so and flipping over if necessary. Depending size of tomatoes, they may take longer to dry.  Just make sure they are shriveled but still chewy.

Place dried tomatoes in a glass jar.   Add in a few sprigs of basil or thyme, then pour in olive oil to cover. Cover jar and store in refrigerator if not using within 24 hours.

Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Feta

Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Feta Dinner Is ServedWhile I love each and every recipe that I post, I must say that the ones I create entirely in my mind, with ingredients grown in my garden are my most favorite. When I can incorporate some personal pieces into the photos, even better! In this post,  the ceramic dishes in the photos are pieces my son made in class last year and the weathered wood is a picnic table my husband made years ago.

Featured in this recipe are tomatoes, cucumbers, mint and parsley..all from my garden which has had a pretty terrific late season surge in productivity.Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Feta 2

Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & FetaI have been making versions of this salad all summer long, but with the tomatoes and cucumbers in abundance, that seemed like a winning combination. Chickpeas add a nice texture a healthy dose of fiber:Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Feta 6And yes there must always be cheese! With cucumbers and mint in the dish, that says “Greek” to me, so feta was the logical choice.

The one ingredient that may throw you a bit is the farro. Trader Joe's FarroThis very ancient grain has enjoyed a renaissance here in the U.S. thanks to the focus on whole grains. It’s deliciously nutty and has a nice bite to it.  While it may not have the same kind of name recognition as “quinoa,” it’s made its way to Trader Joe’s lineup which means fame and fortune are not far behind. Note that TJ’s farro is a “quick cook” variety (ready in just 15 minutes!)  Other brands and types of farro grains may take longer.

The final element of this dish is a very simple sherry vinaigrette dressing.  If you don’t have sherry vinegar on hand, apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar are good substitutes.Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Feta 3

As with most grain salads, this can be made ahead and held at room temperature (without the cheese) for up to two hours.  Just toss the cheese in before serving. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for several days and make a wonderful lunch or side dish.  Finally, if you’re craving more protein than just the cheese, feel free to toss in some grilled chicken strips or shrimp or whatever you have on hand.

This one has Dinner Is Served’s name written all over it. Enjoy!

Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Feta Dinner Is Served Cover

Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Feta

  • 1 cup quick cooking faro
  • 1 cup diced fresh tomatoes (seeded)
  • 1 cup diced fresh cucumber (peeled and seeded)
  • 1 cup drained chick peas (aka garbanzo beans)
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 TBS chopped fresh mint
  • 2 TBS sherry vinegar
  • 6 TBS extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper

Cook farro according to package directions (for Trader Joe’s brand, simmer in 2 cups lightly salted water, covered, for ten minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Drain excess water).

After farro has cooked, place on a sheet pan or in a large bowl to cool down to room temperature.  While farro is cooling, make sherry vinaigrette by whisking sherry vinegar and olive oil in a bowl. Season with a little salt and pepper and set aside.

Combine the farro with the tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, chick peas, fresh herbs and feta cheese (if serving right away). Toss gently.  Drizzle just enough of the dressing to flavor the salad but not drown it.  Add additional salt and pepper if desired.

Yields: About 3 people as a meatless main, 4-5 as a side dish

Creamy Buttermilk Dressing with Lime and Cilantro

Creamy Buttermilk Ranch Dressing with Lime and Cilantro1With one child already starting school, and another starting in a week, I’m beginning to feel the emotional let down of summer’s end.  Then Labor Day up in Wisconsin and the quiet rite of summer passage: swim rafts being towed ashore for their winter storage.

Some years I beg for fall to come. Those years when Chicago bakes under the hot August sun and sucks every last bit of energy out of me.  Then, there are summers like this: a bit of a rocky start in June, but July and August, oh my. Only a handful of days in the 90+ range. Cool nights spent on the patio. Just enough rain to keep my garden lush.

Please can we just make it last a bit longer?

Or perhaps, I’ll just continue to cook like it’s summer. And fresh salads certainly bring summer into the kitchen and are deserving of the most refreshing dressing (SOMETHING NOT IN A BOTTLE!).  Which brings me to this cool buttermilk ranch dressing that I could literally eat with a spoon (not ashamed).

It begins with the simplest of ingredients, most of which you probably already have on hand:IMAG1892

What takes this dressing to the next level though, is the lime/cilantro combination. Oh so good:IMAG1895

By the way, if you don’t have one of these fancy lime juicers  ^^, you’re missing out on one of the greatest kitchen gadgets that ever lived! Also note the custom Dinner Is Served cutting board (available online at Personalizationmall.Com  A birthday gift from my sister.

It all comes together so quickly and so easily. Just throw everything into the blender or food processor (my Ninja blender does a fantastic job).  The result is a cool, tangy dressing that can serve as a salad dressing or as a dip for fresh vegetables, chicken tenders or wings, poached shrimp. I know the phrase “the possibilities are endless” is overused but in this case it really does apply!Creamy Buttermilk Dressing with Lime and CilantroSo yes summer, I’m talking to YOU!  Even if you’re heading out of town soon, I can still imagine your presence in my kitchen each and every day.

Creamy Buttermilk Dressing with Lime and Cilantro

3/4 cups mayonnaise (either light or regular)

3/4 cup Greek-style yogurt

2 TBS fresh lime juice

1/3 cup buttermilk

1 TBS olive oil

1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

2 TBS coarsely chopped fresh chives

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Keep refrigerated until serving.

Yields: About 2 cups of dressing