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

Farmers Market Penne Pasta with Grilled Vegetables, Blue Cheese & Basil

Farmers Market Penne Pasta with Grilled Vegetables, Blue Cheese & Basil| Dinner Is Served

Ahhh sweet corn season is upon us. FINALLY!  And the little cherry tomatoes in my garden are just coming ripe.  The basil is flourishing.  Those of us who suffer through long winters with tasteless produce flown in from far away lands, well we LIVE for the summer bounty.

I am forever looking for creative ways to combine my farm finds.  Many of my meals this time of year consist of an  impromptu combination of vegetables, fruits and fresh herbs.  Often grilled. Sometimes roasted or raw.  Combined with grains or various cheeses and herbs. Salads become crazy concoctions of fruit and greens.  Toss out the measuring cups and recipes kind of cooking.

This pasta dish started with some of the sweet corn we brought home from Wisconsin last weekend.
Farmers Market Grilled Vegetable Pasta 1Farners Market Grilled Vegetable Pasta 2Freshly shucked. A blank slate as it were. With nothing immediate coming to mind, I decided to rummage around the fridge.   Ah ha!  Some cute little sweet peppers. Both perfect for the grill. Now I was getting somewhere.  A few little cherry tomatoes from my garden would add some color and freshness. Some blue cheese the spouse picked up from our local French Market.  Well yeah, I think that would work!  The dish was coming together nicely. Just needed to add a bit of carb and finish it off with fresh basil from my garden.Farmers Pasta 5

The prep here is so easy.  Just brush the peppers and corn with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Medium heat works well for veggies on the grill but careful monitoring and frequent turning and checking for hot spots is always a good plan.Farmers Market Grilled Vegetable Pasta 3

Once the vegetables are nicely charred. Let them rest a bit to cool, then chop the peppers and cut the kernels off the corn. The rest is a piece of cake except that cake baking is hard and this is not!  Just toss with some cooked pasta, fresh tomatoes, crumbled blue cheese (or another cheese of your choice) and slivered basil.  I like to finish my pasta with a simple drizzle of olive oil and serve warm or at room temp. If you happen to have some basil-infused olive oil on hand, all the better.

As for substitutions?  You bet!  You can substitute or add almost any fresh summer vegetable to this dish.  Summer squashes, eggplant and onions would be great additions/substitutions.  Larger tomatoes can also be charred on the grill and added.  If you want to go the meat route, some sliced grilled chicken goes well with this pasta. As does a nice glass of chardonnay.Farmers Pasta 3

Enjoy summer in all its glory.  Even if your meals end up a little crazy :pFarmers Market Pasta with Grilled Vegetables Cover 2

Farmers Market Penne Pasta with Grilled Vegetables Blue Cheese & Basil

  • 8 oz. dried penne pasta (regular or whole wheat)
  • 4 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked
  • 2 cups of mini sweet peppers
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 cup slivered fresh basil
  • Extra virgin olive oil (or basil-infused olive oil)
  • Kosher salt and coarse ground pepper to taste

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium.  Lightly brush all sides of corn and peppers with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place on grill and cook until charred, checking frequently and turning as necessary.  Remove from grill and let cool to room temperature.

In the meantime, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and toss with a few drops of olive oil to prevent sticking.

Cut the stems off of the peppers and chop (no need to seed the mini peppers).  Using a chef knife, carefully cut the kernels away from the corn.  Combine with the pasta then add the tomatoes.

Add the blue cheese, then swirl in a little olive oil just to coat and flavor the ingredients.  Add additional salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with slivered basil.  May be served warm or at room temperature.  Refrigerate leftovers for a wonderful pasta salad the next day!

Serves 2-3 as a meal or about 4 as a side dish.

Strawberry Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese and Honey Lemon Dressing

Strawerry Arugula Salad with Honey Lemon Vinaigrette | Dinner Is ServedI have always had a weird love/dislike thing going on with fruit. When it’s fresh and in season, I can’t get enough of it.  When it’s not, I don’t even bother. This is especially true with berries and ESPECIALLY true with strawberries. They’re such a tease in the off season, too, aren’t they?  Always vibrant red and beautifully formed, flown in “fresh” from somewhere in South America.  Yet the taste is forever a disappointment and unless they’re drenched in sugar, you might as well be eating a cereal box.

My summer salvation?  Turners Fresh Market in Waupaca, Wisconsin.

Turners Farm Waupaca, Wisconsin

Located just about ten minutes from my family’s cottage on the beautiful Waupaca Chain O’ Lakes.  My childhood summers were spent going to Turners for fresh, locally grown berries, corn and melons. I can’t say that I loved or appreciated the fresh strawberries as a child but now as an adult, I treasure them.

Strawberry Arugula Salad Dinner Is Served 2

This year, they were the inspiration for this wonderfully fresh salad I made last night with ingredients I happened to have on hand in the fridge: organic arugula and crumbled goat cheese from Trader Joes.  Just needed a simple little lemon vinaigrette with a touch of honey for added sweetness, to finish. Lemon Honey Vinaigrette Dressing | Dinner Is ServedLemon Honey Vinaigrette Dressing | Dinner Is Served

In my morning after “post game” analysis, I decided that some slivered almonds would be a nice addition. I also think any kind of berries could be substituted for the strawberries as long as they’re fresh and sweet.  And of course the dislikers of arugula can substitute baby spinach or the tried and true “spring mix.”

Bottom line is that with fruit season up and running across the country, now is THE perfect time to visit your local farmers markets and add fruit to your salads!Strawberry Arugula Salad | Dinner Is Served

Strawberry Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese and Honey Lemon Dressing

Salad

  • 4-5 ounces arugula (preferably organic)
  • 1 cup fresh strawberries, halved (or quartered if large) (see Note>)
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 2 TBS slivered almonds toasted (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Dressing

  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine ingredients for dressing in a glass jar and shake to combine. Adjust seasonings as necessary.

For salad, place all ingredients in a bowl.  Drizzle some of the dressing over and very lightly toss.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Note> This salad works best with very sweet, farm fresh strawberries.  If preparing in the off season, toss berries with a little bit of sugar and let stand for about 30 minutes before adding to salad.

Romaine Wedge Salad with Creamy Gorgonzola Dressing and Garlic-Parmesan Toasts

Romaine Wedge Salad with Creamy Gorgonzola Dressing and Garlic-Parmesan Toasts

How odd, yet not unlike me, to vividly remember my first experience with a wedge salad. It was 2003, our first time ever in Walt Disney World, a late night dinner after a very long day of travel. My children were running on excitement overload.

I just wanted a decent meal.

I promptly ordered the first item on the menu: an iceberg lettuce wedge salad with blue cheese dressing. I wasn’t sure how much a wedge of lettuce would thrill me but let me just say that salad..THAT SALAD! Cold and crunchy, draped in a rich creamy dressing. Forget about getting the Little Mermaid’s autograph, I had already found my magic at Disney World.

When BelGioioso asked me to create a special holiday salad using one or two of their cheeses, I knew a creamy gorgonzola dressing would take center stage. And what better way to showcase this dressing than serve it over a wedge of cold, crisp romaine lettuce.  The dressing I created features their CreamyGorg® which is a multi award winning creamy, gorgonzola cheese. Its richness provides the perfect counterpart to the chilled romaine lettuce, bright tomatoes and salty pancetta. An Italian twist on the iceberg wedge salad I first enjoyed years ago.

Romaine Wedge Salad with Creamy Gorgonzola Dressing and Garlic-Parmesan Toasts

Romaine Wedge Salad with Creamy Gorgonzola Dressing and Garlic-Parmesan Toasts

I also love a little toasty bread with my salads, but croutons don’t really work with the wedge concept. Instead, I decided on little garlic toasts featuring BelGioioso’s American Grana®. Seriously, I nearly devoured the entire batch before I could get a photo.

Romaine Wedge Salad with Creamy Gorgonzola Dressing and Garlic-Parmesan Toasts

This salad is perfect for holiday entertaining.  The presentation is unique and has that “wow” factor. All the elements of the salad can be made well in advance. Just assemble and serve on chilled plates.  Also, consider making a double batch of the dressing and serving it with fresh vegetables as an appetizer.

Like Disney World for the first time, it’s pure magic.

Enjoy!

Romaine Wedge Salad with Creamy Gorgonzola Dressing and Garlic-Parmesan Toasts

Dressing

½ cup BelGioiso® CreamyGorg® Cheese (Gorgonzola Dolce), rind removed

⅓ cup mayonnaise

⅓ cup crème fraiche (or sour cream)

⅓ cup buttermilk

1 large clove garlic, minced

2 tsp white wine vinegar

Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper

 Salad

2 medium heads of romaine lettuce

1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered

½ small red onion, thinly sliced

4 oz. diced pancetta

1 TBS finely chopped fresh chives

 Garlic Toasts

1 demi baguette (or ½ of a regular sized loaf)

4 TBS unsalted butter, softened

¼ cup grated BelGioioso® American Grana® (Extra Aged Parmesan Cheese)

1 small clove of garlic, minced

1 TBS chopped fresh parsley

Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper

For dressing, place ⅓ cup of the gorgonzola cheese in a medium bowl (reserve remaining cheese to sprinkle on salad).  Mash with a fork until creamy. Add remaining ingredients. Using a wire whisk, blend ingredients until smooth and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. For best results, let dressing chill overnight.

Brown pancetta in a skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels to cool.

For salad, trim the leafy ends and stem off each head of lettuce. Remove any tough outer leaves and cut each head in half, lengthwise. Rinse under cool water and thoroughly dry. Wrap in paper towels and place in gallon, zipper bags, squeezing out excess air. Refrigerate for an hour or two until well chilled (lettuce will also stay fresh if stored like this for several days).

While lettuce is chilling, prepare garlic toasts. Preheat oven to 425°. Slice baguette on the diagonal into long, thin slices. Combine butter, Parmesan cheese, garlic and parsley in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread butter mixture onto each slice of bread. Place, butter side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until just golden, about 5-6minutes. Remove and set aside.

To assemble salad, lay romaine hearts on a chilled serving platter or individual salad plates. Top with tomatoes and onions. Pour dressing over, then top with crumbled pancetta, the remainder of the gorgonzola cheese (crumbled), and the chopped chives. Serve with garlic toasts on the side.

Serves 4

TIPS and IDEAS

  • The key to any wedge salad is to have all the ingredients well chilled and assembled just before serving. If possible, chill salad plates as well.
  • Pre-packaged romaine spears may also be used as well. Rinse and chill as described in the recipe.
  • To tame the bite of raw onions, let the slices soak in a bowl of ice water for about ten minutes. Drain and add to salad.
  • To lighten up the dressing a bit, substitute reduced fat mayonnaise and/or sour cream.
  • Dressing and salad ingredients can all be prepared ahead. For the toasts, the Garlic/Parmesan butter may be prepared up to a week in advance and stored in the refrigerator or frozen. Bring to room temperature before spreading on bread and baking.
  • The Creamy Gorgonzola Dressing makes a wonderful dip for fresh vegetables, crackers, chips or even Buffalo Wings. Feel free to add some fresh parsley or chives for color and even a pinch of cayenne pepper.

 

Grilled Potato & Zucchini Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Grilled Potato & Zucchini Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette | Dinner Is ServedI appear to have a complete obsession with potatoes lately.  For the life of me, I can’t tell  you why they have been popping up here on my blog page with such regularity other than the fact that I have always loved potatoes and keep coming up with new and different ways to enjoy them!  I also love grilling summer vegetables, so it just seemed natural to bring these two together with some fresh herbs and a tangy mustard vinaigrette dressing.   I also wised up and FINALLY (after, what, 20+ years of serious cooking), purchased a gorgeous, stainless steel Weber® grill pan.  I can already tell we’re going to be best friends for life:

Grilled Potato & Zucchini Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette | Dinner Is Served

I also made a decent sized batch of my favorite Mustard Vinaigrette dressing using a nearly empty jar of TJ’s Dijon mustard.  Just add the ingredients to the jar (minus the mustard of course because it’s already in the jar) and give it a few good shakes.  This vinaigrette will keep for a good two weeks in the fridge and is perfect not only for salads, but grilled vegetables and as a marinade.

Food prep here is quick and silly simple.  Just par boil some potatoes for about 15 minutes

Grilled Potato & Zucchini Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Drain and while the potatoes are cooling, cut up some fresh summer zucchini, or any other kind of squash of your preference.  Toss with some olive oil, garlic salt and pepper:

Grilled Potato & Zucchini Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Cut up the cooled potatoes and repeat with the garlic salt, pepper and olive oil.  Then onto the grill it goes, until lightly charred.  Toss with just enough of the dressing to flavor the salad and serve immediately warm, or you can also serve at room temperature.

Grilled Potato & Zucchini Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Served this last night with a fabulous Red Wine & Coffee Marinated Sirloin Steak from Fine Cooking Magazine and a nice Cotes du Rhone from Trader Joes (2013 Laurent DuBlanc).  All in all, one fine meal.   I love you, potatoes and new grill pan.  BFF’s 4EVER ♥

Grilled Potato & Zucchini Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:

1 TBS Dijon mustard

3 TBS white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar

1 medium garlic clove, crushed

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper to taste

For the salad:

1 3/4 pounds of new potatoes, scrubbed

2 medium zucchini squash

Fresh herbs (basil, thyme, tarragon or parsley)

Garlic salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Extra Virgin olive oil

Place all the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a glass jar.  Cover and shake until emulsified.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place the potatoes in a sauce pan with cold water and a pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until just barely tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain and rinse under cool water.  Set aside to cool.

While potatoes are cooling, slice zucchini crosswise into 1 1/2-inch pieces, then cut each piece in half.  Toss with some olive oil,  garlic salt and pepper.

Cut small potatoes in half or quarter if large.  In a separate bowl, toss with olive oil, garlic salt and pepper.

Preheat a grill pan for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat.  When hot, add zucchini and potatoes.  Grill, turning occasionally, until lightly charred, about 10 minutes.

Remove from grill and place in a serving bowl.  Toss with a few TBS of the vinaigrette and some fresh herbs.  Season with additional salt and pepper and serve immediately.  Or, cover loosely and serve at room temperature.

 

Serves 6

Lee’s Crisp Broccoli-Apple Slaw

Lee's Crisp Broccoli Apple Slaw

“I could eat coleslaw every day for the rest of my life and never get bored!”

Said no one ever.

Poor coleslaw.  It really is an after thought, isn’t it?  Something you feel obligated to serve with fried chicken, or on top of a bbq pork sandwich.  You’ll order it as a side dish, if offered, because eh…it’s better for you than fries, right?  Often drowning in a bland, watered down dressing and served unceremoniously in a flimsy little paper cup.  You take one obligatory bite, and that’s it.

I honestly have not given coleslaw much thought over the years, until recently, when a good friend of mine raved about a slaw her neighbor, Lee, made.  It had apples in it…hmmmm.  Lee graciously passed on the recipe to me, and it happened to fit in perfectly with a meal I was making that week.  I was immediately smitten.

Step aside average cabbage slaw and meet your competition:Lee's Crisp Broccoli Apple Slaw| Dinner Is Served

Couple things that I love about this slaw above the others: definitely the broccoli slaw mix itself.  If you can grab some in the organic section of your grocery store, that’s a win.  Trader Joe’s also carries an organic broccoli slaw, I am pretty sure.  Most mixes include some shredded carrots and others, a little shredded red cabbage.  The crisp texture and clean flavor is a refreshing change of pace.    Alone, it’s a nice mix, but kick it up with some chopped tart apples and a slighty sweet, tangy mayo dressing , and it’s a slaw game changer.20140413_153830

Whoah…hold the horses here.  Might that be fresh rosemary in the dressing?  Oh yes indeed and it’s the secret ingredient in this dressing.   Very tempted was I to leave this out, but I’m so glad I didn’t.   Blog worthy slaw? You betcha!

Thank you Lee.  This one’s a keeper!

Lee’s Crisp Broccoli-Apple Slaw

1- 12 oz package broccoli coleslaw mix

1 2/3 cups chopped tart apple, peeled (such as Granny Smith)

1/4 cup mayonnaise (regular or light)

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

3/4 teaspoon salt

Combine slaw and apples in a large bowl, and toss well. Whisk mayonnaise, brown sugar, rosemary, vinegar and salt in a small bowl.  Combine with slaw/apple mix and gently toss.  Add a pinch of black pepper, if desired.  Cover and chill at least an hour before serving.  Yield: 8 servings – serving size is 1/3 cup.

Winter Fresh Spinach Salad

Winter Fresh Spinach Salad | Dinner Is Served

‘”..my salad days, when I was green in judgment.” (William Shakespeare “Antony and Cleopatra”)

Ah yes the salad days…late summer when salads are cool and crisp and the farmstands are filled with just-picked produce.  In other words: the complete opposite of right now.  Curse you Polar Vortex!

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Salads and winter can be a tricky business.  Especially here in the upper Midwest, where farm fresh produce is non existent.   Yet lately I’ve been craving salads big time.  Of course I go through my “I need to eat more vegetables and fruit this year” every January.  But this year more than ever, I am just yearning for ANYTHING green!  Seriously, spending nearly two months in the Chicago “fifty shades of white and grey” deep freeze makes me want to re carpet my living room in AstroTurf just to get the feeling of green grass!

But enough about the weather.  Let’s get down to the real reason I am here and that is to talk about food.  Specifically this totally awesome spinach salad that I have been making for ever.  The ingredients are fairly basic:Winter Fresh Spinach Salad | Dinner Is Served

And of course spinach (yay GREEN!!!!)Fresh Spinach

And a very simple oil and vinegar dressing that is beautifully balanced with a little sugar, mustard and garlic:Fresh Spinach Salad | Dinner Is Served

You’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about this salad, but let me just say that the flavors and textures come together in perfect harmony.  I would happily make an entire dinner out of this salad, and often have.  Even the 15-year old last night ate every single last bite of his AND thanked me profusely for making a nice dinner (score one for mom).

And I suppose not ALL produce is in a sorry state right around now.  Spinach, cauliflower, mushrooms and scallions seem to be good year round, making this a winner of a winter salad.   So stick with me folks…great food like this will get us through the winter and before we know it, the true salad days will be upon us!

Winter Fresh Spinach Salad

DRESSING:

  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tbsp. cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 6 TBS (about 1/4 cup) salad oil
SALAD:
  • 8 cups baby spinach, stems removed
  • 3 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
  • 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 2-3  green onions, finely chopped
  • Fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • Fresh (raw) cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets

Directions In a jar or other container with a lid, mix together all of the dressing ingredients, shake well, and refrigerate for an hour or longer (or use right away).  In a salad bowl, combine the spinach, eggs, bacon, green onions, mushrooms, and cauliflower and toss with dressing.

Serves 4-6

Butter Lettuce with Grapes, Hazelnuts and Maytag Blue

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I always imagine the inside of my brain as a constant swirling stream of ingredients and recipes.  Eating dinner one night while simultaneously planning the next dinner, looking at spices blends on my counter and thinking “I need to try those sometime on …”  Browsing internet food blogs with a copy of Fine Cooking at my side, pausing to check into the Cooking Channel from time to time.

Somehow in all this mental mayhem,  dishes like this come to be.

Earlier this week, I threw some green grapes into a butter lettuce salad and I loved them.  Then night before last, I made some amazing pasta with a lemon mascarpone sauce and chopped hazelnuts.  Ahhhh…hazelnuts.  I started thinking about butter lettuce, grapes and hazelnuts together and got excited.  But there must be cheese.  Goat cheese?  Too tart.  Blue cheese?  Perfect!  Especially a bright Maytag blue.  With chives in my garden and some homemade white balsamic vinaigrette in the fridge, the pieces all came together.

A salad was created out of the mass hysteria that is my food brain.   And what a salad it was, if I do say so myself. Beautiful color, contrasting textures and fresh flavors.  And best of all I managed to concentrate for a whole twenty minutes or so to write this post.

…while watching the Blackhawks game on TV.

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Butter Lettuce with Grapes, Hazelnuts and Maytag Blue

5 cups of torn butter lettuce (about 7 oz.)

1 cup red grapes, cut in half

2/3 cup Maytag blue cheese (or any other blue veined cheese)

½ cup coarsely chopped shelled and toasted hazelnuts (see note)

1 TBS chopped chives or scallions

Coarsely ground black pepper

White Balsamic Dressing

1 clove garlic, minced

1 TBS Dijon mustard

1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar

3/4 to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp Kosher salt

1/4 tsp coarse black pepper

Whisk dressing ingredients together in a bowl or alternatively, place in a jar, cover and shake.

Wash butter lettuce and spin dry.  Place on serving plates and top with cheese, grapes, hazelnuts.  Drizzle a little of the dressing over and sprinkle with additional pepper and chives and serve.

Serves 4

Note> Some stores, like Trader Joes, sell shelled and roasted, unsalted hazelnuts. Big timesaver!  If you can only find ones with the papery skins, proceed as follows:

Spread the hazelnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 375°F oven. Toast for about 12 minutes until lightly browned.  Transfer them while they’re hot to a clean kitchen towel. (Use a clean towel that is old or you don’t mind washing with bleach, because the skins tend to discolor the fabric.) Gather the towel into a bundle and rub the hazelnuts to remove most or all of the skin.  


Spinach Salad with Pears, Cranberries, Red Onion & Toasted Hazelnuts

20121231_205228 (1)Happy new year to everyone.  I hope you  all enjoyed a well deserved day of rest, relaxation and perhaps some bowl game viewing yesterday.  Of course my idea of relaxation involved making slow cooker pot roast with mashed potatoes and reading some cooking magazines.

We had a lovely New Years Eve dinner with longtime friends, Kathy and Eric.   I couldn’t help but take a few photos, and they kindly obliged because, well we’re longtime friends!  We started out with these sausage stuffed mushrooms, which were out of this world good:

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I’m not sure what Kathy topped this brie with but I couldn’t stop eating it:

2012-12-31 19.27.31Always nice to have some fresh vegetables and olives before dinner.  Isn’t this serving dish awesome?

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Our entree was a tender beef tenderloin filet with a roquefort-pecan butter, a potato-parmigiano galette, roasted asparagus all served with some Layer Cake malbec.  Dessert was a show stopping cranberry-almond shortbread tart followed of course by a Prosecco toast at midnight:

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Somewhere in the mix we managed to squeeze in a beautiful spinach salad featuring sweet Comice pears, dried cranberries and crunchy toasted hazelnuts.  All dressed with a slightly sweet whole grain mustard/balsamic vinaigrette.  Some slivered red onions balance the salad, and for those who are raw onion-averse (myself included), try soaking the sliced onion in cold water for about 1/2 an hour before serving.  This takes some of the punch out of the onions and makes them kinder and gentler on your stomach and breath.

All in all, a very merry way to ring in the new year.  Very special thanks to our good friends and hosts for the evening.  If all my meals this year as good as this one, 2013 is destined to be my best food year ever!

Spinach Salad with Pears, Cranberries, Red Onion & Toasted Hazelnuts

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • 8 cups lightly packed fresh baby spinach leaves, stemmed if needed
  • 2 firm but ripe Comice or Bosc pears (do not peel), quartered lengthwise, cored, and cut into long, thin slices
  • 2/3 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts (see Note>)
To make the dressing, in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Cover tightly and shake vigorously to blend. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Set aside.
Place the onions in a medium bowl and cover with cold water. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain well and pat dry on paper towels.
In a small bowl, toss the cranberries with 2 tablespoons of the dressing to soften them. Set aside for at least 20 minutes or until ready to serve the salad.
To assemble the salad, place the spinach, onions, and pears in a large bowl. Give the remaining dressing a last-minute shake and pour over the salad. Toss to coat evenly. Arrange the salad in a large serving bowl or divide it evenly among 8 salad plates. Scatter the cranberries and hazelnuts over the top.  Serve immediately.
Serves 6-8 
Notes> Hazelnuts are most often sold with a thin, brown papery skin.  To toast, spread the hazelnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 375°F oven. Toast for about 12 minutes until lightly browned.  Transfer them while they’re hot to a clean kitchen towel. (Use a clean towel that is old or you don’t mind washing with bleach, because the skins tend to discolor the fabric.) Gather the towel into a bundle and rub the hazelnuts to remove most or all of the skin.