Monday, August 31, 2009

Portobello Mushroom Burgers

I realized after speaking on the phone with our oldest the other day that I need to start posting some of our quick, easy and delicious favorites. Whether it's a busy week, a long's great to have some of those "go-to" dinners that you can get on the table in 15 to 30 minutes, without sacrificing flavor or feeling like you've made a huge compromise. 

These Portobello Burgers are one of our favorites. Apart from the fact that you can have dinner in minutes, these burgers are SO good you might even decide to trade them in for your regular beef variety! Okay...some of the die-hard carnivores may have trouble with this culinary transaction but, honestly, the meaty goodness of these jumbo fungi rivals (in my humble opinion) any burger! The portobello mushroom is basically a big cremini (over 4" in diameter). They are the perfect "burger" shape and, when cooked, gain a more intense flavor and meaty texture which brings them even closer to the feel and flavor of a traditional burger.

When selecting your portobellos, make sure they have a nice earthy smell and are plump and firm.


If you don't use them immediately, make sure they are stored loosely in a bag or bin in the fridge without laying on top of one another. They'll only last a few days in the fridge (maybe 3 or 4), so it's best to buy them when you think you'll be using them. To clean them, gently wipe away any dirt from the smooth cap surface and underside with a paper towel. Washing them will only make them mushy. To prep them as "burgers," cut the stems even with the inside of the gills and season, as desired. You can really do whatever you prefer (just like beef burgers). I brushed both sides of the portobello lightly with olive oil, a drizzle of worcestershire sauce, and a sprinkle of salt, pepper and garlic powder. This combination really pops their flavor and enhances the meaty earthiness of these giant creminis. You can also use balsamic vinegar or a host of other marinades...whatever you'd like. When adding your "marinade," turn the mushrooms gill-side up so that the marinade can seep into the cap a bit before you begin the cooking/grilling process.

You can cook them on an outdoor grill or on the stove (I made ours on the stove and I think they're every bit as good as outdoor grilled). Just add a little olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat, place the caps "gill" side down and cook about 3-4 minutes, turn and cook another 3-4 minutes. You'll want to flip them back over to add your cheese (if you plan to melt this gooey goodness on yours), remove from heat and cover.

Again, the serving options are limited only by your imagination. I was looking for a pretty standard burger this time out, so I used mozzarella cheese, raw red onions, butter leaf lettuce and heirloom tomatoes as my garnish. And, I used a wheat bun slathered with a mayo-dijon mixture. Pretty much all the main characters were organic but you certainly don't have to go that way. Honestly, they turn out incredibly juicy, drippy, and oh-so-flavorful...even carnivores will relish their goodness!

Portobello Mushroom Burgers
serves 2 (just multiply ingredients for additional servings)

2 large portobello mushrooms
2-4 tablespoons olive olive
2-3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2-3 slices of mozzarella cheese (I also really like to use swiss or provolone)
3-4 leaves butter leaf lettuce
1/2 large heirloom tomato, sliced
1/4 large red onion, sliced
2 whole wheat buns
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon dijon mustard

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees for toasting buns. Clean mushrooms and cut stems. Lightly brush both sides of caps with olive oil. Turn mushrooms gill-side up and season with marinate (worcestershire, garlic powder, salt and pepper). Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat.

2. Place caps gill-side down in hot skillet. Cook for 3-4 minutes, turn and cook another 2-3 minutes adding additional marinade seasoning and then flip and add cheese. Turn skillet off, cover with a lid, and let caps rest while cheese continues to melt.

3. Place buns in oven until warmed through. Combine mayonnaise and dijon mustard. Place buns on serving plate, slather with mayo-dijon mixture, top with portobello, tomato, onion, lettuce and top bun.

You can eat these alone...or serve with oven fries, cole slaw, a simple salad, whatever sounds good.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

College Spirit Cookies

Now going into my fifth year of the "summer exodus," wherein one or both of our kids return to school after a whirlwind few months of summer at home, I feel like I've established a bit of a routine that begins a week or two prior...making sure all the essentials for the new term are gathering, bought and/or packaged; that flights are booked; accounts are balanced. Once the "exodus" is completed, I then get to business on realigning our lives to our pre-summer status, sans our twenty-somethings...and reorganizing our "feathered nest" (I refuse to go the "empty nest" route of referral!). In this process, I usually plan some sort of care package...just a fun little something sent from home during the first month of the new school year. At the beginning, these packages were truly "care" oriented in that they brought a little bit of home to our newbie students, away from us for the first time. Now, they are just fun mailings. With one graduated (and gainfully employed now!) and one finishing up in another two years, the now singular packages are just fun to make...and, as I'm to receive. 

Coming across these great M&M chocolates at our local Michael's craft store, I thought that our Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe could be morphed to add these colorful candies AND make a great Spirit Cookie to celebrate the new college year and kickoff of football season! The range of colors offered is, blue, green, gray, orange, yellow, purple, etc...not only making them a great addition for these cookies but for any special occasion (e.g. baby shower, wedding shower). 

A little overly excited about my sweet discovery, I decided to make care packages for our youngest, and for two of our nieces...the colors were just too perfect!

College Spirit Cookies
makes 24-28 cookies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup M&Ms
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, baking soda, salt, and oats in a medium bowl and set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add butter and sugars and mix until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix on medium speed until incorporated.

3. Gradually mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients until well incorporated.

4. Fold M&Ms, chocolate chips and pecans into batter.*

5. Spoon enough cookie batter to make a 1-1/2" ball and place rolled dough onto cookie sheet. Repeat until all dough is used.

*Note: If you are making a few different color varieties, simply divide your dough prior to adding the chocolates and nuts.

6. Bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 10-12 minutes, until golden brown.

7. Package and send!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Chili Rellenos Con Verduras y Tomatillo Salsa

With the final flicker of summer sun upon us, and our youngest little chick flying the coup back to school, we find ourselves on our last "summer dinner extravaganza." We do a lot of special requests throughout the summer, trying to get all of "the favorites" covered before the bags are packed and the wings of flight are unfurled...not too unlike the hundreds of families with kids that come home for summers or drop in for long weekends. It's not that we deprive ourselves of tasty meals during the rest of the year mind you, it's just that these dining moments are strongly determined by our offspring. And we love it!

This little south-of-the-border number was the requested finale. I've made a few chili rellenos over the years (many the traditional, battered and fried versions) until I tasted one that was simply roasted, stuffed with amazing queso oaxaca, and plated in a sumptuous salsa...and realized that I probably wouldn't make another battered relleno again. 

After traveling to Sedona, Arizona recently, I then tasted a relleno that was stuffed with an amazing variety of vegetables and creamy cheese, surrounded by a smooth and spicy tomatillo salsa, and realized that we'd found our relleno! It has all the flavor that a roasted poblano offers plus a wonderful medley of in-season veggies (like corn and zucchini) and a fresh, bubbly tomatillo salsa that provides a bite that wonderfully contrasts with the subtle flavor of the stuffed chili.

While I couldn't get the exact recipe for the relleno I had in Sedona, I made note of the various elements of the dish and pulled together this recipe which I feel closely resembles that delicious veggie variety. You can, of course, find canned tomatillos in most any market and whip up the salsa using those. However, if you have a bit more time, the fresh tomatillos offer a wonderful succinct flavor that is well worth the extra effort.

I found a great green tomatillo salsa in Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen, a cookbook filled with incredible mexican recipes, tips and general cooking information. I also found the recipe on-line so I think it's safe to offer here, with the proper credit.

Before getting to the details, remember that this is a simple endeavor. There is a bit of slicing and dicing, and roasting and simmering. However, if time is a factor, you can break the process down quite easily by prepping your salsa a day before and simply handling the last "on-stove" step on the "day of." Or, prep the whole thing and just warm it before plating. I don't think it would really matter.

You can also prep the veggie mix and just keep it in the fridge until you are ready to make your rellenos and just simply warm it up before stuffing your chiles.

Chili Rellenos con Verduras y Tomatillo Salsa
Tomatillo Salsa adapted from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen
serves four

4 large, fresh poblano chiles

tomatillo salsa:
1 pound (approximately 10-12 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 jalapeno peppers (only 1 if you want it more mild)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium white onion, roughly chopped
2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves (set aside a portion for garnish)
Sour cream (heavy cream or yogurt), if desired
Salt and pepper, to taste

vegetable stuffing:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups fresh white corn, trimmed from husk
1 cup zucchini, diced
3/4 cup yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup green pepper, diced
1/3 cup roasted red peppers, diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 cup shredded queso oaxaca (I used a Goat Drunken Spanish Cheese recommended by our Whole Foods cheese counter since the oaxaca wasn't available)
1 cup shredded mozzarella 
Salt and pepper, to taste

Roasting the Poblanos:
1. Place poblano chiles on a baking sheet and place in oven under a very hot broiler (approximately 4" from heat) until chiles begin to blister and blacken on one side, about 3-5 minutes. Turn chiles over and roast other side. When well blistered and blackened, remove from oven and place in a plastic or paper bag to sweat skins loose (10 to 15 minutes). 

2. Once "sweated," remove charred skins from poblanos, carefully slice open one side, remove all the seeds (not the stem!), and set chiles aside to stuff
Tomatillo Salsa:
1. Fill a medium (2- to 3-quart) saucepan with water, salt generously and bring to a boil. Add tomatillos and chile(s) and simmer vigorously over medium heat until the tomatillos soften and pale in color everywhere except on the indented stem end, 2 to 4 minutes. Drain and cool in a dish.

2. Transfer tomatillos and chile(s), and any any accumulated juices, to a blender.

3. Heat 1-1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a heavy skillet. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until onions are golden brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook another minute. Add onion and garlic mixture to tomatillos in blender and cover loosely. Ventilate blender and pulse mixture to rough-looking puree.

4. Once your veggie mixture is ready (below), add 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil to a large skillet over medium heat to finalize your salsa. When skillet is hot, add salsa from blender and cook over medium heat for about 4 to 5 minutes, as it sizzles to a darker and thicker sauce. Simmer on lower heat for another 10 minutes as it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. If desired, add some heavy cream, yogurt or sour cream to silken the texture and enhance the flavor (I added sour cream...about 1/2 cup). Set aside until plating.

Veggie Mixture:
1. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to large skillet over medium heat. Once heated, add onion and cook until slightly translucent. Add corn and continue to cook through for about 1-2 minutes. Add green peppers, cook another minute. Then add zucchini, roasted peppers, cumin, and coriander and cook entire mixture until all veggies are well-melded. Add cheeses to incorporate with mixture and melt. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Assembling Rellenos:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

2. Place skinned and cleaned poblanos on a slightly oiled, glass baking dish. Fill each chili with veggie mixture and place in oven for approximately 15 minutes.

3. Remove chiles from oven. Ladle a few spoonfuls of salsa into shallow bowls and top each with a chili. Garnish with cilantro and crumbled goat cheese and serve. Yum...ole!!! 

Monday, August 17, 2009

Risotto: Easy and Impressive

The first time I remember tasting risotto was the summer of 1999. Perhaps I’d tried this delicate Italian rice dish prior to that time, but it wasn’t until our “last hurrah” trip through Europe that summer that it truly made an impression.

We had lived as expatriates in the Netherlands for almost three years and had agreed when taking on the adventure that “traveling” would be our one license-to-splurge. (Translation: if we were going to have any devil-may-care moments with regard to our finances, then it would be in our quest to see the sights.) While we tempered our gusto to hit the skies and roads until we had nested a bit, getting our kiddos acclimated to our new neighborhood, their school, and our new way of life, we made every effort during those three years to see as much as we could.

The “last hurrah” trip, as it was quickly dubbed, was our final vacation before returning home to the States. While we had greatly enjoyed all the trips we’d taken, we had decided that this last adventure would be a road trip…no airports, cabbie stands, bus lines, or ticket counters for two straight weeks! Instead, we’d travel the wide, open road -- from the Netherlands, through Germany, Austria and northern Italy – right into the heart of Italy’s Tuscan region. It was on our return swing – going up through Switzerland, the Alsace region of eastern France, and Belgium – that I tasted this amazing risotto. 

On a whim, and tired from driving, we decided to spend the night on Lake Como. Though it sounds extremely luxurious and decadent, it was on our line of travel so we figured “why not?” At dinner that night, my husband ordered the risotto. (I can't even remember what I ordered.)

This risotto was rich and creamy with just the perfect consistency to keep it from landing too far in the rice category, a culinary faux pas for risotto. (It requires, after all, a specific cooking process that must be followed in order to maintain the starch at the end of the cooking that will bind the grains of rice together as a cream…making it risotto and not simply rice). This particular risotto was laced with fresh, plump, slightly crisp, brilliantly colored green peas that tasted like they had just been picked from the garden and shelled moments before. It also had a slight onion, garlic and wine-infused flavor, intensified by a generous addition of parmesan and a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil. I was allowed just a few bites…after all, it wasn’t my meal…but that little risotto made a lasting impression.

The funny part of all this is that it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I even attempted to make risotto. It had always been touted and presented at restaurants with such regard…”the chef is making risotto today”…as if it couldn’t be made just any old day. It requires time, patience and the right balance of ingredients. It was always a dish that the maitre d’ would inform the table would take a half hour to prepare and advised interested parties to make this selection early enough to allow it to be prepared in time to serve along with the other diners’ meals. And then, of course, a superior glow would slowly cast over those that had the culinary expertise to know this was the evening’s gastronomic “go to” item.

While risotto has become more of a regular feature on menus in recent years, (meaning the introductory fanfare has ebbed), it still retains a certain star quality. It may start out as just a humble little rice, but it holds its own as a main entrée at many fine restaurants.

After finally shedding my self-proclaimed fear of risotto-making a few years back, I attempted my own and found that while it does require some time, patience and the right balance of ingredients (like most all good dishes), it is not difficult. I think the time factor is what might scare people off. You definitely stay with your risotto, stirring and adding the liquid and flavorings as it develops its consistency, ensuring that it maintains that all-important starch. But it’s well worth it…and, again, not difficult.

How you “dress” your risotto is also key, in my un-trained opinion, to making it go from good to impressive. I think cooking the arborio in chicken broth and a little white wine (something on the dry side that you’d actually drink) adds a rich foundation. And, of course, a generous addition of a good parmegiano reggiano cheese is a must.

My absolute favorite is Mushroom Risotto. While I’ve served it as an entrée, I particularly like serving it as a starter. Risottos are, by their very nature, rich and filling…a little goes a long way in my book. So unless I plan a simple meal where I pair it as the “star” along with a great salad, to balance its wonderful richness, I really like plating it up as a starter. Either way, it is sure to make a lasting impression!

Simple Mushroom Risotto                                                                                 serves 4 (as a light entree); 6 (as a small starter)

2 cups sliced mushrooms (I particularly like using both cremini and porcini)

1 1/2 cups diced onion, divided

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup Arborio white rice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup dry white wine

4-5 cups hot chicken stock

1/2 cup shredded parmegiano reggiano cheese

chopped chives for garnish and added flavor

1. In a small pan over medium heat, saute 1 cup diced onion in butter. When lightly translucent, add sliced mushrooms and continue cooking until cooked through. Season lightly with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. Heat chicken stock in glass measuring cup in microwave, or in pot on stove, and set aside.

3. Heat olive oil in a heavy non-stick pot (at least 2 quart size) over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup onion and saute until translucent. Add arborio rice to onion and stir until grains are coated with oil. Add wine and stir constantly until wine is absorbed.

4. Add 1 cup of hot chicken stock to arborio, stirring until liquid is absorbed. Continue cooking and adding stock (one cupful at a time). This will take approximatley 20 minutes. Stir consistently and wait until liquid is relatively absorbed before adding each additional cup of stock. The rice and liquid will create a creamy sauce as you go along. Add additional stock if mixture gets too thick. Remove from heat.

5. Stir in parmegiano reggiano cheese and mushroom mixture, until heated through and cheese melts.

6. Plate risotto, sprinkle lightly with a touch of black pepper and snipped chives.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Simple Rustic Fruit Crostata

Though I truly don't consider myself a lover of sweets, preferring another helping of whatever potato or cheesy concoction is on the menu, I've been a bit of a baker/dessert maker lately. I even got together with a friend of mine a few weeks ago to test ALL the no-churn ice cream recipes that our local paper had featured in one of their weekly food sections...a welcome distraction from the heat wave we were having at the time. And, not being a gadget girl, the no-churn element (versus hauling out the ice cream maker) was very attractive. Other than this ice cream making diversion, my dessert obsessions of late have been baked.

Perhaps the fact that summer is such a time of gatherings has contributed to my baking frenzy. When you have friends or family over, it seems that dessert is always on the menu. For everyday nights, however, we try to refrain!

With simple and delicious being my "go to" objectives when it comes to dessert, especially, I've turned to my super simple Crostata more than a few times this summer. Not only is our fruit selection amazing right now, this dessert is just SO simple (and delicious) that it's especially perfect when you have an entire meal to plan. While I've definitely made the more involved tarts, cakes and breads, I "cheat" with this one by using a prepared pie crust dough (specifically Pillsbury's rolled pie crusts that you can find in the refrigerated section of the grocery store). Honestly, they turn out so great that you get over the guilt of cheating on the crust fairly quickly.

I've made this Crostata with a variety of fruits...pear/blueberry, nectarine/raspberry, apple/raisin, peach/strawberry...the combinations are limited only by your own imagination and preference. Given that I love blueberries, I ended up with a two-pound container while grocery shopping yesterday. Knowing that we are on the final fringes of blueberry season, I'm trying to get as many of these little gems as possible. Apart from desserts, I toss them in salads, cereal, oatmeal...or just enjoy them by the handful. Considered a "superfood," blueberries are an excellent source of I suppose my Crostata might qualify as a health food???? 

For this particular Crostata, I chose white nectarines to pair with my blueberries (one of my favorite combinations). Though I only made one Crostata this time, this is a perfect dessert to take to a potluck because you can easily make two, four, or more, with no more effort than prepping a few more fruits and pulling out a few more crusts.

To get started, take your pie crust(s) out of the freezer (or fridge, if you've just purchased them) and let them sit out a bit to thaw. While your crust is thawing, you can prep your fruit (slicing the nectarines and mixing them with the blueberries, flour and sugar). Once thawed, just unroll the crust onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and place your fruit mixture in the center of your crust, leaving an edge of about two inches for folding up. You just lift the edge and pleat and press as you go, creating a little crimped "basket" around your fruit.  

Then baste the crimped edge with a little egg wash (left) and dust with a little sparkling sugar (right). The sugared edge makes for a nice presentation...and a little sweetened touch.

This whole process comes together so quickly, I've often done this an hour before getting ready to go out and jumped in the shower while it baked. It's that simple!

You can serve this alone or with a little whipped cream or ice cream. Yum!

Simple Rustic Fruit Crostata
serves 6

4 white nectarines, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 cups blueberries 
1-2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (depending on juiciness of fruit)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
squeeze of lemon (approx. 1/2 teaspoon) 
1 Pillsbury prepared, refrigerated, "rolled" pie crust 
1 egg
1 teaspoon milk
2 tablespoons sparkling sugar
2 tablespoons apricot jam (or any that you prefer)
1 tablespoon water

1. Take pie crust out of freezer or fridge to thaw. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Combine nectarine slices and blueberries in a medium bowl. Add flour, sugar and splash of lemon. Mix to combine.

3. Unroll pie crust on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Place fruit mixture in center of crust, leaving an approximate 2-inch edge to fold over fruit. Lift edge and pleat and pinch to create a "basket" around filling.

4. Whisk egg and 1 teaspoon milk to create an egg wash. Brush wash onto "folded" edge of crust only. Sprinkle "washed" edge of crust with sparkling sugar. Place cookie sheet with Crostata into a 375 degree oven and bake for approximately 30-40 minutes.

5. Remove Crostata from oven and let cool for approximately 10 minutes. Over medium heat, mix jam and water to create a liquified wash for fruit. Brush jam mixture on fruit portion of Crostata to glisten fruit (which will appear a little dry when baked). Serve alone or with whipped cream or ice cream.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Pollo Peperonata and Parmesan Polenta

Phew...that's a tongue-twister of a title...especially for what is basically a VERY simple chicken dish. It is, however, packed with great flavor and ranks right up there with the best of "comfort" foods. I mean who wouldn't qualify creamy, cheesy polenta as pure comfort??

I think what makes this dish especially satisfying is that all the components work so well together...there is, of course, the warm, cheesy polenta (covered that!) which pairs so well with the simple, sauteed chicken breast, and a flavorful mix of peppers and onions cooked in a tangy lime-cilantro sauce. Each element of this dish is tasty on its own but it's their union that makes this dish qualify for "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" kudo. (I know this phrase can be puzzling, but I think you get my drift.)

Though easy (it uses only a handful of ingredients), quick (30 minutes tops), and flavorful, this dish is pretty enough (and "delish" enough) for company. Depending on your preference in peppers (I like all of them!), you can pick and choose to your liking...using all of one type or a mixture of red, orange, green and/or yellow. 

I use Bob's Red Mill Organic Corn Grits (Polenta). The package directions will advise you on how to cook your grits if you are looking for a firm polenta that you can mold and cut into portions. Basically I follow the portions for water, salt and grits as noted on the packaging and then just cook it to a nice "mashed-potato-like" consistency, which happens pretty quick.

Pollo Peperonata and Parmesan Polenta
adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe
serves 4

8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded to level thickness
3 bell peppers (green, red, yellow and/or orange), cored, seeded and sliced into 1/4 inch strips
3 tablespoons canned mild green chilies (peeled and diced variety)
1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced

3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup Bob's Red Mill Organic Grits
3/4 cup shredded Parmigiano Reggiano (or any good parmesan cheese)

1. Whisk 5 tablespoons olive oil, lime juice, cilantro, and coriander in a bowl. Season dressing with salt and pepper.

2. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add to skillet and saute' until brown on one side (about 5 minutes). Turn chicken over and reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for another 5 minutes, until cooked through. Transfer to platter and cover.

3. Return skillet to medium-high heat. Add peppers and onion to same skillet and season with salt and pepper. Toss until tender and just beginning to color (about 5 to 6 minutes). Mix in chilies and 2 tablespoons dressing and warm through. Remove pepper mixture from heat. Set remaining dressing aside.

4. In a separate pan, boil water for polenta, add salt and grits and cook over medium heat, stirring often until thickened ("mashed-potato-like"), about 10-15 minutes. Add shredded parmesan and stir until mixed through.

5. Place a spoonful of polenta on each serving plate, top each with a chicken breast and some of the pepper mixture. Drizzle a bit more dressing over all and serve.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Warm Olive Vinaigrette, Skillet-fried Potatoes...oh my!

We eat a variety of salads in our house, chopping just about any fresh veggie, fruit or leafy green available in the fridge and tossing it with a simple vinaigrette. This is especially true during the spring and summer months when outdoor grilling is at its best and a fresh, healthy salad offers the perfect accompaniment.

There are just so many ways you can go with salad...from sweet to savory. And, depending on what is used, many are hearty enough to stand in as a main entree, especially when topped with a little grilled fish or chicken. I also like to use beans (black, kidney, garbanzo, etc.) and nuts, both of which serve as great alternatives for a satisfying no-meat option. We're not talking rocket-science here, salad mixings are a simple effort. However, I do love it when I come across pairings I might not have thought of on my own. 

While many of our salad tossings are improvised, this particular salad is one that I adapted from a 2005 Bon Appetit recipe, changing up the dressing and greens just a bit to meet our own preferences. It is an especially satisfying salad, not only in flavor (the warm kalamata olive vinaigrette is superb!), but also in that it can definitely hold its own as a light main course. Until making this salad, I'd never thought of adding fried potatoes...the mix here works so well that it's become one of our absolute favorites! Though I'll often serve this with a simple grilled chicken, the potatoes add a heartiness that makes this salad able to stand on its own. And the baby spinach provides just the right balance to the peppery arugula and tangy, creamy, crumbled feta. 

Unlike most salads, this one doesn't get a big tossing. You just toss the greens on their own with a bit of the warm vinaigrette to get them just slightly wilted. Then you can divide the dressed greens among your plates and add the toppings to each, with another drizzle of dressing. Keeping the toppings out of the "big toss" preserves their slightly delicate make-up and also allows for a pretty plating.

Arugula-Spinach Salad with Warm Olive Vinaigrette, Fried Potatoes & Feta
adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe
serves 4 (as a light main course) or 6 (as a small starter)

1 5-ounce container fresh baby arugula leaves (8-9 loosely packed cups)
1/4 5-ounce container fresh baby spinach leaves (2-3 loosely packed cups)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, finely chopped (about 16)
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2" cubes
kosher salt and ground black pepper
3/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 cup small ripe cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1. Mix arugula and spinach greens in a large bowl.

2. In a food processor, pulse balsamic vinaigrette, olives, and mustard. While processing continuously, slowly pour in 1/2 cup olive oil and 3 tablespoons water to make a loose dressing. Transfer to a cup.

3. Heat remaining 1/4 cup olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is warm (after about 30 seconds), add diced potatoes, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper, and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally until they begin to brown. Reduce heat to medium and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, until potatoes are just tender. Add red onion and dried thyme to potatoes and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed. Transfer mixture to bowl and set aside. Return skillet to stovetop for next step.

4. Reduce heat to low and pour olive vinaigrette into warm skillet. Cook, stirring until vinaigrette is warmed through (about 1 minute). Return dressing to cup and whisk to recombine.

5. Toss arugula and spinach mixture with 1/2 of the vinaigrette, just to lightly coat. Portion greens among serving plates (4 to 6). Top with the potato and onion mixture, then crumbled feta, and tomatoes. Drizzle with just a bit more vinaigrette and serve.

note: adding crumbled fried bacon or pancetta might also be a nice addition.