Sunday, April 29, 2012

Black Bean & Tomato Salad

This is one yummy salad!  It comes together very quickly with pantry staples and fresh seasonal vegetables.  My kind of salad...I'm pretty sure even the kids will like this one :)

Black Bean and Tomato Salad
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and 1/2 diced
1 (15oz) can black beans, rinsed thoroughly and drained
1/2 cup small diced red onion (I omit this)
2 small jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/4 cup good extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1-2 ripe Haas avocado, seeded, peeled and 1/2 inch diced

Place the tomatoes, yellow pepper, black beans, red onion, jalapeño peppers and lime zest in a large bowl.

In separate medium bowl, whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, salt, black peper, garlic and cayenne pepper and pour over the vegetables.  Toss well.  I sometimes add chopped fresh cilantro at this point.

Just before serving, prepare avocados and fold gently into the salad.  Check seasoning and serve at room temperature.

NOTE:  If this salad sits awhile, it tends to put out a lot of liquid.  If this happens, simply drain the salad in a colander.  Also, if you anticipate leftovers with this salad, it's best to top each individual serving with the avocado.  This salad will keep overnight in the fridge, but not if the avocados are already in it.  It makes a great light meal on its own, but is also delicious served alongside any grilled meat~~chicken, steak, tuna, salmon, etc.

I served this healthy salad with steak tacos...Y.U.M.M.Y!

Buon Appetito!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Katie's Potato Salad

Can't ya tell I'm on a salad kick? :)  Summer is definitely here (at least it is in South Texas!) and it's time to swap the soup cookbooks for the light fresh salad recipes.

My daughter-in-law Katie, who writes the fab food blog The GD Kitchen, gave me this recipe a couple of years ago and it has become a summer staple in my house.  Again, this salad is great on its own, but is also a wonderful accompaniment to any meal.  It's great to take to a pot luck supper too.

Katie's Potato Salad
1 pound baby new potatoes, halved
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup pitted black olives, halved
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley (I often use cilantro or a combination of both herbs)
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large lemon, zested
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Steam the new potatoes until fork tender; about 10-12 minutes; drain in a colander and allow to dry for five minutes.

In a mixing bowl, add the potatoes, tomatoes, scallions, olives, parsley, capers, thyme, olive oil and lemon zest.

Toss gently until all the ingredients are coated and season with salt and pepper.  Let flavors develop at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Gently toss again before serving.

I served this with grilled tenderloin and it was the perfect supper.  There's even enough steak left over to make steak tacos for dinner tomorrow night!

Buon appetito!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tuna Niçoise Salad

This is one of the best, easiest and tastiest salads I've ever made.  The key is using the best possible ingredients available.  For this dish, I use only good Italian tuna in olive oil.  Period. You can buy it in cans, and there are some very good brands out there.  Here are a few of my favorites:

But without a doubt the best Italian tuna is Tonnino Ventrescas in olive oil and it comes in a jar.  Ventresca is the center part of the belly of the bonito tuna, the mildest and most tender.  It's difficult to find in most grocery stores but you can buy it from Amazon (which is what I do).  Here is a direct link:

It seems a little expensive, but out of this 6.7 ounce jar, you can get two, maybe three really good salads by simply adding a few vegetables.  I think it is totally worth it.

Anyway, here is my version of Tuna Niçoise Salad.  These amounts are for one salad so adjust accordingly.

4 small new potatoes, either yellow, gold or red, sliced in half and steamed
Handful of frozen green beans, steamed
4-5 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 black olives, halved
3 oz Italian tuna in olive oil, drained and flaked
Handful of your favorite salad greens

Steam the potatoes and when they are almost done, add the frozen green beans for the last couple of minutes.  Drain well and set aside.

Easy Lemon Vinaigrette
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh, snipped chives
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Juice the lemon into a small bowl.  Add the mustard and mix well.  Drizzle in the olive oil mixing continuously until well mixed and emulsified.  Season to taste with S & P; stir in chives.

Plate greens.  Top with potatoes, tomatoes, olives, green beans and tuna.  Drizzle with lemon vinaigrette, top with freshly grated black pepper and serve.

Buon Appetito!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Luscious Leg of Lamb

To me, Easter means lamb.  I know lamb is not for everyone; but I do love its luscious, succulent, tender meat and although I don't eat it very often, Easter is one of those holidays when I'll pull out all the stops and cook a leg of lamb...usually a very different preparation from year to year.

This year I decided to smoke it.

I don't have many photographs for this dish, actually just a before and an after, but I'll try to make the recipe clear and concise.  But you do need a smoker for this one.

Luscious Leg of Lamb
(A spinach and goat cheese stuffing might taste good even in a tennis ball, but the combo is always a sure bet inside a tender leg of lamb :)
Adapted from Smoke & Spice
Luscious Paste
10 garlic cloves roasted (I roasted one whole head of garlic)
2 teaspoons coarse salt, either kosher or sea salt (I used kosher)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
5-pound to 5 1/2 pound boned, butterflied leg of lamb

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts, chopped
1 1/2 pounds spinach, cooked, drained well and chopped
8 ounces mild goat cheese
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup dried currants or raisins
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)

The night before you plan to barbecue, mix the roasted garlic and salt together.  Add the olive oil in a thin stream until a thick paste forms.  Rub the paste very lightly over the lamb.  Place the lamb in a plastic bag or cover it in plastic wrap (which is what I did), place it on a cookie sheet and refrigerate overnight.

Prepare the smoker for barbecuing, bringing the temperature to 200F to 220F.

Remove the meat from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

To make the filling, warm the olive oil over medium heat in a small skillet.  Add the onions and garlic and sauté until softened.  Add the pine nuts and continue to cook for another minute or two.  Spoon the mixture into a bowl.  Add the spinach, cheese, parsley, currants and the anchovy paste if using (I did) and blend well.  Spread the filling evenly over the lamb.  Roll up the meat snugly from one of the long sides, totally enclosing the filling.  Tie as needed with kitchen twine to secure.  Warm a heavy skillet over high heat, add a little extra virgin olive oil and sear the lamb quickly on all sides.

Transfer the lamb to the smoker.  Cook for 35-40 minutes per pound, until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 145F, rare to medium rare.  For the 4.8lb lamb that I cooked, I cooked it for 2 hours, 45 minutes and it was perfect!

Remove the lamb from the smoker and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Slice the lamb and serve it warm.

I served it with a spinach salad, roasted asparagus and a homemade cherry pie for dessert!

Buon appetito!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Recent Absence

I'm not really sure how to begin this post.  I guess I want to apologize for being absent from my blog and the gardening blogosphere for so long, but somehow that seems to me to be a bit arrogant, as if I'm expecting people to want to hear from me.

There's been a lot going on in my life in the past few months...some good, some not so good...that has consumed most of my time and energy.  But things have settled down somewhat and I hope to return to blogging a bit more regularly.

The good thing in my life recently is we are finishing up the building of our summer home on Howard Lake in Southwest Michigan and in a is beautiful!  We are so excited to be heading North for the summer!  In addition to being surrounded by family, it will be a wonderful escape from the brutal Texas heat.  And y'all know how much I griped about the heat last summer!  I plan to do a post on the Michigan summer home in the very near future.  But if anyone has built a home (especially remotely), you know how time consuming it can be.  We are in the final stages, but the devil is in the details.  Our closing date is set for April 27th!  I hope to get the post written and published before then.  And since we are leaving in May for Michigan, it is pointless for me to get a garden going so there's not much for me to blog about.  But I will post a few recipes from time to time.  Actually, I have two recipes that many of my friends on FaceBook have asked me to post.  So expect those soon.

Now for the not so good.  Late last fall one of my oldest and closest friends was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.  The type of cancer she has is very rare and very aggressive.  When she was diagnosed, it was all I could think about for weeks.  She has three children, two still living at home.  Here is this smart, energetic, feisty, independent, beautiful woman facing this terrible ordeal.  How does this happen to someone like her? I know, it happens all the time.  But it just hit so terribly close to home.  And to someone like her with a full, fun life and wonderful family.  The unfairness of it all hit me like a ton of bricks.

But for now, the worst is over.  She has been through six rounds of chemotherapy, a radical mastectomy and is now recovering and beginning to get her life back.  Next comes physical therapy to regain use and mobility of her arm and six weeks of intensive radiation.  After that, time will tell.

When she got sick, blogging was the furthest thing from my mind.  I tried to spend as much time with her as possible and to help out when and where I could.  But throughout this journey, she has remained positive, upbeat and always had a smile.  She is a fighter and was not going to take this thing lying down.  I was (still am) in awe of her attitude.  And believe me, I learned many things about life traveling this path.

I hope Spring finds each of you eagerly anticipating the coming gardening season.  I know for us in South Texas, we really didn't have much of a winter and summer began in March :/  It will be a welcome change to head North for this coming summer.

My best to each of you and happy gardening :)

This is a picture of an old (very old) oak tree that lives in the back yard of our ranch house.  She is the most beautiful tree I have ever seen and to me, she symbolizes strength, endurance, beauty and life itself.