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Posts tagged ‘feta’

baby spinach, orange & feta salad

I’m pretty much a lousy patient. For starters, I’m notoriously bad about calling the doctor in the first place.  Give it a day or two, it’ll pass. I’m sure of it. (That gene’s on my mother’s side.) Frequently I’ll forget and need reminders nagging to take my medicine, or I’ll fail to drink enough water when I do. And that whole “bed-rest” thing…that’s for someone who’s, you know… sick!

I made an exception this time. Allow me to boast (I may never have another opportunity like this one again) – this time I was an exceptional patient. (Except for that whole wasteful bed-rest thing.) I’ve been fighting (well, not me alone) a very nasty infection. I’m pleased to announce : we’ve won! I took my medicine. I drowned myself in fluids. I ate my spinach. And you should too! (How quickly we turn smug and start to nag!)

Baby Spinach Leaves, Orange & Feta Salad 

in a Walnut-Citrus Vinaigrette

~

Baby spinach leaves

Orange – especially Blood Oranges if you can find them! - thinly sliced

Feta Cheese, crumbled

Pea shoots or seed sprouts

Olive Oil & Walnut Oil

Juice of fresh Lemon

Freshly-Ground Black Pepper

Toasted Walnuts – Optional

~

For each share of salad, about 2 cups of beautiful baby spinach leaves, washed, dried, tumbled into a bowl; peeled and thinly sliced orange, dropped on top. (Reserve as much of the fallen juice as you can.) Vinaigrette – couldn’t be easier. Equal amounts of olive oil and walnut oil. Equal amounts of freshly-squeezed lemon juice and orange juice. (Start with equal parts oil & citrus juice…adjust to suit your taste.) A few grinds of black pepper, and pinch of flaky salt. Stir, drizzle, toss. Read more

things topsy turvy & a new feature at cooking-spree

In earlier posts I’ve alluded to “things about to happen” around our house, but I can explain further now. First there was the joyous birth of our little Drew baby! And even a bit before, and a lot since, we’ve been preparing for a good-sized remodel – two bathrooms and our kitchen.Once work begins on the kitchen, things will get especially interesting. We have a gas grill, and a portable induction burner that’ll hold one pot at a time. And we’ll have boxes full of herbs and spices and plates and forks and knives.

How do I prepare for what has been described to me variously as “completely disruptive”, “awful”, and “just plain hell” (really?!) ? I accept that things will be turned on their heads for a while, and I’ll be here to document it. I’ll photograph the destruction and mayhem.  I’ll play my part in this creative process, from demolition to gleaming completion. I know it’ll be challenging in ways I can’t yet know. But I’m thrilled! And I think I’m ready.

What will it mean here, on these bloggy pages? We’ll discover together. Smoothies? Salads? One pot wonders? Grilled seafood? We won’t go hungry, I promise!

One thing that will make this process less disruptive to food-lovers like us is that Spring is upon us and Summer is coming, and about now Farmer’s Markets are springing up all over the city and in the ‘burbs! Wooden stalls lined with fresh and gorgeous produce, bulging in bright ripeness! The choices we have are exquisitely exhaustive! So, one thing I can predict for the coming months is this: I’ll be carrying my basket to farmers markets, visiting with the growers, photographing fresh-from-the-farm fruits and vegetables and bringing a few choice picks home. Once a week I’ll share my trips with you. We’ll explore old favorites, never-liked and never-tried’s. Most of what will result will be simple, beautiful,  and delicious. And since life around our house will be turned on its head for the next little while, it seemed only fitting to name this weekly feature something like

Wegetable Vednesdays!

and so I have.

(but don’t be surprised to see a few vruits too)

It will be a veritable celebration of things with stems & seeds & roots!

Why not begin with a couple old standby’s and treat them freshly? It doesn’t get more basic than peas and carrots, right?

Well, it could…

~ ~ ~

R a i n b o w    c a r r o t ,  p e a   &   p e a   s h o o t   s a l a d

(about 6 servings)

1½ pounds rainbow carrots (various lengths makes it even prettier)

4 ounces pea shoots (see NOTE)

2 cups sugar snap peas

1 cup snow peas (optional)

¼ cup Meyer lemon juice

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large clove garlic, minced

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 cup crumbled sheep or goat milk feta cheese

¾ cup mint leaves, cut into slivers

For protein, add either

3 cups cooked chicken, shredded

2 cups grilled or poached firm fish, in pieces

1 cup cooked & shelled edamame (fresh soy beans)

NOTE on pea shoots – One market I go to stocks them regularly. You may find them at Farmers Markets or Asian markets too. 

~ ~ ~

 Scrub the carrots gently in order to retain most of their bright outer color. With a mandolin or vegetable peeler, cut thin lengthwise ribbons to make about 4 cups. Discard ends or any tough cores. (What worked best for me was to lay the carrot on the cutting board, holding the thin end of the carrot in one hand and with the other, using a vegetable peeler and a bit more pressure than normal, peel from the small end to the large. I discarded both the first and last strip of each carrot since that was mostly peel.) 

Put dark and light carrot ribbons in separate bowls of ice water and soak about 15 minutes to crisp them up. Drain in a colander and roll in kitchen towels. (or line a salad spinner with towel and spin.) 

Go through the pea shoots, discarding thick or tough stems and tearing sprigs into 4- or 5-inch pieces.

Pull the strings from the straight sides of snap peas (& snow peas if using) and then thinly slice lengthwise.

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a pizza-sorta

kinda Greek-a.

It all begins with our blogging buddy Chicago John’s Spianata. (He’s no stranger to many of you. But if somehow life has passed you by and you’ve never visited his warm Italian home kitchen, come in out of the cold, take off your coat, pull up a chair, smell what’s steaming on the stove and get ready for something like love at first sight.)

For the Spianata dough…if you follow the link above, it’ll take you right there, and John’s background on a dish is always nearly as savory and delightful as the dish itself. But I’ll also provide the recipe here so you don’t have to continually flip back and forth. It’s much like a focaccia, thick, dimpled, moist, pungently olivey. It develops its flavor slowly, with the yeasty “sponge” left overnight, and the dough finished the following day. The way I chose to make this dish is to bake the herb-scattered dough in a hot oven, adding the toppings when it comes out, still steamy hot – the sweet caramelized onions, the roasted small tomatoes, the leaves of baby spinach, the Kalamata olives, the shavings of Feta, and a scattering of Mediterranean herbs. Drizzled with a bit (more) olive oil and a sprinkling of balsamic – it’s sweet and savory and devastatingly delicious! 

The Dough

For the sponge

  • 1 cup flour (5 ounces)
  • 1 cup warm water (approx. 110°F)
  • 1 tsp active yeast

For the finished dough

  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour (10 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoons dried mint
  •  ½ teaspoon dried oregano

Pour water into a small-medium bowl and add the yeast; allow yeast to dissolve and for a bubbles to begin forming on the surface.  Add the flour to make the sponge, mix well, cover, and set aside at room temperature. The sponge should be allowed to rise for at least 8 hours but no more than 20. 12 to 16 hours is usually best. When you ‘re ready to proceed, the sponge’s surface should be mottled with bubbles and it should have a strong yeast scent. (yum!)

To the sponge, add the flour¼ cup of the olive oil and the salt. Knead dough for 5 to 7 minutes. The consistency of the dough should be neither sticky nor dry…the “test” I use is to grab hold of the dough with an open hand, hold it firmly for a few seconds…if when you remove your hand the dough almost wants to cling to it but releases without actually sticking, it’s about perfect. If not this, then add water by the drop-ful or flour by the teaspoonful.  It’s been kneaded enough when the dough is soft and supple, smooth and elastic, and when you press it with a knuckle the dough springs right back at you.) 

Place the finished dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic and allow it to rise until doubled – depending on the warmth of your kitchen and a couple other factors, this will take from 1 to 2 hours.  While the dough is rising, prepare all the other ingredients, for which you’ll find instructions below.

Punch the dough down, turn it out onto a floured work surface and cover with a towel. Allow it to rest for 15 minutes. This rest relaxes the dough, making it more pliable.

Pour the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil into a 9 x 12-inch pan, covering the entire bottom of the pan.

After the resting period, place dough onto the pan and, using your fingers, begin stretching it to fit the pan. When it covers about 2/3 of the pan, flip the dough over and continue stretching until the entire pan is covered and there’s enough dough to create a ridge around the pan’s edge. Cover with a towel and allow to rise until doubled again, about 1 hour.  20 Minutes before it’s ready, preheat the oven to 425°F.

Sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and 1 teaspoons dried mint and ½ teaspoon dried oregano. Place it in the preheated oven on the middle rack and back for about 25 minutes. It should be lightly browned. Remove from the oven and top immediately with the toppings in the following order.

The Toppings

Baby Spinach Leaves

Caramelized Onions

Roasted Tomatoes

Kalamata Olives (allow to come to room temp. or gently heated)

Feta Cheese (thinly sliced or crumbled)

a small handful of whole parsley leaves

Aged Balsamic Vinegar

A drizzle more Olive Oil

You’ll want approximately  1 cup each of the spinach leaves, olives, and feta. Instructions for the caramelized onions and tomatoes follow.

“Sun”-dried or Roasted Tomatoes

  • ½ pound to 1 full pound cherry tomatoes (1 pound will leave you quite a few extra to use as you like. They’ll keep in the fridge for at least a week.)
  • coarse sea salt
  • freshly-ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon (or more) dried mint leaves
  • olive oil (about 2 teaspoons per pound tomatoes)
  • balsamic vinegar (about 2 teaspoons for 1 pound tomatoes)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and lay on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cut side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and mint. Drizzle the olive oil and balsamic over top.

Bake until edges have begun to brown and juices have started to caramelize beneath them. (About 30 to 40 minutes.)

Caramelized Onions (& Garlic)

  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 (or 2) cloves garlic, minced

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a very special salad – of Quinoa, Pomegranate, Almond and Feta

We all know that a life well-lived, among those we love (and those we abide) involves compromise. Sometimes, just living with ourselves involves taking turns, listening, letting go, and just plain being “nice.”  Some of us (me among them) have polarized opposite sides that occasionally do war with each other. Nothing violent, but at times they do squabble. How in any way does this relate to what’s for dinner? The other day I told you I’d share something special. And I’m about to, but it’s a salad. (I’m sorry…Was that a groan I just heard?)  You were expecting something sweet and soft and darkly-chocolatey-naughty? Well, I’m saving that for tomorrow’s post, which is why tonight we’re having a dinner of salad. One very small example of how we compromise, and why.

(Another example – I’d just settled down to write this post late yesterday afternoon and had two sentences on-screen when the phone rang. My mother, who lives about an hour away in the middle of Oregon’s wine country, had headed out to feed her chickens and tuck them back into their coop for the night. These chickens live very well. We kid that at night they’re read bedtime stories and sung to. They’re not of course, but they do lead happy free-roaming, well-fed lives. As I was saying, before I interrupted myself, the phone rang and it was my mother. She’d locked herself out of the house and was calling from the neighbors. She had no way of getting back in. She’d already checked every door and window. I was the only one with a key. The post would wait. My mama could not.)

Two and a half hours later, the salad in its big bowl is waiting, outdoors on a table staying cool. My husband pours us glasses of wine, I cut pieces of bread from yesterdays loaf and toss the salad. We eat, hungrily, within minutes of my walking through the door.

I’m going to be very honest with you (I always try to be)…this salad was soooo incredibly delicious! We loved it, devoured every last bit. In fact, we entirely forgot we were compromising! And we still get our dessert tonight! Life is so good when we decide to play nice!

A NOTE on Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) for those unfamiliar with it — is a high-protein seed often referred to as a grain. It’s cultivated, high in the Andes of South America, in elevations exceeding 10,000 feet. Quinoa contains all eight essential amino acids, as well as other highly beneficial compounds, vitamins and minerals. It’s touted today to be one of the super-foods but thousands of years ago the Incas reverently cherished it as chiyasa mama, the mother of all grains. It’s very mild flavored, in fact hardly any flavor at all, which is why it takes well to any sort of flavoring you choose to add. It has just the slightest bit of delicate crunch. And, as an extra bonus, quinoa is gluten-free.

You may be able to find quinoa pre-washed, but if it isn’t specified, I’d play it safe and rinse in several bowls of clean water and drain in a fine sieve after.  This removes the bitter part of the seed called the saponins, a compound that makes quinoa less palatable to birds. (Plants can be so smart!) Most quinoa you’ll see is white, but I chose a combination of black and white for the night’s salad. In eating, as in the rest of life, the more colorful the better.

Quinoa, Pomegranate, Almond and Feta Salad

(makes about 4 servings)

  • ¼ cup white, black or red quinoa, rinsed thoroughly and drained in a sieve
  • ½ cup water
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 cups greens – either all spinach, a mix of spring baby greens, or a combination of the two (I used combo)
  • ¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • ½ cup sliced almonds
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced red onion (optional)
  • 1 pomegranate, seeded (about 1 cup)

the vinaigrette:

  • 3 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I chose a lemon-infused olive oil)
  • 1 extra-full Tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Rinse quinoa in several bowls of fresh water, using a fine sieve to contain the little seeds. Bring ½ cup lightly-salted water to a boil, add quinoa, reduce heat and simmer with the lid on for 12 minutes. Allow pot to sit, undisturbed for another 4 minutes. Remove lid and fluff the quinoa. Allow to cool.

In the meantime, toast almonds on a baking sheet in a pre-heated 350°F oven until fragrant and lightly browned, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Whisk up the vinaigrette’s ingredients and allow the flavors to marry as you prepare the pomegranate.

Removing the seeds from a pomegranate: I mentioned in an earlier post that I always wear an old shirt of my dad’s, my pomegranate shirt, to do this messy job. I discovered a new way that confines the juicy mess to the bowl! Cut the pomegranate in half, across its middle (not top to bottom.) Use a fairly deep bowl if you have one. Cup the cut-side of the pomegranate in your palm, holding it inside the bowl. Start smacking with a wooden spoon on the top of the fruit, and the seeds will begin tumbling out and through your fingers into the bowl. Remove any of the white pith that tumbles along with. (Have I mentioned before all the antioxidants in pomegranate? Another super-food, making this a super-salad.)

spanking the pomegranate

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the rest of summer – & stuffed red bell peppers

If you’ve been following along, you know that for me this summer has not been about maintaining a steady, even pace. For at least four weeks, it almost seemed as though you’d need to poke me to know I was still alive. : ) There were whole days in fact when I could do little but stare out a window. Then the pace, following surgery, suddenly changed. Daily, for the next three weeks, I was shot out of a cannon.  My youngest brother was marrying his sweet love at our house (!) and I had everything yet to do! Inside, outside, all around the house! I’m delighted to say that they were married this past Saturday…and everything was . just . plain . lovely ! Sixty or so of the nicest people, a beautiful and moving ceremony, a stringed trio,  a veritable feast, and so much love it was contagious. Quite a few of us left euphoric…but no one more so than my brother and his new wife.

Health, happiness and a long, sweet life together, Jeem and Darlyn!

Today I think I may be hitting one of the gears I missed between the two extremes of summer. I am back to humming in my kitchen, and happy to be back in your company again. Expect me to be keeping it in third gear for the rest of summer, with a steady stream of food-stuff I’ll be wanting to share.

But I begin by emptying my refrigerator. I have a few too many red bell peppers and oodles of feta. I have farro (that wonderful nutty Italian grain tasting something like barley, but actually an old-world wheat.) And oregano (passed down from our Greek Yaya) is spilling out of the herb garden. So let’s stuff ourselves some peppers!

These can be served as a side-dish or as the center of a vegetarian meal. Perhaps with green salad or fresh green beans drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with coarse salt and thin strips of fragrant, fresh basil.

(If you don’t have or can’t find farro – it is worth the hunt – substitute with brown or white rice  – or barley – or that little pasta, orzo.)

Stuffed Red Bell Peppers with Farro and Feta

  • 4 red bell peppers, medium to medium-large – (peppers with broad bottoms will stand up better)
  • 1 cup farro
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil) – diced
  • 1-1/4 cup canned crushed tomatoes (along with their juice)
  • 3 – 4 green onion, thinly sliced
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped,  or 2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 4 cloves of minced garlic
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • Pepper and salt to taste (keeping in mind that the feta will impart its own)
  • A little extra sauce from the the crushed tomatoes (or catsup if you like) to spread over the top

Optional:  10 black or Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced

Garnish: toasted (& herbed) bread crumbs for the peppers once they come out of the oven (see NOTE)

Set a large pot of water to boiling. Add 1 tablespoon salt. Cut off the top 1/2 inch of the peppers (reserving these tops for later) and remove and discard the cores and seeds. Submerge the peppers in the boiling water and boil for about 3 minutes – peppers will just be starting to soften. With slotted spoon, remove the peppers to a paper towel to cool and dry. (Place open-side up to prevent over-softening.) No need to discard the cooking water.

To the boiling water add one cup farro and cook for about 15 minutes or until done al dente. (Depending on the type of farro you use, cooking times can vary by quite a bit.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Read more

Zucchini pancakes with feta & mint

Can we all just agree that we have very little interest in hearing more abdominal surgery or recovery-complication stories? Can we agree too that surgical scars really aren’t all that attractive, and most aren’t even very impressive, so they’re probably best kept under wraps? Can we all agree that what brings us here is either the necessity of putting full plates on the table, or the sheer Love of doing so? Oh good, thank you! You don’t know how happy that makes me!

For the remainder of the summer and probably through September, I’m focusing my food-related attention on all the fresh, eye-poppingly colorful bounty in farmers’ markets or – if we’re so lucky – our own overflowing gardens.  And, just to be a tiny bit contrary, I’m beginning with Z.

A dear aunt of ours – Maureen –  was an artist.  She was one of those rare individuals who created beauty out of  whatever  materials her hands touched.  She painted hundreds of beautiful canvases; she was a master gardener whose green thumbs astounded; and she was a pastry chef whose desserts had to have been divinely inspired (or maybe Maureen was always an angel.)   I think she’d be surprised to know though, out of all the beautiful and spectacular things she left us,  this humble little vegetable pancake is one of the things I remember most fondly. Somehow, it just takes like home. 

Tonight it’s an easy dinner for us. A short stack of these lacy little cakes, juicy slices of heirloom tomatoes with coarse salt and olive oil, a Greek flatbread with olives and mint, and a little leftover grilled halibut.

I never heard our Greek Ya-ya refer to these as anything. I doubt that she ever tasted them.  But I love to imagine what she’d call them if she had. I think something like: zucchini pana-cake-ya’s. Maureen simply called them zucchini patties.

zucchini pancakes with mint and feta

(or what Ya-ya would have said)

  • 3 medium zucchini, grated
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1 (or 2) cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 to 4 finely sliced green onions
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup grated feta (about 5 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup grated Fontina, Monterrey Jack or other mild white cheese (about 2-1/2 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan (about 1-1/2 ounces)
  • oil for frying (grapeseed or canola both good)
  • pepper (add salt to taste if needed later) Read more

Chicken Salad with Peas, Feta, and Mint

Peas, feta and mint are such a wonderful combination. Their colors, textures and tastes play off each other beautifully, and when combined with the leftover roasted chicken from the night before, you have a salad that’s easy, cool and refreshing for a warm night or for a slow weekend lunch. With crusty baguette or whole-grain crackers, it’s a salad you can happily linger over, savoring the company you’re with and the flavors on your fork.

Chicken Salad with Peas, Feta and Mint

(Easily serves 4 as a main course.)

  • 3 Tablespoons coarse sea salt
  • 1 cup shelled fresh or frozen peas (no need to thaw)
  • 3 small spring onions or scallions, white part only, cut into thin rounds or diagonals
  • 4 ounces Greek feta cheese, crumbled (1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, cut into a chiffonade (very thin crosswise strips)
  • 3 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 8 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 large ripe avocado, thinly sliced
  • 2 heads baby romaine, coarsely shredded, or small baby romaine leaves, left whole
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh chives
  • Creamy Lemon-Chive Dressing (see below)
  • Fine sea salt

Fill a large bowl of ice-water. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add coarse salt and the peas and blanch until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes (but even less if using baby peas.) (Did you know that adding salt to vegetable cooking water helps preserve their color?) Quickly pour the peas into a colander and submerge the colander into the bowl of ice-water. Drain thoroughly. (If using the peas right away, you can lay them out on a clean dish towel to absorb the water as you prepare the rest of the salad. Otherwise you can refrigerate them.) Read more

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