Blender Buttermilk-Feta Dressing

Let’s get this out of the way; today’s post is less about the salad dressing (which was just OK, and I’ll offer my ideas for making it better) and far more about my excitement in finding the new appliance I used to make it. What can I say? —I don’t take my decisions lightly.

We are approaching the six-month mark since the completion of our beautifully remodeled kitchen, and I am still on the hunt for the right tools to help equip me for success. You know how it is—you improve one thing, and suddenly everything in and around it seems outdated. My husband, Les, and I gave every countertop gadget we own a once-over when we did our update, and though a few appliances were deemed worthy, I have decided to replace my tired, old food processor (more to come on that one) and to purchase a real, honest-to-goodness blender. It’s about time!

I’ve had a Nutri-Bullet personal blender for a few years, and it’s great for breakfast smoothies and small amounts of things that I want to puree into oblivion, but not so good for anything that requires finesse, because the Nutri-Bullet has only one setting. It is also inconvenient for making anything that requires adding or adjusting ingredients halfway through, because once you open the wide, jar-like lid, the blended mixture gets all over everything and makes a mess. I needed a blender that opened at the top and had multiple settings and functions to help me with more than just smoothies.

When I had lamented to Les a few years ago that it was difficult to find a quality blender “like they used to make,” you know, with a sturdy glass carafe, he disappeared to our garage and returned with a dusty relic that had been gifted to him many years ago (for his first wedding, as he recalls). It was tall and heavy, with real glass! Unfortunately, when we finally found replacement gaskets for the ones that had dry rotted, we discovered that the blender didn’t have much oomph. It was mostly good for, well, stirring things.

After months of intense research, and reading reviews on every website imaginable, I have finally found the best blender for us. It’s tall, attractive, powerful and versatile enough to handle whatever role I give it. In other words, it’s the George Clooney of countertop appliances. The first challenge I had with it was deciding what to make first, and so far, I’ve only used it to make coconut martini cocktails and this buttermilk feta salad dressing, which was included in the little recipe cards that came with the machine. Regardless of your blender brand, I’m confident that you can make this dressing, and it only requires five ingredients, plus salt and pepper.

This dressing can’t help being tangy, with feta, buttermilk and lemon! Garlic and olive oil round out the ingredients list.

Part of the appeal of this recipe was that I already had all the ingredients, and the dressing wasn’t bad but I would recommend a few tweaks to improve the texture and balance the tang. Just about any kind of fresh, tender herb would be good here; basil, cilantro or dill would add a zesty punch. In the texture department, I would recommend addition of a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise to produce a creamier dressing that will cling better to your salad greens. If you do stick to the recipe offered by Breville, I recommend using a buttermilk with a thicker consistency so it doesn’t turn out watery.

Here’s how things went for me.


But enough about the dressing. 😉

I am very pleased with our new Breville blender, which has a pre-programmed setting for smoothies, and eventually I will get around to making one. I especially appreciate the self-clean function, which makes cleanup a snap, even after making a creamy salad dressing like this one. It’s so easy, I literally put two drops of dish liquid into it with about one cup of water and touch the “auto-clean” button. The blender does the rest, switching between speeds and settings until the pitcher is clean. Quick rinse, and done. I should have bought it years ago. Did I mention that I paid full price for this appliance, and nobody is paying me for my opinion? Just thought I’d mention that, in case this sounds like an advertisement.

Besides the debut of our fab new blender, I am also excited to apply a new way of sharing the details of my recipes with you. When I first started my blog, my sister-in-law, Andrea, suggested adding a “print” feature to make it easier for a reader to save a recipe for later. It was a great idea, and up to this point, I have accomplished it by formatting the recipe into a PDF that I upload at the end of a post. Today, I’m doing something different.

After an hour-long chat session with WordPress support (which left me as confused as ever), and then a few friendly emails and helpful coaching by one of my blog buddies about something called “shortcode,” I have finally figured out how to apply my recipe ingredients and instructions to my posts, including a quick “print” option, without so much background work.

I first spotted this feature on a post by Maylee at BeyondGumbo.com, and when I reached out to ask about it, Maylee graciously walked me through how she uses the feature. As you’ve probably guessed, her blog is all about the regional cuisine of Louisiana (which is so much more than gumbo!), including a beautiful bibb salad with luscious Louisiana strawberries, which she just posted on Sunday. And if you think that sounds delicious, wait until she surprises us with something that she casually whips up from the satsuma trees growing in her backyard. 😊


Let’s see how this goes!

Easy Buttermilk Feta Dressing

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: very easy
  • Print

This recipe is simple and versatile, and it can be made in any blender. Consider tweaking it by adding other ingredients, such as your favorite fresh herbs, for a twist of flavor.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup cultured buttermilk
  • Approximately 1/2 cup feta, crumbled
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • The juice of one organic lemon
  • 1 small clove garlic, rough-chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. organic lemon zest
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Place buttermilk, feta, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic into the jug of a blender. Puree 15 seconds, or longer if needed to achieve smooth texture.
  2. Add lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Mix on a low speed for 5 seconds, to incorporate seasonings. Transfer dressing to a jar and refrigerate until ready to serve.



Tahini-Lemon Sauce

One of my favorite condiments is tzatziki, the Greek yogurt-based topping that is perfect for anything you put on a pita, including gyro and souvlaki. The zesty zing of garlic and cooling notes of grated cucumber are an easy, refreshing way to pile on the flavor. But for a vegan dish, such as the falafel I made recently, tzatziki is off the table. We wanted a flavorful topping that still had a Middle Eastern vibe, and one that could play many roles, as a dipping sauce, topping or dressing.

That’s how this tahini-lemon sauce came to be, and as I whizzed up the ingredients in my food processor, it occurred to me that this sauce is basically hummus, minus the chickpeas. All the other components of hummus are in there—the tahini, which is a sticky paste made from ground toasted sesame seeds, fresh garlic, fresh lemon juice, salt, spices and good olive oil. Processing these ingredients results in a smooth, completely emulsified mixture that can be thick or thin, depending on how much water your blend into it. For my purposes this time, I kept it on the thicker side as a perfect dipping agent for my falafel, but I can easily see the benefit of thinning it to pour onto a salad or Buddha bowl.

This tahini-lemon sauce is smooth, silky and creamy, but with no mayonnaise or dairy.

My husband’s adult daughter has adopted the vegan lifestyle, and I am always on the lookout for easy foods to make when she visits. This tahini-lemon sauce fits the bill, and it’s so tasty that we non-vegans won’t feel like we are missing out on anything.

Enjoy!


Ingredients

1/2 cup tahini paste

2 cloves garlic, chopped

Juice of 1 large lemon

A few shakes of crushed red pepper* (see notes)

2 Tbsp. fresh dill leaves

1/4 cup water (or more, for thinner sauce)

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


*Notes

The crushed red pepper flakes that you see in pizza restaurants would be fine here, but if you can get your hands on Aleppo pepper, that is even more in keeping with the Mediterranean flavor profile. We used a three-pepper blend (Aleppo, Maras and Urfa) from Flatiron Pepper Company, and their rep informed me that it will be back in stock in a few months. I’ll update this post at that time to include a link, in case you’d like to check it out.


Instructions




Pecan and Parmesan-Crusted Trout

Friday fish fry. That was the thing in my upstate New York hometown, and it didn’t have to be Lent. There were a few places that everyone flocked to on Friday nights for a heaping plate of beer-battered haddock fillets, deep fried and served up with cole slaw and French fries—or cottage cheese, if it was lunch. You couldn’t order it any other day of the week. Just Friday. The “fish fry” is one of the foods I really do miss from my younger years, and I have never seen it served that way anywhere else. There are plenty of places I could find battered-and-fried cod, but it just isn’t the same.

I need to get better at deep frying before I try to make a Friday fish fry myself. Until then, I’ll satisfy my fish craving with a few other favorites, baked rather than fried, that I’ve developed on my own over the years. During the Lenten season, there’s an uptick in searches for interesting seafood recipes because observant Christians abstain from eating meat on Fridays—at least for the 40 days leading up to Easter. Here’s one that is delicious and easy to prepare. I hope you enjoy it, regardless of your religious observance.

Pecan and parmesan-crusted trout. I served it with a quick sauteed spinach side and boiled baby red potatoes.

My recipe for pecan-crusted trout has evolved over the years, and the flavors and textures are all front and center in this one. The trout fillets are brushed with an easy blend of mayonnaise, Parmesan and Dijon mustard, and then I press them into a mixture of panko crumbs, more grated Parmesan and finely crushed, toasted pecans. 20 minutes later, dinner is served! This is easy enough for even a busy weeknight, and you can prepare your sides while it bakes.

The mayo mixture serves double duty in this recipe. It’s a “glue” to hold the seasoned pecan blend in place, and it also protects the fish from becoming dry during its brief time in the oven. The trout fillets remain soft and moist inside, despite the delicate crunch that meets your taste buds with every bite.


This recipe serves 2; easy to adjust for more servings

Ingredients

2 fresh trout fillets

1 Tbsp. mayonnaise

1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup pecan pieces, toasted* (see recipe notes)

1/4 cup panko crumbs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

A few shakes ground cayenne pepper


*Notes

To toast the pecan pieces, preheat oven to 350° F. Spread the pecan pieces onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until nuts are fragrant, roasty and slightly shiny. Remove from oven and cool completely. Do this step ahead to save even more time in preparation of the fish.


Instructions

Preheat oven to 350° F. Stir together the mayonnaise, Parmesan and Dijon mustard. Sprinkle the trout fillets with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Using a food processor or mortar and pestle, pulse or crush the pecan pieces into fine crumbs. Transfer the pecans to a bowl with the panko crumbs and Parmesan. Season with a shake or two of ground cayenne.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spritz it lightly with cooking oil spray. Arrange the trout fillets on the sheet, skin side-down. Use a pastry brush to thoroughly coat the fleshy side of the trout fillets with the mayo-Parm mixture, then press the pecan crumb mixture onto the fish, generously covering every visible area.

Bake the fish for about 18 minutes, or until it flakes easily with a light twist of a fork. If the crumbs are pale, turn on the broiler for only one minute, to finish the fish with a deep golden color.




Salmon with Warm Farro Salad

Comfort foods come in many shapes and sizes, though I usually think of them as rich, creamy sauces or over-the-top pizzas or decadent ice creams. But this entrée, despite being inherently light and healthful, is also very comforting, thanks to the variety of textures and flavors in the mix.

I designed this pretty plate from memory after a brunch with co-workers during the holiday season. It was the farro salad and roasted root vegetables that caught my eye on the menu that day. I loved the tender chew of the farro and the warmth and earthiness given by the sweet potatoes and parsnips. If you are not familiar with farro, please allow me to introduce you.

handful of quick cooking farro
Italian farro, par-cooked to be ready in just 10 minutes! Use farro any way that you would use wheat berries, barley or brown rice.

What is farro?

Farro is an ancient grain that is native to Italy. It is perhaps better described as a category of grain, given that three distinct varieties—spelt, einkorn and emmer—are frequently described as “farro.” In its most basic state, farro is a hard kernel that can either be cooked whole in water or ground into meal or flour. But it may also be partially or fully pearled, meaning that some or all of the bran has been removed. The pearling process results in altered cooking time, but the grain would still be suitable for the same kinds of dishes.

What does farro taste like?

When cooked as a whole grain, farro has a warm, nutty flavor that is similar to that of brown rice. Unlike most conventional wheat grains, farro has not been greatly hybridized from its ancient state, and some people find it more easily digestible for that reason. But as a botanical relative of wheat, farro does contain gluten and should be avoided by people with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.

How do you cook farro?

To cook partially pearled farro (the most common form you’ll find in stores), give it a rinse under running water and inspect the grains to weed out any small debris that may have missed screening during packaging. Add the farro to double the amount of water and heat until boiling, then reduce heat and simmer about 20 to 25 minutes for al dente, or longer if you want it more tender. Farro that has not been pearled may take twice as long, and some packaged farro is par-cooked for quicker preparation, so always check the label instructions for recommended cooking time.

What can you use farro for?

Farro is a versatile grain that can be used in pilafs, salads or soups. If ground into flour, it can be used in baking recipes, though the resulting texture would be more dense than baked goods made with typical wheat. If you want to try farro flour in a favorite bread recipe, consider substituting only about one-fourth of the total amount of flour, and increase the amount the next time when you better understand its properties.


salmon with warm farro salad - comfortdujour.com
There is a lot of lovely contrast amid all these ingredients. I especially like the feta crumbles!

The rest of this recipe is straightforward and simple—the sweet potatoes and parsnips are tossed lightly in olive oil and roasted until tender and browned, and the salmon is lightly seared in a skillet with nothing more than salt and pepper. A quick vinaigrette of lemon, garlic and oregano ties the whole dish together with a fat handful of peppery arugula greens.


Ingredients

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks

2 parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup sliced fresh leeks (or chopped sweet onion)

1 cup cooked farro* (see recipe notes)

A fat handful fresh baby arugula leaves, washed

Garlic-oregano vinaigrette*

2 fillets fresh salmon, skin removed

1/4 cup crumbled feta (or goat cheese)


*Recipe Notes

As noted above, some farro products have been par-cooked for convenience. Follow the instructions on your package to cook the farro to “al dente” stage, so that it is soft but still has a bit of chew to it.

Vinaigrette is one of the simplest salad dressings to make at home. I usually make it in a glass measuring cup for easy pouring, but if you want to make it even easier, put all the ingredients into a small jar with a lid and shake the dickens out of it. My recipe for this vinaigrette is included in the downloadable PDF at the end of this post. You’ll need a light vinegar, Dijon, fresh garlic, oregano and lemon, and extra virgin olive oil.


Instructions

Follow along as I show you how I made this tasty, healthful comfort food. Scroll to the bottom for a downloadable version you can print for your recipe files.



Artichoke & Garlic Hummus

In six short weeks, life will be turned upside down for my husband, Les, and me. This is when our kitchen tear-out will begin, and we are beginning to shift our expectations as we prepare for the eight weeks or so that we will be “without” a kitchen. Welcome, friends, to our “in-between” kitchen!


We have rearranged our dining room space to accommodate a baker’s rack that will hold some of the appliances that will help us get through the chaos. A new two-burner induction cooktop will allow us to do simple stove-top cooking, including heating water for my daily dose of French press coffee. We will make good use of our slow cooker, toaster oven and the panini griddle that doubles as a waffle iron. We have the gas grill for outdoor cooking, and so far, the only thing I haven’t quite figured out is how I will make bread without our oven, though don’t be surprised if I use one or more of the above to make it happen!

As we are preparing for the load out of the old kitchen (not to mention a bevy of random pantry and freezer ingredients), I’m giving all of our other small electrics a chance to prove themselves worthy of a spot in our new space. One item that will be (sadly) getting the boot is our KitchenAid 11-cup food processor, but not because we don’t use it; on the contrary, this thing gets so much action, it is on its last legs. The protective film over the power buttons has become brittle and is completely worn away from the pulse button, the feed chute is cracked and the inside of the “S” blade stem has some dried-on crud that I have not been able to remove. I have had the appliance nearly 20 years, and KitchenAid no longer makes my model (or any of the parts), so my only choice will be to replace the machine.


Until then, I’ll keep going with recipes like this one, for easy homemade hummus made with garbanzo beans, lemony artichoke hearts and lots of fresh garlic. Hummus is one of my favorite “blank canvas” foods, and it’s so simple at home, it makes no sense to buy it. The other key ingredients include tahini, olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon, which is a perfect highlight to the tangy artichoke. 

Warm the garbanzo beans to soften them up before you begin and use a food processor or a good blender for best, smoothest results. Enjoy your hummus on crackers, chips, crostini or fresh veggie slices.


It’s so much tastier than store-bought!

Ingredients

15 oz. can garbanzo beans, with liquid

3 Tbsp. tahini* (see notes)

2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

About 1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts*, drained and rough-chopped

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Kosher salt and pepper

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


*Notes

Tahini is a paste made of ground sesame seeds. It is available in most larger supermarkets, usually in the same section as olives, or perhaps in the international aisle.

The artichoke hearts I used were Trader Joe’s, marinated in sunflower oil, vinegar and spices. If you use plain hearts, consider adding a pinch or dried herbs (dill or oregano would be great), and either way, drain all the excess liquid from them.


Instructions


Pour the entire contents of the canned garbanzo beans into a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until mixture just begins to boil. Remove from heat and drain liquid off beans, but do not discard it (you’ll use it for blending).

Transfer warm beans into a food processor or blender and pulse a few times to grind the beans into a meal-like texture. Scrape down sides of the processor bowl. Add tahini, garlic, artichoke hearts, salt and pepper. Pulse a few times to combine. Scrape down the sides again.

Turn processor on and run continuously while slowly pouring about 3 tablespoons of the warm liquid into the processor. Blending slowly will help to emulsify the ingredients into a smooth blend. Add more or less of the liquid, depending on your preference for hummus consistency. Remember that the mixture will become firmer after chilling. Scrape down sides once more.

Run processor continuously and slowly blend in about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Transfer hummus to a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for up to a week.



Artichoke & Garlic Hummus


Orange & Honey-Ginger Fruit Salad

You didn’t know it when you opened this post, but you are about to witness something that doesn’t happen all that often in my kitchen—a simple, two-ingredient twist that will transform a basic fruit bowl into a mouthwatering side dish that is almost as sumptuous as dessert. Unlike some of my other “make-the-whole-thing-from-scratch” ideas, this one really is ridiculously simple. You can apply this easy twist to virtually any kind of fruit, including pre-cut if you are short on time, and the fruit itself does not have to be fancy. Look at my salad again—it’s only pineapple, grapes and berries. What elevates this simple fruit combo into an elegant and special treat is the dressing.

Nothing fancy about this fruit.

It may be that you have never considered “dressing” a fruit salad, but why? We don’t often see a vegetable salad served dry, and fruit is just as worthy of dressing up a bit. Dressing a fruit salad is not only tasty; it also helps the fruit retain moisture and color. Try this once and you’ll be craving fresh fruit salad every day.

The dressing for this salad depends on two special ingredients that can only be purchased in a boutique olive oil and balsamic vinegar shop, and they are worth every penny. You have probably seen one of these stores, with all their shiny stainless steel containers lined up on a high table. Those containers, called “fustis,” hold exquisitely flavored extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars, ingredients which have uncanny power to change the way you cook. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that I used to work in one of those shops here in my city, and it was one of my most fun jobs ever—a true foodie fantasy, come true!

These days, nobody is paying me to share about these products, but I feel compelled to do so because of the one question we received over and again at the shop, from customers who enjoyed the flavors but asked, “what would I ever do with it?” Part of my job as a sales associate was taking home various products and coming back with inspiration for the home cooks who shopped our store. I guess you could say I took my job seriously, because I’m still doing it. 🙂

These flavors work great together!

The combination I’ve used for this fruit salad is blood orange-fused extra virgin olive oil and honey-ginger white balsamic vinegar. The vinegar has a slight tartness to it, but it is mostly sweet with the warmth of honey, and the ginger is subtle but present. The olive oil is rich with the flavor of blood orange, because the oranges and olives are pressed together during production. The result is so good, it makes itself at home in sweet and savory dishes alike.

At the end of the post, I’ll share some other ideas for using up these two ingredients.


Ingredients

2 cups fresh pineapple chunks, cut into bite-sized bits

1 heaping cup fresh strawberries, sliced into quarters

1 cup fresh large blueberries

1 cup fresh white seedless grapes

3 Tbsp. honey-ginger white balsamic vinegar* (see notes)

3 Tbsp. blood orange whole fruit-fused extra virgin olive oil*

Lime zest or fresh chopped mint or basil, optional for garnish


*Notes

I wish I could offer up a universal brand name for the olive oil and balsamics that I use, but they are bottled under various franchised shop names. Here’s a tip—if you have this type of store in your community, ask for the name of the supplier. If it is Veronica Foods, you’re in the right place. 😊


Instructions

Wash your fruit just before assembling the salad, and it’s best to add berries just before serving or they tend to get mushy. Combine all the fruit in a bowl large enough for easy tossing in the dressing.

Pour the honey-ginger white balsamic into a small bowl, or a glass measuring cup for easier pouring. Slowly pour the olive oil into the balsamic, whisking quickly and constantly, until the mixture is thick and syrupy.

Immediately pour the dressing over the fruit and toss gently to coat the fruit. Serve right away or refrigerate up to one hour before serving.

If you would like to put a little extra pizzazz onto the salad, sprinkle with fresh lime zest or thin strips of fresh mint or basil.




Looking for more ways to use your blood orange-fused olive oil?

Substitute for the equal amount of oil in your favorite carrot cake recipe

Use it in a marinade for chicken or fish

Drizzle a teaspoon over dark chocolate ice cream (yes, really!)

Toss vegetables in it before roasting

Use it in your favorite pancake or waffle recipe


Need ideas for using up the honey-ginger white balsamic?

Try it an any salad dressing, especially Asian-inspired salads

Use it in a marinade for chicken, fish, shrimp or pork

Add a splash to a cocktail or white sangria

Drizzle it onto vegetables after grilling or roasting

Add a tablespoon to your water bottle for flavorful summer hydration



Shrimp & Quinoa Salad

One of the benefits of working from home is the flexibility to carry out personal tasks during my workday. It is not unusual, even during my job’s “busy” seasons, for me to be working on a loaf of sourdough bread or some other dinner prep amid online conference calls or in between answering emails. So when my friend, Ruthanne, texted a few weeks ago to ask if she could come to my house for an online job interview, I instantly answered, “of course!”  

Her own home was more than 45 minutes away, and she needed a quiet place to land where she could conduct her meeting without attracting suspicion from management at her current job. My place was an easy solution, being just a few minutes down the parkway, and (obviously) I also promised her a tasty lunch.

Ruthanne has a fit, healthy lifestyle that is usually along low-carb lines with an emphasis on clean, whole food ingredients, and I took that into consideration when I planned this simple lunch. It was mostly made in advance—I cooked up the quinoa and sauteed the onions and tomatoes before she arrived, then I set her up in the loft space in our home, where she connected to our wi-fi, took a few deep breaths, shook off her nerves and started her call.

The irony of the situation is that my friend was hoping to land a position with a company that exclusively employs remote workers, and that was their practice even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced so many companies to create a remote plan. Job interviews are stressful under the best of circumstances, but this one was a high-stakes situation. After 15 months of pandemic-forced remote work, her existing employer had mandated an immediate return to the office. Like so many other people, my friend had adjusted to working productively in the quiet environment of her own home, and despite her pleas to continue the arrangement for a few more weeks so that she could manage new family obligations, it was a no go. She needed this new job.

When she descended from the loft with a huge smile and an expression of relief, I popped the top on a bottle of blood orange seltzer for a quick workday-friendly mocktail. We had to celebrate what she said felt like a sure thing. With the pressure of the interview behind her, we had just enough time left for lunch. I did a super-quick sauté on the shrimp (using the pesto compound butter I already had in the fridge) and arranged this tasty plate.

So much to love about a lunch that is quick, easy, satisfying and good for you!

This was a light, clean bite with a good, healthy dose of protein. Quinoa is the only plant-based food that satisfies all nine of the amino acids our bodies need, yet it doesn’t feel heavy or too filling. Mixed salad greens in vinaigrette were a fresh backdrop to the quinoa and the gently sauteed tomatoes provided a juicy pop of acid against the sweetness of the shrimp. It was exactly what we needed, and my BFF was able to scoot back to work on time.

It’s exciting to see how quickly things can happen when you are courageous enough to put yourself out there. Ruthanne begins her new job today, and I’m so proud of her! 😀


Serves 2 for lunch

Ingredients

1 cup cooked red, white or mixed quinoa* (see notes)

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 sweet onion slices, chopped

Small handful organic baby tomatoes, halved

2 handfuls mixed baby greens

4 Tbsp. vinaigrette (I used the last bit of some Good Seasons dressing, but any vinaigrette would work)

6 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined*

2 Tbsp. pesto compound butter*

Lemon wedges for serving


*Notes

Cook the quinoa ahead to allow time for chilling it. If you have found quinoa to have a bitter taste, you may have missed the step of rinsing it before cooking. Give these instructions a quick review to see how I prepped the quinoa. I made a large batch and used up the rest in other dishes.


The shrimp I used for this dish were “16-20” size, which means a pound of the shrimp would include 16 to 20 individual shrimp. Each portion of this salad included about 4 ounces of shrimp.

This recipe makes use of the compound butter I shared in my previous post, or you could swap in regular butter or extra virgin olive oil, but add a little minced garlic and herbs to the pan when you cook the shrimp.


Instructions


  1. Place a small, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Swirl in olive oil and heat until shimmering. Sauté onions and baby tomatoes just long enough to soften them. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl until you’re ready to assemble the salad.
  2. Toss the mixed greens in vinaigrette until lightly coated. Arrange the greens on the plate, reserving leftover dressing.
  3. Add the quinoa to the bowl with dressing and toss it around to absorb it. Mound the quinoa on top of the dressed greens, then scatter the onions and tomatoes over it.
  4. Heat the compound butter in the same skillet used for cooking the onions. When it is melted and the skillet is hot, lay the shrimp into the pan, taking note of the order you added them. After about one minute, turn each shrimp over, following the same order, to cook the second side.
  5. Arrange the shrimp on top of the salad. Drizzle any remaining melted butter over the top of the shrimp.


Green Goddess Dressing

Don’t be surprised to see a lot of late winter recipes showing up here with highlights of fresh summer herbs. No, I haven’t lost track of the seasons (not possible with all the bad weather news everywhere). It’s more a situation of appreciating the Christmas gift that keeps on giving.

My husband, Les, undoubtedly tired of my chronic lament over the deer having eaten my summer garden, gifted me this year with an AeroGarden. It’s a hydroponic, countertop device with individual seed pods for growing whatever your heart desires (or, at least, whatever is legal in your state). Knowing my love of using fresh herbs in the kitchen, Les opted for the herbal variety pack, which included two basil varieties, chives, mint, thyme and two kinds of parsley.

At first, the thing just sort of sat on the table by the kitchen window, blazing its bright blue light across the kitchen for 15 hours a day. The thing comes on by itself at 5:00 a.m., waking the pets, who then wander in to wake us, because they know it must be almost time to eat. It took me a couple weeks to adjust to this new growing schedule, about the same time that tiny sprouts emerged, first from the Genovese basil. It has been fun to watch our little herb babies grow. 🙂


What began as a fun “let’s see what happens” Christmas gift has turned into a “holy moly, what are we gonna do with all this parsley” adventure. By Valentine’s weekend, I realized I needed to do something with the parsley before it consumed the kitchen, as my outdoor basil did last summer in the backyard garden. Les had asked for simple embellishments to our romantic dinner of lobster tails, including roasted asparagus and a Caesar salad (his fave).

“How do you feel about green goddess dressing,” I asked. And so it was.

Green goddess is a throwback food, originally created in the early 1920s at a San Francisco restaurant, and at that time the dressing included mayonnaise, chives, scallions, parsley, garlic, anchovies and tarragon vinegar. By the late ‘40s, The New York Times published a recipe for it, and it hit the grocery shelves in bottled form about 1973. Thank you, Wikipedia, for all that helpful information.

Like any other recipe, green goddess can be switched up to match your flavor (and consistency) preferences. If you want to use it as a dip, ease up on the buttermilk and add more mayo. Hate basil? Leave it out and use extra parsley. If you are gaga for garlic, double it—or roast it for milder flavor. I went rogue a little bit and added a small handful of baby spinach leaves to this version (hey, they’re green), and I love a recipe that is so flexible. The dressing seems to me a mash-up of ranch and Caesar, but with a bounty of freshness to punch up the flavor and, thankfully, a perfect vehicle for freshly picked herbs.

I’ve made my own salad dressing for years, and this was my first green goddess but definitely not my last. Obviously!


Ingredients

1/4 cup thick cultured buttermilk

Small handful of fresh basil leaves

Small handful of curly or flat parsley leaves

Several stems of fresh chives

2 scallions (white and green parts), trimmed

2 cloves fresh garlic

4 to 6 fillets of anchovy, to taste* (see notes)

2 tsp. prepared Dijon mustard

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup whole milk Greek yogurt

Small handful fresh baby spinach leaves (optional)

1 to 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


*Notes

Remember that anchovies are fairly salty on their own, and you may or may not want additional salt in the mix. If you prefer to omit the anchovies, consider substituting a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce to add a similar punch.


Instructions


  1. In the small insert bowl of a food processor, combine herbs, scallions, Dijon, salt and pepper, anchovies and lemon juice. Pulse several times to chop herbs into somewhat uniform mixture.
  2. Add mayonnaise and Greek yogurt and pulse about 8 times. Give it a taste and adjust seasonings or ingredients as desired, pulsing to incorporate additions.
  3. Turn processor on steady and slowly drizzle olive oil into the dressing. Transfer dressing to a bowl and chill several hours or overnight.
Great as a dressing for crisp salad, or dipping sauce for fresh cut veggies!

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Midwinter Minestrone

Cold weather and shorter days gettin’ you down? Me, too. We’ve had a few close calls this season for snow or wintry mix, but not much has materialized here in the South, though we’ve had our share of cold, dreary days and nights. My friends and family around New York and Boston have seen far more than their share of winter this week, thanks to the Nor’easter that dropped a foot or more of snow. And Punxsutawney Phil, the jumbo rodent in charge of this whole thing, saw his shadow (or perhaps felt the snowflakes falling against his fat cheeks) this morning, and declared “six more weeks of winter.” The bottom line is that winter is getting old; we are all tired of it. What we need is some warm and nourishing comfort food.

I finally pulled out our 7-quart cast-iron Dutch oven and made a huge batch of this soup that never fails to chase away my midwinter blues—a steaming hot bowl of Italian flavor that is chock-full of fresh, nutritious vegetables, spicy Italian sausage, creamy beans and petite pasta. This is the kind of food that warms you from the inside, whether you’re dining at the table or curled up with a soft blanket on the sofa while eating your minestrone from a pottery mug and binging on Netflix. Whatever comfort looks like for you, this soup has it covered.

Minestrone is Italian, obviously, so I’ve seasoned it with my own “Mamma Mia” blend of herbs and spices. This seasoning blend was born more than a decade ago when I participated in a “reverse offering” experiment at church. We were given $20 and challenged to double (or more) that money for charitable donation. The effort was intended to show how we could use our own talents to make a difference in the world. I bought a bunch of bulk spices, turned them into blends and packaged them into baby food jars (which I found for free on Craigslist) with little fabric-wrapped tops for individual sale. The end of the story is that my $20 turned into almost $60 (a fine return), and I still have several of my blends in regular rotation today. Mamma Mia seasoning contains dried oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram and ground fennel seed, plus garlic and crushed red pepper. It’s zesty, herbal and a little bit spicy, and just the right punch of flavor in this minestrone.

Nothing says “comfort” better than a bowl of nourishing soup, and I hope you’ll find it just right for stuck-at-home days, snow days, waiting for snow days, sick of the snow days and—well, pretty much all the days.

Who says comfort food can’t be good for you? This soup has so much going on nutritionally.

This recipe makes about 4 quarts. You will need a large soup pot, slow cooker or Dutch oven to hold all the ingredients, but the recipe can easily be halved for a more manageable batch. This soup also freezes well, so you can pack some away for another gloomy day.


Ingredients from the pantry

Choose low-sodium, organic ingredients as much as possible. The spice blend in the jar is my own Mamma Mia seasoning.

Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper (of course)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 Tbsp. fresh chopped garlic

1 carton low-sodium vegetable broth

1 carton low-sodium chicken broth* (see notes)

28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes in tomato puree (San Marzano preferred)

15 oz. can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed (cannellini)

15 oz. can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

2 tsp. Mamma Mia Seasoning blend (see the end of the post for ingredients, or substitute another salt-free Italian seasoning + a few hearty shakes crushed red pepper flakes)

2 cups dry ditalini (or other petite shaped pasta, such as small elbows or mini farfalle)


Ingredients from the fridge

It looks like we are eating the rainbow with this soup!

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 cup chopped carrots

1 cup each green and red bell peppers, chopped

1/2 bulb fennel, sliced and chopped*

8 oz. cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 fat handful kale leaves, chopped small*

1 handful fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley, cleaned and finely chopped for garnish at serving

1 or 2 lbs. bulk hot Italian sausage* (optional, see notes)


*Notes

Minestrone is perfectly adaptable for a vegetarian, or even vegan, option. Simply swap more vegetable broth for the chicken broth and skip the sausage in favor of additional beans. For texture and interest, I’d recommend a can of garbanzo beans in place of the meat.

Fennel provides a real Italian flavor to minestrone, and the flavor is echoed in my Mamma Mia seasoning, which includes ground fennel seed. It has a crunchy texture that is similar to celery, and a slight licorice flavor that blends well with the other ingredients. Use only the white bulb part of the vegetable (see the slides for more description).

Any type of kale can be used in minestrone. Lacinato kale is commonly used in Italian cooking, but I used curly kale. If you prefer, you could also substitute about 1 1/2 cups finely shredded and chopped green cabbage. These hearty greens add texture and fiber to the soup.

You decide how much sausage, if any, you use in this recipe. My batch included only 1 pound this time, and I used a chicken sausage that was labeled “hot Italian.” Turkey or pork sausage would also work or as mentioned above, you could omit the meat altogether for a vegan version.

Want to make this in a slow cooker? Go for it! The soup doesn’t need much attention other than occasional stirring or adding ingredients. After the initial cooking of sausage and veggies, simply dump everything into the slow cooker and let it go on high heat for several hours, or low heat overnight. It may help to give the kale a quick sauté before adding to the crock, given that it is much larger volume before cooking and most slow cookers recommend filling only 2/3 full.


Instructions

First, the pictures, or you can scroll down for written instructions and a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.


  1. In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat 4 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned, breaking up larger pieces with a spoon or wooden utensil.
  2. Add chopped onions, carrots, celery, peppers, fennel and garlic. Stir and cook until vegetables soften, and the moisture released from them has mostly evaporated.
  3. Scatter Italian seasoning blend over the ingredients and stir to combine.
  4. Move the sausage and vegetables to the outer edges of the pot and drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil in the center. Toss in the mushrooms, half at a time, and gently toss them around to lightly brown them. If you’re using a slow cooker, transfer the mixture at the end of this step.
  5. Add the whole plum tomatoes, squeezing each thoroughly by hand directly into the pot. This will assist in breaking down the tomatoes for quicker cooking. Empty all puree into the pot as well.
  6. Add the vegetable and chicken broths and stir to combine. Heat soup to a low boiling point, then reduce heat to a simmer. This will take about 15 minutes.
  7. Stir in finely chopped kale and stir. Add piece of Parmesan rind and allow it to simmer with the soup for a few hours.
  8. Near the end of your expected cooking time, drain and rinse the canned beans. Season them with salt and pepper before adding them to the soup.
  9. Fill a large pot with water and cook the ditalini (or other petite pasta) to al dente texture. Drain pasta and add to the soup just before serving. Alternatively, drain the pasta, toss with a small amount of oil to prevent sticking, and transfer it to a separate bowl to be added to soup as it’s served. This will help you enjoy the soup several days later, without mushy noodles.
This soup is destroying my midwinter blahs!

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Mamma Mia Seasoning Blend


1 Tbsp. granulated garlic

1 Tbsp. dried minced garlic

1 Tbsp. dried Mediterranean oregano

1 Tbsp. dried basil leaves

1 Tbsp. fennel seed, crushed

2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

2 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1 tsp. dried marjoram leaves


Citrus & Fennel Salad with Olives

It isn’t surprising that I would find another way to highlight a food that is among the “seven species of Israel,” after the lessons I learned earlier this week in an online celebration of Tu Bishvat. The history and symbolism of Jewish food fascinates me, and it’s something that isn’t prevalent across all cultures. Though I’m not Jewish, my husband is, and I’m pleased that we each appreciate traditions from the other side. In our home, we observe Passover and Rosh Hashanah, Easter and Christmas. I’ve attended temple with him, and he’s been to church with me. Over the past year, we’ve joked many times about having been “to church” online more regularly than ever before in person. It’s my not-so-secret hope that houses of worship will continue what they’ve started with online availability, even after the COVID fog lifts and the doors re-open. There’s huge potential for new outreach by these virtual means.

Until that time, I’m taking the lessons however they come, and the online “new year of the trees” celebration, honoring the many blessings of trees and nature, paid particular homage to wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olives and dates—the aforementioned “seven species.” So I’m going with it.

Citrus fruit is very common in northern African cuisine, and it pairs really well with the savory flavors in this recipe.

Several years ago, I picked up this cookbook on a bargain table at TJ Maxx, one of my favorite places to find interesting culinary treasures and gadgets. I have been enthralled with the beautiful images of foods authentic to Morocco, and I’ve noticed many crossover ingredients to the foods of Jewish culture—it makes sense, geographically. Today’s recipe comes from page 16 of that book: a grapefruit and fennel salad, described by the author as a “lovely hot weather salad,” though I’m finding it a bright and refreshing addition to the table right here in the middle of winter. I’ve modified a few things from that recipe, as I always do. I believe this is how we discover new favorites.

The salad brings plenty of color to the table, and I can taste the sunshine in the beautiful winter citrus! I’ve used ruby red grapefruit, which leans sweeter than pink or white, in combination with navel and blood oranges for additional sweetness and color variety, plus licorice-y fennel slices and castelvetrano olives. If your supermarket has a bulk olive bar, this olive variety is easy to spot because it is bright green like Kermit the Frog. The flavor is buttery and creamy, almost akin to artichoke heart, and I love the slightly briny contrast it provides against the juicy citrus and crunchy fennel.



Ingredients

1 ruby red grapefruit*

1 navel orange

1 blood orange

Kosher salt

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 bulb fresh fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced

2 or 3 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced

1 tsp. cumin, caraway or fennel seed

Small handful of castelvetrano olives,* pitted (see notes)


*Notes

Ruby red grapefruit is not as tart as pink or white grapefruit. If you cannot eat grapefruit, try using an extra orange plus a Meyer lemon in its place. You would still have a variety of citrus flavors and colors.

The castelvetrano olives really do stand out, colorwise, on the olive bar. If your market does not offer these, you may also look for the variety in jars. Substitute Kalamata olives from Greece as a good alternative. I would not recommend regular pimiento-stuffed olives or canned “ripe” olives for this recipe. Purchase pitted olives if you can, or carefully cut them in half to remove the pit before adding them to the salad.

Instructions

  1. To prepare the grapefruit, cut it in half crosswise, as you would enjoy it for breakfast. Next, use the tip of a sharp paring knife to cut the segments from the membranes. Do this for each half, then spoon them out into a bowl. Squeeze remaining grapefruit juice over a strainer into a bowl and reserve for another use.
  2. To prepare the oranges, cut off the tops and bottoms so the fruit is stable on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to carefully cut from top to bottom, removing the peel and bitter outer pith from the fruit. Cut the oranges in half, top to bottom, then lay them flat side-down on the cutting board. Slice the oranges into half-rounds, about 1/2” thick. Some may split, and that’s OK. Add the pieces to the grapefruit bowl, and give it a pinch or two of kosher salt.
  3. In a small, dry skillet, toast the cumin (or caraway or fennel) seed over medium heat, swirling the pan continuously. After about one minute, the seeds to be toasty and aromatic. Remove from heat and allow them to cool.
  4. Scatter the sliced fennel and olives into the citrus bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss gently to coat. Transfer to a serving bowl.
  5. Sprinkle the scallion slices over the salad, then sprinkle with the toasted seeds and serve immediately.
If you want to go crazy and add pomegranate arils, too…well, maybe that wouldn’t be so crazy. 🙂
Keep those recipes evolving, dear friends!

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