Asian-inspired Salad Excitement

Asian Inspired Salad ExcitementIt’s hot. Boy, it’s hot — maybe too hot to even contemplate eating. But if you do have an appetite of any sort, this Asian-inspired dinner salad might be just what’s needed, and you don’t have to turn on the oven.

I wanted to make something that was as chock-full of textures as it was of flavors. There’s crunchy, crispy, and soft elements — and everything in between. It’s also a salad that’s open to substitutions, so don’t feel that you have to be married to the idea of roasted edamame if you can’t find any at your local grocery store. The ones I used are displayed by the cash registers as snack options at our local food co-op.

Serve dinner with a nice, cold Sauvignon Blanc or Sake. If you’re planning on leftovers for the next night, store the ingredients separately and toss right before serving.

Asian-inspired Salad Excitement


Serves 4

1 pound chicken thighs, cubed
6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 Tablespoon cooking oil
1 Tablespoon Hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 medium carrot, shaved into thin slices
1 cup roasted edamame
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
4 cups baby greens
4 green onions, chopped
juice from one lime
a drizzle of teriyaki salad dressing

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Drizzle oil and coat the bottom of the pan. Add chicken, Hoisin, and soy sauce and cook until chicken just begins to brown. Add mushrooms and cook a bit longer, until the shiitakes soak up some of the sauce and become soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Add all ingredients into a large bowl, drizzling everything with the lime juice and salad dressing. Toss everything together and serve right away. For even more crunch, crumble some ramen noodles on top.

Tortellini Summer Salad

Tortellini Summer SaladI know, I know… I kind of fell off the end of the blog world for a bit there. I’ve been in the midst of the worst case of writer’s block I’ve experienced in a long time, but I’m coming out of it, creating new recipes, and am happy to be sharing with you again.

This week’s creation occurred when I realized I had been a bit too enthusiastic in my tomato and avocado purchasing. When those first “Grown in California” produce options roll out, it’s so hard to say, “No.” It’s so easy to get greedy at the start of summer, and suddenly, you have more ripe produce than you can easily consume.

I added to the abundance of tomatoes and avocados with items I had in my pantry and freezer — and counter top. I paired it with a red blend of Italian varietals. The fruit forward flavors of red fruit and leather, along with a nice structure, made it the perfect combination with the sweet, savory, and tangy tastes in the salad. While you may not have access to a bottle of Montoliva Vineyard and Winery’s Sierra Bella, other options would be Montepulciano, Super Tuscan, or even a Primitivo.

Tortellini Summer Salad


Serves 6

2 cups of dried cheese tortellini
4 oz of pancetta, browned and chopped
1 small yellow onion, sliced
juice from one lemon
3 tomatoes
2 avocados
10 oz grilled red peppers (I used frozen and defrosted them by draining the hot pasta over them in a colander.)
balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Boil a pot of water and add tortellini. Cook until pasta is softened, about 14 minutes. Drain pasta and rinse under cold water to remove most of the heat.
While the pasta cooks, warm a pan over medium heat and brown the pancetta. Remove to cool and, using the same pan, saute onion slices. Pour a drizzle of balsamic vinegar over the onions and stir, cooking until the onion has browned. Remove from heat.
Chop tomatoes and cube avocados. Add them to a large bowl and toss with lemon juice, olive oil, another drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and black pepper. Add onions, drained pasta, grilled peppers, and chopped pancetta. Toss together and taste to see if any more olive oil, vinegar, or pepper is needed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for about an hour.
Toss again to redistribute the liquid, and serve.

Dinner Salad with Farro

dinner-salad-with-farroLast week, Charles and I went to the Alsace Festival in Anderson Valley, something that has become a yearly tradition for us. It’s always a wonderful weekend filled with equally wonderful wines and sumptuous food, but after a few days of rich food and maybe a little bit too much wine… it’s good to have simpler fare.

For us, that usually means lots of greens and other healthy options. In fact, our bodies were craving tons of leafy greens and whole grains, so I threw together a salad which revisited our plates a couple more times during the week while we recovered from our libations. Other than lots of layering, this salad is about as easy as they come. We paired the salad with a lovely Muscat Blanc from Navarro. While we didn’t pick it up on this trip, it was an amazing Anderson Valley wine and was a nice companion to the many savory and sweet flavors of the meal.

Dinner Salad with Farro

  • Difficulty: super easy
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Serves 6

1 1/2 cups farro
12 cups mixed baby greens
1 pint fresh blueberries
4 Tablespoons nutritional yeast (for a savory, almost cheesy flavor)
1 pint white button mushrooms
1 pint yellow cherry tomatoes
5 oz. soft goat cheese (optional) (I used Truffle Tremor for a compliment to the mushrooms and nutritional yeast.)
12 green olives, sliced
6 Tablespoons slivered almonds
extra virgin olive oil
pear balsamic vinegar

Place farro in a fine sieve and rinse under cold water. Drain and put in a pot with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then cover and cook over low heat for thirty minutes. Remove from heat and drain any extra water. Rinse under cold water to cool down the grains and let drain completely.

Evenly divide all ingredients (except olive oil and vinegar) onto six plates. Drizzle salads with olive oil and vinegar to taste and serve. This is a dinner that will make your belly feel good!

Quick Veggie Burritos

Quick Veggie BurritosThere’s nothing quite as quick and delicious as stopping by the local taqueria and picking up a couple of burritos. While it may be easy, those quick calories can start adding up on your waistline while depleting your wallet — or at least, that’s been my experience.

So, I decided to create something a bit healthier, though still pretty simple to make, and crafted a quick and tasty veggie burrito. I kept things inexpensive by using frozen veggies and prepped a few days of burrito fillings in advance so that I can spoon some mix into a tortilla and warm it slowly on the stove top soon after I get home from work. Not only are these almost as easy as dropping by the taqueria, they’re just as hearty, and they’re bursting with healthy vegetables. And seriously, these things are yummy!

Pair them with a nice ale or lager, or a white wine that can play nicely with all the different flavors, something like a Fumé Blanc.

Quick Veggie Burritos


Serves 4

high heat oil
garlic salt to taste
red pepper flakes to taste
1 cup chopped broccoli
1 cup mixed mushrooms
1 cup precooked butternut squash, cubed (I even got this frozen!)
4 Tablespoons canned tomatillos
1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
2 Tablespoons sliced black olives
1 cup walnut pieces
handful of cheese (A combo of mozzarella and cheddar is nice. So is queso fresco.)
1 avocado, cubed
4 spinach wraps or other large tortillas

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.
On a cookie sheet, scatter the broccoli, mushrooms, and squash in a single layer. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper flakes. Cook until the veggies begin to brown, about ten minutes if they’re frozen, about five if they’re fresh.
Preheat a griddle or large pan over medium low heat.
Remove veggies from oven and put in a large bowl. Dump in the rest of the ingredients and stir together.
One by one, place tortillas on griddle and flip after a minute, leaving just long enough for the tortillas to be warmed and become more flexible.
Spoon approximately a cup of filling onto the middle-side of each tortilla. Fold tortilla and roll until a burrito is made.
Place on the griddle and cook on each side until lightly browned, about a couple minutes per side.
Serve with chips and salsa.

Winter Squash Soup

Winter Squash SoupYou ever spy a bunch of beautiful squash and end up buying them even though you have no idea what you’re going to make with them? No? Just me?

Well, that’s exactly what I did the other day. The winter squash had just been stocked, and it looked lovely. There was my favorite — red kuri squash, but while I was at it, the acorn and delicata looked good too, so…

Once I got them home, I thought the savory flavors of the kuri paired with the sweeter delicata and acorn would make a tasty soup. My instincts were right on. This is honestly in my top five recipe creations of all time. It was so good, rich and creamy and full of flavor. It will definitely be a regular player on the dinner table this winter. I paired it with a Paris Valley Road Chardonnay. While not usually a big Chardonnay fan, this wine was absolutely transformed by the soup, complimenting the sweetness and supporting the creaminess beautifully.

Winter Squash Soup


Serves 4-6

1 acorn squash
1 delicata squash
1 red kuri squash
2 Tablespoons butter
5 sage leaves
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
salt, pepper, and garam masala to taste
4 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock to make this vegetarian.)
sriracha to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut squash in half and remove strings and seeds. (I kept some seeds for next year’s garden.) Place cut-side down onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and cook until a fork can slide into it, about 20 minutes.
Let cool. Scoop out the squash flesh from the skin. (I did this the night before and kept the squash in a reclosable bag in the fridge until I was ready for the next step.)

On the stove top, heat a saute pan over medium-low. Add the butter and sage and swirl around the pan until butter begins to turn a light brown. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl.

Return pan to stove, turn heat up a bit, and cook onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and garam masala until onions begin to turn translucent. Turn off heat.

In a blender or food processor, mix squash, butter and sage, onion mixture, and stock a little at a time (Probably around two cups each try) until everything is blended smooth. Pour blended mixture into a large pot and continue until everything has gone through the cycle.

Place pot back on the stove and reheat on low until soup begins to slowly bubble. Stir in a squeeze or so of sriracha for a bit of heat, and taste to see if any other spices need to be adjusted.

Spoon into bowls and serve with some crusty sourdough bread.

End of Summer Pasta Salad

End of Summer Pasta SaladAs summer winds into autumn, I begin to be lulled into a false sense of satisfaction, as crisp nights cause me to begin to dream of sweaters and boots and cooking hearty meals in the kitchen. Then, BAM!, the hot days come back with a vengeance, a t-shirt feels like too much clothing, and there’s no way I’m turning the oven on after all. Happens every year. You’d think I’d learn.

Despite the heat wave, my body has decided it’s pasta time, remembering the chilly mornings before the 100 degree F days. I thought I’d compromise with my cravings by making a cold pasta salad, something assembled, the only heat required being boiled water. I paired dinner with a Red Meritage, enjoying the play of flavors with the different salad ingredients.

End of Summer Pasta Salad


Serves 6-8

1 lb conchiglie pasta
a few splashes of sundried tomato and garlic vinaigrette
4 oz capers
2 roasted red peppers, diced
3 oz kalamata olives
6 crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 basket of cherry tomatoes
1 slicer tomato, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (I used Pennyroyal Farm’s Pepper Moldune. It gave the salad a nice hint of heat.)

Put a large pot of water over high heat. Cook pasta to package directions.
While pasta is cooking, put mushrooms in a large bowl and drizzle a bit of vinaigrette over them. Toss mushrooms until they’re fully coated. Toss roasted peppers, olives, capers, and sliced tomato into the bowl, mix well, and set aside. This will give the mushrooms a chance to soak in the flavors of everything else hanging out with it.
Once pasta is finished, drain and rinse with cold water until the pasta is cool. Work the pasta through your fingers a bit, since conchiglie likes to nest into clumps.
Add cooled pasta, cherry tomatoes, and goat cheese to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Drizzle on a bit more vinaigrette and toss until everything is happily mingled.
You can serve right away, or cover it and leave it in the fridge until the next day, as it will be even more flavorful after a night’s rest.

Kitchen Sink Chickpea Salad

garbanzo bean saladWhile the light is beginning to change and speak more strongly of autumn, our local produce bounty is just now reaching its peak. Harvest and crush is already in full swing in the wine world, and tomatoes are so bountiful, the kitchen is saturated in their heady scent.

I happened across a recipe from PBS that featured chickpeas and fresh produce, and wonder of wonders, I had a can of garbanzo beans in the cupboard., so I thought I’d give the salad a shot. Of course, I wasn’t content to leave it as it was. I had to add to it a bit, as I had some feta that wanted to be used and some mache, and oh, an avocado that had refused to ripen for a week and a half until I decided to make this salad. Like so many instances with me in the kitchen, if there’s a chance for a dinner filled with produce, I’ll opt for even more produce.

We paired dinner with a dry Riesling. It went pretty well, but nothing like last week’s pairing. There were no fireworks, but sometimes, when you have a dish that incorporates a whole host of flavors like this one does, pretty well is good enough.

Kitchen Sink Chickpea Salad


Serves 4

1 can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 lemon cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup of green olives, sliced
1/2 cup of feta cheese, crumbled
1 avocado, cut into small cubes
1 cup mache or green salad mix
2/3 of a red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 of a red onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
juice from half a lemon
drizzle of lemon-infused olive oil
drizzle of champagne vinegar
salt and black pepper to taste
20 mint leaves, chopped

Put everything in a large bowl. Using tongs, or your hands, toss until everything is well mixed. Cover and place in the refrigerator. For best results, save it for dinner the next day, as it gives the beans time to absorb all the flavors, but if you’re hungry NOW, it can be eaten fresh, too.

Not-so Traditional Panzanella

panzanellaYou have a sourdough loaf that’s a couple days past its prime, a whole lot of tomatoes, and a grumbling belly. What do you do? Make a bread salad for dinner!

The reason this post is titled, “Not-so Traditional Panzanella” is because traditionalists usually only create it using bread, basil, tomatoes, and onions. Like the way I feel about making stock, I think you should make your meal with what’s already in the kitchen. If that means you open the refrigerator door and spy, say, olives and a bit of mozzarella — and maybe there’s an avocado sitting on the counter that has to be used today or it will be too old for anything but guacamole — well then, use them! If the flavors seem like they’d meld well, go for it. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but the best way to stick to a food budget is to eat what you buy. Wasted food is money down the drain, or into the compost heap, so make sure to figure out how to use those random leftovers you have hanging around the kitchen.

I paired the panzanella with a Dolcetto, and it was phenomenal! It’s the type of pairing one dreams about, that perfect harmonizing of food and drink. There was a lovely counterpoint to the tomato, basil, avocado… even the olives. If I had more Dolcetto in my collection, this would be our meal for the rest of the summer. Unfortunately, I only have one more bottle, and it can be a hard wine to come by in California. People don’t know what it is, so they’re hesitant to try it. It’s a beautiful wine, but because folks won’t buy it, winemakers don’t make it. Please, don’t be scared! Search it out, and have it with this recipe.

Not-so Traditional Panzanella


Serves 4

Most of a leftover sourdough baguette, cut in one-inch pieces
pinch of dried sage
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
drizzle of olive oil
3 tomatoes, cut in chunks
1 avocado, cut in chunks
4 ounces of mozzarella
7 ounces of kalamata olives
20-30 basil leaves
drizzle of olive oil
drizzle of balsamic vinegar

Warm a skillet over medium heat. Drizzle in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the skillet. Toss in bread, sage, and pepper and stir until bread begins to golden.
Remove from heat and toss the bread, with the rest of the ingredients, in a large bowl. Cover the bowl and set in the refrigerator for a couple hours so the flavors have a chance to combine well.
Remove and serve.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

stuffed green bell pepperIt’s pepper time in our neck of the woods. The summer’s presented us with a few heat waves, and while that might not be all that pleasant for us, it is for our local produce. When making a dinner of stuffed peppers, you may want to wait for a gap between hot days. Who wants to turn on the oven when it’s 100 degrees F outside? Certainly not me, but even on a warm day, this is a quick to prepare dinner, with a minimum of oven time.

What goes well with green bell peppers? I thought sausage mixed with rice pilaf and some blue cheese seemed like just the ticket. Then I paired dinner with a Cabernet Sauvignon, one with a bit of bell pepper characteristic but not too heavy on the tannins. It was a good match. ***One other thing, you’ll have stuffing left over. Save it for the next morning, scramble some eggs, mix it all together, and make into a frittata. Waste not, want not!

Stuffed Bell Peppers


Serves 2-4

4 green bell peppers, tops cut off and seeds and ribs removed
1 lb sausage
1 cup rice pilaf (I used a local company’s — though they’re offered all over — Wild Porcini Mushroom pilaf. You can also make your own.)
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Warm a skillet over medium heat and cook sausage. Set aside.
Cook rice pilaf to package directions.
Stir together pilaf, sausage, and blue cheese. Stuff mixture into each pepper until nice and full. Set tops of peppers back onto the rest of the bell.
Place peppers onto a wire rack set into a baking pan and cook for 30 minutes. About 20 minutes in, take the pepper tops off and set onto the rack in the baking sheet so the stuffing browns a bit.
Remove pan from the oven and let sit about five minutes. Place peppers on plates and serve.

Nectarines and Arugula on Filo Dough

Nectarines and arugula on filo doughMiss me? I’ve been pretty busy with some house hunting/packing/moving of late. Dinner usually comes after a long, exhausting day, and I’ve been gravitating to a few standbys to get me through the evening cooking process. I’m going to give you the low down on how I cook healthy meals while being super swamped, but for today, I have slightly fancier fare.

Nectarines have just come into season in California. They’re one of my favorite fruits, and I love to incorporate them into both sweet and savory meals. I decided to take them and some other in-season ingredients and plop them on some filo dough for a crispy — though rather messy, dinner. I discovered this meal in its open-faced layout required a knife and fork to eat it. If you’d like something a bit easier to eat, fold over the filo into square or triangle pockets so you won’t need a knife. (You’ll just need to add the arugula before folding.) Either way you go about it, pair with a rosé, and enjoy a quick meal after a long day.

Nectarines and Arugula on Filo Dough


Serves 6-8

3 white nectarines, sliced
1 package of prosciutto
15 ounces of ricotta cheese
a few dollops of soft goat cheese (I used my Farm to Table shipment of laychee with chive flowers.)
handful of fresh arugula
8 sheets of filo dough
walnut oil (or olive oil)
black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
On a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, roll out the 8 sheets of filo dough. Drizzle, or spray if you have an oil sprayer, a fine layer of oil over the filo. Spread the ricotta in a nice, even layer, followed by the dollops of goat cheese. Lay the prosciutto evenly over the cheese, followed by the nectarines. Drizzle or spray a little more oil and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.
Cook for about 10 minutes or until the edges of the dough turn golden brown. Sprinkle on the arugula and return to the oven just long enough for the arugula to wilt, three to five minutes more.
Remove from the oven. Let sit for five minutes, then cut with a pizza cutter into eight pieces, and serve.