Tag Archives: salad

Summer Dinner Party

9 Jun

So last Saturday night I catered a dinner party in Orlando. Back in April, I had donated a dinner party for 8 at a fundraiser for my Mom’s school and Saturday was the big night. I was thrilled to have had donated a prize that raised so much money for the school, but I was nervous that I had to live up to the donation.

The night started off as usual. I had my timeline prepped and my ingredients ready to go. All I had to do was show up and start cooking. I even had help. My Mom and her 2 friends were the “celebrity” guests that would be helping with dinner. I was ready. Here was the menu:

Watermelon Tomato Salad
Watermelon, tomatoes, feta cheese, red onion and white balsamic vinaigrette

Salmon with Raw Sugar Green Chili Glaze and Summer Succotash
Seared salmon with raw sugar green chili glaze and a succotash with corn, tomatoes, bacon and edamame

Cornbread with Lime Butter

Toasted Pound Cake
Toasted pound cake with topped with a cannoli cream and fresh berries

I started the night out by making the cornbread and the cannoli cream. I assigned things to my Mom and her friends as the night went on. I had my Mom make a surprise appetizers. As you can see the menu did not include nibbles to have out while the guest were arriving. We made brie stuffed dates with sliced almonds and balsamic glaze. I borrowed the recipe from Wegmans. It’s very simple…

Brie Stuffed Dates

12 dates, sliced down the center and pits removed
6 oz ripe brie (I use fromage d’affinios)
1 oz sliced almonds
3 oz balsamic vinegar, reduced by half

Stuff each date with a 1/2 oz of cheese and sprinkle with the almonds. Drizzle with balsamic and serve.

The night before the party I decided that the salmon really needed a sauce. Usually I fell like a glaze serves the purpose of a sauce, but this glaze was different. It was light, and almost caramelized on top of the salmon. It enhanced the crispiness of sear, but didn’t add that flavorful moisture to the entrée that the salmon really needed. I decided to make an aji sauce. Strangely enough, aji is pepper, but this sauce did not have any aji peppers in it. It did have anehiem and jalepeño peppers, but no aji. The sauce went perfectly with the salmon and the spicy sweet glaze.

One of the unexpected hits of the party was the cornbread. I was frantic to find a recipe that hit a happy medium between the traditional corn bread of the South and the sweet, pudding-y, corn bread of the North. I had success with this recipe:

3 cups white cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can creamed corn
2/3 cup sugar
3 cups well-shaken buttermilk
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted

Special equipment: 9×13 in pan

Preheating oven to 375°F.

Whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder and soda, and salt. Add eggs, corn, buttermilk, and 1 cup melted butter, then quickly stir together.

Bake for 50 minutes

Dessert was simple. I felt like I was cheating by using store bought pound cake, but since I made the corn bread, I thought it was a fair trade off. The cannoli cream was inspired by cannoli filling and a cake called a cassatta. The sweetened cheese tasted light and melted slightly over the warmed pound cake.

I had so much fun at this party. I can’t wait for my next one… next week!

Always thinking of the next meal


Christmas Dinner

26 Dec

Christmas dinnerSo Christmas has come and gone. Another day that comes with umpteen hours of planning and re-planning. Writing a menu and then re-writing a menu to accommodate all of the tastes of the guests in attendance. You want to be bold and impressive, but not be slaving in the kitchen for days. At least with Thanksgiving the menu is set by tradition. But Christmas is a different story.

This year I was entertaining my in-laws. There were 8 adults and 2 kiddies. Although they are willing to try everything I make for them, they are still warming up to my culinary experiments. I wanted to set a menu that was full flavored and inspired by Italy, but not predictable. It seemed to simple to me to have lasagna or chicken piccata. So here’s what I went with:

Christmas Dinner 2009

Mom’s Famous Italian Chopped Salad

Salute Roast of Pork, glazed with blood orange marmelade, roasted over fennel and sweet potaotes
Four cheese Italian potatoes au gratin
Haricot Vert sautéed with garlic
Roasted acorn squash with hazelnuts and balsamic reduction

And for dessert-

Christmas cookies and croquembouchecroquembouche

The salad was supposed to go out before the main course, however, a few people were late because of weather and traffic and so everything went out at once. Although, a slight change in plan, it still went over big, with the leftovers going home with my mother-in-law. Here’s the recipe for my mom’s famous Italian chopped salad.

1 head of romaine lettuce, chopped into small pieces

1 pint of cherry tomatoes

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup candied walnuts

3/4 cup or 4 oz of blue cheese (I use Danish blue, but she likes the crumbles)

1/2 cup homemade balsamic vinaigrette

Just toss all the ingredients together and serve. Reserve a few walnuts and a few crumbles of cheese to garnish with.Acorn SquashThe recipe for the dressing is simple. 1 tablespoon dijon mustard, 2 teaspoon honey, 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup good quality olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Purée on a blender or whisk until incorporated. Toss into salad gently. This salad is good anytime. It’s light and zippy (yes, zippy) and can be easily made into a main dish by adding grilled chicken or salmon.

To make the roast, I purchased a salute roast from the butcher and brined it the night before serving in salt, brown sugar, orange juice, and fennel fronds. When I was ready to roast the piggy, I set it up on a bed of sweet potatoes, fennel, and blood oranges. I roasted it at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 40 minutes and then let it rest for 30 minutes. The meat was a perfect medium well (which was a little more than I like, but the brine helped to keep the meat juicy and flavorful.) Every 30 minutes I brushed the roast with homemade blood orange marmalade which I made a few days earlier.

Everything turned out perfectly. We had a few leftovers, but well that made a great dinner tonight as orange glazed pork tacos with fennel and black beans.

Always thinking of the next meal (which won’t be for awhile)


Lettuce Entertain You

13 Oct

Ok so I’ve been hearing a lot of conversation about how lettuce has no nutritional value. Well the truth of the matter is that lettuce really doesn’t have that much nutritional value. It is a green leafy vegetable, so there are some nutrients. But, the lighter varieties like iceberg and romaine are further from the big nutritional ticket than say green leaf or arugula. Here’s the thing, people have no problem eating french fries and burgers and deep fried cheese,  but they are extremely picky when it comes to lettuce. Sure lettuce isn’t king when it comes to nutritional hierarchy, but it does carry a lot of water, and if nothing else a great base for salads.

IMG_0876Iceberg lettuce always get a bum wrap when it comes to salads. Oh it has no value, oh it’s like eating nothing. Well people, iceberg contributes one main thing to any salad it’s added to and that’s crunch. Sure romaine is crunchy, but nothing tops iceberg when it comes to crunch satisfaction. To the right is a picture of one of Ryan’s favorite salads, the wedge salad.

The wedge salad got started in the 50’s when iceberg was really the only lettuce in the game. It was a “wedge” from the head of iceberg, topped with tomatoes, nuts and other accompaniments. Iceberg was the only lettuce that was available to the general public and so really people just didn’t know that there were other lettuces available.

In the 70’s, with the produce revolt in California, people had to change their thinking on what lettuce meant. They started turning more unique lettuces. Unfortunately this was the temporary end of the wedge salad. But, as with most things, the wedge salad got another chance to shine. Today, you see this classic salad on the menu of trendy restaurants all over the country. Here’s my simple recipe

Wedge Salad

1/4 head of iceberg lettuce
cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup cooked, crispy bacon
3 tablespoons bleu cheese dressing, bottled or homemade
1 tablespoon, bleu cheese crumbles

Always thinking of the next meal


Bottled Un-Dressing

31 Aug

I love salad. There’s something about the contrast of textures and the unrestricted combinations of sweet and sour, soft and crunchy, and spicy and cooling. A salad lets you combine things that are not always found together in ways that other recipes can let you do. Salads can be very healthy, but can also be as fatty and heavy as a hamburger. I’ve even been to a restaurant that makes a hamburger into a salad!

The icing on the cake for a salad is the dressing. A bad dressing can ruin an otherwise perfect salad. For me the number one offender is fat free dressing. Let’s review a culinary basic… Fat = flavor. Fat free dressings are then carrying what? Not flavor my friends that’s for sure. So what is it then? Well that is a great question. It’s mostly chemicals, or flavor enhancers, or the “real” products have been altered to be fat free, even if they aren’t. Need an example? How about fat free raspberry walnut vinaigrette? There can’t be real walnuts in the dressing otherwise there would be fat from the oils in the walnuts. Catch my drift? They are using walnut flavoring… and honestly I’d rather eat real food that has a little fat than all those mystery chemicals.

Here’s my solution make your own dressing. You can make fat free dressing at home. I prefer the full fat kind but here are two recipes that you can make at home that will blow the top off of any bottle on the shelf.

Low Fat Buttermilk Ranch

1/2 cup fat free Greek yogurt
1/4 cup low fat buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh tarragon,minced
1 tablespoon shallot, minced
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
salt to taste

combine all ingredients and serve chilled

Balsamic Vinaigrette

1/4 cup good balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
salt and pepper

Combine the mustard and vinegar and the wisk in the vinegar. Slowly drizzle in the oil to combine. Serve chilled.

Happy salad making 🙂

Always thinking of the next meal


It’s all Greek to me!

26 Jul

So I was asked o bring a salad to my cousins bridal shower. The parameters? WHATEVER I WANTED! The only thing I was my cousin wanted chick peas on the salad. I originally thought about making a Mediterranean salad with roasted red peppers and artichokes, but not knowing the tastes of the masses I thought I would go a little less fancy.

Most people like Greek salad so I thought, why not. When making salad for 30 people the best idea is to keep it simple. A few ingredients that work well together and make a big flavor impact. With Greek salad this is easy to do. As with all salads you want to seek a balance of sweet, salty, soft, crunchy, acid and spice. Greek salad embraces all of these elements.

IMG_0695Here’s how I balanced the flavors in the salad.

Sweet: Sundried Tomatoes

Salty: Feta cheese/olives

Soft: Chick Peas/Feta Cheese

Crunchy: Cucumbers/Onions/lettuce

Acid: Peppers/dressing/tomatoes

Spice: Peppers/arugula

The dressing is also a very powerful element in a salad. For a Greek salad this is where the acid, and herbal notes come into play. The dressing recipe follows, but important flavor components come into play through the dressing. Oregano, lemon, and red wine vinegar are in the dressing and play a key role in Greek cooking. Here’s the dressing recipes:IMG_0697

Greek Dressing

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 extra virgin olive oil
juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 teaspoons honey

Try this salad out it’s definitely a winner on a hot summer night. Add some grilled chicken or salmon for a little boost of protein.

Always thinking of the meal