Saturday, July 31, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers: Greek Panzanella

Greek Panzanella was this month's Barefoot Bloggers pick. Though it may not take any longer to prepare than any other salad, this is no ordinary salad. The tangy, Mediterranean flavors in the vinaigrette along with the toasted bread cubes gives this dish its original flair. It would be a great dish for a party or dinner guests as it's more memorable than your everyday salad but isn't any more trouble to prepare. It's the kind of dish that guests are sure to remember, but you won't have to sweat over it too much.

This recipe was paired with an Herb-Marinated Pork Tenderloin in the episode guide. That sounded good so me so I whipped that up too. The recipe utilizes fresh herbs and lemon juice as a marinade which compounds the tenderness of the already tender loin. A bright and cheerful dish - both to the eye and to the palette.

Greek Panzanella
(from Barefoot Contessa)

  • Good olive oil
  • 1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 red bell pepper, large diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced in half rounds
  • 1/2 pound feta cheese, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup calamata olives, pitted


  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup good red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread cubes and sprinkle with salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 5 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Add more olive oil as needed.

Place the cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, tomatoes and red onion in a large bowl.

For the vinaigrette, whisk together the garlic, oregano, mustard, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper in a small bowl. While still whisking, add the olive oil and make an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Add the feta, olives and bread cubes and mix together lightly. Set aside for 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Supper: Quickie BBQ and Mac n' Cheese

Please Note: I'm having a bit of a blog template hiccup, so the background and sidebar items may look altered until I can restore order.

I love BBQ. When I was younger and traveled around with my parents, my dad was always searching for the best BBQ. He became a self-professed connoisseur of BBQ sauces from different parts of the south. I'd never attempted making it myself until about 2 years ago - of all times, when my parents were visiting for dinner! I don't know what I was thinking. Though that first try was just average, my dad gave his compliments, but to me, I imagine he would have said it was good even if it tasted like cow dung.

Anyway, nothing speaks summer quite like BBQ. This time I followed the Neely's recipe for BBQ sauce and it yielded much better results than my last attempt. I roasted the chicken in the sauce and then shredded it. It's topped with a Green Apple Slaw.

Now Mac n' Cheese might not scream summer the way that BBQ does, but it sure goes well with it.

Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from Real Restaurant Recipes

2 c. dry macaroni
4 tbs. butter
4 tbs. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 1/2 - 3 cups milk
1 egg
2 cups aged cheddar cheese

Cook, rinse, and drain macaroni, then set aside. Melt butter in pan then add flour, salt, and pepper and whisk until blended. Gradually stir in 2 1/2 cups milk (adding more later if needed for consistency) and whisk often until sauce thickens. In a large bowl, whisk the egg then add the macaroni and stir until coated with the egg. Then mix in the cheese and finally, the sauce. Pour into a lightly oiled baking dish and sprinkle more cheese on top, if desired. Bake at 350 for about 20 - 25 minutes.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Since reinstating "Pizza Friday" in April, we've been faithful in upholding the tradition. Though not always innovative with our choice of toppings (which often falls to pepperoni and olives), the crust and sauce are always homemade. In April, I referred you to Elise of Simply Recipes for a spectacular crust recipe, which with her fine pictures and directions is sure to be a success. So this time, I thought I'd share a sauce recipe.

This sauce has a balanced sweet/salty flair with the addition of the Parmesan cheese and honey. It flattered the similar sweet/salty combo of this week's choice of toppings: pineapple and Canadian bacon.

Pizza Sauce
(adapted from

1 can tomato sauce
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 medium clove garlic, minced (about 1 tsp.)
1 tbs. honey
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. basil
pinch pepper
pinch salt

Combine and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Spread over crust and top as desired.

In other news . . .

This was the perfect accompaniment for a stormy Saturday afternoon. In case you can't tell, the book is the Penguin Classics edition of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Since most of my Austen books were purged in a yard sale several years ago (I must have been in one of my desperate purging moods), I'm thinking of rebuilding my collection with these hardcover editions. Each cover is slightly different and they have such a nostalgic feel to them (minus the dust and musty smell of most vintage books).

I hope you're enjoying your weekend . . .

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer Supper: Inspiration

Whenever I get into a food funk I try to reflect on past sources of inspiration to light my cooking fire again. These days, my sources of inspiration are mostly blogs and food websites, and of course, cooking shows (which incidentally, I watch while I'm working out - go figure).

Of course, this hasn't always been the case. The internet was just taking off when I was a teenager and we didn't have a home computer until I was in my sophomore year of high school. Growing up, my earliest influence was cooking with my mother. I worked alongside her nearly every evening, preparing dinner. When I was younger my mother was what you might call a "homestyle" cook so under her direction I learned the basics - sauteing, searing, frying, baking, all that good stuff.

However, it was travel that sparked my interest in becoming more exploratory and experimenting with unfamiliar ingredients. My dad traveled internationally for work and I often tagged along. After each trip I strove to recreate the flavors that I'd experienced abroad in my family's kitchen.

The first "gourmet" dish that I ever made was a Honey Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Fennel from the book, Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. Both the fennel and the Mascarpone cheese that the recipe called for were virtually unexplored ingredients in our household. It was a much richer dish than my family was used to eating but it was deemed a success. I started tinkering with the ingredients and eventually transformed it into something that became a regular stand-by recipe for potlucks and family gatherings.

I would say that experience defines my approach to food which is a blend of trying out the creations of others, and then tinkering with my own additions and adaptations.

One of my recent inspirations is David Lebovitz, who I discovered when I was searching for a recipe for spanakopita. I stumbled across his and gave it a shot - it was a fabulous pairing of simple ingredients. The only thing that I left out was the nutmeg.

I served it alongside a marinated bean salad. The twangy, slightly sweet Mediterranean flavors complimented the earthy flavors of the feta and spinach in the spanakopita.

Marinated Bean Salad

3 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. red wine vinegar
2 tbs. honey
2 tbs. chopped, fresh mint
1/4 c. parsley
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 cucumber, diced
2 tbs. olives, minced
1 can of white/Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed well
squeeze of lemon juice, about 1-2 tsp.
salt and pepper, to taste
feta (option, for topping)

Whisk together oil, vinegar, and honey. Add all other ingredients, through salt/pepper and toss gently. Allow to marinate at least one hour (longer is better) in the refrigerator. Sprinkle individual portions with feta cheese, if desired.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Too Hot to Cook

Ok, I'll add to the plethora (don't you love that word?) of posts out there about the heat. It's hot, folks. As I went out to water my flowers this morning I grew just a little bit irritable as I broke into a sweat at 8:00AM! The heat has also impacted my desire to cook. I've been trying not to let the air conditioner run constantly so it's usually pretty balmy in my house. The last thing I want to do is raise the mercury even higher by turning on the stove or the oven. I'll admit I'm not altogether too inventive when it comes to no-cook food so it's usually just the standard salad or sandwich.

Last week, while it was still in the 80s (which seems like it would feel really nice and cool right about now) I made this pasta dish that I read about from a fellow blogger at The Hungry Dog. It seemed like it would be a nice break from the usual tomato-based pasta dish. Indeed, it was! The sauce was creamy, without the cream and no single flavor was too overpowering. I love the flavor of cooked spinach and the ham added a hint of sweet saltiness. It was a great summer comfort food; filling, but not too heavy, and best of all, simple.

I've posted my adapted version below as well as a link to the lovely, original post at The Hungry Dog, who found the recipe in Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, which looks like a lovely cookbook.

Pasta with Spinach Sauce

1 16 - oz. package fresh spinach
3 tbs. butter
1 c. cubed ham
1 15 oz. container ricotta
1/2 c. grated Parmesan
1 lb. penne pasta

In a large pot, cook spinach over medium heat until reduced and wilted. Drain slightly. (Note: I didn't excessively drain my spinach as I wanted the spinach water to replace some of the butter in this recipe, allowing the sauce to maintain a liquid consistency. ) Saute the ham in butter for several minutes until lightly browned. Add the ricotta, Parmesan, and salt to taste. Cook for several more minutes or until heated through, adding small amounts of salted pasta water if necessary to achieve the desired consistency). Cook pasta according to package instructions then drain and combine with sauce. Top with more freshly grated Parmesan cheese if desired.

Enjoy! This pasta was fantastic. Thanks again to The Hungry Dog for the inspiration.