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.



  1. Oh, I have to try this! It looks delicious and those beans are a wonderful thing!

    I see you are reading Harper Lee's book. What a book and it is the 50th anniversary of her writing it.

  2. Love this...looks fabulous! I love northern beans, I started eating them all the time this last winter and have not stopped!
    I know what you mean we had internet in our house when I was 16 and it was the best. So many great recipes out there at your fingertips.

  3. This looks perfect for a summer picnic and I love the feta in there as well.

  4. what a delicious bean salad, I love the feta! I find inspiration in so many places, so much now comes from fellow bloggers, but I read all the time!

  5. Bean salads are wonderful, light enough to eat in the heat and yet filling. This one looks super tasty! The spanakopita sounds great too . I like nutmeg so I'd probably be adding extra :)