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Tomato Salad with Toasted Bread

September 4, 2014 Menu, Salads No Comments

Summer is quickly coming to an end, which means that an abundance of ripe and juicy garden tomatoes is on its way! One of my favorites ways of enjoying garden tomatoes is in a nice tomato salad. There’s nothing fancy or intricate about this dish. Just add some salt and pepper, a little olive oil, maybe a dash or two of balsamic vinegar and some fresh chopped basil to your sliced tomatoes, and voila…a quick and tasty tomato salad. Of course, you can kick it up by adding some fresh chopped cucumber, red onion or chunks of cheese. Even bacon pieces add a nice touch. Whatever ingredients you may choose, it doesn’t take much to create a delicious tomato salad.

However, I did pick up an interesting and easy trick to make tomato salad that much better from my sister-in-law Carmela, while we were all on vacation this past summer. By simply toasting up some cubed and lightly seasoned day-old bread, you now have a crunchy and tasty side to serve with your tomato salad. Home made croutons, if you will! The toasted bread not only adds a nice crunchy bite, it also balances out the wetness of the salad by soaking up some of the juices…which, of course makes the toasted bread even more enjoyable.

Just as I had suggested with seasoning the tomatoes, you don’t have to do a lot to enhance the flavor of the toasted bread. A quick drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper before toasting makes for a tasty basic crouton. If you want a more flavorful and zesty crouton, try adding some parmesan cheese, garlic and/or onion powder, or some Italian seasoning. The amount that you add is all according to your taste. Just make sure that you’re using good quality day-old bread, because good bread is ALWAYS the key to a good Italian meal!

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Step 1: Cut up day-old crusty bread into 1″ cubes. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and any additional seasonings that you prefer. Bake at 325˚ for 10 minutes, making sure not to burn the bread.

 

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Step 2: Slice up your tomatoes (along with cucumbers and red onion if you prefer).

 

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Step 3: In a large bowl, mix together your sliced veggies, some salt and pepper and a dash or two of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. You can add additional spices and seasonings, along with other ingredients (cheese, bacon, etc.) to your liking. You can also prepare the salad earlier in the day and keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

 

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Step 4: Plate your salad and toasted bread. Top with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Serve and enjoy!
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Kale Salad with Cannellini Beans, Gorgonzola and Balsamic Bacon Vinaigrette

November 7, 2013 Appetizer, Entrees, Menu, Salads No Comments

If you’re a follower of healthy food trends, I’m sure you’ve come across quite a few recipes that use kale. If you are not familiar with kale, it is one of the latest and greatest super foods, loaded with vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Because it has risk-lowering benefits for various forms of cancer, and also has cholesterol-lowering, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and cardiovascular benefits, kale is being enjoyed not only as an edible green, but also as an ingredient in protein shakes and body-cleansing juices. I’ve only recently been introduced to kale, served by my brother and his wife as a salad mixed with quinoa, and have since been inspired to try out my own version of a mixed kale salad.

Because kale has a very thick and firm texture, it is often recommended to cook it before serving, to help soften it a bit for easier digestion. Many health food sites recommend steaming it for 5 minutes, for maximum nutrition and flavor. You can also sauté it as you would spinach or other greens. You can, of course, serve it raw, as I do in the recipe that follows. To help soften the leaves and make them easier to digest as a raw salad, you want to thoroughly wash the leaves in warm to hot water for at least 5 minutes, making sure to rub away any grit or dirt. You then want to rinse the leaves again in cold water. This method is called massaging. Remove any thick pieces from the kale, then shred or chop the remaining leaves. You can then add your additional ingredients, then toss with a salad dressing.

My mixed kale salad included the following ingredients. You can add whatever amount you prefer:

• white cannellini beans;
• grape tomatoes;
• crumbled gorgonzola cheese;
• fresh bacon bits; and
• home made balsamic bacon vinaigrette dressing (recipe below).

Obviously, the bacon vinaigrette may not be the first choice for a healthy salad, but I was looking to make it a bit more hearty and flavorful. You can substitute it with a lighter dressing, such as a fresh citrus vinaigrette, if you wish.

For more ideas on how to prepare and serve kale, check out the following links:
whfoods.com
cookinglight.com

Balsamic Bacon Vinaigrette Dressing
(Courtesy of finecooking.com)

2 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small shallot, minced
1-1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small (1-quart) saucepan over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a dish lined with paper towels, leaving the bacon fat in the pan. Add the shallot to the bacon fat and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 Tbs. of the vinegar and scrape the bottom of the pan with a spoon to dissolve the browned bits stuck to the pan bottom. Off the heat, stir in the remaining 1/2 Tbs. vinegar, the lemon juice, and the mustard. Gradually whisk in the olive oil (don’t worry if the sauce doesn’t emulsify). Season with 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper, or to taste.

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Capri Phyllo Squares

January 10, 2013 Appetizer, Menu, Salads No Comments

If you’re a fan of tomatoes, it’s highly unlikely that you enjoy eating them this time of year. Like a good friend of mine said on one of her Facebook posts, “winter tomatoes are pretty with no personality”. The response posted by another friend, saying that “they have the personality of Ted Baxter” still makes me laugh. But just because we are not in prime time tomato season does not mean that you cannot enjoy a store-bought tomato that is jazzed up with a little extra flavor when added to the right dish.

One of my favorite Italian dishes that uses tomatoes is the classic Capri Salad. A simple combination of tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil, the Capri is the perfect marriage of taste and texture. Whether served as a traditional salad drizzled with aged balsamic, or served appetizer-style on a fancy toothpick, it may be one of the most refreshing combinations that I like to enjoy throughout the year.

For today’s post, I’m adding a bit more depth and texture by incorporating a phyllo dough wrap to make an amazingly simple and tasty appetizer!

Capri Phyllo Squares
4 roma tomatoes, sliced (you’ll need 12 slices in all)
12 slices fresh mozzarella cheese
(tomato and cheese slices should each be about 1/2″ or so thick)
12 pieces fresh basil
1 packet of frozen phyllo dough, defrosted
(one packet should give you 18 sheets phyllo dough. You will then cut the sheets in half, leaving a total of 36 sheets)
melted butter for brushing
olive oil
salt and pepper for seasoning
balsamic vinegar

Turn oven on to 350˚. Place tomato slices on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake tomatoes in the oven for 7 minutes to soften a bit. Remove tomatoes from oven, leaving oven on.

To assemble the wraps, you will need three sheets of phyllo, stacked. Lightly brush one side of the stacked phyllo with butter. Place the butter brushed side down on a new baking tray lined with parchment paper. Place on the phyllo one slice of tomato, one slice of cheese and one basil leaf. Gently fold all four corners of the phyllo to cover the tomato, cheese and basil. Flip the square so the folded side is face down on the tray. Continue these steps until you have 12 folded phyllo squares spread out evenly on the tray. Place in oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, carefully remove squares from tray. Plate and serve immediately. For additional taste, add a very light drizzle of balsamic vinegar to the squares.

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Summer Salad with Lime Vinaigrette Dressing

July 15, 2012 Menu, Salads 1 Comment

After spending the entire Fourth of July holiday weekend at the grill cooking up all kinds of meats, it was time to get back to some healthier eating. I picked up some tilapia and some crabmeat, but wanted to do something fun and different with it. I decided to add it to a fresh-tossed salad along with a home made lime vinaigrette dressing. Worked perfectly! The light and flavorful fish complemented the fresh-tossed red leaf lettuce, tomatoes, and olives, and the lime vinaigrette added the perfect summer zing.

Use this recipe as a basic template, and change it up to your liking. Not a fan of tilapia or crabmeat? Try some fresh cooked salmon. Not a fish fan? Go with chicken! Is romaine your favorite lettuce? Go for it! Looking to make it more of a meal? Fill a pita or a wrap with the salad!

Just stick with the lime vinaigrette….trust me.

 

 

SUMMER SALAD WITH LIME VINAIGRETTE DRESSING
adjust ingredients and amount to your liking 

1 head of romaine or red leaf lettuce, chopped
black olives
cherry tomatoes
fresh chopped red onion
Parmesan crusted tilapia (see recipe below)
1 can lump crab meat

Combine all  ingredients. Top with Lime Vinaigrette Dressing (recipe below), and a dusting of parmesan cheese.

Parmesan Crusted Tilapia
Lightly coat two pieces of tilapia with olive oil. Lightly coat each side with salt, pepper and parmesan cheese. Broil in oven until flaky.

Lime Vinaigrette Dressing
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Stir all ingredients together.

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