Appetizer · Side dish

Greek Salad

This is adapted from an Anne Willen recipe I found over twenty years ago. It is a constant favorite through summer, and we tend to make it on a weekly basis. It requires fresh herbs, and a lot of fresh vegetables. This makes a large portion – perfect for a cookout. Feeds around 10-12 people.

You will need:

  • 2 peeled, seeded and chopped cucumbers
  • 1 -2 lbs of tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small red onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 sweet peppers, deveined, deseeded, chopped
  • 3/4 cup pitted olives (kalamata is preferred)
  • 3 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • Fresh mint (around 4-5 sprigs)
  • Fresh oregano (around 4 sprigs)
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley (around 4-5 sprigs)
  • 6 oz good quality feta

Steps:

  1. Prep and cut vegetables and place them in a large bowl.
  2. In another bowl, whisk red wine vinegar & olive oil until it is emulsified. Whisk in a little salt, pepper, and fresh herbs. Pour over the salad.
  3. Crumble good quality feta and blend in with the salad.
  4. Serve chilled.
Appetizer · Mediterranean · Spanish

Pisto Manchego

Pisto Manchego is a typical ratatouille found in Spain. Like Caponata, it is meant to be spread onto bread. Often, it is served with egg, almost like a shakshuka.

You will need:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion whole
  • 5 cloves of garlic with skin on
  • 2 zucchini
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1 eggplant
  • 4-5 tomatoes
  • 1  tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine*
  • Salt and black pepper

Steps:

  1. Grill/roast the all the vegetables under the broiler until charred. This can take from 20-25 minutes. You will need to check frequently, and rotate the veggies.
  2. While they cool, you can remove the charred skin off the vegetables. Core and seed the peppers and cut into bite-sized pieces. Halve the eggplant and cut into bite-size pieces. Peel and chop the onion and garlic. Chop the zucchini and tomatoes.
  3. Preferably in a cast-iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic, red pepper, oregano and cumin. Saute for 2 minutes. Deglaze with white wine. Add the remaining vegetables.
  4. Cook – Bring to a boil then simmer until the vegetables are all tender and the sauce has thickened. Season with additional salt and black pepper.
Appetizer · Mediterranean · Spanish

Eggplant Fritters with Honey (Berenjenas con miel)

This recipe is typical of Southern Spain. It is best served fresh and hot. It serves 4 people for a Tapas/Appetizer portion. This would be delicious served with a white wine with some minerality such as pinot grigio or an albariño.

This is great during the summer, and is meant to be eaten immediately. However, you do need to have the eggplants soaking for an hour before you intend to fry them up and serve.

You will need:

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/3 inch discs
  • Flour
  • Honey
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt

Step one:

Peel the eggplant and cut it into circular slices about 1/3 inch thick. Put them in a bowl, add enough milk to cover, and put a small plate on top to hold them down. Let soak for 1 to 2 hours; drain. The purpose of the milk is to draw out any bitterness.

Step two:

Cover a plate with plenty of flour mixed with a sprinkling of salt. Working in batches, turn the eggplant slices in this so that they are entirely covered with flour, then shake them to remove the excess. Deep-fry in sizzling but not too hot oil, turning the slices over as soon as the first side is brown. Drain on paper towels.

Serve hot with a drizzle of honey.

Central American · Side dish

Curtido

Curtido or encurtido is a type of lightly fermented cabbage relish. It is typical in Central American cuisine, and is usually made with cabbage, onions, carrots, oregano, and sometimes lime juice. On Costa Rican tables, it is also really common to see a mason jar of spicy, pickled vegetables (chilero) which you add to your meals. It is essentially the same as giardineria in Italy. Curtido is a bit similar to American coleslaw in function, but with spice and without mayonnaise. It is really fresh and crunchy and goes on so many dishes.

While you often serve it with pupusas, we add it to all kinds of dishes to provide an acidic, textured punch: stir fry, hot dogs, with fish, crab cakes or sandwiches.

You will need:

  • ½ head green cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 1 small white onion, sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, grated
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • Chiles* optional

Steps:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, onion, and carrots. Pour the boiling water over the vegetables and toss. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Then, drain.
  2. Combine the vinegar, lime juice, oregano, salt, and chiles** in a measuring cup. Pour over the slaw and toss to coat. Once thoroughly mixed, transfer the curtido and any leftover liquid in the bowl to an airtight container.
  3. Chill for at least 20 minutes in the refrigerator or overnight for best results. This will keep for about 4-5 days.
Appetizer · Central American · Italian · Mediterranean · Side dish

How to Eat Your Vegetables

I’ve been thinking a lot about food and improving health, in general. This is a great pastime when I am procrastinating and avoiding my day job, which if I am honest is pretty often. I am sure you are well versed in the benefits of vegetables, so I will spare you. But do consider adding more into your life, because they will make you feel better, and I think returning to basics has been really helpful this year for me, mentally and physically.

I was born in the early 1970’s – a time where convenience and heavily processed food was the norm. This really clashed with how my great grandmothers and grandmothers cooked. Now, we understand the wisdom of eating fresh produce, and food that is in season. But for decades, the idea of microwave or canned food persisted. Do you remember the weird, sadistic trend of disguising vegetables in foods that kids would eat, like brownies?

When I was a kid, I would go to my other friend’s houses, and would always be shocked by the lack of vegetables, or the ones at the table were drowning in velveeta, boiled within an inch of their life, or was simply canned corn thrown in a bowl, like a sad afterthought. The only exception was my neighbors from Taiwan, where beautifully cooked vegetables took center stage. I was fortunate to eat there on a regular basis, because their daughters were close in age to me.

While I don’t want to pass too much judgement (people were busy, it was a different time), I was very lucky to have good practices and habits set in place by family. My rule of thumb when kids were young and I was very busy was to always make sure at least a salad was on the table. Now, I try to have multiple servings and options, especially in spring and summer when vegetables are very fresh. But I do believe that many people aren’t quite sure what to make, or need some inspiration. So I thought it might do some good to list out favorite vegetables side-dishes for you to enjoy and get inspired by. Most of these derive from Italian and Spanish cooking, but the winter vegetables, I picked up from neighbors whose dishes I admired.

Quick and Easy:

  1. Tomatoes & Feta – Heat oven to 350 degrees. Take campari tomatoes or slice a larger fresh tomato and place in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil & top with feta. Top with a little salt and ground pepper. Cook for 10-12 minutes.
  2. Cucumbers & Feta – peel, deseed and slice two cucumbers. Slice 1/2 small red onion thinly. Add a little salt and pepper. Mix 2 Tbs red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil and some fresh mint leaves. Blend to emusify and drizzle over cucumbers and onions. Add feta or goat cheese. *If you don’t have mint, this is also lovely with fresh basil or oregano.
  3. Quick Caprese – slice tomatoes and top with drizzle of a good olive oil and some basalmic vinegar. Grind a little salt and pepper on top. Add a slice of fresh mozzarella and some fresh basil. Top with basalmic glaze, if you have it.
  4. Sliced cucumbers – Peel & Slice 3 peeled cucumbers wafer thin on a mandolin and thin put them in a strainer. Add salt and let it sit in the strainer for 10-20 minutes. Squeeze all moisture out of the cucumbers and place in a bowl with 2 minced cloves of garlic. Add 1 tbs of white vinegar and salt to taste. Dilute with a little water if needed. This is best served chilled.
  5. Curtido This is mostly as a side for pupusas, but we love to use it as an all purpose slaw for barbecue, hot dogs, or crabcakes. I often serve it with fish for some crunch and dimension. We also add chiles, but that is optional.
  6. Grilled zucchini & summer squash – if you have time for the grill, this is fast and easy to put together.

Vegetable Spreads:

  1. Caponata – this is best made ahead and chilled. This is salty, sour, sweet, and decadent, all at the same time.
  2. Pisto Manchego – like Caponata, this is great spread onto a bread. Has roasted flavors & cumin notes.
  3. Roasted Red pepper Dip – this is great with pita and one I used to always bring to the break room.
  4. Romesco – this is probably my favorite staple, and is often in fridge and ready to go for eggs, bread, or fish.

Takes a little time, but worth it:

  1. Greek salad – this is a favorite in our family, and we make it on a weekly basis in summer. We always bring it to cookouts.
  2. Ciambottathis is favorite of our children. They used to call it pizza vegetables, and had no idea they were eating so many vegetables.
  3. Eggplants and honey – you have to soak the eggplants for an hour, but once they are ready. these are quick and easy to make.
  4. Grilled chile-lime corn – Preheat your grill. Partially shuck your corn and remove the corn silk. Put the husks back and dunk in cold water for ten minutes. Shake water off, and rub corn with butter and if you want some spice i.e. chili-lime seasoning or elote seasoning. Place husks back over the cobs, and grill for ten minutes. If you don’t want spice, salt, pepper and paprika will do.

In the winter:

  1. Maple sweet potatoes – this is so delicious in the dead of winter.
  2. Roasted potatoes, brusell sprouts and asparagus I often make this in fall in a large baking sheet.

Appetizer · Italian · Mediterranean

Caponata

Caponata is an awesome summer dish native to Sicily and Southern Italy. It is a prime example of something that does not look very appealing, but tastes like gold. Ideally, you make a large batch and then keep in the fridge, to chill. It is far better chilled on a hot summer day. Spread it on your bread while you socialize with family and friends and wait for dinner. Although recipes vary, as all good ones do, I love it with a lot of capers.

This is a recipe that I have enjoyed over the years, but didn’t have family knowledge to know exactly how to make. Years ago, I tried out a few, and found this one was close to what I was looking for.

  • 1 ½ pounds eggplant (1 large), roasted
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  •  Salt to taste
  • 1 pound ripe tomatoes, (preferably romas), or 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes (in puree)
  • 3 heaped tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped pitted green olives
  • 2 tablespoons plus a pinch of sugar
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (more to taste)
  •  freshly ground pepper to taste

Steps:

  1. Roast the eggplant in the oven, allow to cool and chop coarsely.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet and add the onion and celery. Cook, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes, and add the garlic. Cook together for a minute, until the garlic begins to smell fragrant, and add the peppers and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring, until just about tender, about 8 minutes. Add another tablespoon of oil and the eggplant, and stir together for another 5 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. The eggplant will fall apart, which is fine. Season to taste.
  3. Add the tomatoes to the pan with about 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of sugar. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan often, for 5 to 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and they smell fragrant. Add the capers, olives, remaining sugar, and vinegar. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, for 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are thoroughly tender and the mixture is quite thick, sweet, and fragrant. Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature. If possible, cover and chill overnight. Serve at room temperature.

Adapted from: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016445-caponata

Central American · Spanish

Black Beans & Rice

The recipe for black beans and rice varies from country to country, and as a result, there are arguments over the best version. Some add coconut, some add ham hocks or bacon, and some call for a lot of fresh cilantro. Unfortunately, there is no way to know exactly how my husband‘s grandmother made her recipe that he still misses to this day. I tried my best to get close to her original – this recipe borrows heavily from Cuban black beans, and can be adapted in a variety of ways. I use a lot of cilantro, because that was Abuelita’s preference. Now, on a time-saving note, you can totally use a slow cooker for this, but I must admit, I love making this with a great pot (see below) and letting it simmer on the stove old-school style. You can prepare regular white rice or Cilantro lime rice.

Portion: makes around 2 quarts.

Time: 2 1/2 – 3 hours

You will need:

  • 1 lb dried black beans, picked through and rinsed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (divided)
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped (divided)
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced (divided)
  • 1 Tbs salt
  • 1 tsp dried Italian oregano (divided)
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped Cilantro leaves
  • 1 heaping tbs sofrito (optional)

Step one:

Bring beans, bay leaf, ¼ cup chopped onion, ¼ cup chopped bell pepper, 1 Tbsp. garlic, 1 Tbsp. salt, ½ tsp. oregano, and 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot or ditch oven.

Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally and adding more hot water if needed to cover, until beans are tender and covered by about ¼” liquid, 2½–3 hours. Discard bay leaf.

Step two:

Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-low. Add remaining onion, bell pepper, garlic, and oregano; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft and beginning to brown, 6-7 minutes. Stir into cooked beans. Add 1 heaping tbsp of sofrito, if desired, as well as 1/4 cup fresh cilantro.

Step three:

Stir beans while simmering for 2 1/2 to three hours until cooked down.

One half hour before serving the beans, prepare your rice.

Serve black beans over cilantro rice and top with fresh cilantro, if desired.

Baking · Dessert

Lavender Tea Cake

In no way is this a family recipe, but an homage to my mother’s undying love for all things British and Downton Abbey. There are a variety of versions of this recipe on the Internet, so I cannot claim credit. We modified this and made this for her birthday – and find ourselves making it from time to time when lavender is in season. 

One appeal of this recipe is that it is VERY easy to assemble, and it is not too sweet. The texture is a bit bready, and is perfect for afternoon tea.

You will need

  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3 tbs fresh chopped lavender or 1 tbs dried lavender
  • 6 tbs butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Step one:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9×5 inch loaf pan. Combine the milk and lavender in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat to a simmer, then remove from heat, and allow to cool slightly.

Step two:

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Step three:

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; stir into the creamed mixture alternately with the milk and lavender until just blended. Pour into the prepared pan.

Step four:

Bake for 50 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a wooden pick inserted into the crown of the loaf comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Enjoy.

Baking · Dessert

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

I have been baking this cake all December for other people to enjoy. I think with Christmas being on a much smaller scale, I am trying to find ways to show appreciation and love to people I hold dear, but can’t necessarily see. Under normal circumstances, I would be sharing this with others, laughing, celebrating the holidays, and feeling rushed. This year is quiet and offers time to be more introspective and appreciative of the relationships that we do have.

This is not my recipe, but one of my absolute favorites I have adapted from Barefoot Contessa. I do several things differently; first, I like to use a bundt pan instead of a loaf pan for presentation. Another is that I don’t add the nuts to the streusel (I left it here in case you prefer it that way). I often use the maple glaze when making this for other people. However, when I want to make this less sweet for home, I skip the glaze and simply dust with powdered sugar.

The result is a very creamy edible coffee cake (or anytime cake) that pleases everyone. We fall back on it for presents to other people, mother’s day, and any occasion that calls for cake. It is a personal family favorite – it is rich, comforting and lovely.

Total Time: one and 1/2 hours

Ease of Recipe: medium

You will need:

For the cake:

  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1¼ cups sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2½ cups cake flour OR 2 1/4 cup all purpose flour and 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • For the streusel:
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
  • ¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

  • For the glaze:
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Step one:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan.

Step two:

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is well mixed.

Step three:

For the streusel, place the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and butter in a bowl and pinch together with your fingers until it forms a crumble. Mix in the nuts.

Step four:

Sprinkle half of the streusel in the bottom of the bundt pan. Spoon half the batter into the pan and spread it out with a knife. Sprinkle with the rest of the streusel. Spoon the rest of the batter in the pan, spread it out. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Allow to cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Carefully transfer the cake. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar and maple syrup together, adding a few drops of water, if necessary, to make the glaze thick but runny. Drizzle the glaze over the cake with a small spoon. Serve at room temperature.

Notes: If you don’t have cake flour, you can substitute 2¼ cups all-purpose flour plus ¼ cup cornstarch.

If the eggs are cold, place the whole eggs in a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes before cracking them.

Baking · Dessert

Homemade Whipped Cream

All you need is three ingredients and this incredibly versatile topping. I use this for cakes, pies, and my personal favorite, served alongside fresh strawberries.

Total Time: 15 minutes

You will need:

  • A hand mixer and a bowl (chilled, if you have time)
  • I cup – Heavy Cream or Whipping Cream (cold)
  • Confectioner’s Sugar, to taste (2 tbs – 1/4 cup)
  • Vanilla, to taste (1/2 – 1 tsp)

Begin with cold cream – the colder the cream, the lighter the result. Whip your mixture for about 10-15 minutes, until medium peaks have formed.

Chill in the refrigerator until needed.

Serve with fresh fruit or use to top a cake or pie.