roasted butternut squash salad with cider vinaigrette

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It’s hard to believe that most years, I’m anti-anything fall until October 1st. Not this year. September included pumpkin breakfasts, apple desserts, and plenty of pumpkin beer. Granted, the weather was pretty warm in September and the trees were still green so it didn’t feel much like fall, but it didn’t feel like summer either.

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That all changed on October 1st, when I had to turn the heat on for the first time, and our dinner complimented the cool, crisp weather – salad with roasted butternut squash, cranberries, walnuts, and dressing made from reduced apple cider, served with sweet potato biscuits.

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Every ingredient in the salad is maximized. The squash, seasoned and drizzled with maple syrup, is roasted until it’s caramelized. The walnuts are toasted, and so are the cranberries, which was a trick I hadn’t seen before. The cider, reduced to less than a third of its initial volume, is mixed with acidic cider vinegar and emulsifying mustard to form the base of the dressing.

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It was delicious; so good, in fact, that I made again the next day for lunch. It was sweet, but also tangy from the dressing, a bit bitter from the walnuts, and spicy from the arugula. I also like that the hot squash and dressing slightly wilt the arugula – it shrinks it a bit, so it doesn’t take so darn long to eat a nice bowl full of greens. Which is a good thing, because then I can eat more of it.

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One year ago: Spinach, Artichoke, and Red Pepper Strata

Printer Friendly Recipe
Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette
(adapted just slightly from Barefoot Contessa)

I used less oil. I didn’t measure the amount, but I’m guessing it was ¼ cup; I only ever use enough oil to just balance the acidity. Also, I liked to let the dressing and squash cool just a few minutes before mixing them with the greens. I forgot the cheese the first time I made the salad, when I photographed it.

1 (1½-pound) butternut squash, peeled and ¾-inch) diced
good olive oil
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons dried cranberries
½ cup walnuts halves
¾ cup apple cider or apple juice
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 ounces baby arugula, washed and spun dry
¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Preheat the oven to 400F.

2. Place the butternut squash on a sheet pan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, the maple syrup, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper and toss. Roast the squash for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once, until tender. Add the cranberries and walnuts to the pan for the last 5 minutes.

3. While the squash is roasting, combine the apple cider, vinegar, and shallots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the cider is reduced to about ¼ cup. Off the heat, whisk in the mustard, ½ cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon of pepper.

4. Place the arugula in a large salad bowl and add the roasted squash mixture, the walnuts, and the grated Parmesan. Spoon just enough vinaigrette over the salad to moisten and toss well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

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pickled coleslaw

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Salads can be tricky, because if I’m eating a big bowl of vegetables, it better be healthy, you know? But there’s the whole salad dressing issue. Vinaigrette is the standard lighter option, but even it’s usually based on olive oil.

Coleslaw is no exception to the salad dressing problem. Many coleslaws are simply cabbage, mayonnaise and seasoning. Not only is this a little plain for my taste, but it turns coleslaw into a full-on indulgence. Even my favorite buttermilk coleslaw recipe includes a bit of mayonnaise and sour cream (which could probably be replaced by plain yogurt), although the base of the dressing is lowfat buttermilk.

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A lot of people don’t even like creamy coleslaws, preferring vinegar-based slaws instead. I like both types, and at first I thought these vinegar dressings were the no-fat answer for coleslaw, until I found out that most involve oil, like a typical vinaigrette does.

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The solution, it turns out, is pickled coleslaw. The cabbage here is mixed with nothing but vinegar, water, sugar and salt. Those ingredients have to be heated to dissolve the sugar, then cooled so they don’t wilt the cabbage. Then they’re mixed with the shredded cabbage and a few other vegetables (sadly, I didn’t have a cucumber around when I made this, so I had to skip it), and refrigerated overnight – or for longer, if need be.

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What a great way to eat a big bowl of vegetables. Since I’m not worried by a wee bit of sugar, there’s nothing for me to feel guilty about here. And it isn’t just about being healthy – it tastes great too. It’s tart without being too sour and has a wonderful crunch. Even Dave, pickle-hater that he is, enjoyed it. Gotta love a salad without compromise.

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One year ago: Mashed Potatoes with Kale

Pickled Coleslaw (from Deb Perelman for NPR)

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Brine:
1½ cups distilled white vinegar
1½ cups water
⅓ (2.33 ounces) cup sugar
2½ tablespoons kosher salt

Slaw:
1 small head green cabbage
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced into 1- to 2-inch pieces
1 carrot, peeled and very thinly sliced
1 kirby cucumber, thinly sliced

Bring brine ingredients to a boil in a 2-quart nonreactive saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. (Use a pan of stainless steel, glass and enameled cast iron; avoid pure aluminum and uncoated iron, which can impart an unpleasant taste to recipes with acidic ingredients) Transfer to a 3- to 4-quart nonreactive bowl and cool completely. To speed this process up, you can set the bowl over a second bowl of ice water, and stir, which will quickly chill the brine.

Halve, core and halve again the head of cabbage, then finely slice it with a knife, or run the quarters through a food processor fitted with a slicing blade.

Toss sliced cabbage, bell pepper, carrot and cucumber in bowl with brine. Cover with lid or plastic wrap, and refrigerate, tossing the ingredients once or twice in a 24-hour period. After one day in the brine, the coleslaw is ready to serve. It keeps for up to 1 week, chilled.

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farmer’s market salad with spiced goat cheese rounds

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This is a bit of a misnomer for me, as I haven’t found a convenient farmers market since we moved to Pennsylvania last January. We drove half an hour to one last year and bought some nice eggs, but it didn’t have much in the way of produce. I hear there’s another, 30 minutes in the opposite direction, but honestly, my grocery store sells local produce and I’m lazy.

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Whether you buy your ingredients at a farmers market or the grocery store, you’ll end up with a delicious salad. We’re talking greens, topped with potatoes, green beans, slivered carrots, tomatoes, and, mmm, goat cheese. I used purple potatoes and I wanted yellow beans (yellow green beans?) for maximum color impact, but couldn’t find them. The original recipe also has black olives, and I included them the first time I made this salad, but they didn’t seem to fit with the other flavors.

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Now let me be honest: I put quite a bit of work into this salad. I roasted the potatoes and the green beans, I cut the carrots into the thinnest of coins, and I dutifully rolled discs of goat cheese in a colorful spice mixture. (Oh, and I unceremoniously dumped a pre-washed bag of mixed greens into a bowl.)

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Some of this is nice for maximum potential, but not strictly necessarily. The tomatoes? Expendable; I’m not sure they matched the rest of the ingredients anyway. The spices? Couldn’t taste ‘em. And it’s not like you’re really going to improve on goat cheese anyway. The shallot in the dressing? Nah. You could spend half the time, focusing on just the key components of this salad – the greens, dressing, potatoes, beans, and did I mention how much I love goat cheese? – and get a very similar result.

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On the other hand, if you do you have access to one of those colorful outside markets where the farmers are friendly and the produce is varied, mix it up! It’s a salad, and you’re not going to ruin it by making it your own.

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One year ago: Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream

Farmers Market Salad with Spiced Goat Cheese Rounds (adapted from epicurious)

Makes 4 main-course servings

Goat cheese rounds:
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1½ teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
¼ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
16 (½-inch-thick) rounds chilled soft fresh goat cheese (from one 11-ounce log)

Vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse kosher salt

Salad:
1 pound baby new potatoes (such as Dutch yellow baby potatoes), halved
1 pound green beans (or mix of green and yellow), trimmed
8 cups (loosely packed) mixed salad greens
12 ounces assorted small tomatoes (such as cherry, grape, and teardrop; preferably mix of red and yellow)

For goat cheese rounds:
Line baking sheet with waxed paper or parchment paper. Mix first 6 ingredients in shallow bowl. Dip cut sides of goat cheese rounds into spice mixture to coat. Place on prepared baking sheet. Chill until ready to serve. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.

For vinaigrette:
Whisk first 4 ingredients in small bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil. Season with coarse salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewhisk before using.)

For salad:
Steam potatoes until just tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer to plate; cool. Steam green beans until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Rinse under cold water; drain. Pat dry with paper towels. ( Potatoes and green beans can be made 6 hours ahead. Wrap separately in paper towels. Place in resealable plastic bag; chill.)

Combine greens and basil in large bowl. Add enough vinaigrette to coat lightly; toss. Arrange on large platter. Add potatoes and green beans to same large bowl; add remaining dressing and toss. Arrange potatoes and beans atop greens. Scatter tomatoes and olives over. Surround with goat cheese rounds.

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mushroom salad

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I used to read cookbooks like novels. I don’t require pictures, and I don’t like to skip around – I’ll be annoyed making the chocolate cake from Chapter 10 if I’m still reading through Chapter 2’s salads. It feels like a spoiler; like when I was sad to see Gandalf die in The Fellowship of the Ring, and Dave tried to make me feel better by telling me that he comes back in the next book/movie. I hate spoilers.

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These days, though, I can’t seem get through an entire cookbook. I think I need a new method – like accepting that it’s okay not to read every step in every recipe. I’m only on Chapter 3 (Eggs, Dairy and Cheese, yum) in Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, which I got for Christmas. I’m still very happy with the cookbook – everything I’ve made from it has been great, and the recipes get me excited to cook. But right now, it’s just sitting on my shelf while I focus on other things. Since I haven’t read much more than the soups and salads chapters, that’s all I ever make from the book.

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These mushrooms, from the salad chapter, made a handy side dish for meatball sliders. They’re nice and easy – after sautéing the quartered mushrooms with some aromatics, you mix them with vinegar and olive oil. Then just set them aside to marinate.

The simple mixture was surprisingly good. I was worried that Dave wouldn’t like them, because he doesn’t like pickled anything, but they weren’t sour, just a little tangy. It makes the big green cookbook on my shelf that much more enticing.

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One year ago: Cappuccino Cream Puff Rings

Mushroom Salad, Italian-American Style (from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

I didn’t actually measure anything, which is normal for me for a Bittman recipe. He presents his recipes more as ideas to get you started than rules to follow. I’m guessing I used less oil, and I just added vinegar to taste.

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound butter or other mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup minced onion
1 tablespoon slivered garlic
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup chopped parsley leaves for garnish

1. Put 3 tablespoons oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the mushrooms, and cook, stirring occasionally and sprinkling with salt and pepper, until they give up their liquid and begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat a bit and add the onion, then cook until the onion softens, another 5 minutes or so. Add the garlic and cool, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes more. Turn off the heat.

2. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and stir in the vinegar and remaining tablespoon of oil. Let cool to room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Garnish and serve or let sit at room temperature for another hour or two before serving.

tofu croutons

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Let me give you some insight into what kind of person my husband is. For his birthday a few weeks ago, I offered to make whatever he wanted for dinner, for an entire weekend. The first two meals he chose, salmon pesto pasta and sushi, were predictable. The last one is what made me roll my eyes – he requested salad. When questioned about specifics, all he could come up with “lots of different kinds of lettuce is always nice.”

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Really? Who requests leafy green salad for a birthday dinner? I like salad, but I don’t consider it a treat.

Fortunately, other than that general guideline, I could do whatever I wanted with it. I thought these tofu croutons would be a good protein source, and then I could serve the salad with tasty homemade garlic bread.

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My first run-through with these croutons wasn’t absolutely successful. I followed the recipe exactly, but from the beginning, there were two things that I was uncertain about. One was the lack of salt. It’s not like tofu has so much flavor on its own that it can pass without anything extra to give it a boost. The other was the size that the tofu cubes were supposed to be cut into. They seemed big, but I wasn’t sure how much they would shrink after baking, so I kept them at the 1-inch cubes the recipe recommended.

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The results were, sure enough, too big and too bland. The second time I made them, I cut the tofu into half-inch cubes and sprinkled some kosher salt over them before baking, and I liked them a lot more. The outsides are crispy, the insides are meaty, and the overall flavor is nutty. Their taste, texture, and nutrition make them a really great addition to salad.

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One year ago: Potstickers

Tofu Croutons (adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

Enough croutons for 2-3 salad servings

I didn’t actually measure the salt when I sprinkled it on. I know I used too much, and I really don’t think you need much.

I only recently figured out that there’s two kinds of tofu – regular (or brick or Chinese) and silken (or Japanese). Regular is packed in water, not sold in the aseptic boxes. That’s what I used here. It has a chewier, “meatier” texture.

14 ounces firm tofu
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400F.

2. Cut the block of tofu in half lengthwise (so from a rectangle into two flatter rectangles). Use a kitchen towel to press the tofu dry (or dry-ish – you don’t need to put tons of effort into this).

3. Cut the slices into ½-inch cubes. Put the cubes on a parchment-lined baking mat and sprinkle with the salt and drizzle with the oil. Toss gently to coat.

4. Bake at 400F for about an hour, until evenly browned. There’s no need to rotate them; they’ll brown evenly. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before using.

chopped salad

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Last month, I was looking at pictures with my 2-year-old nephew, and when we came to a picture of my sister when she was six months pregnant, he pointed to her and said, “That’s Aunt Bridget!” Wow, thanks buddy. I know my pants fit kind of tight lately, but at least they’re size-six pants!

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So I’m thinking I should eat more salads. Okay, that isn’t the reason – mostly, I just like salads. I like salads served either as the main dish or before the rest of the meal. Too often salads are an afterthought pieced together from iceberg lettuce, out-of-season tomatoes, and bottled dressing, and they’re served alongside a meal that they don’t compliment.

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I know chopped salad hardly needs a recipe – just take your favorite vegetables and serve them over lettuce. I’m just excited about this particular combination – in about a week, I had it for dinner twice and lunch once.

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My salad includes romaine lettuce, along with carrots, cucumbers, celery, red pepper and red onion. I added hard-boiled eggs for protein and avocado to mellow the tartness of the vinaigrette. I chopped everything except the lettuce into about ¼-inch cubes, which made them easy to scoop up with a fork. There’s just enough lettuce to get maybe one small piece with each forkful of chopped vegetables.

Nothing makes me feel healthier than eating a big bowl of salad for dinner. And that makes me look forward to dessert that much more.

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Chopped Salad (adapted slightly from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

Serves 4

Vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons vinegar – good choices include balsamic, sherry, red wine, white wine
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch black pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 medium carrots, peeled
4 stalks celery stalks, preferably from the heart, washed
1 medium red onion
1 medium red bell pepper, washed
1 regular-sized cucumber or 2 english cucumbers, washed
1 avocado, halved, seed removed, flesh scooped from skin
2 hardboiled eggs, peeled
2 romaine hearts, washed and dried

1. For the vinaigrette: Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tightfitting lid and shake until combined.

2. For the salad: Chop all ingredients except romaine into ⅛- to ¼-inch cubes and place in large bowl. Cut romaine into approximately 1-inch pieces and add to bowl.

3. Add vinaigrette to salad ingredients and mix thoroughly. Serve.

chanterelle salad with speck and poached eggs

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I don’t know if there could be a less appetizing name for a more delicious food than there is for Speck. When I hear Speck, I think of Star Trek or maybe dust particles – I do not think of spicy smoked ham.

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I almost dismissed the Speck in this recipe entirely. I figured that proscuitto or pancetta, both of which I can get at my regular grocery store, would make a convenient substitute. But then I was right near an Italian butcher, and it was no big thing to go in and grab some Speck. I’m glad I did, because I love the stuff. I wish I’d had some proscuitto to taste alongside it, because I feel like I liked the Speck more than I normally do proscuitto, but I haven’t eaten enough proscuitto to really remember.

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After my first uncertain egg on salad experience, I seem to have become somewhat enamored with the idea. In this salad, I really enjoyed the warm savory egg on the tart dressed greens. The Speck, sautéed until crispy, was of course delicious. I wasn’t crazy about the cooked chanterelles in the salad – they seemed a little too chewy to fit in with the other ingredients. Dave really liked them though.

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I didn’t follow the recipe exactly – I had just made fresh bread, so I skipped the toasting step. I also made a different dressing. As if one hard-to-find ingredient in the recipe wasn’t enough, you’re also supposed to reduce Vin Santo, an Italian dessert wine, for the vinaigrette, and mix it with walnut oil. I made a simple balsamic vinaigrette and was happy with it.

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Notwithstanding the chewy mushrooms, this salad was very good. This was a nice, light meal that left me plenty of room to eat some of the chocolate chip cookies that I have coming out the wazoo.

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Warm Chanterelle Salad with Speck and Poached Eggs (from Bon Apetit December 2008 )

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 fresh thyme sprigs
3 garlic cloves, divided
1 pound fresh chanterelles, cleaned, cut into ⅓-inch thick slices
nonstick cooking spray
4 ounces ⅛-inch-thick slices Speck, rind trimmed
6 ¾-inch-thick slices ciabatta or pain rustique
½ teaspoon salt
6 large eggs
2 small heads butter lettuce, coarsely torn (about 11 cups)
6 cups mâche or arugula (3½ ounces)
Vinaigrette

Preheat oven to 500F. Combine 4 tablespoons oil and thyme in large bowl. Press 2 garlic cloves into oil with garlic press; whisk to blend. Add chanterelles and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Spray rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Spread mushroom mixture on sheet. Roast mushrooms until tender, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes.

Cut Speck crosswise into ¼-inch-thick strips. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in small skillet over medium-high heat. Add Speck; sauté until crisp, 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Toast ciabatta slices until golden; rub with remaining garlic clove. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil. Halve each slice lengthwise.

Fill large skillet with water and bring to boil. Add ½ teaspoon salt. Crack eggs, 1 at a time, into custard cup, then slide egg from cup into water; reduce heat to low. Poach eggs until whites are set and yolks are softly set, 3 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss lettuce and mâche with enough vinaigrette to coat. Mound salad on 6 plates. Using slotted spoon, remove eggs from water, dab with paper towels to absorb excess liquid, and place atop salads. Garnish with mushrooms and Speck. Place ciabatta fingers around salad and serve immediately.

Balsamic Vinaigrette (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar , or wine vinegar
½ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
⅔ cup olive oil

Whisk first 2 ingredients with salt and pepper in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil, so the vinaigrette emulsifies. Serve.

gazpacho

While everyone else has been getting excited about fall, publishing recipes with pumpkin and apples and cranberries, I’ve been desperately holding on to summer. Not only do I just plain like being warm, but I didn’t get my fill of summer produce this year. I only ate corn on the cob one time – just one! I’m a disgrace. And I can never get enough of flavorful seasonal tomatoes.

Gazpacho, to me, is the quintessential summer dish, putting the spotlight on tomatoes, with cucumbers and peppers singing backup. I served this gazpacho to a friend of mine from Spain, and he said that it was as good as any gazpacho he’d had over there. This is good stuff.

I’ve always been a big fan of traditional hot tomato soup, and I didn’t understand the allure of gazpacho when I was young – cold tomato soup? Yuck. But gazpacho made correctly isn’t anything like a smooth tomato soup. I like gazpacho to have more in common with salad than soup. That means that the vegetables have to be chopped by hand instead of in the food processor. It takes more time, but it’s worth it to eat real gazpacho instead of the vegetable smoothie that you’d end up with if you used the food processor.

Another great aspect of gazpacho is that it lasts for several days in the fridge. And it’s absolutely healthy, so it makes a really good snack. I love to keep some around for when I get home from work and I’m starving and dinner won’t be ready for a while.

Right after I finished dicing the vegetables for this, I inhaled deeply – it was pure summer. I felt better about letting the season go and moving into fall once I had made a batch of gazpacho. But don’t expect to see pumpkin recipes here for a while!

Gazpacho (from Cooks Illustrated)

CI note: Welch’s and Fresh Samantha’s are our favorite brands of tomato juice for this recipe — not too thick, with a bright, lively flavor. This recipe makes a large quantity because the leftovers are so good, but it can be halved if you prefer. Traditionally, diners garnish their gazpacho with more of the same diced vegetables that are in the soup, so cut some extra vegetables when you prepare those called for in the recipe. Additional garnish possibilities include simple garlic croutons, chopped pitted black olives, chopped hard-cooked eggs, and finely diced avocados. For a finishing touch, serve in chilled bowls.

Bridget note: I’ve found that the brand of tomato juice is extremely important. I’m never been able to find Welch’s or Samantha’s tomato juice, but Campbell’s works fine. And I never use ice cubes, I just add 1 cup of cold water.

Makes about 3 quarts, serving 8 to 10

3 ripe medium beefsteak tomatoes (about 1½ pounds), cored and cut into ¼-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 medium red bell peppers (about 1 pound), cored, seeded, and cut into slices, then into ¼-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
2 small cucumbers (about 1 pound), one peeled and the other with skin on, both seeded and cut into ¼-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
½ small sweet onion (such as Vidalia, Maui, or Walla Walla) or 2 large shallots, peeled and minced (about ½ cup)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons table salt
⅓ cup sherry vinegar
ground black pepper
5 cups tomato juice
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (optional)
8 ice cubes
extra-virgin olive oil for serving

1. Combine the tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, onions, garlic, salt, vinegar, and pepper in a large (at least 4-quart) nonreactive bowl. Let stand until the vegetables just begin to release their juices, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato juice, hot pepper sauce, if using, and ice cubes. Cover tightly and refrigerate to blend flavors, at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.

2. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper and remove and discard any unmelted ice cubes. Serve cold, drizzling each portion with about 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil and topping with the desired garnishes, (see top note).

tuscan-style couscous salad


Food generally tastes better outside. Even more so after you’ve hiked eight miles while carrying a 25-pound pack. Since Dave and I almost always eat this couscous salad while we’re backpacking, it’s no wonder we like it so much. But last time we went camping, we got driven home early by, um, we’ll just say fear of Lyme disease and spare you the creepy details. We ate this salad when we got home that night, and it tasted just as good while sitting on the couch watching a movie as it does when we’re eating it out of zip-top bags in the woods.

What’s so great about this salad is that it’s a perfectly balanced complete meal – a couscous base, both beans and nuts, and plenty of tomatoes, onions, and basil. There’s no real cooking involved and not much chopping.

I have tweaked the original recipe slightly – while it’s basically the same list of ingredients, I’ve doubled the amount of pine nuts, tomatoes, basil, and onion. I’ve also reduced to the olive oil in the dressing, which I do with most vinaigrettes recipes.

One final change I make to the original recipe is to toast the unpeeled garlic cloves before adding them to the dressing. Lately I’ve been unhappy with the sharpness of raw garlic, and toasting it mellows its flavor a bit. It’s still garlicky and good, but it won’t burn your tongue. And since the pine nuts are already being toasted, it’s no problem to add the garlic cloves to the skillet as well.

Between the vivid colors of this dish, its healthfulness, the ease with which it comes together, and of course, its flavorful mix of ingredients, this salad is well worth eating at home and in the woods.

Tuscan-Style Couscous Salad (adapted from Vegetarian Classics, by Jeanne Lemlin)

Serves 4 as a main course

1½ cups couscous
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 cups boiling water
½ cup pine nuts
1 (15-ounce) can small white beans such as navy or Great Northern, rinsed well and drained
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
¾ cup shredded fresh basil
1 small red onion, slivered

The dressing:
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
⅓ cup lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
Generous seasoning freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1. Place the couscous and turmeric in a large bowl and mix. Pour on the boiling water, stir, and immediately cover the bowl with a large plate. Let sit for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and fluff the couscous with a fork. Let cool.

2. Place the pine nuts and unpeeled garlic cloves in a small skillet and toast over medium heat, tossing often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Watch them carefully because they can easily burn. Let the pine nuts cool, then mix them into the couscous along with the beans, tomatoes, basil, and red onion.

3. Mince the garlic. Place the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously. Pour over the couscous mixture and toss well. Let marinate at least 30 minutes before serving. Cover and chill if longer than 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

salad with herbed baked goat cheese

I’m trying to cut down on the number of Cooks Illustrated recipes that I put in my blog. For one thing, I don’t want Chris Kimball to come over here and kick my ass. Plus, I feel like most Cooks Illustrated recipes are a no-brainer – they’re so dependable that it’s no surprise to hear another recommendation. On the other hand, I cooked almost exclusively from Cooks Illustrated for several years, so there are some recipes that I love so much that I can’t resist sharing.

In fact, I have entire dinner party menus of CI recipes to discuss. I’m going to spend the next few entries putting forth the recipes for one of my favorite meals. I’ve made this for a group of friends and for my parents, and it received great reviews both times. My parents had arrived at my house pretty pissed off after having their car broken into and getting stuck for hours trying to cross into the US from Canada, and after this meal (plus two bottles of wine and some beer), they were in much better spirits.

This salad is a great first course. It’s nice and light, but the goat cheese makes it interesting. The cheese rounds can be prepared up to a week in advance, which is always an advantage when you’re having company. I would also make the vinaigrette early in the day I plan to serve it and keep it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. That way, when it’s time to serve the salad, I can just shake up the dressing and mix it with the greens. I almost always use bagged greens, because I hate to wash lettuce. With pre-cleaned lettuce, cheese rounds that can be formed days before you plan to serve them, and a simple vinaigrette that can be made in advance, this salad makes for the perfect opening course to an elegant dinner.

Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese and Vinaigrette (from Cooks Illustrated)

Bridget note: I’ve used different herbs based on what I had available, and it was fine. I also usually forget to brush the rounds with olive oil before baking them, so if you’re stressed for time (like I always am when I have company), don’t worry too much about that step.

Serves 6

Herbed Baked Goat Cheese
3 ounces Melba toasts, white (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
12 ounces goat cheese, firm
extra-virgin olive oil

Vinaigrette and Salad
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced shallot
¼ teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh chives
Ground black pepper
14 cups hearty greens (mixed), washed and dried

1. For Goat Cheese: In food processor, process Melba toasts to fine even crumbs, about 1½ minutes; transfer crumbs to medium bowl and stir in pepper. Whisk eggs and mustard in medium bowl until combined. Combine thyme and chives in small bowl.

2. Using kitchen twine or dental floss, divide cheese into 12 evenly sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball; roll each ball in herbs to coat lightly. Transfer 6 pieces to egg mixture, turn each piece to coat; transfer to Melba crumbs and turn each piece to coat, pressing crumbs into cheese. Flatten each ball into disk about 1½ inches wide and 1 inch thick and set on baking sheet. Repeat process with remaining 6 pieces cheese. Freeze cheese until firm, about 30 minutes. (Cheese may be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen up to 1 week.) Adjust oven rack to uppermost position; heat to 475 degrees.

3. Remove cheese from freezer and brush tops and sides evenly with olive oil. Bake until crumbs are golden brown and cheese is slightly soft, 7 to 9 minutes (or 9 to 12 minutes if cheese is completely frozen). Using thin metal spatula, transfer cheese to paper towel-lined plate and cool 3 minutes.

4. For Salad: While goat cheese is baking, combine vinegar, mustard, shallot, and salt in small bowl. Whisking constantly, drizzle in olive oil; season to taste with pepper.

5. Place greens in large bowl, drizzle vinaigrette over, and toss to coat. Divide greens among individual plates; place 2 rounds goat cheese on each salad. Serve immediately.

Other recipes part of this recommended dinner party menu:
Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic
Sauteed Shredded Zucchini
Pain a l’Ancienne (baguettes)

Just about any dessert works well with this meal.
Many wines work well with this meal, but I especially like full-flavored whites such as Chardonnay, and medium-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir.