In our 16 years together, some of the biggest arguments I've had with my husband have revolved around how to pronounce the names Erin or Aaron and Carrie or Kerry.
We’ve nearly come to blows over the proper way to say crayon (It’s definitely not ‘cran’). And don’t even get me started on orange. I can acknowledge that there’s an ‘or’ in the beginning of the word, so it could be pronounced like oar-inj, but that’s just not how I say it. And well…I’m just going to go eat my R-enges now.
However you say it, sweet oranges make me think of summer. And it doesn’t get much more summery than this light spinach salad, topped with a tender grilled chicken breast, sweet mandarin oranges and fresh strawberries, dressed in a vibrant orange and poppy seed vinaigrette. It’s bright, fresh, and perfect if you’re watching your waistline for summer!
Grilled Chicken, Strawberry, and Spinach Salad in an Orange Poppy Vinaigrette
Makes 4 meal-sized salads
Juice and zest from 1 navel orange (about 1/3 cup)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1-1/2 tablespoon poppy seeds
Crushed red pepper, to taste
Pinch of salt
4 grilled chicken breasts (seasoned with salt and pepper), sliced
8 cups fresh baby spinach leaves (approximately)
8-10 strawberries, sliced
1 cup mandarin orange segments
1 red onion, very thinly sliced
To prepare the vinaigrette: Combine the orange juice, zest, vinegar, olive oil, honey and poppy seeds until well blended. Season with salt and crushed red pepper, to taste.
To assemble the salad: Toss the spinach leaves in some of the dressing. (Do not overdress.) Arrange a pile of the dressed spinach leaves on each plate. Top with the grilled chicken, red onions, strawberries, and oranges. Drizzle a little extra dressing over the chicken.
Related post on The Gourmand Mom: Chicken, Apple, Peanut Salad
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Rhubarb is a curious vegetable (actually, the US classifies it as a fruit for tax reasons. The leaves of the rhubarb plant are toxic, but the stalks are edible. It's very tart, which is why it tends to be paired with sweet strawberries. What a fabulous combination, strawberries and rhubarb are match made in heaven, if you ask me!
Though strawberry rhubarb pie is a delicious classic, I'm not too fond of the crust-making process. But cake, now that's more my thing. I decided to go for a pound cake, and to spice things up a bit, I made it a ginger pound cake. Then I topped it with strawberry rhubarb sauce (technically it's a compote).
This was my first rhubarb cooking adventure. Even though the rhubarb seems tough, it actually cooks pretty quickly. I guess it just depends on the texture you're going for. Mine ended up almost jamlike in texture, but in the future I think I'll cook it less so the rhubarb retains some bite. You could also cook half the rhubarb, and then add the other half later in the cooking process to get different textures in your finished sauce (and the same principles go for the strawberries).
Also, I only put one teaspoon of ginger in my pound cake, but it was too mild. Next time I'll do two.
Ginger Vanilla Pound Cake with Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce
For the cake:
2/3 cup butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 cups sifted flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
3 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add sifted ingredients to creamed mixture, alternating with milk and vanilla. Do not overmix. Pour batter into a greased and floured loaf pan. Bake for about 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours, or until a wooden pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.
Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce
1/2 lb. strawberries
1 lb. rhubarb
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoon corn starch
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Dice rhubarb and strawberries into similar sized 1/2 inch pieces. Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10-20 minutes (depending on what texture you want). Remove from heat and cool at least 2 hours. Store sealed in the refrigerator.
When you are ready to serve, slice the pound cake and spoon the strawberry rhubarb sauce over the top.
Related post on Eat. Run. Read.: Strawberry Cream Cheese Pound Cake
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The spring obsession with strawberries continues. As the season settles in, I look for other ways to enjoy the little red jewels, as I have almost eaten my fill of them plain from the bowl I keep in the fridge, filled every week at the famers market. And so I turn to baking to find as many ways to enjoy them as possible.
My first and best experience with fresh strawberries and cream was in England, where it is a tradition in many venues. I had them at the interval during a cricket match, a game I do not understand at all, but could really get into because they stop for snacks. Scones, tea, and cucumber sandwiches were passed around at this picnic, then bowls of fresh berries, with a whisper of sugar and blanketed in cold, thick cream, tinged palest yellow it was so rich. I have never found the equal to English cream here. I think that is why so many rich, sweet desserts or fruits in England are preferred doused with plain cream – not whipped cream or ice cream, just a pour of fresh “double cream” as they call it.
That was my inspiration for these cookies. I wanted to create a cookie creamy and rich to envelope bursting bits of berry. Cream cheese gives that fluffy texture with a little bit of tang. Watch these cookies carefully and take them out of the oven just as they set on the top, then you will have a soft, moist cookie speckled with delicious bites of strawberry.
Strawberries and Cream Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen
2 cups hulled fresh strawberries
1 cup (2 sticks butter), at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degree F.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cut the strawberries into a small dice, roughly the size of a chocolate chip.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese until combined. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour, 1 cup at a time, and the baking powder and salt. Beat until smooth and combined. Using a sturdy spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the diced strawberries, distributing them evenly in the batter. The mixer will bash them up, so do this by hand.
Using a spoon or cookie scoop, scoop the batter by tablespoons about a 1/2 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheets until the bottoms are lightly browned and the centers are just firmed up but not brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. If you have the patience, bake one sheet at a time on an upper rack in the oven. Cool the cookies for two minutes on the baking sheet, then carefully remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Cool the cookie sheets and repeat with the remaining batter.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Skillet Strawberry Upside Down Cake
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[Editor's note: An earlier version of this recipe listed "baking soda" in the mixing instructions instead of "baking powder," as indicated in the ingredient list. This has been corrected.]
A few weeks ago, I managed to plant some greens in our garden so we will be eating our own organic salads soon. While tending to our edibles, I noticed that the rhubarb is already up and some stalks are nearly ready for harvest. It reminded me that I had a few bags of frozen rhubarb in the freezer from last year. I meant to enjoy the chopped rhubarb all winter in muffins and breads but the bags were buried and forgotten in my meager one-drawer freezer.
One of the simplest ways to enjoy rhubarb is in a sauce or compote. I emptied a bag of frozen rhubarb into a pan along with some fresh strawberries and a little sugar and let the stove do the rest. The bright red sauce is the perfect balance of tart and sweet. Spoon it over angel food or pound cake or atop ice cream. I’ve found it dresses up a dollop of Greek yogurt making a nice, breakfast treat.
Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
2 cups chopped rhubarb fresh or frozen
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon water
2 cups sliced strawberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
Combine rhubarb, sugar, water and strawberries in a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until soft, about 5-10 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract. Serve warm over cake or keep in the refrigerator for a few days and spoon over yogurt or ice cream.
Related post on Whipped, The Blog: Rhubarb Strawberry Cobbler
I am a big fan of risotto – it's creamy, filling, hearty, as well as a perfect palette for flavors both subtle and bold. As I was reading through recipes online (I looked at Scott Conant's recipe in NY Magazine and DOC's recipe on The Kitchn), I knew the combination of the garlicky ramps, fresh, floral lemon and creamy risotto would be delicious.
I began by separating the ramp stalks from the leaves so that I'd be able to cook each part for the best flavor and consistency.
You don't add the chopped up greens until the very end of cooking, then you fold them into the risotto, along with the lemon zest and Parmesan cheese.
Just a little lemon zest adds a world of light flavor to this dish. And thanks to my beloved microplane zester, it only takes a few seconds to produce a lovely little pile of zest.
The first step of the cooking process is to sautée the chopped ramp stalks and shallot in butter.
Once the ramp stalks and shallot have softened, you add the Arborio rice and sautée it for a few minutes, stirring all the while, until the edges of each grain of rice edges become opaque and the center turns white.
Then comes the tedious part – add stock and stir repeatedly until it's absorbed. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat...
Just when you begin to fear that your arm may actually drop off from all the stirring, it's time to fold in the ramp greens, lemon zest and grated Parmesan cheese!
Stir well to ensure even distribution of these yummy late-stage additions.
Now it's time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Yum!
Wild Ramp & Lemon Risotto
1 large bunch of wild ramps (8-10), cleaned and trimmed with the roots removed (instructions here)
2 large shallots
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
7 cups organic chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups Arborio rice (risotto)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoons lemon zest (use an organic lemon - you don't want any yucky pesticides or wax)
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Separate the ramp stalks from the greens and chop each, keeping them separate. Finely chop the shallots.
2. Heat the stock in a saucepan (you'll want to position this right behind whatever burner you plan to use for the risotto pan since you're going to be ladling stock into the pan continuously during the cooking process.) Cover the stock and leave it on low at a simmer (it will need to stay hot the entire time you're cooking the risotto.)
3. In a large, heavy bottomed pan (there are special risotto pans but although nice, they're not necessary) melt the butter and cook the onion on medium-low heat until softened, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the rice and stir to coat all the grains with butter. Sautée the rice for 2-3 minutes until the rice becomes chalky and you can see a white dot in the center of each grain. Then add the wine and cook for 2 minutes, stirring, until it's been absorbed.
5. Now the fun begins (by the end of this, your arm will be very tired!) Add one cup of the hot stock to the pan and stir until it has all been absorbed by the rice – if you don't stir and cook until the liquid is absorbed with each addition, the rice will get very gummy).
6. Continue to add stock, one cup at a time, stirring constantly until the rice has absorbed the liquid and starts to seem dry before adding more stock. Once you've added 6 cups of the stock, you should start adding 1/2 cup at a time. Keep doing this until the rice is cooked through but still a little al dente, about 30 minutes total (you may not end up using all of the stock but it should be pretty close -- if you run out of stock, you can substitute hot water towards the end.)
8. Turn off the heat, add the chopped ramp greens, lemon zest, and Parmesan cheese, mix well to incorporate, then season with salt (if needed) and freshly ground black pepper, and serve.
Related post on The Garden of Eating: Harvesting Wild Ramps
Some people will take any excuse just to throw a party. Have a grass skirt? Throw a Hawaiian luau. Like to wear sombreros? Whip up a fresh batch of guacamole and host a Cinco de Mayo party.
If you are in a festive mood to celebrate this weekend, here are a few Mexican- and Southwest-inspired recipe ideas from the Stir It Up! recipe files.
This is a lighter version of a favorite dish and no one will know the difference.
A shrimp taco with a grape tomato, radish, and spring onion salsa made bright with a squeeze of lime.
Tilapia fish tacos pan seared and seasoned with chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, and lime juice are topped with cilantro, tomatoes, and green onions for a healthy, flavorful meal.
Mexican steak tacos with rajas, a traditional Mexican topping made from strips of roasted chiles.
Easy to assemble and delicious.
Great for sharing and just as tasty as leftovers.
Try this Southern dish as an unusual side for a Mexican meal.
A tasty soup with chipotle peppers to add flavor, heat, and smoke.
A soup flavored with chili powder, cumin, and cinnamon.
Tender chunks of chicken in a spicy dressing, tossed with sweet corn kernels, black beans, and red bell pepper
Seasoned with mayonnaise, chili powder, crumbled cheese, and lime juice.
A summer salad with vibrant colors and fresh flavors.
Mexican chocolate cake flavored with cinnamon, pepper, and topped with coffee cream.
Kentucky Derby bars with chocolate, pecans, cinnamon and a hint of cayenne pepper over a graham cracker crust.
A classic dessert for any celebration.
I’m acutely aware that this blog seems like The Chicken Salad Blog lately. Things have been busy around here and I’m scrambling (in between savoring each moment). As I’ve mentioned before, chicken salad is my go-to easy dinner. Pretty certain that there’s a direct correlation between how full our calendar is and how often we eat chicken salad.
Between birthday party planning, spring break, doctor’s appointments, play set building, holidays, and the normal business of a tending to a family with three young kids, it’s been a chicken salad month.
Our most recent chicken salad was this tasty Southwest-style chicken salad; tender chunks of chicken in a spicy dressing, tossed with sweet corn kernels, black beans, and red bell pepper. Serve it over a bed of greens, wrapped in a tortilla, or stuffed in a pita pocket.
And if the southwest inspired flavors of this chicken salad don’t inspire you, check out a few of my previously posted chicken salad recipes. Love ‘em all! Fast, easy, and delicious … leaving more time for savoring the things that really matter.
Southwest chicken salad
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 tablespoons diced chiles (or diced jalapeño pepper)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (for mild/medium spice)
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 pound chicken breast, cooked and chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
3/4 cup corn kernels
3/4 cup black beans (from a can, drained and rinsed)
Salt and pepper
Combine the mayonnaise, mustard, diced chiles, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and garlic. Pour the dressing over the chicken, red bell pepper, corn, and black beans. Toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and additional cayenne pepper, as desired.
Related post on The Gourmand Mom: Tropical Chicken Salad
My primary memory of hominy is a quick Sunday night dish my mom used to whip up with eggs and sausage, but I love hominy as a more unusual side for a good Mexican meal.
I recently made this dish for a gathering of my parents’ friends, and when they realized it was hominy, I got a few looks. One friend told me she hadn’t had hominy since early childhood, when it was served in the cafeteria during wartime rationing. Another echoed basically the same idea – it was something only served at school lunches. Perhaps politely, they all dished out some hominy. And went back. And scraped the dish clean. And their plates. It was also a big hit with my young nephew and niece, who were also interested to learn when one of the guests explained that hominy is basically grits before they are ground up.
This is my jazzed-up version of an old community cookbook recipe, sans condensed soup and processed cheese. It has a bit of a kick, but not so spicy that my spice adverse family couldn’t stand it. But feel free to pump it up to your taste. Readily available Monterey jack cheese is perfect for this, but when I find a blend of Mexican cheeses like cotija, queso asadero and queso quesadilla, I prefer that. You could of course, make up your own cheese blend.
Creamy Hominy Bake with Green Chiles and Cheese
2 (30-ounce) cans hominy, white, golden or one of each
8 ounces of sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
1 (7-ounce) can diced green chiles
1 tablespoon lime juice
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups grated Monterrey jack cheese, or a blend of Mexican cheeses
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8- by 10-inch casserole with cooking spray.
Thoroughly rinse and drain the hominy. In a large bowl, stir together the sour cream, cream, green chiles, lime juice, salt cumin and pepper. Blend until completely combined. Add the drained hominy and gently stir to thoroughly coat the hominy. Spoon the hominy into the prepared casserole. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top.
Cover the casserole with foil and bake the hominy for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake a further five minutes until the cheese is melted and gooey.
The casserole can be refrigerate for several hours before baking. Serve piping hot.
The Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Ky., falls on May 4-5 (aka Cinco de Mayo). I’m not really swept up in the culture around the Derby, even though my mom lived in Lexington for nearly two decades. In my most cynical moments, I can’t understand the big to-do around a 2 minute race.
But I admit, I cried through “Seabiscuit,” “Secretariat,” and “War Horse.” There is something about these majestic, beautiful, intelligent creatures in motion that stirs the human spirit, no matter how intellectual one becomes about the trappings and heartbreak of betting on a horse.
What I do love without question is Kentucky Derby Pie – gooey pecans and chocolate over a buttery crust and smothered in a dollop of fresh whipped cream. With the Derby falling on Cinco de Mayo this year, I got to thinking about the perfect marriage: Mexican chocolate and buttery pecans.
Unlikely companionship is a theme that runs through all horse stories – whether it is boy and not-yet-tamed horse, or an injured, combative horse and a reassuring goat friend, or a frail girl and a four-footed protector. These mismatched pairs make up the most profound friendships.
My dad, who loved Arabian horses since his father first introduced them into his life in a paddock in Illinois, once pointed out a beautiful relationship that happens at the Kentucky Derby. It occurs between the calming horses and the racing thoroughbreds. You may have never noticed them – the smaller, quieter horses that are walking beside the high-strung thoroughbreds being guided to the starting gates.
Through the roar of the crowd, the adrenaline rush from seeing jockeys astride other horses, the booming loudspeaker, and the sight of a long untouched track stretching out into the distance, the sleek horses make their way to the starting line. As they jerk their bridles and roll their eyes to take in the scene they periodically touch noses and breathe into the nostrils of their gentle companions ambling alongside, a presence that assures them they are safe.
These nameless horses are practically invisible otherwise. They aren’t even “also rans.” But their meekness is a strength and beauty all its own.
I’m so grateful to my dad – a man whose strength also lay in his quiet meekness – for pointing this out to me.
And so here is another surprising pairing that will impress you. A touch of cinnamon and cayenne pepper in a Kentucky Derby pie. After the sweetness, a lingering warmth tips a sombrero to a really, really fast race and a Mexican victory for democracy over France. Somehow it works.
Fair warning: If you set these bars out, there’ll be a real stampede to your side. So hold on for the ride of your life.
Kentucky Derby Bars for Cinco de Mayo
For the crust:
1 package graham crackers, crushed (2 cups crumbs)
5 tablespoons of butter
For the bars:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup shelled pecans (or walnuts), chopped
1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Pound the graham crackers inside their package into crumbs using a rolling pin. Empty into a large bowl, crush any remaining large pieces with the bottom of a jar or mug. Stir in 5 tablespoons of melted butter. Press crumbs into an 8″ x 8″ glass baking dish.
In a large bowl mix sugar and flour. Stir in eggs, butter, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and vanilla. Add walnuts and chocolate chips and stir until combined.
Spread mixture evenly over graham cracker crust.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until it has set, there should be a slight gloss to the crust. Remove and allow to cool completely. The bars will be soft and chewy but not runny.
Cut into squares and serve.
While completing a mental inventory of the refrigerator during my walk home, I began to reminisce about the flavors of the stacked tortilla torta. Clicking through my art archives, the two images below caught my eye, specifically because they are works by Rivera not painted upon a wall. Looking at them together inspired a shrimp taco recipe with a grape tomato, radish and spring onion salsa.
The flavors are fresh and bright, helped with a squeeze of fresh lime to finish. In her essay "Roadside Diners" in issue 6 of Jamie Magazine, Alice Waters reminisces, “we engaged in a favourite pastime: adding recipes to our fictional cookbook Everything Tastes Better with Lime.”
The line resonated with me and I began playing the same game, buying limes by the dozen to squeeze over everything. Out of 84 recipe posts on this blog, almost 20 percent include a finish with fresh citrus. In the case of the Mexican recipes, the splash of lime really makes the dish sing.
While attending the San Carlos Academy in Mexico City, Diego Rivera worked in the studio of José Guadalupe Posada, a leading printmaker of the time. The lithograph, "Niño con Taco," was created the same year that Rivera commenced his work on the Detroit Industry frescoes. The lithograph features a stylized little boy in his signature style of simplified forms and strong lines. Completed about 15 years later, "The temptations of Saint Anthony," 1947 illustrates the supernatural temptation of St. Anthony in Egypt.
Allegedly, Rivera drew his inspiration for radish figures from an annual competition in Oaxaco where the story of Christmas is displayed with radish compositions.
Shrimp Tacos with Grape Tomato, Radish and Spring Onion Salsa
Makes 4 tacos
200 grams (about 2 cups) shrimp, shelled & devined
1 chipotle chilli (minced) + 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup grape tomato, radish & spring onion salsa (recipe below)
handful of fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
Mix the shrimp, chipotle, and adobo sauce, oregano and cumin in a small bowl. Add a slick of olive oil to a frying pan and set over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the shrimp and cover with a lid, cooking and stirring occasionally until the flesh becomes opaque, 3-4 minutes.
Meanwhile, slice avocado and chop fresh coriander. Once the shrimp are cooked, assemble the taco.
Lay a tortilla flat on a plate and lay out three slices of avocado. Spoon over 1/4 cup of the grape tomato, radish and spring onion salsa and top with a quarter of the shrimp, fresh sprigs of coriander, squeeze of lime and a few dashes of hot sauce. Eat immediately.
Grape Tomato, Radish and Spring Onion Salsa
1 large radish
1 spring onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 lime, juiced
10 grape tomatoes, deseeded
small handful coriander (cilantro)
Slice the spring onion into thin discs and place in a small bowl. Chop the radish into small cubes and add to the spring onion. Juice 1/2 of a lemon and add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the vegetables, toss. Let the radish and onion sit for 20 minutes to become slightly pickled.
Meanwhile, slice the grape tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds. Roughly chop and add to the radishes. Chop fresh coriander and mix into the salsa. Serve with shrimp tacos, will keep for 2-3 days refrigerated.
Related post on Feasting on Art: Stacked Tortilla Torta