Thursday, August 30, 2012


Made with yellow cherry tomatoes from my garden

What a stupendous way to use up day-old bread! The Italians know how to get the most out of everything from day-old bread, to questionable pig parts.

Though bruschetta (pronouced brew-SKETT-ah) sounds exotic, it's just toasted bread (traditionally on a grill but an oven or toaster works just as well). Of course, we are talking toast made from good crusty bread, not white sandwich bread. Something sturdy to hold a generous amount of topping and crackle when you bite into it. This is an open-faced sandwich that you eat with your hands. Though often served as an appetizer, it is hearty enough to stand as a light entree.

There are many, many possible toppings. Here's a salad turned into a topping. Don't go light on the olive oil. Tuna tends to be dry and the olive oil counteracts that. We recommend tuna packed in water because soybean oil, which is used to pack most tuna, adds no flavor. By using tuna packed in water, you can add tasty olive oil.

Bruschetta with Tomatoes and Tuna
(serves 3, cost $8.70)

1 6-oz. can tuna fish packed in water
2 + 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon capers, chopped
zest of 1 lemon
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
¼ teaspoon black pepper
6 ¾-inch thick slices crusty white or wheat bread
1 clove garlic, peeled

Preheat oven to 400°F. Drain tuna fish and put in a medium bowl. Add 2 Tablespoons olive oil, chopped capers, lemon zest, tomatoes, and black pepper. Stir to combine.

Use the remaining tablespoon of oil to brush one side of each slice of bread. Place bread on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Place bread in the hot oven and toast until golden brown and crispy. Slightly dried out bread will toast up faster. You want the toast to be crunchy and crispy, not at all soft. The amount of time will vary depending on how stale the bread is. Rub each slice of bread with garlic as soon as you take it out of the oven. Place 2 slices of toast on each plate. Heap up tuna-tomato salad on each toast slice. Sprinkle with salt and serve.

If you aren't serving all 3 portions at once, refrigerate the salad and toast the bread just before you want to serve it. It can be toasted in the toaster too, rather than the oven, if you prefer. Just make sure it's toasted enough to be crunchy-crispy!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cold Cucumber Soup

Simple ingredients combine here to make a delicious refresher for late summer. Anyone with a garden has too many cucumbers. If you don't have a garden, cucumbers are cheap at the supermarket or your local farm stand.

This recipe does require a blender. I have a wand (or immersion) blender which works great (we won't discuss the mess my regular blender made when the bottom fell out while making this soup), takes up little space, and is inexpensive. If you are looking for a blender, I strongly recommend that you get a wand blender. Unless you are willing to spend a bundle on a Vita-Mix or similar ultra high-end blender, a wand blender is a great choice.

A tip on cutting up anything that is round: square off a side so it doesn't roll around. You could slice across the whole cucumber, but no one is going to see your lovely handiwork in this recipe. Cut the cucumber lengthwise, place the flat side on your cutting board and slice into half moons.

One could think of this as a vegetable smoothie. It's cool and creamy and refreshing.

Cold Cucumber Soup
(serves 6; costs $5)

2 Tablespoons butter
3 cups of sliced, peeled cucumber (about 1 large cucumber)
½ onion, chopped finely
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon flour
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth, hot
Juice of 1 lemon
Pinch of dried dill weed (optional)
½ cup sour cream (see Note)
½ cup whole milk or half and half
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into ¼-inch dice
1 Tablespoon minced parsley, for garnish (optional)

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add cucumber and onion. Cook until onion becomes translucent but do not brown. Stir in salt, flour, broth, lemon juice, and dill. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Puree with a blender and chill.

When the soup is cold, use a whisk to mix in sour cream and milk. Add diced cucumber and parsley and serve.

Note: The dairy is used to add creamy richness. I used sour cream and milk but what you use is quite adaptable depending on what you have on hand. You could use 1 cup of buttermilk or 1 cup of yogurt. Or some combination of any of these things. If you use just milk, the soup will be very mild. If you use only sour cream or yogurt or buttermilk, it will be tangy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Caprese Salad

As we head towards the end of summer, we offer another seasonal recipe that takes full advantage of the beautiful summer tomatoes. Insalata caprese or Caprese salad is simple food at its best; slicing the cheese and the tomatoes is the hardest part. According to, the salad was created in the 1950s at the Trattoria da Vincenzo on the island of Capri for regulars out for a light lunch. They'd order a just-picked tomato and fresh fior di latte (cow's-milk mozzarella — no water buffalo on Capri), with a bit of wild arugula and dried oregano.

Traditionally, the dressing is always a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil — and that's it. Vinegar is never used on Capri, as purists believe it ruins the delicate flavor of the mild cheese. But, we think the balsamic vinegar adds a nice zing. Because this salad is so simple, top-rate ingredients are imperative. You need to get the ripest summer tomatoes, fresh mozzarella (forget about the rubbery mozzarella wrapped in plastic), and the best balsamic vinegar you can afford. It is positively divine with aged balsamic vinegar but even an inexpensive balsamic is delicious.

This is a salad that must be eaten as soon as it is made. It does not get better as it sits. As in Capri, consider this a light entree. Or share with someone you love. It's a bit of an extravagance but summer tomatoes are worth it.

Slicing dead-ripe tomatoes is not easy with a chef's knife unless it is incredibly sharp. A serrated knife (a bread knife or a serrated steak knife) is the best tool for slicing soft, squishy tomatoes.

Caprese Salad
(serves 1 as a light entree, 2 as a side salad or appetizer)

1 large tomato, sliced about ½ inch thick
4 oz. fresh mozzarella (fior di latte), sliced about ½ inch thick
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
black pepper
1 basil leaf, cut into ribbons (see Note on how to do this)

Layer the cheese and tomato sliced on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Be generous with the olive oil but stingy with the balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Scatter basil ribbons on top. Enjoy!

Note: To cut basil into ribbons, roll up the basil leaf starting at the tip and rolling towards the stem end. You'll end up with a little basil cigar. Slice as thinly as you can across the cigar. You'll end up with very delicate basil ribbons. This type of cut is called chiffonade.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What's in season now?

Garden tomatoes (photo courtesy of Diane Fritz)

Jamie Oliver just posted an article about what's in season now. He lists peppers, peaches, cucumber, tomatillos, raspberries, and celery. I have a few more suggestions below, but no matter where you are, this is certainly a great time to pick up fresh produce. My local farmer's market is just busting out with beautiful produce. So is my garden. Even your local supermarket will benefit from the abundance of fresh produce. There is such a surplus that prices drop on all manner of delicious fresh fruits and veggies.

For instance, in Colorado where we live, there is a bumper crop of both peaches and cantaloupes this time of year. This is a very, very good year for peaches. Right now, peaches from the west side of Colorado where nearly all our local fruit comes from, are on sale for 99¢ per pound. It's definitely time to buy some peaches. Large cantaloupes are $1.25 a piece. Cantaloupes and peaches are both great in salsas. See our post on making fruit salsas if you need a basic recipe.

Warm season vegetables - eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, corn - are all inexpensive and beautiful right now. You can try out Jamie's Evolution Salad with the tomatoes or our recent recipe for a Cucumber-Yogurt Salad for the cucumber . Or for something kind of different with cucumber, try this stir-fry.

The grapes must be ready in California because the prices here have dropped like a rock. Seedless red and green grapes are on sale for as low as 99¢ a pound this week. Grapes are great to eat out of hand, providing a sweet snack that is much healthier than any candy. For a twist, freeze them and eat them right out of the freezer - a delicious treat on a hot day. Berries are also wonderful this way and if you want to fancy those frozen berries up, check out our recipe below.

We need to gobble up the great produce this time of year because it doesn't last*. Come winter, prices rise and quality drops. Get the good stuff while you can. Enjoy all that summer-time goodness and realize that, like warm summer evenings and baseball, it has its season.

*If you have the space and energy, much of the great produce can be preserved for the middle of winter but that's a whole other post!

Frozen Berries with White Hot Chocolate Sauce
Serves 2

2 oz. white chocolate
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
¼ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup frozen berries

Combine the chocolate, heavy cream, and vanilla in a heat-proof bowl and either microwave it on medium, 1 minute at a time, or set it over a pan of simmering water until the chocolate melts. About 5 minutes before serving, remove the berries from the freezer and place them on individual serving plates. Ladle the warm chocolate sauce over the berries and serve.

Note: You can either buy frozen berries, or freeze your own by placing berries on a flat tray or plate in one layer. When the berries are fully frozen, keep them in a plastic bag in the freezer. Larger berries, such as strawberries, do not freeze well.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cucumber and Yogurt Salad

Still way too hot to cook inside here in Colorado. But, heat has one good byproduct: great produce from the garden. One vegetable that loves the heat is cucumber. My garden is just starting to pump them out which means lots of cucumber salads. Cucumbers are full of water making them a crunchy, refreshing dish on hot days.

For those of you without a garden, cucumbers are inexpensive at the supermarket right now. On sale, you can get 2 or even 3 for a $1. Not a bad deal for such a refreshing and versatile vegetable. Though you can use regular yogurt, Greek yogurt works better - the dressing will be thicker and will hold up better if you plan to eat it the next day.

You can substitute basil or parsley for the mint here. They are delicious with cucumbers too.

Cucumbers in Yogurt with Mint
(serves 4)

2 cucumbers, peeled
½ cup Greek yogurt
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh or frozen mint (see Note)

Cut the ends off (they are sometimes bitter). Cut the cucumbers lengthwise. If they have well-developed seeds, scoop these out with a spoon and discard. Cut crosswise into ¼ inch slices.

Combine yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and mint in a medium bowl. Add cucumber slices and mix to coat with dressing.

Great on some lettuce, alone, or as a relish for grilled fish or chicken.

Note: Frozen mint well work just as well here. See this post for instructions on freezing fresh herbs.