Salad days

With Spring almost over and Summer staring me right in the face and its heat chasing me around Houston, I’ve had no choice but to start thinking about lighter, cooler meals. I’m also supposed to be making an effort to eat healthier, which is always a battle for me, but I’m trying–get off my back already!

So, since I’m not the biggest salad fan, I have to find ways to get them in, but they have to be interesting. That’s how this one came about. For some reason I found thoughts of sofrito running around my head; I guess that’s not so unusual, since that is the base to almost every Latin/Caribbean dish. Onions, bell peppers, garlic,  tomatoes, culantro and sometimes carrots –standards in most sofritos. Then the lightbulb moment happened: I bet that would make for a good salad! Add some cheese, a vinaigrette, oooooh roast the veggies…YUM!

And so it happened. And, let me tell you. Oh.eM.Gee! This turned out so amazingly delicious! I roasted everything in the oven for a few minutes to bring out the natural sweetness of the ingredients and to tame the zing of the onion and garlic. You can opt to use them fresh, uncooked, but I do hope you take a few minutes to roast them, because, well, its just heavenly. No real recipe here, just a bit of this and that. Make it! Do it today!

Roasted Sofrito Salad

Sweet or red onion
Red & orange bell peppers
Garlic, whole
Baby carrots

I sliced the onion and peppers into 1/4-in or so pieces, not too big, not too small. Left the garlic and baby carrots whole. If you go for regular-sized carrots, then cut them into sticks. You want the veggies to still have a bite to them after roasting.

I threw it all onto a lined baking sheet, drizzled about 1-2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkling of salt & pepper and popped it all under the broiler. I tossed the veggies around after 5 minutes or so, when they starting caramelizing, I didn’t want them to burn. 10 minutes was enough. Allow them to cool, while you work on the vinaigrette.

Culantro Vinaigrette
Culantro/cilantro, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
White wine vinegar
Salt & fresh black pepper
Blend the culantro into the oil to puree. Remove from blender, add vinegar, then slowly drizzle in the culantro oil until creamy. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

Iceberg lettuce wedges, very cold
Tomatoes, wedges
Culantro vinaigrette
Queso Cotija or Fresco

Combine the roasted veggies with the lettuce, add tomato wedges and dress with the vinaigrette. Serve with crumbled Cotija or Queso Fresco. Ay, que rico!

Freshly yours,


Summer = Salads!

I have to be honest. I don’t love salads. When it comes to eating them, I’m very persnickety. I’m not embarrassed to admit it, even though I should be. I guess. I have all sorts of rules and regulations when it comes to the green stuff. It has to be ice-cold. The lettuce can’t have any brown spots. Those tomatoes better be plump. It goes on and on.

Salads to me have always seemed like a chore. A chore only rewarded by your doctor, and who really wants to hang out with that guy? I know, I know. I have issues, but they’re fun in my head. Anyway. Rather than be completely irresponsible, I’ve opted to make salads a tad more appealing. Staying away from the traditional lettuce, tomato, cucumber and replacing those with veggies I like.

And so, here we are. A tomato, ASPARAGUS (cuz I love me some spears) and, yes, a bit of lettuce salad. The second most crucial bit on salads I like, is the dressing. Let’s face it, that ‘s the real reason I eat the darn things 🙂 For this one, I got a bit inspired by some overly ripen tomatoes and used them as the base for the dressing. You know what? This salad was much yum! Yep. Uh huh. It was mighty good! Check, check it out.

Tomato & Asparagus Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:
Ripe tomatoes, seeded
Balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Heat about 1 tbsp of olive oil in a small saucepan, add the tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes until they begin to soften. Add 2 tsp of balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper, about 1 tsp of sugar and about 1/2 cp of water. Allow it to simmer until the tomatoes break down completely, about 10-15 minutes. Allow it to cool.

Place the tomato puree in the blender and puree. Add a bit more balsamic and about 1/4 cp of olive oil. Check the seasoning again and put in the fridge to cool.

For the salad:
Blanched asparagus*
Firm tomato, cubed

*To blanch the asparagus, trim the ends and cut the spears in half or thirds, depending on the size. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil and dump the asparagus in for a couple of minutes. Just long enough for the green to become very vibrant. Remove the asparagus and dunk them in a bowl of ice water for a couple of minutes.

Drain the asparagus and pat dry them, placing them in a salad bowl. Add the tomatoes and lettuce. Drizzle the tomato dressing over the top.


Cookingly yours,

Más tomates!

I do love tomatoes. In Panama, my sister and I used to eat them like fruit. I remember how flavorful they are when picked just right. Slightly tart and sweet, always juicy. YUM! I love the different varieties: cherry, grape, here recently I’ve been introduced to raisin tomatoes. Tiny little things, filled with flavor. I haven’t tried the infamous heirloom tomatoes yet, what can you tell me about them?

Moving on. My previous post was for a tart I saw Chuck Hughes prepare, today I’m bringing you a variation on that tart. As much as I liked the original, I kept thinking of other ways to enjoy it. I happened to have some avocados ready to go, and they were the primary source of inspiration. This time the flavors come a bit further South of the border. I also switched to puff pastry instead of phyllo sheets.

Tomato & Avocado Tart

1 puff pastry sheet, thawed
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cp queso fresco, shredded
3/4 cp queso Oaxaca or Monterrey Jack, shredded
1 avocado, peeled & thinly sliced
4-5 Roma tomatoes (or whatever you have around)
Cilantro leaves, torn
Sea salt & black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°. Use a rolling pin to stretch out the pastry, just enough to make sure it covers the bottom of the pan you will bake it in. I used a tart pan, but a baking sheet would also work. Place the pastry sheet on the bottom of the pan, pulling some of the dough up the sides to create an edge.

Brush on the mustard, then top evenly with the cheese, make sure you cover th entire surface. Next lay the avocado slices across the bottom.

Slice the tomatoes to about 1/4-inch thick and top the avocado with the tomato slices. You can overlap them, if you’d like. Tear a few cilantro leaves and spread them around. Season with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until the puff pastry is nicely golden brown. Allow it to cool for just a few minutes before serving.

Oh yeah, baby.

Cookingly yours,

I heart Cooking channel!

I do. I really, really do. It’s like meeting new friends and catching up with old ones. I know it is still part of the Food Network, but I like the variety of chefs on the lineup. I hope you’re watching it too, there’s some really good stuff there.

I already shared a post based on a dish from French Food at Home. This post follows a dish from another of my new favorite chefs, Chuck Hughes. His show is called Chuck’s Day Off and the camera follows him around his restaurant kitchen as he dishes out some simply delicious food for friends and family on his day off.

One of the recent episodes showed him cooking for his family, he recreated the dishes his mom & aunts cooked as he was growing up. This tart caught my eye and heart immediately. It was pretty. It looked fancy. AND it was a breeze to make. And let me tell you, it tasted fantabulous!

Chuck’s Tomato & Cheese Tart
from Chuck’s Day Off

7 phyllo sheets, thawed
1/4 cp melted butter
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1-1/4 cps grated cheese (he recommends Emmenthal)
3 large ripe tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
12  fresh basil leaves, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°. Phyllo dough is paper thin and will dry and crack quickly. Once you have removed it from the packaging, place the sheets you will use between lightly damp towels.

On a tart pan or baking sheet, place 1 sheet phyllo and brush with melted butter, repeat, stacking them on top of each other as you build your pie crust. You may want to stagger the sheets a little bit to ensure that the baking sheet is well covered allowing extra pastry to create an edge.

On the top layer, brush on the mustard. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the pastry to ensure even coverage. Lay the tomato slices generously, all over, overlapping, as needed. Season with coarse salt and ground black pepper. Sprinkle the thyme leaves on top.

Bake in the oven until the pastry is crisped and browned at the edges, about 25 minutes.

Add another sprinkling of coarse salt and garnish with fresh basil leaves. You can serve it hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Cookingly yours,

Eat your vegetables

OK, we may be off to a bad start. I know I said I was going to focus on Latin-Caribbean cuisine, and I will. Just not this time 🙂 Lo siento. I thought about typing the post in Spanish, but then you would either a) have to deal with some unreliable online translation tool, b) think I’d lost my mind and move on or c) not get to enjoy this awesome salad. My hope is that this salad will make up for my transgressions.

Let me start by saying…, I’m NOT a salad gal. Hey, I’m a Latina, we don’t eat salads. Well, that ‘s not true. We do. I don’t. I try, but I’m usually disinterested. Every now and then I do find a winner. Like Houston’s Cobb Salad. Or the salads at sushi restaurants with that awesome ginger or peanut dressing. But those are not the salads I want to talk to you about. This salad is unusual. It is fresh. It is satisfyingly meaty and meatless. This is a Poached Mushroom and Asparagus Salad.

I’ve been hearing about poaching meats and vegetables in olive oil. It seems to be one of the ‘it’ cooking methods at the posh places these days. Poaching is generally done using a well-flavored broth, sometimes wine, that is kept at a consistently low temperature. The idea is to slowly cook the ingredients without ever bringing them to a boil.

I used a medium-sized skillet and added about 3 cps of extra virgin olive oil. Don’t fret, you will save the oil and reuse it. Because the oil is never very hot, you don’t burn it, which allows you to use it time and again. There really isn’t a recipe here, but here’s what I did.

Poached Mushroom and Asparagus Salad

Wild mushrooms–I used portabella and oyster
3 cps extra virgin olive oil (approx)
Asparagus spears, trimmed
Fresh fennel, julienned
Sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
Your favorite vinaigrette
Parmesan or Manchego slivers

To poach the mushrooms: clean and slice the mushrooms. If you are using portabellas, make sure you remove the brown gills. Otherwise your oil will be dark brown. While you get the mushrooms ready, put the oil in the skillet and turn the heat as low as your stove will go. The oil’s temp should be between 160–185°.

Once the oil comes to temperature, add the mushrooms. It is important that they be completely submerged in the oil. You’ll know the temperature is right if you see little bubbles slowly forming around the mushrooms. Poach the mushrooms for about 15 minutes or until tender. Once the mushrooms have softened, remove them from the oil and drain. Allow them to cool. Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Blanch the asparagus: bring a pot of water to a boil. Add salt, then drop the asparagus in the boiling water. Allow them to cook for about 3 minutes. Have a bowl of iced water waiting , remove the asparagus and dunk them in the icy water. Allow them to stay in the cold water for at least 3 minutes. Remove and drain.

In a bowl combine the mushrooms, fennel, asparagus and vinaigrette–tossing to coat all ingredients. I used a store-bought white balsamic vinaigrette. Add some of the cheese slivers and toss. Top with more cheese when served.

You may think using olive oil as your poaching liquid would result in an extremely oily dish, but it doesn’t. What you end up with is a delicately flavorful bunch of mushrooms. To preserve the oil: If you notice any bits or drippings, allow it to cook longer without the mushrooms. Then strain through a coffee filter and save in a glass or heavy plastic container in your refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature before the next use.

I promise you, you will make this one again. And again. Enjoy!

Cookingly yours,