Thursday, May 17, 2012

Strawberry, Feta & Spinach Salad with Balsamic Syrup Vinaigrette


What? You don't know what foobitties are? 

You say Strawberry, We say Foobitty.  That is, since our youngest son, who is now nine, renamed them in his early language years.

They are still the sweet, juicy, red nuggets of deliciousness that beg to be eaten before you leave the stand.  Since he was about two, we've been getting strawberries from the source.  Not a plastic box from the grocery store that has been shipped and gassed to ripen.

Straight from the land where they were grown is how my kids have learned to eat them.

In Texas, when my kids were little, we had the opportunity to pick the foobitties ourselves at Gnismer Farms and which always made for a fun afternoon... 

And sweet memories of my curly-headed blondie saying this series of statements--"These are so beautiful, Mommy!" "This is so fun!" “I found the biggest strawberry ever” (editing note: He had grown past his two year old "foobitty" stage at the time of these pictures, but we still call them foobitties at home.), "Mommy, when we get home I am going to make you a recipe with these."

Here, in California, since the kids are 6 years older now and in school, we don't get to spend afternoons picking them, but there are strawberries stands every few miles.

No, we don't live in Watsonville, where the commercial farms are growing perfectly sized, tasteless berries.  Ours is a small suburban farm with lots of hard-working families who do all the planting, tending and picking themselves.  We get to reap the true benefits of the sweetest, reddest, juiciest strawberries you can imagine.

Getting home with our half-flat of berries still intact (after being swarmed by two, now much bigger, boys' hands) is the biggest challenge with all the "manual labor" out of the equation.
I try my best to do something interesting with some of them, but most of the time they are either lunchbox snacks or stirred into yogurt and granola parfaits.

When I do get my hands on some, a strawberry and spinach salad is one of my very favorite ways to enjoy these sweet treats in a savory way.

Strawberry, Feta and Spinach Salad with Balsamic Syrup Vinaigrette
If you have the luxury of having a high end, well-aged balsamic vinegar, you can use it without reducing (please don't reduce it!! in fact!) and you can try this, too!

1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 pint strawberries
 6 cups of spinach
1/2 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions or spring onions
1/4 cup slivered almonds or pine nuts, toasted

In a small pan, cook vinegar over medium low heat until reduced to 1/4 cup ('ve just made Balsamic Syrup).  Whisk in olive oil, salt and pepper and let cool.

Slice strawberries and place in a large serving bowl.  Top with spinach, cheese, scallions and nuts. 

Just before serving, drizzle with dressing and toss gently to avoid crushing berries. Serve immediately.

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Monday, May 14, 2012

Spaghetti with Green Garlic and Basil Pesto

If you don't have Trader Joe's nearby, I'm sorry!  If you do, go get a live basil plant.  When I replanted it, I was happy to discover 4 healthy litle starter plants instead of one like I usually have gotten in the past.  I simply separated them, replanted, pruned off the big leaves (making sure to leave tiny 3-leaved clusters beneath to encourage new growth)and watered.  Now I have healthy plants growing daily and can't wait to have a freezer full of pesto later this summer.

But in looking a the minimal pile of basil leaves, I knew that I didn't have enough to produce regular pesto, but I did have green garlic (Another green garlic recipe) and lemon zest.  So along with a small handful of blanched almonds and cashews (didn't have the typical pine nuts due to price and I felt walnuts would be too heavy), I blended it all with a little lemon juice and olive oil.


A bright, citrusy pesto with Trader Joe's Gluten Free Corn Pasta.  I almost liked this pesto better than the original.  The more distinctly herbal flavor of green garlic along with the lemon zest really lightened it up.  Tossed with a good bit of the pasta water (essential part of true pasta making...always save at least a cup of pasta water before draining pasta to loosen whatever sauce you are tossing with the pasta) and freshly grated parmesan resulted in a creamy, but still not heavy sauce.

Since I'm watching calories, I had a small portion along with some grilled tuna so I wouldn't just eat a giant bowl of pasta (though I could have easily finished the entire dish!)  But this is a GREAT and very fresh Meat-Free Monday recipe!

Though we ate it all, this is definitely a recipe you can multiply and freeze.  Feel free to use it as a finishing sauce for grilled chicken, fish or vegetables for a low-carb meal.  Or toss with white beans or garbanzos for a quick bean salad.

Green Garlic and Basil Pesto
1/2 cup basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped green garlic (or 2 cloves regular garlic)
1/4 cup blanched almonds, pistachios, cashews or pecans
zest of 2 small lemons or 1 large
juice of the lemon(s)
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
hot water as needed

In a mini-chopper or blender, pulse the basil, green garlic, nuts and lemon zest. Add the lemon juice and olive oil, then pulse again.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon or two of hot water to loosen if the mixture is not blending well. When it is a cohesive paste, it's ready.  Taste and add salt as necessary.

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Monday, May 7, 2012

Green Plate Special - Fennel, Corn, English Peas and Asparagus

Blue Plate Specials are the working mans lunch - "a meat and three" as it's sometimes called in the South.  So to honor Meatless Monday, I decided we're having a Green Plate Special which was inspired by meals we enjoyed over this past weekend and what's available now:

Prosciutto wrapped Asparagus, our meat stand-in, (okay, almost meatless Monday - it happens that way with rapidly growing boys who like their meat.) lemony shaved fennel and freshly shelled English pea (harvested from our tiny garden) salad, grilled first-of-the-season corn with Lemon Basil Butter and Steamed Potatoes with Fried herbs is our menu.

You see, this past weekend Kyle and I celebrated our 20th anniversary in Sonoma.  (Yes, we were married at the ages of 12 & was an arranged marriage...or at least this was the story that we told the schmoozing bartender who asked how it was possible we could be married 20 years!)

A mere forty five minutes after leaving our garage we were checking into the fabulous El Dorado Hotel on the square in Sonoma and setting off for a weekend of doing nothing but relaxing and finding the next amazing wine country meal.

We started the weekend with The Girl & The Fig, a restaurant we've wanted to visit since we moved to Cali in 2007.  We have been living the starving artist's life since that move but for our anniversary, we had set aside a little money so we could enjoy Wine Country.   (THE MOVE story is a long one, but if you don't know it already, here's the down and dirty version:  We moved here with no jobs and no house in September of 2007 with two kids simply because we had a dream of living and working in the food and wine mecca of the US.)

We first tried various condiments created by the Sondra Bernstein, owner/chef of TG&TF, on a trip in early 2007 prior to our fateful move at her then outpost, The Fig Pantry.  Fig Jam, Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette, you name it, we tried it and they were all good.  We didn't have time on that trip for the full scale restaurant visit so it went on our "bucket list" of restaurants.

With beautiful and simple French food, and totally unpretentious service, The Girl & The Fig was most definitely the highlight of our weekend. We will return many times over if for nothing else than a plate of Frites with lots of fried herbs, glass of wine and cheeses (see that cheese in the top right picture with the brown stripe?  It's Cowabunga from Bohemian Creamery, soft cow's milk cheese with cajeta - goat's milk caramel- running through it.  WHAT???)  But everything was amazing, even the typically boring chicken breast, was well roasted with a picholine olive pesto that was fabulously salty and perfectly paired with our Syrah.

Cafe LaHaye was a restaurant I had on my radar, not because of the buzz, although I found out later it's recently been written up like crazy, but because I liked the sides that I saw on their menu.  After our visit, I determined that they should stick to a vegetarian menu.  The fennel & English pea salad that accompanied Kyle's grilled pork chop severely upstaged the less-than-stellar piggy.  And my vegetarian pasta dish was so completely awesome that I atypically took home what I couldn't finish, which also meant a trip to a convenience store for ice to store it til we got home!  (It became my snack while watching the Grand Finale of Chopped All Stars!) A. MAZ. ING.

Oh, and next time you're in Sonoma, (for you all should be at some point in your life) Harvest Moon Cafe with it's totally unassuming facade has one of the best brunch items we've ever eaten (heavenly baked polenta with fontina, lacinato kale, tomato sauce, bacon and fried eggs on top) and only after leaving there did I find out that the chef is a Chez Panisse alums.

So now that I've completely digressed...back to the Green Plate.

There are really no recipes so I'll just give you pictures and steps:

Shaved Fennel & English Pea Salad - Remove the outer tough sections and then remove the core (first four pictures.) Thinly slice with a knife, food processor or mandolin a large bulb of fennel.  Massage the fennel with a little with salt and the juice of a lemon and set aside for 15-20 minutes.  Remove English peas from their shell (or use frozen if you just can't get fresh) and toss with the fennel. Drizzle with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and taste for seasoning.  Add salt and coarsely ground pepper as needed.

Grilled Corn with Lemon Basil Butter - Remember Paris in April? I had Lemon Basil Butter left and so after grilling the corn in the husks for 20-30 minutes, all that's left to do is slather on the butter.

Steamed Potatoes with Fried Herbs - Fry the herbs first:  Heat several tablespoons of olive oil in a  skillet then toss the leaves only of thyme, sage and rosemary in and let them cook for a few seconds until crispy and slightly brown. You have to stay right there and watch or they will burn. Then simply steam quartered new potatoes until tender.  Toss with salt, pepper and a little olive oil, then toss the fried herbs on top.

Prosciutto-wrapped Asparagus -Peel the woody ends of the asparagus with a vegetable peeler.  Cut slices of Prosciuitto in half lengthwise and wrap around the length of the stem.  Roast or grill until the proscuitto is slightly crispy and the asparagus is starting to brown a bit.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with coarsely ground pepper.

Let me know of any main dish veggies you like to make. 

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Copyright 2012 TablaVie Personal Chef Service

All photos and recipes may not be used without express permission from Christi Flaherty, owner and creator of Cook What You've Got Concept and blog.
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