Creamy Cool Cucumber Soup

IMG_4694When the temperature reaches the humid, sticky 90’s, I, like most people, find myself reaching for cold, easy meals. Salads, Sliders, Cold Noodles and this easy, dreamy soup.

Cold. Rich. Satisfying, this soup hits all of those notes and only took 5 minutes to pull together. A win. The cooling taste of the cucumber and the richness of the coconut milk coupled with the avocado make this taste like summer in a bowl. Plus if your garden is going bonkers, this is a perfect use for your overgrown cucumbers (ps my garden? is NOT going bonkers…updates soon).

We’re keeping this soup lighter on the calories by using non-fat plain yogurt and avocado for creaminess (no heavy cream or cheese!) Plus, we’re using lite coconut milk which lightens the caloric load as well. You could use non-fat milk or buttermilk in place of the coconut milk, but I enjoy the slight tropical flavor it brings to the dish. Make this  soup your own!

This soup is a gorgeous first course to a summer grill-out dinner or a light supper with the addition of a grilled shrimp skewer. I dipped a big piece of bakery fresh bread in it and called it dinner. I think you will too.

Creamy Cool Cucumber Soup
Serves: 4 as a first course~ Time: > 10 minutes, plus chilling time
1/2 c. plain, non-fat yogurt
1 (14.5 oz) can lite coconut milk
2 large cucumbers (I prefer seedless, use what you have)
1/2 avocado
Fresh Herbs: small handful (about 2-3 tbs) of each: Cilantro, Basil and Dill
2 scallions, trimmed, use both green and white parts
Zest of 1 lime
Sea Salt to taste
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Peel and roughly chop cucumbers. If the skin isn’t particularly thick or waxy, leave it on.
Clean and remove the stems of the herbs, but no need to chop them.

In a blender, add yogurt, coconut milk, cucumber chunks and avocado. Blend until smooth. Add herbs, scallions, lime zest and seasoning. Blend again until smooth and herbs are incorporated. Taste here. Add more herbs or seasoning as preferred. Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve. Will keep (covered) for several days in fridge.
Makes 1 heaping quart. Recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.

Suggested toppings:
Diced yellow tomatoes (as shown)
Feta cheese crumbles
Pickled onions
Drizzle of Chili or Walnut Oil
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BRB, going to will my garden to grow.

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Peach, Mozzarella & Avocado Slider

A little summer slider to start your weekend off right.
This treat requires no real instructions, just find the absolute best of what summer is offering and put it together. Happy Weekend.

IMG_4614Juicy peach
Dreamy fresh mozzarella
Creamy smooth avocado
Bright grape tomatoes
Verdant garden-fresh basil

Drizzle with your favorite olive oil, seasalt and cracked pepper.
Feast.

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Market Bounty

Just sharing a little pile of good stuff from our beloved Findlay Market!
Spoiler alert, you’ll recognize a few items that had gone into the Panzanella, but I don’t always post things in order. I am a maverick like that.

My groceries were a great mix of the best of what Findlay offers: local farm finds, produce vendors, fresh bakery items and a few grocery items from the local in-market stores.

Let’s see what I got!  IMG_4220

  • Farm Fresh Eggs: Obsessed. Buy them if you can. You’re welcome.
  • 2 pints of Roma Tomatoes ($1 each) from the produce vendors. They were a little bruised (hence the cheapo price) so I sliced off the nasty bits and made sweet, crisp roasted tomatoes (to be added to egg dishes or salads). Always a good tip to buy in bulk when produce is inexpensive – you can cut away the nasty bits, and cook or pickle items.
  • 1 pint of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes. Drool. I’m hoarding them.
  • 1 purple sweet pepper. Similar in taste/texture to a green pepper but more mild.
  • Hiding back there, a couple of avocados.
  • An actual basil plant! I tried TWICE to grow basil from seed this spring  (#sproutwatch2015) and it just wasn’t happening. I bought the seedling, wish me luck!
  • Sweet corn! Yay for summer food. #sighofhappiness
  • Kale All Day. I’m currently obsessed with making kale chips to dip into cottage cheese (I’m 5,000 years old). Just rolling with this super simple recipe.
  • The beautiful olive fougasse bread. Panzanella magic. Crazyawesome grilled cheese.
  • A packet of brown rice vermicelli noodles from Saigon Market, a local Asian and International food store right in the Findlay Market area.
  • Finally, a POUND of Ricotta Salata (a firm-feta like cheese) from Silverglades deli. This was crazy good as an addition to Panzanella but also? You can grill or lightly fry this cheese (similar to a halloumi). I’ve been grilling a thin slice, adding sliced heirloom tomatoes and a fried egg for breakfast. I know, right? I KNOW.

All these for the grand total….of about $35. Protein, dairy, grain, produce…yup, love Farmers’ Market season!

What are you loving at your Farmers’ Market lately?

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Panzanella (Italian Tomato Bread Salad)

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Happy Fourth of July friends!
I have a deliciously simple side dish for you to bring your gathering TODAY. Seriously, you can make this now and still have time to buy all the fireworks your car can hold.
You’re welcome.

A departure from the usual soggy potato and macaroni salads (and ahem, all my grain salads); panzanella is a wonderfully summery dish of tomatoes, bread, onions and a tart and addictive red wine vinegar salad dressing. Super easy but really refreshing and a perfect addition to a grill-out spread.

I bought an incrediblely perfect olive bread fougasse at the market this morning.
BUT Panzanella is traditionally made with stale bread (a way to use up the day-old loaf); as the tomatoes and dressing soak the bread and make it palatable again. However, using fresh bread is totally fine; it just doesn’t need as long to soak.
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(hello olive lover)

I loved using the olive bread, as it added another element of savory flavor to the dish; but any Italian bread or bakery bread you have on-hand is totally fine. Though not traditional (when am I ever?) I added ricotta salata, a firm, feta-like ricotta. I loved the salty tang and texture it brought to the salad. Ripe plum tomatoes and a handful of scallions and basil and you’re in business. However, I want to stress, this is a totally throw-together dish. It was invented to use up old bread! So don’t feel like you have to be too precious with the actual ingredients, mix it up with what you have!

Let’s do this. You have fireworks to buy.

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Panzanella (Italian Tomato Bread Salad)

Serves: 4 – 6, Time: 10 minutes plus chilling time
5 Roma Tomatoes, diced
8 oz Ricotta Salata, diced (or feta or fresh mozzarella if you prefer)
2 scallions, green & white parts, diced (or 1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced)
1/2 loaf (about 8oz)  Olive bread (or any bakery bread, preferably stale), cut into 1″ cubes
2 stalks basil, leaves removed and roughly chopped
Dressing:
3 tbs red wine vinegar
1/4 c. olive oil
pinch salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder

In a large bowl, toss together salad ingredients. In a small jar, combine all the ingredients of the dressing, cover and shake until emulsified. Taste here. Adjust seasoning as needed. Pour dressing over salad, stir to coat thoroughly. Allow to chill for 30 minutes or up to 4 hours if using stale bread. Serves 4-6 as a side.

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Be safe out there, friends!

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Mujaddara: Lebanese style Lentils and Rice

photo copyEach culture has their own take on grains and legumes. Italians have Pasta e Fagioli, Indian families enjoy Dal, and Latin Americans dig into Frijoles y Arroz.

In my family growing up, we had Mujaddara, a gently cooked lentil and caramelized onion dish. This hearty side was often an accompaniment to fish, especially during Lent. My mother often made it super thick, with just lentils and sweet onions, which we would then devour with loaves of warm Syrian bread. #comfortfood.

As I moved into my own home and started cooking for myself; this was one of the first dishes I made consistently. By adding brown rice (as is common); this little dish-that-could became a cheap, filling and nutritious staple to my early 20’s steady diet of beer I mean salad.

In this version, I’ve dressed up the basic ingredients of caramelized onions, lentils and rice with kale and tomatoes to make it more of a one-dish meal. Make good use of your summer produce and toss in here to add more color and flavor. Warming cumin adds earthiness and depth to the flavor. It’s perfect served warm as a side dish to grilled steak or fish. I personally love it best cold with a big scoop of plain yogurt, which makes it such a satisfying dish in the summer. It’s also divine when sneaking a spoonful out of fridge in the middle of the night. Mmmujaddara:

Summer Mujaddara
Time: 70 minutes  – Serves: 8 (as a side)
We’re using chicken broth and butter for flavor; but by using vegetable broth and oil; this dish is completely Vegan if that’s your bag.

1 tbs butter
1 tbs olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 large sweet onion
2 c. kale (heaping)
1 c. grape tomatoes, halved (or 1 can (14.5oz) fire roasted diced tomatoes)
1 c. brown lentils
2 c. brown rice
1 tbs cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
6 c. chicken broth
Sea Salt & Black Pepper

Before you begin, be sure to pick over your lentils carefully; as they’re a natural product, the occasional tiny pebble or bit of organic matter can be in the bag, so just give them a once-over and rinse. Peel garlic and onion, trimming ends and dicing both finely. Clean kale thoroughly and remove the tough inner ribs. Chop kale into 1″ pieces.  Clean tomatoes and halve (or open the can).

In a large, deep stockpot, heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, sprinkling liberally with salt and pepper. Saute until lightly golden. Mix in kale and tomatoes, toss until wilted. Stir in cumin and paprika (if using). Finally stir in lentils and rice, mixing together until rice is translucent, only about 3-5 minutes.

Slowly add chicken broth (lentils and rice should be covered; if not, add more liquid). Cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook covered until tender, about 50 minutes. All liquid should be absorbed, if not, allow to cook longer. Taste and add more seasoning as needed. Serve warm or cold. Serves 8 as a side dish or makes tons of delicious leftovers for 2. Yes, it’s even more awesome the next day.

Serving suggestions:  Plain yogurt, crispy fried onions or fresh tomatoes & cucumbers drizzled with oil.

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BRB: Going to stick a spoon in the fridge.

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#TBT Salamander Resort & Spa

Try as I might,  I often start blog posts, get distracted by something else I want to write and the original post languishes, sad and unread. NO MORE! In honor of Throwback Thursday (#TBT), I’m finishing these forgotten gems (?) and sharing them. Some are from a couple of months ago, some are from years ago (fun!). Enjoy taking a look back at some awesome travel and eats.

Way back in December 2013 (when my hair was behaving and my pants fit better), my friend, Jen and I took a girls’ spa weekend to Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg, Virginia.  About 30 minutes outside DC, this new-to-us-then resort (they opened in September 2013) seemed like a perfect fit.
IMG_7481– Gorgeous spa? CHECK
– Walking distance to downtown? CHECK
– Cozy bar area? CHECK
– Horses? CHECK – what? Yes, you read that right, HORSES.

Giddyup, we were in.

The resort and grounds are absolutely gorgeous, idyllic and classic Virgina country.
We were escorted to our cozy 4th floor room, where we found an inviting, well-appointed room with…

IMG_7441…stinkbugs. YES, STINKBUGS.

We didn’t realize it at first; and just saw little critters on the floor and bed…and well, we screamed, grabbed our bags and ran to the front desk, ready to have a meltdown.

After a round of drinks on the house; and some soothing tones from the Guest manager, we got the scoop:

Apparently, the Virgina countryside where the resort is had a terrible season (2013) for stinkbugs; and despite the resort’s best efforts; they’re everywhere.  They are nature-bugs and are no indication of the cleanliness of the resort or rooms; it’s just you know, nature.

I appreciated their attitude and calm; but it was still disconcerting. We were given another room (that had been checked for the little Virginia treats) and settled in (It must be said, we did not have nay other experience with nature-bugs in our room for the rest of the trip).
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(cozy fireplace, comfy seating, wine within arm’s length. Yup, all the makings of a girls’ weekend!)

It was Christmas Parade weekend in Middleburg; so we walked the 10 minutes from the resort into town and wandered through the throngs of people enjoying the parade, food  and hot drinks. We had missed the horse and hound parade  (where horses and hounds simulate a typical fox hunt by zipping down main street) and opted just for lunch (and wine).

In an effort to avoid the crowds, we stepped off the main road and into The French Hound.
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Set up like a country house, we were escorted to a window seat and promptly ordered glasses of wine to start the afternoon.
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We enjoyed all manner of “classic” French dishes. Charcuterie, cornichon and lovely French breakfast radishes with sea salt and butter (so simple and so good). I opted for a luscious, drippy, rich and creamy Croque Madame for lunch. Viva la France.  A beautiful spot and a quaint lunch. Don’t miss it.

During our weekend it snowed in DC.
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(yes, you can still see the grass).

Us Boston girls weren’t deterred by the 1/2″ of snow; but our Virginia neighbors were a bit more cautious. We had wanted to visit several of the local (literally within 3 miles) wineries but were told they were probably closed due to the “weather. However, we were feeling adventurous and had a lovely valet man who was happy to fire up the on-property SUVs (for guest transportation) to see if any wineries were open. Sadly, none were. We had to settle for a glass of wine back at the resort, enjoyed fireside in the library. Shucks.
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However, we did get to visit the stables! Again, the weather prevented any riding (and um, I don’t know how to ride a horse unless you count the pony rides at my hometown library during elementary school where they had “Timmy the Pony” at all library events. Doesn’t count? Didn’t think so). But we fed our equine friends carrots and gave them snuggles.  IMG_7461
The terrified look in this horse’s eye should be no indication of my comfort level with the animal kingdom. He was fine, I swear.

Because we were wiped out from the SUV riding and the horse hugging, we opted to get into cozy clothes, cue up everything on Bravo and order room service!
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Mushroom soup, corn fritters, crab cakes and sautéed kale. Oh heck yes. Enjoyed all the more while wearing ripped hospital pants and old college t-shirts from 1998.

Sunday morning dawned cold and bit more snowy. We headed to the on-site fine dining restaurant, Harriman’s for brunch.
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I’ll take my champagne with a side of winter ambiance, thankyouverymymuch.

There was some confusion over the “bottomless” champagne advertised but we spoke to a couple of different servers and it all worked out. (In Salamander’s defense, they had been opened 2 months at the time of our visit; and most likely our visit was one of their first “tourist” weekends due to the Christmas events. I’m sure they’ve since worked out the service bugs).

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A Bloody Mary WITH BACON and a gorgeous quinoa salad for Jen….IMG_7451
….nonstop champagne and the brunch buffet for me. A beautiful selection of all manner of brunch and lunch options were available. Feeling more lunch than brunch, I tried shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, bacon and collard greens. How this Boston girl loves and craves shrimp and grits,  I’ll never know. I just know I like it. ALOT.      IMG_7476
After a leisurely stroll around the property, a super relaxing massages in the clean, comfortable and elegant spa, we finished off the weekend with hot drinks and a gorgeous toffee pudding in the bar area. Fact: I will always order the toffee option. Always.  Relaxed, stuffed and happy, we rolled ourselves into taxi and off to DCA.
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Another girls’ weekend on the books. (2 years late).

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Ginger Poached Cod over Hot & Cold Noodle Salad with Mint Lime Vinaigrette

Best friends, I have such a light and lovely meal to share with you.

This is my riff on a Bun cha, a Vietnamese noodle salad. Rather than the traditional fatty pork (drool); we’re gently poaching cod in a savory miso ginger broth. We’re taking the tender ginger cod and serving it with crisp, crunchy vegetables, stir fried vegetables and thin, chewy rice noodles that are perfect for sopping up our incredibly flavorful homemade Mint Lime Vinaigrette. Oooh boy, this is a good one.

Though the ingredient list and steps may seem lengthy, I promise this whole meal came together in under 20 minutes and the presentation is just so pretty as a composed salad. The weirdly organized Gemini-freak in me loves a composed salad.

As a kid (and still pretty much now) I hated my food to touch. Anyone else like that? Like if I was having salad, chicken, rice and green beans, they needed to be on separate sections of the plate and heaven help you if the salad wasn’t in it’s own bowl. I would eat my (separate) salad first then green beans, then chicken, then rice (saving the best aka carbs for last). Always finishing one item before starting another. I know, I’m a spazz. The amount of sighing from my parents at the dinner table in 1985 can still be heard today. While I’ve certainly gotten better about food touching and mixing in my old age, the asethetic and simplistic quality of a composed salad speaks to my (freakish) soul.

I also organize my closet by clothing item occasion. I never said this blog was normal.

Ginger Poached Cod over Hot & Cold Noodle Salad with Mint Lime Vinaigrette
Time: 20 minutes Serves: 2
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Ginger Poached Cod
2 8oz fillets of white fish (Cod, Hake, Haddock)
4 c. Miso Ginger Broth (or Pho Broth or Vegetable Broth)
1″ piece of fresh ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, peeled & minced

Unwrap fish. Pat dry with paper towels. In a wide, deep saucepan (or stockpot), bring broth, ginger and garlic to a simmer (you can see steam, but is not bubbling). Ensure that your liquid is deep enough to cover fillets, this is crucial. Add fish fillets, ensuring that they are covered. Cover the saucepan with the lid. Allow fish to poach, gently turning once. If broth boils, reduce heat slightly. (Poaching rather than boiling keeps the fish tender). Fish is done when completely opaque, about 10-12 minutes at most.  Using a slotted spoon, gently remove fish from poaching liquid and set aside. Discard poaching liquid once cool.

Hot and Cold Noodle Salad
4 oz rice noodles (white or brown rice)
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 daikon radish, peeled and sliced into half-moons
1 shallot, peeled and minced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 carrot, cleaned and peeled
2 Persian (seedless) cucumbers, ends trimmed
2 c. Romaine lettuce, cleaned, ends trimmed
Garnish: Parsley and/or cilantro, cleaned, roughly chopped
Garnish: Lime wedges

Cook noodles according to package instructions. Rinse in cool water, drain and allow to cool.
In a medium saucepan, heat sesame oil and soy sauce.  Add radish, garlic and shallot. Saute until vegetables are soft and have a bit of color, about 5-7 minutes.  Remove from heat. Spiralize carrot (or just slice thinly). Dice cucumber. Roughly chop greens. Set all the cold vegetables aside as well.

Mint Lime Vinaigrette
1 lime, zest and juice
2 tbs fresh mint, minced (1 large stalk of leaves only)
1 tbs sesame oil
2 tbs safflower (or other light oil)
1/4″ tsp Sriracha
light soy sauce (to taste)

Add all ingredients except soy sauce to a small jar, cover and shake  until emulsified. Taste here. You may want to add soy sauce for a more salty flavor and/or add more heat. Tinker with it until you have the flavor you’d like.  You can’t mess it up, promise. Note: the sesame oil can be rather overpowering so taste before you add more of this oil.

Assembly:
On a large platter or shallow bowl, divide the serving dish into quarters. Spiralized carrots to one corner, cucumbers to another, cooked vegetables to another, mixed greens in the last quadrant. Drizzle each section with dressing.

In a small bowl, toss cold noodles with a bit of dressing so they’re coated. Plate noodles on top of mixed greens. Spoon fish to the center of the serving dish. Drizzle with remaining dressing. Sprinkle with cilantro/parsley. Serve with lime wedges. Serves 2

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