Salad Days

January 18th, 2013

I love salads! Fruit salad, vegetable salad, grain salad – or a combination – the colors, the textures, the flavors….the possibilities are endless. Whether inspired by a display of local, in-season produce in the grocery store or leftover veggies in the refrigerator, tossed with a homemade dressing, topped with a special garnish….salads appeal to my creative side as a chef. The ingredients for this salad can all be combined in a bowl as a tossed salad, of course, but assembling them as a stacked salad makes a stunning first course for a dinner party and sets the stage for an elegant evening of gourmet dining.

Double Mango Stacked Fruit Salad

Double Mango Stacked Fruit Salad

an original recipe created by Chef Barb Crispin, A Gift of Thyme personal chef service

serves 2

1 cup mango, ripe, peeled and cubed

1 pear, chopped

1/2 cup chopped strawberries + 2 whole strawberries for garnish (optional)

1/2 teaspoon lime zest

1/4 teaspoon lime juice

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon salt

agave nectar to taste (honey or other sweetener may be substituted if preferred)

3 cups salad greens, chopped

1/4 cup fresh herbs, chopped (I used mint + a sprinkling of fennel fronds)

3″ salad ring or biscuit cutter

Place 3/4 of the mango in a food processor; process until finely chopped. Add lime juice, oil, coriander, and salt. Process until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.

Combine remaining mango and chopped strawberries with 1 tablespoon of the pureed mango. Set aside. This will be the middle layer of your salad.

Toss 1/2 cup chopped greens with the fresh chopped herbs. Set aside. This is the top layer of the salad.

Combine the remaining salad greens with the chopped pears and 1/2 – 1 tablespoon pureed mango. This is the base of the salad.

Place the salad ring  in the center of the salad plate. Using the salad ring as a mold, fill it about half-way with the greens/pear mixture. The weight of the mango-strawberry layer will compress it. Add enough of the mango-strawberry mixture so that 2/3  – 3/4 of the ring is filled. Top with the layer of greens and herbs. The top of this  layer can be slightly above the top edge of the ring. Carefully slide the ring upwards. Repeat for the second salad.  Garnish the plates with strawberry fans if desired.

You will have extra pureed mango. It keeps well in the refrigerator (or can be frozen) and can be used on other salads, as a topping for ice cream, as a dip for fresh fruit, mixed with yogurt…


Fresh From the Garden

July 22nd, 2012

Zucchini!  This time of year, those of us with vegetable gardens are blessed with an abundance of fresh vegetables, but anyone who planted zucchini can be facing too much of a good thing.  Stored in a perforated plastic bag in the vegetable bin, fresh picked zucchini should keep well for 4-5 days.  Well known for being the star of zucchini bread, it is versatile enough to be used in many other creative ways:

Slice thinly or shredded, it can be added to quiches or frittatas, used in a wrap or as a topping for pizza. Cut into thicker slices or ‘wands’, it can be served with a creamy dip or yogurt sauce.  It makes a delicious baked vegetarian entrée layered with slices of onion, eggplant, tomatoes and feta cheese.  Chop it and toss with spaghetti, a little pesto and toasted pine nuts.  Cut in half lengthwise, the seeds can be scooped out to create a ‘boat’ to hold a variety of meat, vegetable, grain, or cheese fillings.  Cut crosswise into thick slices, a melon baller can be used to create a little bowl to hold 2-bite servings of tabouleh, chicken or tuna salads.  Use a vegetable peeler to create zucchini ribbons and toss with a flavorful vinaigrette for a tasty salad.  And there’s always ratatouille!

The following recipe is one of my favorite ways to prepare zucchini. It’s quick enough for a weeknight meal, but elegant enough to serve when entertaining as well!

Almond-Topped Zucchini

3 medium zucchini, sliced thin

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon butter

4 teaspoon thyme

1/3 cup smoked almonds, chopped coarsely

Heat skillet over medium-high heat; add oil and butter and swirl til butter melts and bottom of skillet is coated. Add the sliced zucchini and minced garlic and saute briefly til zucchini is crisp tender. Toss with thyme, season with salt and pepper if desired,  and serve, garnished with chopped almonds.


The Clean 15

February 21st, 2012

There are many reasons for choosing organic over conventionally-grown produce. Certainly, the presence of pesticides in our food supply is a very real concern. The Environmental Working Group has identified the twelve most contaminated conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables (listed in a previous post) as well as the 15 least contaminated. The Clean 15 are:

1.  Onions

2.  Sweet corn

3.  Pineapple

4.  Avocado

5.  Asparagus

6.  Sweet peas

7.  Mangoes

8.  Eggplant

9.  Cantaloupe (domestic)

10. Kiwifruit

11.  Cabbage

12.  Watermelon

13.  Sweet potatoes

14.  Grapefruit

15.  Mushrooms

This is good news for my budget! Sweet potatoes, peas and asparagus are client favorites, mango sorbet and watermelon soup are wonderful summertime treats, and I have a new recipe using eggplant, onions, and mushrooms that I want to try.  Keeping both of these lists handy helps me shop healthy AND smart.

Healthy Choices

January 23rd, 2012

A trip to the grocery store can be rather daunting – so many choices, so many distractions! The aromas from the bakery, vendors offering free samples, boxes and cans neatly arrayed on shelves or artfully stacked, all enticing you to “Try me!” My favorite section is the produce aisle. I love the colors, the shapes, the textures, and the possibilities that present themselves as I consider what to buy. What’s in season? What’s on sale? What do I need to make this week’s recipes? My first choice is always to go organic, but availability can be a problem.  And then there’s the cost. In order to make those grocery dollars stretch, and still make the healthiest choices possible, I rely on the Environmental Working Group’s findings. According to the EWP, the twelve most pesticide-laden conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are:

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines (imported)
  7. Grapes (imported)
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries (domestic)
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale and collard greens

My healthy choices start there – these fruits and vegetables are the ones I always buy organic. Consider which of these you eat most often. Switching from conventional to organic produce on the two or three items you use the most will help you keep that New Year’s resolution to “Eat healthier!”

This Just In… Fresh Pears!

September 28th, 2011

The coming of fall brings fresh pears to our markets.  Highly versatile, I love eating them as a snack or chopping them up for a salad – they add a touch of juicy sweetness and are the perfect accompaniment to stronger flavored cheeses such as gorgonzola or goat cheese (tossing them with a

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bit of orange or lemon juice keeps them from browning).  Pears are delicious roasted, baked in a rustic galette for dessert or tossed with apples, plums and berries for wonderful crisps and compotes.  And poached pears are a treat for breakfast.

Bartletts have smooth, juicy flesh and are excellent for canning, poaching or eating plain.  When ripe, their skin turns bright yellow.  Red Bartletts are similar to the regular Bartlett, but are bright red when ripe and add color to salads and are delicious cooked.  Anjou have a spicy taste and are best eaten fresh.  Red Anjou may be eaten fresh or baked.  Bosc pears have a distinctive long, tapered neck and golden brown skin.  They are perfect for poaching, roasting, broiling or grilling.

Choose pears that are firm, well-shaped, and free of bruises.  Allow a few days for pears to ripen in a brown bag at room temperature.  When ripe, a pear will yield slightly to gentle pressure near the stem.  Store ripe pears in the coldest part of the refrigerator.  Pears bruise easily and should be handled gently.

Poached Pears

Peel, halve and core 1 large pear.  Combine 2 cups of water, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, one 3-inch piece cinnamon stick, and one 3-inch piece lemon rind in a large sauce pan.  Bring to a boil; add pear halves and cover.  Reduce heat to low and simmer 8 minutes or til pear halves are tender.  Remove pear halves with a slotted spoon.  Serve as a salad with greens, drizzled with Neufchatel thinned with orange juice and garnished with chopped nuts or as a dessert with a scoop of ice cream sprinkle with cinnamon.  Serves 2

A Tribute to Mom

September 2nd, 2011

Mom - who taught me the joy of cooking

Family recipes…

A treasure trove of memories

A connection to one’s heritage

A tangible reminder of family ties

And with each re-creation

A tribute to the many cooks whose hands prepared it in the past and gave it ‘life’

My grandmother was Pennsylvania Dutch, and this recipe comes from a friend of hers.  Although I don’t remember my grandmother making this, my mom made it as a regular treat when we were growing up. After I moved away from home, I always knew whenever I went back for a visit, shoofly pie and Mom would be waiting for me. This is actually a breakfast pie; the bottom layer can range from moist and slightly gooey to cake-like and always with a delicious crumb topping…  I chose this recipe to share with you as a tribute to my mother.

Jennie Bowman’s Shoofly Pie

4 C flour

½ C butter

2 C sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1 C molasses

2 C hot water

1 tsp baking soda

2 pie crusts, unbaked

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine flour, shortening, sugar, baking powder into a fine crumb mixture.  In a separate bowl, mix together molasses, water and baking soda.  Pour into pie shells.  Divide the crumb mixture into equal portions for each pie; add quickly.  Immediately put pies into the oven.  Bake for about 25 minutes.

Making Lots of Dough

July 30th, 2011

Ah, the good old days.  I used to make all of our bread, from scratch, without a breadmaker, thank you, just lots of mixing and kneading by hand. Great exercise and lots of time for quiet meditation as the dough slowly turned from a sticky, doughy blob into a smooth, elastic work of art.  Then the yeast would work its magic and the dough would rise, then give a soft sigh as it was punched down.  I would let it rise twice for a finer texture, then roll it out and shape it into loaves.  One last rising and then into the oven…and the heavenly aroma of fresh baked bread would fill the house.  And the flavor?   Absolutely amazing.

Life is more complicated now, busier.  But every now and then, I indulge in the luxury of bread baking and quiet contemplation.  And I never regret it.

Faust “Speaks”

July 2nd, 2011

Hi!  I’m Faust! A few weeks ago I found myself living in this house with a chef.  Pretty cool, huh?  You’d think I’d be living quite a grand life, eating all sorts of gourmet treats, right?  Think again.  Don’t get me wrong – these humans are very nice.  I get to go on nice walks, and when I get tired the man will carry me.  I have a nice soft bed to curl up on, fun squeaky toys, and during the day I get to spend time in a place surrounded by flowers, listening to classical music.  But mealtime?  It’s pretty much kibble.

I know the chef makes some pretty wonderful stuff – I can smell it!  And I’ll often sit in her lap as she creates menus and types recipes into the computer, and most of it sounds quite tasty – Latin-Style Flank Steak, Spicy Beef Empanaditas, Baked Chiles Rellenos; Chicken Quesadillas, Fajita Turkey Burgers – did I mention I’m part Chihuahua?  And Monday she came home smelling like grilled filet mignon.  I was sure she had a scrap or two in her pocket, but if she did I never saw a bit of it.  So I sat in her lap, enjoyed the aroma of ‘what might have been,’ and left some of my hair on her jacket so that next time she might remember to bring me a sample.

I hang out in the kitchen a lot.  You’d think something would fall on the floor once in a while.  So far it’s just a piece of celery, or carrot or onion that flies off the counter, and usually before I can even sniff it, it gets picked up and thrown away.  Well, I guess that’s okay.  Now, if it were a piece of that filet mignon…Look out for your fingers, chef!

It does get boring after a while, sitting and watching and waiting, and I do have other things to do, like taking a nap, or lying outside in the warm sun, or checking up on what the man is doing… So I go about my business.  But I remain hopeful.  I know this is my foster home, not my permanent home.  Maybe they’ll throw me a grand going-away party complete with, yes, my very own grilled filet mignon! Ruff!

Fond Memories

June 21st, 2011

Working in the kitchen can be a trip down memory lane.  The inviting aroma of sautéed garlic instantly transports me back to the Philippines, and I am walking through the marketplace, surrounded by fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish, and invariably some vendor is preparing a quick stir-fry for lunch as they tend their stall.  The thought of cornburgers (a old family favorite) brings back memories of my childhood and summer suppers at the beach.  And who cannot think of pumpkin pie, and not be reminded of Thanksgiving traditions with family and friends gathered around the table?

I recently was preparing pecan rolls for a BNI Visitor’s Day brunch. As I rolled out the dough, sprinkled on the cinnamon/brown sugar mixture, then covered it with chopped pecans, the image of my then three-year-old daughter at my elbow helping me make the very same treat suddenly came to mind.  I had to stop and smile.  While the members and guests at the brunch had no way of knowing, the secret ingredient in those pecan rolls that morning was love.

Berry Delicious

June 7th, 2011

Fresh berries are a welcome sight in the produce section and a sure sign that summer is here!  All fruits provide healthful vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber while being low in sodium, calories and fat.  To protect your investment in healthy eating here are some tips for selecting the best berries

Choose strawberries that are shiny and fragrant with fresh hulls still attached. Smaller berries tend to be more flavorful than large, and they should have that wonderful strawberry aroma.  Blueberries should be round, plump, and have a slightly dusty appearance.  Blackberries should look plump and shiny, while raspberries will look slightly dusty.  At home, sort through the berries, removing any that are bruised, shriveled or decaying.  Store strawberries, raspberries and blackberries in a single layer loosely covered with plastic wrap in the coldest part of the refrigerator and use within 1-3 days.  Blueberries may be stored in their original container. Allow the berries to come to room temperature for the best flavor and wash just before using.

Enjoy these summer treats tossed with salad greens and your favorite cheese, drizzled with a tangy vinaigrette and garnished with toasted nuts, or try this client favorite:

Black- and Blueberry Syrup

1 teaspoon cornstarch (or arrowroot)

1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

¼ teaspoon lemon zest

3 tablespoons blackberry jam

1 cup blueberries

1 ½ cups blackberries

In a small saucepan, dissolve cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water.   Stir in lemon juice, lemon zest, blackberry jam and blueberries.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer til slightly thickened, approximately 1 minute.  Remove from heat and gently stir in blackberries.