Easy Summer Salad – Italian Style!

Tomato and bread salad 3

Panzanella is a traditional Italian salad that gives new life to stale rustic bread when combined with just a few fresh ingredients. It takes minutes to prepare and is best served at room temperature.


Panzanella Salad

  • 8 oz. day-old crusty bread (French or Italian, for example)
  • 3  or 4 small ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 English cucumber
  • 1/4 medium onion (red or sweet)
  • 1/2 t. dried oregano
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 c. red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 c. torn fresh basil leaves

1. Carefully trim any hard crust from the bread. (A sturdy cutting board, a sharp serrated knife, and a good grip on the bread along with careful cutting help with this step.) Cut the bread into 1 inch cubes.

2. Core the tomatoes and cut into 1 inch cubes. Chop the cucumber into 1 inch cubes; thinly slice the onion.

3. Place the bread and vegetables in a large serving bowl. Sprinkle with the oregano and salt; drizzle with the vinegar and oil. Stir the mixture, turning the bread and vegetables to coat them with the dressing.

4. Let the salad sit on the counter for about 15 minutes to allow the bread to soak up the tomato juices and the dressing. Just before serving, add the basil leaves and toss gently. Refrigerate any unused portions.

Serves 4 to 6.



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Chips and Salsa for Dessert? Yes!

Memorial day 023Chips and salsa is an easy and popular snack or appetizer. Salsa is after all the most popular condiment in the country (or so I’ve heard). Made from a blend of chiles and tomatoes since at least the 16th century, salsa may be used at nearly every meal but in terms of dessert? Hmmm. That’s a hard sell.

Fruit salsa, however, is entirely edible as a dessert! Okay, this isn’t really salsa because there are no tomatoes or chiles in it (although I did toy with the idea of adding jalapeno). But it is the perfect accompaniment to cinnamon and sugar tortilla chips.

The chips are a great way to use any leftover tortillas, and the fruit salsa may include any fruit you have at hand. Just be sure to use the pineapple as the base, but add any fruit you like!

Summer Fruit Salsa

1 8oz. can crushed pineapple
1 apple
1 peach
1 pint strawberries
1 lime
Pinch of salt
1 t. honey
2 T. sour cream

1. Drain the pineapple, reserving the juice. Wash the remaining fruit; peel the apple. Dice the apple, peach and strawberries into 1/4 inch pieces.

2. Combine the pineapple and cut fruit in a small mixing bowl. Zest the lime into the bowl and add the salt; stir gently.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the juice of half the lime (reserve the other half), 3 T. of the reserved pineapple juice and the honey until the honey is dissolved. Add this to the fruit mixture and stir to coat the fruit in the dressing. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 2 hours.

4. When ready to serve, spoon the salsa into a serving dish. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream with the juice of the remaining half of the lime. Stir to thin the sour cream, then drizzle it over the salsa. Grate more lime zest on top if desired.


Cinnamon Sugar Tortilla Chips

2 large (10 inch) flour tortillas
2 T. sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1 T. butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and sugar and set aside.

2. Brush the tortillas with the melted butter. Sprinkle generously with the cinnamon sugar. (Reserve any leftover cinnamon sugar to use on cereal or toast.)

3. Cut the tortillas into wedges and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until crispy and just golden. Cool on a wire rack.

(Note: Use whatever size tortillas you have. These chips would also go well with ice cream or a warm chocolate dipping sauce.)

Serves 2 to 4.

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Easy Easter Menu

Any time I want to make something easy and hands-off, I think of my slow cooker. For an easy Easter main dish, I adapted a classic French slow-roasted leg of lamb recipe for the slow cooker, while the two side dishes roast side by side in the oven. Easily served on one platter or on a buffet, this meal is full of spring flavor and lets you enjoy the day!


Hands-Off Lamb Roast

Prep Time: 15 mins.
Cook Time: 5 to 6 hrs.
Serves: 4

(Note: The roast may be bone-in or boneless. Be sure it will fit in your slow cooker; you may need the butcher to remove the shank portion.)

4 to 5 lb. leg of lamb
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 c. white wine
1 c. water
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 small bunch fresh thyme (about 7 or 8 sprigs)
1 small bunch fresh rosemary (about 7 sprigs)
2 cloves garlic. minced
4 bay leaves

Rub the roast generously with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper, gently massaging the seasonings into the meat. Heat a large, nonstick Dutch oven over medium high heat. Brown all sides of the roast well, to render off excess fat.

Place the onion quarters in the bottom of a slow cooker (4 qt. or larger). Place the roast on top.

Deglaze the Dutch over by pouring about a cup of the wine into the pan (make sure the heat is off!). Scrape up any brown bits and pour the wine and drippings around the roast.

Add the remaining wine and water to the slow cooker, pouring it around the roast. Add the garlic and bay leaves to the slow cooker. Bundle the fresh herbs together with kitchen twine and snuggle it down next to the roast. Cook on high 5 to 6 hours, basting occasionally.

When the roast is fully cooked, remove it to a platter and cover with foil. Strain the liquid into a saucepan and bring to boil over medium high heat, then lower to a simmer and allow the sauce to reduce, about 15 minutes. If a thicker sauce is desired, make a slurry by removing a ladle of liquid to a small bowl and whisk in 1 T. of cornstarch. Return to the pan and whisk until the mixture thickens.

Serve the roast with the sauce and/or a nice fruit chutney.


Roasted Potatoes

1 ½ pounds new red potatoes (or red creamer potatoes)
2 cloves of garlic, cut in half
Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the potatoes and remove any spots or eyes and cut in half (or quarters if necessary for a roughly uniform size). Place the potatoes in a medium mixing bowl, add the garlic and lemon juice. Drizzle well with olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss well. Pour the potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Roast in oven, 25 to 40 minutes until fork tender and brown. Stir/turn the potatoes every 10 minutes to ensure browning on all sides.

Serves 4.


Roasted Spring Asparagus

Pencil-thin asparagus roast right next to the potatoes and take only minute to prepare.

1 bunch asparagus
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Rinse and trim the asparagus; pat dry. (To trim the asparagus, hold each end of a spear and bend until it snaps at the naturally perfect spot.) Place the asparagus in a shallow baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil (enough to coat) and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Bake in a 400 degree about 8 to 10 minutes, shaking the pan halfway during the cooking time to cook the asparagus evenly. Serves 4.

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Quick & Easy Halloween Treat

This “Monster Mix” party mix is an easy, quick and inexpensive treat for a Halloween get together. Or, portion the mix into treat bags or mason jars to give to teachers, coworkers, or party goers as a party favor.

In a large mixing bowl, combine:

3 c. Golden Grahams cereal (“mummy scabs”)
2 c. mini marshmallows (“ghost poop”)
2 c. candy corn (“goblin teeth”)
1 c. semisweet chocolate morsels (“witch warts”)

Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container and use within two days. (The marshmallows lose their fluffiness and the cereal loses its crunch after that.) Yield: 16 servings.

To get the look shown, I used small mason jars ($1.49 each at World Market) and cut scraps of Halloween fabrics into 6-inch squares with pinking shears to cover the lids. Screw on the collar and finish with a ribbon or a piece of twine (use what you have!). To download the printable (and adorable!) labels, right click on the photo of the label below and choose “save image as.”

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Tequila Lime Shrimp

Just in time for Cinco de Mayo celebrations (not to mention casual parties all summer long!) this easy but tasty recipe uses the spirit of the season  – tequila! – to rev up quick-cooking shrimp. I serve the shrimp on a bed of Sweet and Spicy Cole Slaw. All in all, this dish takes about 5 minutes to prepare, 1 hour to marinate, and 3 or 4 minutes to grill.

Plus, you can prepare them the day before your event and store them covered in the fridge. Simply plate and serve when your party begins.

Tequila-Lime Shrimp

1/2 pound medium shrimp, deveined and tails removed (about 16-18 pieces)
1/4 c. tequila (silver or gold)
2 T. olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 lime
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste.

Rinse the shrimp and pat dry. Place in a zipper top plastic bag. Combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over shrimp; seal bag and mix to combine. Let rest in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Place a grill pan over medium high heat; spray with non-stick cooking spray. Grill the shrimp 3 to 4 minutes until pink and opaque, turning once. This can be made ahead and stored in the fridge overnight. Serve on a tuft of Sweet and Spicy Cole Slaw, if desired. Serves 8 as an appetizer. Substitute large shrimp for a main course.

Sweet and Spicy Cole Slaw

In the bottom of large mixing bowl, whisk together: 4 T. apricot jam or orange marmalade; juice of 1 orange; zest of 1 orange (omit if using marmalade); 3 T. white wine vinegar; 2 T. adobo sauce (reserve the remaining chipotle peppers and sauce or freeze in a zipper top bag); salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle in 1/4 to 1/3 c. of canola oil, whisking to combine. Add 1 bag of cole slaw cabbage mix from the produce department. (Note: If using as a bed for Tequila Lime Shrimp, chop the cole slaw into smaller pieces before adding to the dressing.) Toss to combine; taste and adjust seasonings. Chill at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend.

(Note: If you don’t have adobo, try adding 1/2 t. or so of your favorite hot sauce.)

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The Post-Pat Hangover Brunch

St. Patrick’s Day is on a Saturday this year, and that could mean a late — and painful — morning on Sunday. Here’s a hearty, but easy, brunch idea using the centerpiece of any St. Pat’s menu: corned beef.

Corned beef hash is an ideal way to use any leftover corned beef, and this year could be the highlight of a post-Patrick Sunday brunch. Serve it up with baked eggs and drop biscuits, add in some fruit or a simple salad and it’s a great way to welcome spring.

Corned Beef Hash

2 c. russet baking potato cubes (1/4 inch)
2 T. butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound cooked corned beef, diced small (1/4 inch)
1 T. horseradish mustard
¼ t. salt
¼ t. black pepper
2 T. chopped flat leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the potatoes in a medium sauce and cover with water. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer for 1 minute. The potatoes should still be firm. Drain and set aside.

In a large oven-proof skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, cooking until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the corned beef, potatoes, mustard, salt, pepper and parsley and cook another 5 minutes. With the back of a spoon, pack the hash firmly into the skillet, then bake for 20 minutes.


Baked Eggs

This is a super easy way to get your protein on in the morning. What’s perfect about this corned beef-and-eggs pairing is that they can bake together!

For each serving, crack 2 eggs in a buttered 6 oz. ovenproof ramekin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a bit of shredded cheddar if you wish.

Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake in a 375 degree oven, 15 to 20 minutes depending on desired doneness.  Garnish with chopped flat leaf parsley if desired.


Parmesan Drop Biscuits

My grandmother and great-aunts could make a mean biscuit, my mother always said. My mom did not inherit that gene, and neither did I. When I discovered the drop biscuit, I felt I could redeem the family biscuit baking name a bit.  For this brunch, bake these first, and then pop them back in the oven during the last 5 minutes of the corned beef baking, just to reheat. Serve with butter and jam.

1 c. all-purpose flour
1 ½ t. double-acting baking powder
½ t. salt
Dash paprika
2 T. shortening
1 T. grated parmesan cheese
½ c. milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a small mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. With a pastry cutter or 2 knives used scissor-fashion, cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the milk with a fork until well blended. Drop by heaping tablespoons onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown. Yield: 12




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