Monday, May 24, 2010

Above Average: Salad with Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Basil, and Olives

I’ve made this salad before and it’s always good. But something happened when I made it for our dinner last night. I’m really not sure what the difference was, but it was way better than usual. Both Dave and I thought so. As we ate, we kept repeating, “Wow! This is really good!”

I don’t have an exact recipe for you. But I’ll tell you about how I generally make this salad and what I did that might have made it go from good to excellent this time. I never measure. I just throw together mixed baby lettuces, mini tomatoes (usually mini pearls or grape tomatoes from Trader Joe’s), marinated mozzarella balls, fresh basil, and sometimes kalamata olives. I eyeball it and add a little more red (tomatoes), green (lettuce, basil), black (olives), or white (mozzarella) until the balance seems about right. I then add a basic combination of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar (nothing too fancy for either one), usually with a little garlic, salt, and pepper.

So, that’s the basic salad I’ve done quite a few times. What was different this time? Well, I found myself shopping at Safeway, which is unusual, and I used their baby lettuce mix. It’s pretty standard, but I do think it has more spinach than most of the bagged lettuce mixes. Dave commented that he really liked all the hearty spinach leaves. I also got tomatoes there – Nature Sweet Cherubs. They were definitely sweet and yummy. Next, instead of using my own olive oil for the dressing, I used the herby oil from the Trader Joe’s marinated mozzarella balls. I’ve done that before, so I don’t think that made all the difference. I do think it may have had something to do with the garlic: At my regular grocery store, Fred Meyer, they only had purple stripe garlic as opposed to the ordinary white skinned garlic they usually carry. And I did notice, as I selected a head, it was very aromatic. And when I minced it up for the dressing, it was juicier, and again, more aromatic than I’m used to. Finally, I added a little extra fresh basil to the dressing – something I don’t usually do since there’s already basil in the salad itself.

I still don’t really know what specifically made the salad so much better than usual, but Dave insisted I write down exactly what I did, so we could make it again. I didn’t actually measure or count anything however, so this is just to the best of my recollection:

Mozzarella Salad with Tomatoes, Basil, and Olives  PRINTABLE RECIPE

Safeway baby lettuce mix – about 3/4 of the bag
Nature Sweet Cherubs (tomatoes) – most of the container – halved lengthwise
Trader Joe’s marinated mozzarella balls – most of the container – halved
About a dozen or so large fresh basil leaves – cut into thin ribbons
About a dozen pitted kalamata olives – quartered

Approximately half the oil from the marinated mozzarella balls
1/4 cup or so balsamic vinegar
1 purple stripe garlic clove – finely minced
1 or 2 medium to large fresh basil leaves – finely minced
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper – to taste

Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk dressing ingredients together. Pour dressing over salad and toss, or spoon dressing over individual salad servings – that’s what we did this time. (Note: we had leftover dressing).

Good luck! I hope yours turns out fantastic!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mussels & Bruschetta: At least I remembered to take pictures...

Well, I made mussels again, and I remembered to take a picture – see! I also took pictures of the bruschetta I made, and even the kids’ frozen pizza.

For the mussels, I used a recipe from Bobby Flay for Steamed Mussels with White Wine, Tarragon, Shallots, and Butter. First, I must tell you that I love Bobby Flay. It’s kind of lame, I know, to be “in love” with a Food Network star, but what can I say... I want to marry him, cook with him, have babies with him, the whole bit. Now you know.
So of course, I expected these mussels to be great – tarragon, butter, wine, Bobby Flay – they just had to be good. But to be honest, I was pretty disappointed in Bobby’s recipe. The wine overwhelmed the other flavors. There was a slight essence of ocean, but I wasn’t getting the tarragon flavor at all, which is what I was looking forward to most. The broth wasn’t even good for dipping the bread. It was like dipping bread in wine. Not too good.

I also threw together some simple bruschetta that evening. I’m not sure exactly how it’s supposed to be made (to make it authentic). I just brushed some baguette slices with olive oil, then toasted them, rubbed with a garlic clove, topped with chopped tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil, salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. It turned out great, though it was a little soggy. I think it sat too long before we ate it.

I didn’t try the kids’ pizza, but they seemed to like it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Nicholas Restaurant: Lebanese Food

It’s not often I find myself mmm-ing through a meal, but today I did just that when a friend took me to lunch at Nicholas Restaurant, a Lebanese/Middle Eastern place on SE Grand. I ordered the Vegetarian Mezza platter with falafel, hummus, tahziki, tabouli, spinach pie, manakish, and pita bread – yes, it was a lot of food!

The one thing I wasn’t crazy about was the spinach pie, maybe just because everything else was so outstanding and this was… well, not bad, but certainly not outstanding.
Manakish was totally new to me. It’s a little round of pizza-like dough topped with thyme, oregano, sesame seeds, sumac, and olive oil. I wasn’t sure at first – the flavors are pretty mild – but the sesame seeds (I think it was the sesame seeds) gave it a nice texture that I can’t quite describe – slightly crunchy maybe? With each bite, I liked it more and more. I had to look up sumac, which, according to Wikipedia, is used as a spice in Middle Eastern cuisine to add a lemony taste.
Just about a week ago I had falafel at another place and I really wasn’t crazy about it. This time, however, I loved it! The texture, the density, and the seasoning were all just right. It had a nice, crisp exterior without being too greasy and it was delicious with the smooth, cool tahziki. The tabouli was loaded with parsley and really great with the creamy, rich hummus and the wonderful, fresh-baked pita bread, still warm from the oven.
Looking around the tiny restaurant, everything I saw on every table looked fabulous: stuffed grape leaves, fried eggplant and zucchini slices, kabobs, baked dough with toppings and stuffings, salads, rice, steaming discs of bread, and exotic-looking drinks. I’ll definitely be going back to try more of the beautiful food at Nicholas Restaurant!