BLT Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Fresh Mozzarella

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When you serve guests a casually-thrown together salad from seasonal fresh ingredients and it’s still being raved about a year later, then maybe it’s time to try and recreate the salad and share the recipe!   This salad is a cross between a Caprese salad and a BLT sandwhich.  Sooooooo delicious!   The homemade croutons are a must.   Hope I got it exactly right for you Millie!

BLT SALAD  Serves 6

6 slices of uncured maple bacon, cooked crisp, and cut into 1/4 inch pieces( regular bacon is fine)

3 large yellow heirloom tomatoes, cut in half horizontally, ends cored(substitute any tomatoes such as beefsteak varieties;  you need a flat bottomed tomato)

6 oz of fresh mozzarella cheese(bocconcini), diced in 1/2 inch pieces( you can substitute cumbled blue cheese or crumbled feta)

10 oz of butter lettuce or baby romaine lettuce, coarsely torn

1/4 c fresh basil, chiffonade cut

6 slices of 1/2″ thick French baguette

1/3 c olive oil, maybe more

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

optional:  diced avocado

LEMONY GARLIC DRESSING:   Wisk together  juice and zest of 2 lemons, 2 t Dijon mustard, 3 cloves of garlic crushed.  Gradually add in 1/2 c olive oil.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add 1/2 c sour cream, optional.

TO MAKE CROUTONS:   Heat oil in skillet on moderate heat setting, add garlic, and brown the baguette, turning once, until golden on both sides.  You don’t want the croutons too dry.  Be very careful not to burn the garlic.  Let cool on a paper towel and cut each slice into 4 croutons.  imageimage

The croutons should be golden brown on the edges with the inside still soft so they can soak up the dressing

The croutons should be golden brown on the edges with the inside still soft so they can soak up the dressing

ASSEMBLY:

On a rimmed serving platter, spread the lettuce evenly.  Place the 6 tomatoe halves, cut side up,  on the lettuce.  Season the tomatoes with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Sprinkle  bacon on top of each tomato half.  image Distribute the mozzarella evenly and sprinkle the basil over all the salad.image   Top with the croutons .  Add the avocado if using.

When ready to serve, crown with a drizzle of the creamy lemony salad dressing with more on the side.  Use a wide spatula to serve a tomato half, cut side up, to each guest.  image

A lively combination of fresh, seasonal ingredients.  Summer in every bite!

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Light-Up Flower Centerpiece

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imageWhen I saw the whimsical dragonfly string lights at Target recently($12.99), I knew I had to find a way to use them this summer.  I imagined them more in flight, hovering above some flowers than strung up.  I knew they would look best at eye level than high above. So I created a centerpiece in a rectangular crate that was only 7 inches high.  The dragonflies could be admired up close this way and light up the night at a backyard party. In a wooden wine crate I had lined in plastic, I placed 3 pots of celosia plants.  I chose these flowers because their blooms are abundant, they flower all summer and have a lot of leaves I could use to conceal the wiring. imageThey are also sturdy flowers that could support the dragonflies without having to use any stakes.  I added a few curly willow branches and some moss covered twigs(Michael’s) to pin a few of the dragonfly lights above the flowers.  To secure them I used some floral clips like you find on orchids.  While working I connected a dark green extension cord and lit up the string of lights so I could gage the effect.  This also ensures the electrical connection will be where you want it when you’re finished.  To fill in any gaps around the plants  I used florist moss and moss covered styrofoam stones.  The final centerpiece is dazzling and whimsical.  Sure to being a little magic into any summer fête. imageimageimageimage

 

 

Blueberry Lemon Pie with Lemon Balm Crust

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When it comes to fruit pies, to thicken or not to thicken, that is the question.  I’m talking about the filling, of course!  I like a fruit pie that still tastes and looks like the fruit it was made of, not too gelatinous like the filling came from a can.  I came up with the perfect compromise:  cook down about a third of the fruit, add a small amount of cornstarch to thicken and fold in the rest of the fruit.  You’ll end up with a pie that still lets the fruit shine.  With blueberries in season and lemon balm invading my garden like a weed, it seemed  like the perfect pie to bake.  With ginger, lemon zest, nutmeg and cinnamon, this pie says summer in every bite. 

BLUEBERRY LEMON PIE WITH LEMON BALM CRUST

6 c of blueberries  (3 pints)

3/4 c sugar

3 T of cornstarch

3 T water

zest of 1 lemon

1/2 tsp ginger

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg

2 T butter

1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

1 pinch salt

sugar for pastry top

3 T lemon flavored  herb such as lemon balm, lemon basil or lemon thyme leaves, finely chopped

2  pie crusts

INSTRUCTIONS:

1- In a casserole, combine 2 cups of blueberries with sugar.  Simmer over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the berries start to cook down into jam consistency. image

2-  Dissolve cornstarch into water then add to saucepan.  Bring to a boil, while stirring, then reduce heat and cook until mixture is thickened and clear.image image

3-  Add butter, lemon zest, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Mix until combined. Transfer to mixing bowl.  Cool slightly and add rest of berries and mix until combined.image

4-  Prepare your crust in your pie plate.  Sprinkle herbs on bottom crust and gently press into surface of crust.  I used lemon balm.image

5-  Pour fruit mixture on top. image  

6-  Create lattice strips or other shapes of pastry cut outs to top pie.  I made pastry stars since I was taking this pie to a dinner under the stars.  Brush top crust lightly with the egg wash and salt mixture.   Sprinkle with sugar. image  

7-  Preheat oven at 400 F.  Place pie on a cookie sheet to catch overflow juices.  Reduce heat to 375F once pie is in oven.  Bake for 45 minutes.  This method will produce a perfect mix of fruit filling with a unaltered texture of the fruit with just the right amount of binding for thickening.  My final pie was a bit runny but I like it this way.  If you want a more gelled pie filling, cook down half of your fruit  and add one more tablespoon of cornstarch and water each.image Enjoy!   And help yourself to lemon balm from our garden…..image

 

Pretty in Pink Alfresco Lunch

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“In summer, the song sings itself.”  William Carlos Williams

The inspiration for this luncheon table was this stunning oriental lily, ‘Corvara’, which had just opened in my garden. image I anticipated its arrival for weeks and  postponed a vacation just so I could be home to enjoy it while it bloomed.  That is how magnificent this flower really is!  This hot pink lily with a mesmerizing fragrance is often called the Royal Lily.  It is religiously symbolic with godliness.  And it’s no wonder, it is perfect creation!  Did I mention its heavenly fragrance?

To set this table I chose to set up a round table under the pergola and near the cool wall fountain for the pleasant sound of the water on a sweltering hot day.  I floated clematis, echinacea and black eyed susans in the fountain.image I double draped the table with white on white embroidered tablecloths to create an illusion of coolness.imageBlack wicker chairs with bold black and white striped cushions complimented the china.imageAt each place setting I used a fuchsia napkin on an angle as a placemat for a punch of color to play up the hot pink of the lily.  The lily was placed inside a towering black wire bird topiary cage, borrowed from my kitchen window sill. imageimage I wanted the majestic lily to stand alone and shine in all its glory.  Two bird shaped green candle holders flanked the lily and brought a note of green to the table.   A pink paperweight and an art glass  bowl of cherries continued the pink theme and introduced reflective surfaces to make the dappled light dance around the table.image Double napkins, a fuchsia one layered with a lace edged white one tucked inside, were tied with a clematis vine. imageimage A round black plate served as charger.   Next I stacked a  square white plate, on an angle.  The pièce de résistance was the fun black spotted accent plate with a hot pink clematis on top.image In lieu of place cards as this was an intimate table set for 2, I wrote garden quotes in pink marker on white cardstock and placed one at each place in silver teapot card holders.  image A trio of mismatched glassware completed the table setting.  Don’t be afraid of bringing crystal glassware and good china outside~ it will make your guests feel really special. The tall champagne flutes  were filled with, you guessed it, pink bubbly!image With a sizzling hot day I went with a no heat menu.  The starter was a chilled summer berry borscht, served in an antique coupe etched with a botanical motif.   A perfect start to a girlfriend lunch in the garden.   Then an assortment of store made sushi was served to go with the oriental lily theme.

CHILLED SUMMER BERRY BORSCHT

Makes 4 1-cup servings or 2 larger servings

8 oz of cooked red beets, peeled and roughly chopped

8 oz plain or lemon yogurt

6 oz frozen strawberries

2 T of diced red onion

juice of 1 lemon salt and pepper to taste

In a blender place all ingredients, except salt and pepper, purée until smooth.  Season to your liking with salt and pepper.  Chill until ready to serve.image

“To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the perfect refreshment.”  Jane Austen

This summer borscht is dedicated to The Great Zambini blogger, http://thegreatzambini.com/about/ , as promised all the way back in February! image

Beet It! Roasted Beet Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette

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image  In my childhood household, beets were boiled and served vinegared, sort of as a pickle.  I liked them fine but when I discovered roasting, I never went back!  Roasting beets preserves the nutients, seals in the sugars, makes it super easy to peel them with clean up, a cinch.  Just wash the beets, add a little olive oil and any herbs for flavoring, although not necessary, and cook at high temperatures.  I always think beets are not a widely liked food but when I happen to offer a salad of roasted beets on a buffet table, I am always pleasantly surprised to see it vanish.   This salad is really different with an interesting toasted whole seed cumin-shallot vinaigrette, well worth the time.  I make it with tricolor beets when I can find them.  This week candy-striped beets were not available  at the market.  It will become your beet loving friends’ new favorite, guaranteed!

ROASTED BEET SALAD with CUMIN VINAIGRETTE

Preheat oven to 425F

2 bunches of red beets

2 bunches of golden beets

4 t olive oil

sea salt

2 handfuls of fresh herbs, for roasting

Salad topping:  1/4 c pomegranate seeds and 2 T each, chopped mint, parsley and cilantro

Cut off the greens but keep the stems and roots on the beets.  Wash but don’t dry the beets.  Keep the red beets separate from the golden beets to prevent them from bleeding and discoloring the goldens.

Cut 4 sheets of foil large enough to hold each type of beets.  Double the foil for each packet and set the beets on the foil.  Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with about a teaspoon of sea salt, throw in whatever herbs you have around, seal the packets.  Place the packets on a rimmed cookie sheet and roast for 60-90 minutes until beets are tender.  Cool,  then peel the beets, removing stems and roots,  keeping the colors separated. Reserve.

 

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CUMIN VINAIGRETTE

1 t whole cumin seeds

1 t ground cumin

1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 T champagne vinegar(Trader Joe’s Orange Muscat Champagne vinegar is my go to)

1 large shallot, finely chopped

2 T fresh thyme leaves

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 c olive oil

pinch of sea salt and

freshly ground pepper to taste

in a small dry skillet on medium heat, toast the cumin seeds until fragrant, ensuring they don’t burn.  This will take a minute.  Infuse the vinegar with all the ingredients except the oil, for 5 or more minutes.   Whisk in the olive oil to make an emulsion.

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ASSEMBLY:

Quarter the beets and set on  a rectangular platter, keeping colors separated.  Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds.  Drizzle with vinaigrette.  Finish with the chopped mint, parsley and cilantro.  Bliss!image

Note:  The beet greens make a nutritious side dish much like you would use spinach so don’t throw them out.  They may be gritty so a triple wash, immersed in the sink may be necessary.  Dry, chop coarsely, discarding tough stems and sauté in olive oil until wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  When possible, choose organically grown beets!

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This post is dedicated to my new friend Sam, a fellow beet lover!

( title image courtesy of google images via Lopez Island Kitchen Gardens)

Mint Chocolate: Straight From the Garden

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image Dark chocolate dipped mint leaves are the perfect after dinner treat to serve your guests.  Fast, easy and bursting with fresh mint taste,  they are a clever take on the traditional after dinner chocolate mint. To make them, pick 12 whole, unblemished  mint leaves of approximately the same size.  Medium ones are easier to handle.  Wash and dry the mint. Melt 6 Dove Promises dark chocolate pieces in either the microwave, like seen here, or over a water bath.  Do not allow any water to splash into the chocolate or it will seize.image Line a flat tray with wax paper.  Dip each mint leaf in the chocolate, coating both sides about half way up.   Lay the chocolate covered leaves on the wax paper, ensuring the leaves do not touch. imageimage Freeze for 1/2 hour or up to 5 hours.  Peel the leaves off the wax paper and serve cold, straight from the freezer on a pretty narrow platter.  A perfect minty fresh finish!

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This narrow platter was a left over slab of marble from a bathroom renovation.

The texture and color of the mint does not hold up if not consumed right away.  These are photographed a day later.

The texture and color of the mint does not hold up if not consumed within a few hours.  These are photographed a day later.  Although still good, the mint has lost its bright green color.

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A Garden Symphony in Monet Blue

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Blue Water Lilies, Claude Monet, 1919, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Falling in love with Monet’s paintings of blue water lilies is easy to do. The blue is shimmering, irridescent and tugs at the heartstrings.  I have long loved Monet’s paintings and been captivated by his use of blue.  Some years ago I was able to visit his gardens at Giverny in France.  They were as magical as the art work they inspired.  There was a lot of blue in the plantings of the garden and I returned home wanting to introduce more blue in my garden.  Blue is a hard color to grow.  Many blue flowers tend to be more purple or reddish blue.  I had had no luck growing truly blue lupines or blue delphiniums, both flowers that make my heart beat a little faster.  To weave  as much blue into my garden, I painted garden structures in Monet blue, added pottery in many shades of blue and planted  a succession of blue flowers that do well in my climate.  My gardens are a far cry from Giverny but they are a little rhaspsody in blue.   Starting in early spring, scillas, Virginia Bluebells(mertensia) and muscari are the first blue flowers to emerge. I fill planters with purple pansies, hyacinths and bird nests nestling blue robin eggs.   English blue bells soon carpet huge swaths, joined by aquilegia(columbines).   ‘Early Blue’ hydrangeas are the first of many hydrangea species to bloom.  The final blue symphony comes from ‘Niko Blue’ hydrangeas,  flowering hostas and Japanese painted ferns.   Join me for a little stroll through the garden in blue…imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage

“I must have flowers, always, and always.”  Claude Monet

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Water Lilies, Claude Monet 1916, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

I hope you enjoyed visiting with me today.