Friday, April 26, 2013

Greek Panzanella Salad and San Diego Al Fresco Dining

I don't know what it is about Greek salad that I like so much. Well that's not really true I like the combination of all the flavors and the feta cheese! It's a very simple salad and I have developed a recipe to make it very fun and a little special for entertaining this summer.

Now Greek Panzanella salad is hardly anything new. Ina Garten has a great one in her cookbooks and it's also a favorite at my catering company. But I think that over time I have developed a really great recipe on my own with the help of my memories of a particular restaurant is Charleston SC. You see growing up in my home my Mother and Grandmother made Greek salad in the fashion of Louis Papas from Tarpon Springs, Florida. You can see the reference for this type of Greek salad in an earlier post from my blog. In fact, it's a great and different way to serve Greek Salad as an entree. However, my experience with the classic Greek salad that most people know and love came from my patronage of the Athen's Restaurant on James Island, in Charleston SC.

Athen's was a real family business and was a great success. It was truly as Greek American as you could get. Charleston actually has a fairly sizable Greek community and this restaurant was a favorite. However, the Greek salad they offered was mostly a platter of shredded iceberg lettuce covered with a blanket of crumbled feta cheese and doused in a yummy oregano dressing. A few slices of tomato and a scatter of kalamata olives some salami slices and peppers and you had it. Nothing fancy but really salty and tasty. I would go to this restaurant with my friends often and this was my favorite thing to eat.

The original Athen's was sold and relocated and I hear is not as good but I hear the salad is pretty much unchanged. Good, because it was good!

                                           Athen's Restaurant Greek Salad

Now when I was San Diego one evening we had another dinner outdoors in the great backyard that my friend's house had. It was a simple meal of baked sausages with red grapes and my version of a Greek Shepard's Salad. Now what is a Shepard's Salad, well it's normally a greek salad but without the lettuce, which is just fine with me. But to bulk it up especially for a crowd I like to make it as a panzanella. Panzanella is a traditional Italian bread salad. Basically toasted day old bread bread tossed in a dressing with tomatoes and basil and cheese. Very simple.

So for my version I like to use a simple greek salad with homemade hamd-pulled foccacia crouton's and all the usual veggie and feta suspects. I like to use multicolored grape tomatoes which are sliced and real Greek feta ( which I crumble), chopped greek black olives, chopped red onion, the crouton's and a yummy oregano dressing. Sometimes some chopped pepperchini sometimes not. But this is a great summer salad, heck it's a great salad anytime! So give this a try and see if people don't clean their plates. I made it two years ago at my Mom's Christmas party and of all the things on the groaning board,  this was the one thing that went completely! Enjoy Ya'll!

Forrest's Greek Shepherd's Salad with Hand Torn Crouton's and Oregano Lemon Dressing


2 pints red or mixed grape tomatoes cut in halves
1 small red onion finely chopped
1 cup kalamata olives halved
4 persian cucumbers cut into small wedges ( slice in half longwise, half again longwise, then cut in slices)
One half a small loaf of foccacia bread pulled into pieces tossed with olive oil sprinkled with garlic powder  and baked at 350 degrees until browned and crisped and cooled
1 cup crumbled Greek goats milk feta cheese
1/2 cup chopped Italian Parsley.

Add some Dressing toss salad with all ingredients in a large bowl until dressed to your taste

Oregano Lemon Dressing:

1 1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoons garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
5 tablespoons Dried Oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard

1 tablespoon Mayonaise
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend till smooth and combined
It's best to make the dressing a couple of hours before serving to allow flavors to marry

Monday, April 22, 2013

Baked Sausages with Garlic, Onions and Red Grapes, Easy Outdoor Entertaining Idea

So lets talk Grilling without "Grilling". One of my favorite things to do in the Summertime is to eat outdoors. And my visit to San Diego was a study in inspiration for al fresco dining California style! I mean let's start with the weather. In San Diego it's a little like ground hog day the movie when it comes to the weather. Everyday you wake up and look out the window and say wow it's going to be another beautiful day just like yesterday and the day before that and the day before that, so on and so on!

Californians know how to enjoy the outdoors like no one else. Within a few hours driving time you are in the most amazing places near the cities. High Desert, Low Desert, white sand beach glory, cliffs and crashing waves, or even another country. Hiking, bike riding, running, all sorts of games played in the parks are everywhere. Outside is where it is at. Dining is no exception. I mean almost every place that can have an outdoor space has one. The ones that don't or can't have large windows or doors that open up onto the street and let the outside in! It's inspirational to me as one who loves outdoor dining. One of the best examples of this was a trip to the very famous and old school hotel, the Hotel Coronado. Where we sat outside in comfy padded booths around fire pits with food and drink brought to us. That's a story for another day.

My friends like so many San Diegoan's have an outdoor dining space. So one evening as a repayment for the incredible hospitality I was receiving, I wanted to make dinner for us all and sit outside and relax and enjoy the lovely evening air. However, I did not have time to get something and get it ready to grill and also I wanted the food prep to be less of the evenings activities and more of a means to the end of dining and chatting.

So I used an old Italian farmhouse recipe which over the years I believe has become popular again in cooking magazines and home style literature. Baked Sausages with red grapes. Now this sounds like a pretty easy recipe and it is but I think that with a little work it can go from good to great by adding some elements that are present in al fresco italian cooking mainly adding garlic and onions, grape tomatoes and spices to the mix and roasting everything slowly and over enough time for the garlic and onions to caramelize and the tomaotes and red grapes to plump and even blister and pop a little.

Well it was a great hit on the dinner table that evening and will be on yours too if you want a little outdoor dinning without firing up the grill. The beauty of this is it can be prepared ahead of time and then brought out with some good olive oil, crusty bread and a lovely green salad or a shepherds salad. It can become part of your arsenal for easy entertaining this Summer! Give it a try and see if you don't just love it! Enjoy Ya'll!

Baked Chicken Sausages with Roasted Garlic, Onions, Tomatoes and Red Grapes


1 package uncooked "Italian Style" sausages ( I used Trader Joes Chicken with Sundried Tomatoes and                Romano Cheese)
15 to 20 cloves of garlic peeled
2 Onions ( any kind) thinly sliced and separated into rings
1 pint grape tomatoes
2 to 3 cups of  red grapes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup of red wine
1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
S&P to taste


Place sausages garlic and onions in a baking dish
Pour the oil over them and toss to coat well
Place the sausages and garlic on the bottom and over with the onions
Place in a 325 degree oven for 20 to 25 mins
Pull out of the oven add the wine tomatoes and the red grapes
Turn the sausages over and rest them on the now wilted onions and garlic
Sprinkle the sausages with the seasoning
Return to oven and bake for another 20 to30 mins. or until the sausages are browned and roasted and the tomatoes and grapes are popped.
Remove platter up and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

San Diego Farmers Market: Chicory Salad with Mushrooms, Asparagus and Radishes in a Black Truffle Lemon Vinaigrette

I feel like telling everyone about this salad for the Spring and even the Summer. It's my new favorite salad and it's a total accident that I made it. It was an attempt at using up all the wonderful fresh vegetables and salad greens that were on hand in the fridge the night I was asked to make a salad for Pizza night.

San Diego has wonderful local farms like most of California. In fact the produce is so fresh and wonderful it's no wonder that salads as a meal became a thing in California. So the CSA that my friends belong to drops off a box of veggies every Friday on the doorstep! I mean gorgeous stuff. Leeks the size of your head. Garlic chives, lettuces and greens, mushrooms and root veggies in variety and quality so fresh it's amazing! I cooked two meals while I was out there and each time had use of this wonderful produce.

So one evening, actually my last, we decided to make a salad to go along with the Pizza that we were getting from a wonderful local place known as the Hut. Yes funny! But really local fresh and delicious. So for the salad I opened the fridge and found the following ingredients. Giant white mushrooms, fresh asparagus, chicory, and red and black radishes. I loved these ingredients because they played off the earthy flavors of some and the spicy almost picante flavors of others. They created contrast and visual interest. Layers of green with soft white and brilliant red and deep black accents. I also found for the dressing lemons, california slivered roasted almonds and some wonderful walnut and Black Truffle oils. So armed with these few ingredients I made a salad that even with out any dairy ( and you know how I love cheese ) was so wonderful! I know that cause the entire bowl disappeared. That and the pizza!

Of course I can't leave out the setting for this meal. Tom and George have a pool and a table out back on a lovely concrete lanai. As well as a little sitting area and fire pit. How wonderful it was to eat great food and share great drink around such an amazing table with built in mood lighting and flickering candles and then relax around a a fire in the cool dry evening air later on. Heaven!

So here's the recipe for the salad. Enjoy it this spring when the asparagus is at it's peak and all summer while available. The colors of the veggies and sharpness of the flavors with the rich oils contrast wonderfully.  While I know it's not really original, it is delicious! And that's really the only kind of food I want to cook. You know the kind people want to eat! Enjoy Ya'll!!

Chicory Salad with Mushrooms, Asparagus and Radishes in a Black Truffle Lemon Vinaigrette

For the Salad:

2 small heads of Chicory cut into 1/4 inch chiffonade whole head chopped down to the stems
1 1/2 pounds large white mushrooms sliced
2 small bunches asparagus cooked on high in the microwave for about 5 to 7 mins each or blanched for 8 mins stove top and shocked in cold water with ice ( either method requires cold water to stop the cooking process) Then cut into 1 to 11/2 inch pieces
1 bunch of red radishes thinly sliced
2 black radishes thinly sliced ( I used a mandoline)
1/3 cup slivered roasted almonds reserve about 2 tablespoons for garnish

For Dressing:

1/4 cup Walnut oil
3 to 4 tablespoons to taste of  fresh Black truffle oil ( note* if you like truffle flavor use white truffle oil it is MUCH stronger)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Mix well till combined

To Serve: 

In a large bowl combine all ingredients
Add dressing and season with more salt and pepper to your taste and toss
I add a little cracked pepper on top as a garnish and sprinkle the top with remaining almonds.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Breakfast Pot Pie a New Twist on Biscuits and Gravy

So my first entry about some of the exciting and fun foods that I saw and tasted in San Diego will start with this dish Breakfast Pot Pie. And why not, it's the first meal of the day so it's just seems fitting to start with it.

Now I LOVE biscuits and gravy. And as many who have had mine will tell you, I make a mean version. However, while in San Diego my friends Tom and George with whom I was staying took me out to one of their favorite places for breakfast and brunch. Snooze, the place is called, and is an interesting concept restaurant based in Denver that focuses on only Breakfast and Brunch foods and drinks served in a casual, yet very cool environment. We went twice to this place and each time we did it was packed and the wait was at least 40 minutes. I mean that's a buzz and success that most places ( including the not very busy one's surrounding Snooze) want to have.

Now let's be clear these people did not reinvent the wheel when it comes to breakfast foods, and in fact while the menu is interesting it does not step much out of the box in terms of foods that one would traditionally expect to find on a menu like this. It's more the manner in which the dishes are presented or the way that flavors are layered to give the overall dish a really great flavor effect. I mean let's face it there are only so many ways to fix eggs and pancakes but what you put on them or in them can take them from "Ordinary" to "Eggtraordinary", sorry couldn't resist that!

So to this dish. Now I have a real love for creamy delicious gravy based foods. Nope not apologizing! So when I saw this on the menu I knew I had to try it. Basically it's a portion of hash browned potatoes with a puff pasty raft tilted on it covered in a cream gravy flavored with sausage and rosemary and bits of carrots, celery, leeks and onion floating in it, topped with a sunny side up egg. Yum!

So while this seems and looks kinda complicated it is so not and if you want to impress your friends and family one morning with a breakfast or brunch dish that is different and delish this would be one to try. So here's the recipe as nearly as I can figure it. Enjoy ya'll!

Breakfast Pot Pie ala Snooze in San Diego
First thing you need is the gravy (makes about four cups)
For the Sausage Gravy:
Heat up 1 quart whole milk 
2 cloves minced garlic
2 leeks, cleaned and chopped (discarding leaves)
2 celery stalks (chopped)
1 sprig of rosemary (finely chopped)
1 lb. bulk breakfast sausage (browned and drained)
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
½ c parmesan cheese (grated)
½ c all purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter in a large heavy bottomed pot (Dutch oven or stock pot) over medium heat. Add leeks, carrots, celery, garlic, and rosemary and sauté until vegetables soften (about 10 min.). Stir in flour and continue to cook until the flour is well incorporated. At this point, stir in the cooked sausage, milk and parmesan cheese. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and allow to simmer (stirring occasionally) until the gravy thickens (about 10-15 min.). Season with salt and pepper to taste. 
For the Hash Browned Potatoes: 
Saute an onion in a good amount of oil and add 1 bag thawed shredded hash brown potatoes to the pan stir and cook then let the bottom brown to golden. Using a ring mold cut the potatoes into circles and using a spatula place on the plate.
For the Pastry: 
1 Sheet puff pastry rolled out to 1/4 of inch and then cut into 4 by 6 inch squares brush with egg wash place on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees till puffed and slightly browned. 
To assemble: 
Place a scoop or shaped round of hash browns on the plate, cook eggs sunny side up and place a pasty puff on each plate divide the gravy and top with the egg and garnish with a little paprika, Enjoy Ya'll! 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

San Diego and My Culinary Vacation There

San Diego is an amazing city. If you have never been there it's quite the place. The weather is perfect, the geography is perfect, the location is perfect, it's in a word, amazing. People who live there enjoy a fantastic food scene as well and on my latest vacation I became aware of exactly what that meant!

I mean we could start by talking about all the amazing Mexican food I had there. Or we could talk about the the micro brew and pub food scene. Or the Asian Fusion or the seafood or the steaks or dining outside in the evenings with no humidity and no bugs! Yes we could talk about all those things and more and in the next few blogs I will be cooking up some of the dishes that I had there as well as bringing you some San Diego inspired recipes. So hold on that's all next on the blog. Sorry I have been absent but catching up is hard to do after a vacation! See you all thins next week!