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The Passionate Pursuit of Delight

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Halloumi and Grilled Veggie Salad

Halloumi and Grilled Veggie Salad

Adding grilled veggies and halloumi to salad greens makes this salad hearty and delicious. The halloumi and vegetables can be cooked outside on the grill or indoors on the stove-top in a grill pan.

Halloumi is sheep and goat’s milk cheese from the island of Cyprus. A unique characteristic of halloumi is that it has a high melting point making it ideal for grilling or pan-frying. When halloumi makes contact with a hot grill or pan, the exterior begins to turn golden brown and the interior becomes soft.

If you can’t quite wrap your head around grilling the halloumi on a grill, check out this video of Curtis Stone showing you how it is done. Grilling cheese until it’s golden? Sign me up.

 

To make the grilled veggie and halloumi salad, slice 8 ounces of halloumi into 1/2” slices. For the vegetables, prepare one peeled red onion by cutting into wedges. Cut the two zucchini into thick slices, one red pepper into thick strips, and eight mushrooms cleaned and halved. Place veggies, halloumi, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a large bowl stirring to coat all the ingredients.

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Next, in a small bowl whisk together 3 tablespoons of tahini, 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Heat grill or grill pan to medium-hot. Cook veggies and halloumi in batches, turning once until charred. Place both halves on the lemon on the grill and cook until you can see grill marks on the lemon.

Arrange salad greens on a large platter, top with grilled veggies, halloumi, tahini dressing and fresh parsley. Season to taste. Squeeze grilled lemon over salad. Serve immediately.

Other veggie-forward meals that you may want to check out:

Vertical image Halloumi and Grilled Veggie Salad-1

Tomato Bruschetta with Aged Balsamic Drizzle

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One of my favorite things to do with a bowlful of garden tomatoes is to make tomato bruschetta with an aged balsamic drizzle. Sweet, juicy tomatoes flavored with shallots and garlic atop of a crispy slice of baguette. Bruschetta is the garden’s gift to people who love to snack.

I don’t recommend making bruschetta with store-bought tomatoes, they just don’t have a desirable flavor and texture. You might be able to get away with using the little grape tomatoes if you are desperate for bruschetta when tomatoes aren’t in season. But, I typically only pull this recipe out during the summer months.

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Bruschetta is a quick and easy appetizer to serve with drinks or as a starter served with soup or salad. Much of this recipe can prepped ahead of time. Bruschetta can be assembled just before serving or I like to set up bruschetta bar and let my guests assemble their own.

How to Make Bruschetta

Once you’ve chopped the tomatoes, the other veggies and seasonings, the bruschetta mixture should sit in the fridge for a while. This will allow the flavors to develop. The next step is to make the balsamic reduction. The drizzle of balsamic vinegar adds a tangy sweetness to the tomatoes. Reducing balsamic vinegar on the stove top in a small saucepan until syrupy is easy and yields a delicious result. If you haven’t tried making it, do it! You won’t be disappointed.

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So, the clock is ticking on garden tomatoes…..tick, tick, tick! So, before they are gone, grab a gorgeous baguette, slice it up, brush the slices with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Broil or grill until golden and crispy. Top with tomato mixture, and a drizzle of the balsamic reduction. Consume and repeat!

If you want to understand what makes a good French baguette then check out this short video.

Other appetizer recipes you  may want to check out:

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Burrata Caprese Salad

Overhead shot of Burrata Caprese Salad

Traditional Caprese salad is made with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. But, when tomato season is in full swing, I like to kick my Caprese salad up a notch by using heirloom tomatoes and burrata. Heirloom tomatoes offer a dizzying array of colors, shapes, and textures, plus they are delicious. Burrata is fresh mozzarella which is stretched thin and flat. Then a mound of a cream is placed in the center and the mozzarella is wrapped around the creamy center. It is decadent, delicious, and definitely worth seeking out! So, give Burrata Caprese Tomato Salad a try.

What is Burrata?

This year I found a nursery that grows a huge variety of heirloom tomato starts. I spent half of a morning walking through their greenhouses looking up pictures and information on my phone about unfamiliar tomatoes. The staff was super helpful and gave me recommendations on their favorites. Now, I am starting to see the fruit maturing into gorgeous specimens.

I always grow tons of basil. For the last few years, I have planted three basil plants which are very happy in my herb garden box. The plants end up looking like bushes, deliciously fragrant and huge bushes. I chop those babies down two or three times during the summer and make big bashes of pesto. Some of the pesto I use right away on pizzas or pastas. The rest of the pesto I freeze in ice cube trays and transfer the frozen cubes into freezer bags to use during the rest of the year.

Side angle of Burrata Caprese Salad

But, I am going off on a little bit of tangent here, aren’t I? Back to the heirloom tomato and burrata Caprese salad. I like to slice up the large tomatoes into slices, cut the medium-size tomatoes into wedges and half the small or cherry tomatoes. I like to use a variety of shapes and colors and lay the tomatoes pieces out on a platter.

Then, I take the burrata and rip it up into pieces and place them into the nooks and crannies of the tomatoes. Many people put whole basil leaves in their Caprese salad but I like to stack a bunch of basil leaves one on top of another and then roll them up into a little cigar shape. Next, I will cut the basil cigar into thin ribbons and then sprinkle the ribbons all over the tomato and burrata mixture. Doesn’t that look pretty?

To finish the salad, I drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the salad and season with salt and pepper. Delizioso!

Vertical image of Burrata Caprese Salad

How to Make Burrata Caprese Salad

Other recipes you may want to check out?

Everything Pretzel Bites

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I don’t often make bagels at home but I do make pretzel bites which are small mouthfuls of soft pretzel deliciousness. Perhaps it’s because I am indecisive or that I cannot commit to just one bagel topping but everything bagels have always been my flavor of choice.

If you aren’t familiar with everything bagels, they are topped with a combination of ­­­poppy seeds, sesame seeds, dried garlic, dried onion, and coarse salt. You can make your own everything seasoning mix or stop by Trader Joe’s and pick up their ‘Everything but the Bagel’ seasoning mix.

Until I discovered the Trader Joe’s seasoning I typically topped by pretzel bites with coarse salt. But, now when I make them I sprinkle them liberally with everything seasoning mix. If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, then here is a quick video that shows how to make your own everything seasoning mix at home.

The pretzel-making process may sound daunting but it really isn’t that bad. Once you set up an assembly line the process isn’t really that bad. I use my stand mixer to make the dough and just knead with my hands a few times at the end before letting the dough rest in an oiled bowl. Then, section the dough and roll each section into a long rope and cut into bite-sized pieces. A quick dunk into a pot of boiling water with baking soda and those babies are ready for the oven.

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Unless you live in New York City, it isn’t always easy to grab a good soft pretzel as you are wandering around town. That is why I started playing around with making them myself. Everything pretzel bites are a game time staple during football season.

There is something super satisfying about popping one of these pretzels hot from the oven into your mouth with only a quick detour into a pile of mustard or cheese sauce. But, be warned these everything pretzels are pretty addictive. Even if you think you have made enough you may find that they disappear as quickly as you can churn them out.

How to Make Everything Pretzel Bites

Other finger foods you may be interested in are:

Everything Pretzel Bites

Eggplant Parmesan

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Are you an eggplant lover or an eggplant hater? People seem to fall firmly into one camp or the other. Growing up in an Italian family, eggplant was a staple on our dinner table. That purple beauty was most commonly served in the form of eggplant parmesan.

Fun fact, when my son was a little boy he called eggplant ‘the punching bag fruit’. I still think that this is the cutest thing ever. The punching bag fruit. When buying eggplants at the market you want to look for ones that have smooth purple, shiny flesh and that feels heavy for its size.

Breaded eggplant slices

If you are feeling unsure of how to buy and prepare eggplant you can check out this video. For eggplant parmesan, I don’t typically salt the slices of eggplant but I do if the eggplant will be used in a dish that isn’t covered in sauce and cheese.

There are as many variations of eggplant parmesan as there are Gambino families. Some family recipes call for slicing the eggplant thick, some thin, some peel the eggplant, and others don’t. Then there is the fry their eggplants slices devotees versus the eggplant slice bakers. Personally, I like my eggplant peeled, thinly sliced, coated in panko, parmesan, and baked.

Finished pan of eggplant parmesan

The process of making eggplant parmesan isn’t that much different than making lasagna. Instead of layering noodles, you layer slices of eggplant with marinara and seasoned ricotta cheese. This recipes calls for two eggplants and will fill a 9 x 13 pan but you can also just use one eggplant and bake it in a 9 x 9 or small round casserole.

Side view of eggplant parmesan

This may sound weird to anyone who didn’t grow up in an Italian family but leftover eggplant parmesan makes a divine filling for a sandwich. But, the bread must be a crusty loaf of Italian bread or a baguette if you don’t have good Italian bread in your part of the world.

How to Make Eggplant Parmesan

Other Italian recipes you might enjoy:

Eggplant Parmesan

Shakshuka

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Shakshuka has an unusual name that may not roll off the tongue easily at first but believe me once you make this you will be shakshuka-ing all the time. Shakshuka is a dish that is popular in North Africa and the Middle East. Basically, the dish consists of eggs poached in tomatoes, onions, red peppers, and various spices.

Shakshuka is incredibly versatile and can be served for dinner or brunch. Most of the ingredients are pantry staples and from start to finish you can make this meal in just over 30 minutes. Plus, when you are done your kitchen will smell like heaven. I kid you not.

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One unusual element of this dish is using a large can of whole, peeled tomatoes. I like to pour the whole can into a large bowl and crush the tomatoes by hand before adding them to the skillet.  This process adds not only the terrific flavor from the whole tomatoes but provides the sauce a beautiful rustic texture.

But, be warned, wear an apron or clothes that you don’t care about because it is a messy process. If you hate messes you could also use a pastry blender to break up the tomatoes. But, why not bring out your inner Lucille Ball and smash those babies up like an Italian grandma? Check out this video. This woman gets me.

Having bread to soak up the sauce is crucial. My preference is a nice crusty loaf or fresh warmed pitas. A crisp green salad would round out the meal perfectly.

Last year, a few Hello Fun Seekers readers and I all made shakshuka simultaneously and live-tweeted our progress on Twitter. It was really fun! Would you all be interested in doing something like that from time to time? Let me know in the comments below if you think that sounds like fun.

How to Make Shakshuka

Shakshuka

Parmesan Garlic Clams

Parmesean Garlic Clams overhead shot

I used to feel intimidated by the thought of cooking clams. How do I store them once I get home? What do I need to do to prep them for cooking? It all seemed somewhat overwhelming. But, you know what they say, you should do one thing every day that scares you. I am so glad that one day I decided to face my fear and figure out how to cook clams. Boy, am I glad that I did because these Parmesan Garlic Clams are now part of my repertoire.

Besides fresh clams, the key to this type of preparation is having a flavorful broth to cook the clams in. In order to make Parmesan Garlic Clams, you will use butter, white wine, and broth as the base and shallot and garlic for flavor. A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes add a spicy note. But, a crucial part of this dish is having a crusty baguette available to soak up that delicious broth.

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The most important part of the process is getting clams that fresh and have been properly handled. I only buy fresh clams from my fish market or local grocery store whose fish department has a reputation for selling high-quality, fresh fish.

Clams should smell like the ocean and their shells should be closed. Tap any partially opened shells about the counter and if they don’t close then discard them. You want the clams to remain alive prior to cooking them so leave them exposed to the air so that they don’t smother. I usually place the bag in a bowl of ice with the top of the bag left open in the fridge.

Digging for Clams

About an hour or two before you plan to cook the clams remove them from the fridge and give each clam shell a scrub with a kitchen brush. Then, gently place the clams in a large bowl full of water. Let the clams soak in the water for about an hour. They will dispel any sand or grit that is in their shells. Gritty clams are the worst so be sure to do this step. You can read this informative article from Bon Appetit about clams if you want to learn more.

I love to serve Parmesan Garlic Clams with a salad, a crisp white wine, and crusty loaf bread.

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How to Make Parmesan Garlic Clams

Other seafood recipes that you may want to check out:

Parmesan Garlic Clams pin

 

Colcannon

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St. Patrick’s Day is just over a week away and what better way to celebrate with a traditional Irish dish. Colcannon is mashed potatoes with cabbage or kale. As with many traditional dishes, every family has its own way in which they make it their own. But, the basics include creamy mashed potatoes with softened greens, and scallions or chives. I added garlic to this Colcannon recipe because it is delicious and while I am half Irish, I am also half Italian.

The first consideration is which type of potatoes to use. Colcannon is traditionally made with russet potatoes but I have made it with Yukon gold potatoes too and love the way it turns out. For the greens, you can use cabbage, kale, or Swiss chard. The cabbage maintains more crunch which is a nice contrast to the mashed potatoes. Kale and Swiss chard with soften more but they do share a more vibrant green color which is pretty. My recommendation is to use whichever green you prefer.

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A few more words about greens. Do you grow your own greens? They are so easy to grow! Now is the time to start planting seeds. I grow greens in raised beds, window boxes, and various sized pots. Some of my favorite greens to grow are arugula (sometimes called rocket), mesclun mix, kale, and Swiss chard.

I adore Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and pleasure read the catalog all winter long. Visit their website for inspiration. Seriously, can we talk about the gorgeously colored stems on this Swiss chard? In the garden, greens keep on giving all until the summer heat makes them bolt. The good news is that you can replant again in the fall.

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Colcannon and St. Patrick’s Day

Fun fact: St. Patrick’s Day falls during the Lenten season for Christians but the restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted which is one of the reasons that the holiday is associated with rowdy behavior. Another thing you may not know about Irish culture is that Colcannon is not only a traditional Irish dish, it is also a song!

This recipe was created in partnership with We Olive. 

If you are are interested in hearing more about Ireland you may want to check these posts:

Colcannon vertical image for Pinterest

Carrot Scallion Coriander Salad

3/4 shot of carrot scallion coriander salad

Have you seen the beautiful colorful carrots in the market lately? I have been seeing bags of full-sized colorful carrots for a while now in grocery stores. But, just recently I have seen bags of colorful baby carrots too. So, recently I picked up a few bags of those colorful babies and wanted to figure out a way to showcase their bright colors in a crisp carrot salad.

In case you were wondering, the colorful carrots while a bit bling-y taste just like orange carrots but the range of colors are best showcased in raw carrots. Cooking or roasting the carrots will mute their vibrancy a little. Fortunately, no cooking is necessary for this recipe. All you need to do is a little slicing and chopping.

Overhead shot of two plates of carrot scallion coriander salad

You know that I am a mandoline slicer evangelist. I use this kitchen tool ALL THE TIME! For example, here are a few recipes which are a breeze to make when you use a mandolin: Golden Beet and Cucumber Salad, Maple Walnut Crostini and Spicy Cucumber Salad with Peanuts.

How to Make Carrot Scallion Coriander Salad

But, back to this deliciously crisp and colorful carrot scallion salad. You can make the dressing ahead of time if you like. I toasted raw walnut pieces for a few a few minutes in a small pan on the stove top. Toasting the nuts brings out the flavor so don’t skip this step. I used my mandoline to slice the radishes and carrots. Instead of slicing the carrots into rounds, I held the carrots on the side and sliced them into ribbons. Don’t you think they look pretty?

Once your veggies are sliced, place them on a platter. You can also make four individual plates of salad if you prefer. Next drizzle the dressing evenly over the veggies and then top with walnuts. If you are a walnut fan you could substitute a different nut. I think pistachios would be very nice too.

Carrot Scallion Coriander Salad

Golden Beet and Cucumber Salad

Two plates of golden beet and cucumber salad

Sometimes the simplest food is the best food. I certainly think that this is the case with this Golden Beet and Cucumber Salad. I am an advocate for menu planning and grocery lists. But, sometimes you have to go to the market and buy what looks fresh and amazing. This was the case last weekend when I spied the most beautiful golden beets. The beets were small and their greens were incredibly lush and vibrant. I knew I had to build a salad recipe where the beets were the star.

So, the first thing that I did when I got home was removed the beet greens, ran them through the salad spinner, then separated the stems from the leaves. I sautéed the stems with onion and garlic until tender, added the thinly sliced leaves until wilted, and finished the greens with red pepper flakes, and a splash of red wine vinegar. I enjoyed the greens with some mashed potatoes. So good!

Overhead shot of golden beet and cucumber salad

But, enough about the beet greens, let’s get to the Golden Beet and Cucumber Salad. Trim both ends of the beets and peel to remove skin. I always use care when peeling the beets because I want to keep the round shape and avoid angular edges.

I like to use Persian cucumbers for this salad. They are small, sweet, and tender. If you can’t find Persian cucumbers you can substitute English (aka hothouse) cucumbers. If you must use regular cucumbers be sure to peel them and consider removing the seeds.

Thinly sliced radishes add a little heat and peppery crunch to the salad. If you hate radishes, then feel free to omit them from the dish. But, I like the contrast of flavor and color.

Golden Beet and cucumber salad

This Golden Beet and Cucumber Salad comes together so quickly if you use a mandoline. I use these mandoline from OXO several times per week. I ordered here from Amazon (affiliate link) It slices vegetables so thin that it is ridiculous. Most humans couldn’t achieve that thin slice with a knife.

Here are few other beet recipes that you may enjoy:

Golden Beet and Cucumber long vertical image for Pinterest

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