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Archive for May 12, 2014

FOOD FUN: Deconstructed Caprese Salad

One of a foodie’s favorite salads is the Caprese, a delicious combination of tomato, basil and mozzarella that was “discovered” in Italy in the 1950s (the history of Caprese salad).

Tasty basil and mozzarella are available year-round, but luscious summer tomatoes are required to make this simple combination soar. Until the crop comes in, look at alternatives—including cherry and grape tomatoes.

The gifted chef Linda Anctil of PlayingWithFireAndWater.com offers a new way to look at Caprese salad. She balances different sizes of mozzarella balls and tomatoes to a lovely effect.

Emulate her “art” with these ingredients:

  • Boconcini, bite-size mozzarella balls
  • Perlini, tiny mozzarella balls
  • Multicolored heirloom cherry tomatoes and smaller grape tomatoes
  • Basil leaves
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Optional: Basil oil
  • Optional: baby beets
  •  

    insalata-caprese-230

    Caprese salad on an artistic canvas. Photo courtesy Linda Anctil | PlayingWithFire.com.

     

    Linda actually injected the peeled heirloom tomatoes with basil oil and made mozzarella “balloons” filled with tomato water foam. She painted the “basil leaves” onto the plate with basil gel, and garnished the dish with olive oil powder and Balinese sea salt.

    This takes lots of skill!

     

    caprese-yellow-tomato-balduccis-230sq

    A conventional Caprese salad
    presentation—here with two types and colors
    of tomatoes. Photo courtesy Balducci’s.

     

    We adapted her concept with conventional Caprese ingredients, including fresh basil leaves and droplets of fine olive oil, basil oil and balsamic vinegar.

    And we loved it!

    More ways to look at Caprese salad:

  • Caprese Pasta Salad recipe
  • Goat Cheese Caprese Salad recipe
  • Mango Caprese Salad recipe
  • Plum Caprese Salad recipe
  • Tofu Caprese Salad recipe
  • Watermelon Caprese Salad recipe
  •  
    All are delicious food fun!

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: A Pot Of Herbs

    We were inspired by the photo below to plant a pot of herbs, otherwise known as container herbs.

    If you don’t mind frequent watering, a pot puts fresh herbs at your fingertips—not to mention, provides lovely greenery and fragrance. You can keep one in a sunny kitchen spot, on the back steps, porch or patio, or go whole-hog like our friend Connie has just done and stake out an elaborate garden plot.

    Your local nursery can provide assistance, and there’s plenty of advice online. Here are the steps to snipping:

    1. Pick a sunny spot. Most culinary herbs originated in the Mediterranean and other sun-drenched regions, so they need at least eight hours of sunlight a day.

    2. Seeds versus plants. Seeds typically need to be started indoors one to two months before it’s warm enough to move them outside. At this point in the season, look for plants (they’re also easier for beginners).

    3. The right container. A larger pot of soil or potting mix* dries out more slowly. To keep the plants moist for the longest time, use the largest pot you can.

     

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    Your favorite herbs, ready to snip. Photo courtesy Whiteflower Farm.

     
    *For containers, it’s better to use potting mix than potting soil. The latter is often poor quality soil with poor drainage. Potting mix is made mostly from organic matter (peat, composted plant matter) with good drainage.
     

    4. Select your herbs. They should, of course, be the ones you use most often. Basil, rosemary, thyme and parsley are popular. We use chives every day for flavor or garnish. Don’t be seduced into planting something you don’t use, under the theory that if you have it, you’ll cook with it. Odds are that you won’t.

    5. Choose watering-compatible herbs. That is to say, plant together herbs that require the same amount of watering. For example, basil likes more water, but rosemary likes drier soil. To keep the basil happy, you’d be over-watering the rosemary. Separate pots are called for.

     

    herbs-in-wheelbarrow-bonnieplants-230

    Thinking outside the pot—and into a
    wheelbarrow (with drainage holes, of
    course). Photo courtesy BonniePlants.com.

     

    6. Think outside the pot: How about something seasonal? Given that it’s iced tea weather, think about mint—which is a universal dessert garnish, too. How about some edible flowers—marigolds, nasturtiums and pansies, for example? They’re beautiful in salads, drinks, and as plate garnishes.

    7. Prepare the container. Be sure there are sufficient drainage holes, and fill the container to a quarter of the pot’s depth with gravel or pebbles. They help with proper drainage.

    8. Add the plants; plan to fertilize. The frequent watering required by herbs tends to wash nutrients from the soil/potting mix. Replenish them with fertilizer so your herbs will thrive. You can use a regular houseplant fertilizer every three weeks, at one-half the strength recommended; add a slow-release fertilizer when you plant; or look for a potting mix that contains the slow-release fertilizer.

    9. Use daily. From breakfast eggs to a garnish for dessert, enjoy those herbs. The more you cut them back to use them, the more they grow. If you aren’t using a particular herb often enough, snip sprigs as a plate garnish or a cocktail garnish.

     

      

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