I’ve been busier with work the past couple weeks, which is good, but it also means more time away from my food blog (and I’m pretty bummed I missed the Recipe Redux for this month!) I usually spend about 2-3 hours creating a post, sometimes more, depending on the topic, photos, and the ease or difficulty of writing it.

Here is a recipe that I recently experimented with, and it’s all thanks to an Apple and Fennel salad I came across at Wegman’s. It was tart, vinegary, and sweetened with a sprinkle of golden raisins. I loved the combination of flavors and thought this would be great to serve alongside the richer Thanksgiving dishes (and it did!) But instead of ordering a couple pounds of this delicious stuff, I thought I’d come up with my own version of this tart n’ tangy palate-cleansing dish.

Simple is Best – All you need is six ingredients, super easy!

Tasty and Tart – Comparing several recipes for apple fennel salad showed me variations with the dressing. There were several recipes that used mainly olive oil and lemon, but I wanted something tarty. Apple cider vinegar was the way to go, and using frozen concentrated apple juice was an easy shortcut. Whole grain mustard was added for flavor as well as texture.

Is Thin Really In? – I came across this easy tip from The Purple Foodie in their version of an Apple Fennel Salad: “Cut everything thinly – the finer the cut, the better the chances of all elements of the salad coming together in a single bite, maximising flavour.” Wegman’s Apple Fennel Salad had thicker slices of apple, about 1/32 of an apple, and it still tasted great with the plump raisins and tart dressing, but I opted for thin slices.

Refreshing and tart. If you ever had pickled green mango, this might taste something like it.

Apple Fennel Salad with Raisins

The apples and fennel can be sliced the night before, just keep them in a ziploc bag–along with the raisins–until you’re ready to pour on the vinaigrette.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 3-4)
1 pound fennel bulbs (2 bulbs)
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup frozen concentratred apple juice
2 tablespoons stone ground Dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

Slice apples into quarters, remove seeds. Slice thinly and place in a large mixing bowl. Thinly slice fennel crosswise and add to apples. Stir in raisins, set aside.

In a separate bowl or 2-cup measuring cup, combine apple cider vinegar, frozen apple juice, and stone ground mustard with a wire whisk. Put apple mixture in a gallon-sized ziploc bag, pour in vinaigrette and seal tightly, removing as much air without smashing apple mixture.

Refrigerate for 1-2 hours, turning ziploc bag after a half hour or so to ensure vinaigrette gets distributed evenly. (NOTE: as a precaution, lay the ziploc bag flat in a baking dish, just in case it leaks.)

Pour into a serving bowl and garnish with fennel leaves. Guests may season their own serving with salt & pepper. Serves 12-14.

I’m a day late and a dollar short with the flavor of the week but here it is…zucchini! Granted it’s not really a flavor and not used to describe anything except actual zucchini, but our late-blooming zucchini plants have been producing and I thought I’d share some recipes this week to help get rid of any extra harvests from your garden.

It all starts here: the male flowers grow on skinny stems (left, yellow flower) while the female flower grows on a shorter mini-zucchini (right of male yellow flower.)

A couple of developing zucchini with their flowers closed.

Zucchini has never been my favorite, especially when served as enormous, unappetizing chunks in stir-frys or pasta primavera (it’s like cutting half a cabbage and asking everyone to dig in!) One way I did enjoy it was when my mother would make panko-crusted sticks of zucchini, deep fry it and serve it up with a mayo-shoyu dipping sauce on the side…delicious! But what am I doing with these zucchini plants if I don’t like to eat zucchini? Well, the initial idea was to mainly eat the flowers tempura-style, but I’ve been on a healthier-kick lately so no deep frying in the kitchen, at least for now. But there’s another way to enjoy zucchini on a healthier level, and that’s by making them into noodles!

Zucchini noodles are a great way to use up any extras you have lying around and, like any vegetable, is an extremely healthy addition to your diet. One large zucchini (about 3/4 pounds) has only 52 calories and is packed with fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Folate, and B6, to name a few. Imagine replacing your regular pasta with nutritious zucchini noodles. Not only do you get more nutrients, but you save over 200 calories per meal!!!

Ready for a step-by-step on making zucchini noodles?

If you don’t have a vegetable spiral slicer, you can achieve similar results with a sharp vegetable peeler and a good knife. First, remove the skin from the zucchini. Use the vegetable peeler to peel of wide slices of zucchini, rotating after every two “peels”:

Rotate and slice until you reach the seeds. Stack two or three zucchini slices and carefully slice them into thinner noodle-like strands.

Use these zucchini noodles in place of regular pasta, just add them to your sauce and cook them gently for about 3 minutes to heat through. Enjoy an almost raw Zucchini Salad with Peanut Satay Sauce, or add a handful to your favorite chicken soup.

What’s your favorite healthy way to enjoy zucchini?

Has anyone been having a crazy hot & sunny week like we’re having in Upstate NY? I’m glad for the sunshine, but doing yard work is more difficult with the heat, as well as the bugs that keep attacking me. My sister also gets a ton of bug bites and calls them “noseeums,” because you really can’t see what the heck is biting you!

Checked the thermometers around 4 o’clock in the afternoon: one on the south side of the house says 95, the one facing west says 105, and another is 120! I felt more sorry for the cats, especially Wolfie, who’s more equipped for cooler weather (see below pic.) I waited until the sun was behind some trees to do some weeding and redo the stones by “the gateway”:

Wolfie, guarding his catnip plants.

Last month we got an unfinished wooden picnic table that started looking pretty yucky after a few days in the rain. It needed some color, even a neutral color would be an improvement. I had the hardest time deciding on a paint color at the store when Fate stepped in (or was her name Karen?) and put a few gallons of “reject” paint on the clearance shelf. A $36 can of exterior paint marked down to $8? Works for me! I painted the picnic table gray, then dry-brushed and damp-sponged it with white. I think it turned out pretty great!

A little neutral color goes a long way

– This also turned out to be a good background for my photos. Here you can see the white over gray brush/spongework:

Peony in silver vase

Peonies in silver vases

I was planning to make some curry for dinner (following the “Flavor of the Week” theme) but it was so incredibly hot, I needed something cool and refreshing. There was some leftover quinoa, veggies, and chicken that needed to be cooked so I made a miso-based sauce with a healthy squirt of fresh lemon juice for this pretty tasty quinoa chicken salad:

A light, refreshing salad that’s also filling: quinoa, tomatoes, water chestnuts, chicken, green onion and a dressing made with miso paste, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, and lemon juice.

We also had some kale massaged with salt, lemon juice and sesame oil. Delicious!

What are some of your favorite summertime salads?

“say it with flowers”

Peonies are one of my favorite flowers, and I only really got to see them in real life a couple of years ago when I picked up my beautiful wedding bouquet. Pink-hued roses, tulips and peonies made up this fragrant cluster which felt to me like five pounds worth of flowers! Since moving into our new home, we’ve been surprised with all kinds of flowers blooming around the property, including peonies.

Flowers aren’t the only things that have been thriving on our property (thank goodness!) My lettuce plants have successfully avoided the hungry rabbits and so far I harvested 5 heads. It was time to fill in the bald spots with some new plants, so I added some purple cabbage in between the kale (far left,) reddish-colored lettuce and a cucumber vine in the upper row, and planted a Roma tomato right next to the basket hanger (base of that skinny post in the bottom left corner):

Just the upper section with new plants was watered, we had lots of rain this week.

another 100 days and I’ll be eating home-grown purple cabbage!

Weeding and planting the new veggies made me kind of hungry, so I decided to make an Ultimate Salad for lunch! Although the only ingredient that came from my garden is the two types of lettuce, you gotta admit this salad definitely looks garden fresh! If all goes well, in a few months I should have another four ingredients from the garden: strawberries, tomatoes, cucumber and cabbage:

The ultimate salad with 14 fabulous ingredients: lettuce, cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumber, cauliflower, apples, grapes, strawberries, dates, tomatoes, avocado, sprouted  sunflower seeds and goat cheese.

My husband likes to have some meat with his meals, so I made him a protein-packed tuna fish-stuffed tomato with a cucumber rosette:

A simple and beautiful gluten-free alternative to a plain ol’ tuna fish sandwich

Earlier this week I received more goodies from my family. My mom made a beautiful drawstring bag from some very special fabric (I will post more on this on Monday!) and my Uncle Paul got me this incredible gourmet bag of peaberry Kona coffee (update 6/17: I initially thought my dad got the coffee, but after reading the post he told me it was Uncle Paul who picked this up for me. Thank you Uncle Paul!) I’ve had 100% Kona coffee before, and not all coffees are the same (Sugai coffee farms also has good quality coffee beans) but this is the first time I’ve ever tried any kind of peaberry coffee:

Hualalai (pronounced “who-ah-lah-lie”) and Mauna Loa are the two volcanoes where Kona farmers grow their world-famous coffee

Peaberry describes the shape of an unfertilized seed in the coffee fruit. Instead of the seed forming two halves that make a whole (think of peanuts, cashews and pistachios that can be split equally down the middle) the fruit has one “pea shaped” seed.

Since the seed shapes are so different, coffee growers sort the peaberries out so as not to have uneven roasting in their batches. Because of this extra labor as well as the belief that a peaberry yields a more evenly roasted bean (thus a more delicious flavor,) peaberry coffee is more costly and often more valued than the other 95 percent of the harvest.

I brewed a cup of Kona peaberry and thought it was a very good coffee. It was flavorful, mild and smooth, and I didn’t need to add any sweetener! It’s such a nice gift from my parents uncle I’ll have to save the rest for Sunday brunches! Have a nice weekend, everybody, and eat (and drink) well!

My cats have never expressed this much interest in my salads, and sometimes it’s hard to really get excited about them. But I learned to be a little more colorful, if not creative, when it comes to presentation. Fortunately I’ve never made a salad that resembled the ones you would assemble at fast food restaurants:

Not very appetizing, it’s kind of healthy, but I won’t enjoy eating it as much as I would want to. I’ve never really liked iceberg lettuce in salads unless it was covered in blue cheese dressing, and tomatoes are not meant to be crunchy!

Shopping for salad ingredients was always kind of a chore and I could never get excited about it. Thankfully there are so many great raw food/vegetarian/vegan blogs that can give you some great ideas to make your veggies more enticing. Instead of thinking only green when shopping for your salad ingredients, how about shopping for other colors, instead? Visit the produce department and just look at all the fabulous colors the veggie world has to offer, like golden beets, purple carrots, and fancy heirloom tomatoes from pink to purple! Buy in small amounts to last you a few days so you won’t feel obligated to eat veggies just because you bought them on sale. Try a new item like flowering kale or even those hairy looking sprouts. Also think of texture, and of course, flavor! All those things will come together in one deliciously satisfying bite…that’s how a salad should be!

I like to keep a good variety of fruits and veggies, and am starting to sprout my own grains, too. Here’s what I made for lunch:

Taste the power of the rainbow salad!

And here’s what’s in it: lettuce, grated carrots, chopped celery, chopped cucumber, purple cauliflower pieces, shredded zucchini, chopped apples, diced dried apricots, strawberries, sprouted quinoa, and a sunflower seed sprout (just ’cause it’s good!) It’s a lot more fun when you have so many colorful ingredients…it’s like making art, so why not enjoy making your food as well as eating it?

Speaking of art, if you’re planning a dinner party and want to impress your guests, check out these creative ways to display your fruits and veggies posted by Design Indulgences. Below is my favorite, veggies and dip in one!

Crudites display

Display your veggies in glass vases found at craft stores.

And check out this wonderful salad presentation idea using cucumbers as the bowl! I hope these ideas will help you get a little more creative with your healthy eating, and come back and share some ideas with me, I’d love to hear what you’ve created!