Chopped Salad

This is a great make-ahead salad to have lurking in your refrigerator or cooler.. No wilting, no tossing at the last minute, and it can be dished out to order, one diner at a time.

•3 tomatoes, seeded, chopped and drained

•1 English cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and chopped

•1 each red and green sweet bell pepper, seeded and chopped

•2 cups chopped red or green cabbage

•1 cup chopped celery

•1 cup chopped carrots

•1 cup sliced black olives, well drained

•¼ pound mushrooms, washed and diced (diced would be a slightly larger cut than “chopped”)

•½ cup chopped sweet onion

•½ cup chopped green onion (all of the white and pale green portion and a bit of the dark green)

•1½ cups coarsely shredded jack, gouda, or Swiss cheese

•Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Two to 24 hours ahead, combine the tomatoes, cucumber, sweet bell peppers, cabbage, celery, carrots, olives mushrooms, sweet onion, green onion and shredded cheese in a large bowl. Toss with enough of the vinaigrette to evenly coat the salad. Cover and refrigerate. Makes 6 to 8 generous servings.

VINAIGRETTE: Whisk together, ¼ cup red wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 3 cloves finely minced garlic, ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves, ¼ teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon sugar or honey, 3/4 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Add 1¼ cups extra-virgin olive oil and whisk again.

FOR A MEAT OPTION: Simply add 1 cup chopped dry salami (start with deli-cut slices, then cut into strips and then chop), and 1 cup chopped ham (or chicken).

Heavenly Jasmine Rice

Makes 6 to 8 servings

If I keep a bowl of cooked jasmine rice in the fridge my spontaneous side has more to work with during the week. Unlike most long-grain rice, jasmine’s outer surface remains tender and fluffy at cold temperatures instead of turning hard and brittle, so it’s a great side kick or base for last-minute salads, sautes, and anything off the grill.

•½ cup chopped yellow onion

•2 tablespoons butter

•1½ cups jasmine rice

•3 cups water

•½ teaspoon salt

In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, saute the onion in the butter until the onion is soft and translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the rice and saute to evenly coat the grains. Add the water and salt, increase the temperature to medium-high and bring the water to a boil, stirring occasionally with a flat-bottomed utensil so the rice won’t scorch.

Once the water has boiled, reduce the temperature to low, cover, and cook the rice at a very slow simmer 20 minutes without uncovering the pot.

After 20 minutes, check the rice. If all the water has been absorbed, the rice is done. Gently fluff it with a fork. If not serving immediately, place a paper towel over the top of the pot and put the lid back on to keep the rice hot (the paper towel absorbs condensation that would otherwise drip back down on the rice and make it soggy).

Cucumber and Potato Platter with Bunch Onions and Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette

A cool, tangy Summer salad to make when the backyard cucumbers are in great supply.

•6 cups of thinly sliced local cucumbers (leave strips of green when you peel for a pretty effect)

•1 each: seeded and sliced red and yellow sweet bell peppers

•6 medium-sized red or Yukon gold new potatoes, steamed and sliced into ¼-inch rounds

•1 cup Oriental vinegar

•2 tablespoons sugar

•Juice of half a lemon

•2 teaspoons of finely chopped ginger root

•1 teaspoon soy sauce

•½ cup vegetable oil

•1 teaspoon sesame oil

About ½ cup sliced bunch onions (white and pale green portion); if unavailable, use regular green onions

Arrange the cucumbers, peppers and potatoes on a platter. In small bowl, combine the vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, ginger root, and soy sauce. Whisk in the vegetable oil and sesame oil. Drizzle over the platter of vegetables, then sprinkle the bunch onions over the entire platter and chill until ready to serve. Makes about 6 servings.

Roasted Polenta

Makes about 6 servings, depending on the size of the pieces

This is a wonderful dish to have lurking in your freezer. It complements any number of offerings, including roasted or grilled vegetables, as well as, grilled meats, chicken or fish.

I can’t stress strongly enough that this isn’t just any old polenta recipe. It’s very special. I learned from Napa Valley Chef Michael Chiarello, that a very tender and moist polenta can be created by using equal parts polenta meal and semolina (Bob’s Red Mill, a Portland-based company, makes both). He also taught me that a reliable ratio of liquid and dry ingredients is 3-to-1. Try it and I think you’ll agree.

•3 cups chicken broth (I use either homemade or Campbell’s double strength, undilluted)

•3 cups heavy cream

•¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

•1 cup polenta meal

•1 cup polenta meal

•½ cup grated Jarlsburg cheese

•1¼ cups grated Parmesan

In a heavy-bottomed pot, combine the chicken broth, cream, and pepper (if using homemade chicken broth, you might want to add up to 1 teaspoon of salt). Bring this liquid to a boil, then whisk in the polenta and semolina in a steady stream while continuing to whisk.

Continue stirring and cooking over moderate heat. The mixture will begin to thicken after a few minutes. Continue stirring. The polenta is ready when it is very thick and begins to pull away from the sides of the pot (about 7 to 10 minutes).

Remove from heat and stir in the Jarlsburg and ¾ cup of the Parmesan.

Immediately pour the polenta out onto an oiled baking sheet, spreading to about ¾-inch thickness, into a rectangle or square. Cool at room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm. Cut the cooled polenta into squares, triangles or diamonds. (Note: once cut into desired shape, may be refrigerated up to 48 hours before roasting, or frozen for several months).

To roast: Using a spatula, transfer the pieces onto a lightly oiled baking pan, sprinkle generously with the ½ cup of grated Parmesan, and place in a pre-heated 500 degree F. Oven. Roast until golden brown and slightly puffy, about 7 minutes.

Marinated and Roasted Vegetables

This is my all-time favorite way to roast or grill a pile of fresh vegetables. After marinating in my zesty marinade for an hour or two, I drain the vegetables and simply stir-fry them over charcoal or a gas grill.

This requires a special grilling pan with medium (about 5/16-inch) holes so that small pieces of food won’t fall through during cooking. Alternatively, you could simply place the marinated vegetables in a large roasting pan and roast them in a very hot oven, turning occasionally with a wide spatula.

Delicious as a simple side to anything you’ve got going on the grill.

Also wonderful with my Roasted Polenta (see recipe above).

For the marinade:

•1/3 cup of red or white wine vinegar

•¼ cup dry red wine (such as zinfandel, cabernet, shiraz, or pinot moir)

•2 tablespoons soy sauce

•1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

•¼ teaspoon salt

•¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

•3 cloves peeled and finely minced garlic

•2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Vegetables for grilling:

•¼ pound mushrooms (halved or whole, depending on size)

•1 red sweet bell pepper, seeded and cut in thin strips

•1 yellow sweet bell pepper, seeded and cut in strips

•1 whole yellow onion, cut into thin strips or rings

•Roasted polenta squares (as prepared in previous recipe)

Combine the vinegar, wine, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil. Place the vegetables in one large container or two re-sealable plastic bags. Pour the marinade over the vegetables and marinate for up to 1 to 2 hours.

When ready to cook, remove the vegetables from the marinade (the marinade will keep for a couple of weeks, so refrigerate in a sealed jar for another round of veggies within that time-frame). Place the grill pan on top of the grill grate over hot coals or gas flame and let it heat through. Add the vegetables and let them cook, turning and tossing the veggies sort of as you would for a stir-fry, only slower, until they’re lightly bronzed and cooked through.

Remove from heat.

To serve, remove the roasted polenta from the oven and place 1 to 2 pieces on each plate. Top the polenta with a serving of the vegetables.

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