Summer Salad: Nancy’s Niçoise

What to have for dinner? It was not quite so swelteringly hot as a few days ago and our pantry and freezer are full. We have a neighbor who has given us beautiful tomatoes and a dinner salad came to mind. I perused a variety of cookbooks, mostly French, to see what comprises a Salad Niçoise. Here is my version. With salads the amounts are not critical as it depends on how many folks are to be served.

For two servings I used the following:

  • one heart of romaine
  • one large tomato
  • 12 or so kalamata olives
  • 2 hard boiled eggs
  • 3 snack peppers, one red, two orange
  • 2 small potatoes, steamed
  • about 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • one can albacore tuna

Divide ingredients and place pleasingly on the plates. I mixed up a simple Dijon vinaigrette for the dressing finishing with a bit of freshly ground pepper and salt.

Summer Salad: Warm Bean and Bacon

More cooking with Jacques! So salads are not just greens in dressing. This recipe sounded interesting and as I had most of the ingredients on hand I made it.

  • 1 can (15 ounces) small white beans, drained
  • about 2 ounces of bacon
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley or 1 tablespoon of dried parsley
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons malt vinegar (I ran out of balsamic)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Fry up the bacon in cast iron skillet and then add the onion and garlic. Add the beans and stir to warm. Blend the rest of the ingredients together and toss together. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Fresh parsley is better than dried. I was able to add fresh parsley to the leftovers. This would be fabulous with fresh spinach mixed into it. It was yummy. And a few days later I mixed up the dressing by itself to use with a green salad.

Summer Salads: Garlicky Romaine

I could call this “cooking with Jacques” except this did not call for any cooking, except for the brief sautéing of the croutons. My Jacques Pepin Essential Pepin cookbook has lovely ideas for salads. What are salads but tossing oil and vinegar with greens? And a few other raw vegetables…and much more! Our go to salad greens are romaine lettuce and baby spinach.

I had all the needed ingredients for this “garlicky romaine with croutons”. Apparently in the spring I made homemade bread all of which we did not consume. I am of the school of thought to not waste food so I cut the remaining bread into crouton-sized cubes and froze them. Now I have the perfect recipe for them.

  • 3 Tablespoons oil
  • 2 1/2 cups 1-inch pieces “stale country bread”

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet; cast iron works well here. When oil is hot add the bread and sauté for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally to turn the cubes. Although at first I thought this was too much oil, it worked out very well for the 4 minute sauté.

  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic; I used minced garlic from a jar.
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon mustard; Jacques calls for grainy mustard. I used spicy so as not to have three opened jars of mustard in my fridge.
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

I mixed the dressing ingredients in a small jar. I used half to dress the heart of romaine that I put into the bowl. We added a generous helping of Romano cheese as well. Romaine seems to call out for parmesan or Romano cheese in our household.

This is a tasty garlicky dressing. I was able to use this salad for two meals without making more dressing or croutons. This makes sense in that the recipe says it serves four.

chocolate roll

Baking with Jacques! I was looking for a “light” dessert and thought a cake roll with jam filling might fit the bill. I was at first thinking of citrus flavors but the Essential cookbook had this chocolate roll which sounded simple enough to make. Well, melting chocolate, separating eggs, whipping egg whites in separate bowl might be a tad fussy but so would being able to roll the cake without breaking. I read the instructions several times to become confident this would not be problematic. Here is my adaptation.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 4-6 ounces dark chocolate, melted
  • 2 tablespoons very strong coffee

I melted what chocolate I had on hand. I separated the eggs into two mixer bowls. I poured a quarter cup of prepared coffee and added a teaspoon of espresso powder. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare a cookie sheet pan with buttered parchment paper.

Put water and sugar in small saucepan, bring to boil and cook for 2 minutes making a light syrup. Slowly pour this over the egg yolks while mixing vigorously for 5 minutes. This should be fluffy, smooth and pale yellow in color. Add the melted chocolate and mix well.

Whip egg whites into firm peaks. Add one-third of this into the chocolate mixture mixing vigorously. I used a hand whisk to do this in order to mix in the chocolate that had gathered at the bottom of the bowl under the egg yolks. Carefully fold in the remaining egg whites just until blended.

Smooth the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 12 minutes until set. Let cool to room temperature and then cover with plastic wrap. When completely cool this will be filled and rolled.

Traditionally this is filled with whipped cream. I used a jar of Sour Cherry Preserves. It took the entire 8 ounce jar. After removing the plastic wrap, spread the filling on the cake. Then beginning with the longer side roll gently removing the parchment paper as you go along. Use large spatulas to move the cake to a serving platter. I cut it in half to do that.

I am happy to pronounce that this came out nicely. I sprinkle powdered sugar on the top.

Serves 8 and I cut it into serving size pieces and we enjoyed this for 4 nights. It is very rich. Adding a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream would work well here.

Summer Salads: “Carrot and Sunflower Seed Salad on Red Leaf Lettuce”

I was reminded by a recent routine doctor visit that one should increase plants in one’s dietary choices. Okay, what do I have available to work with to create veggies and fruits for meals? Carrots and frozen blueberries. Needless to say I did not use the blueberries in a salad, but set them to thaw to make a crumble later. In the past I had enjoyed carrot salads and I decided that a French carrot salad would be worthwhile. So I looked in my Jacques Pepin Essential cookbook and found several carrot salads and had to choose. So I chose this one even though I did not have sunflower seeds, nut oil, or red leaf lettuce! Nor sherry vinegar! I planned to serve this on a bed of spinach.

  • 3-4 cups shredded carrots; this was about 6 small to medium; peel first
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds as substitute for the sunflower seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed garlic; 2 teaspoons sounded like too much
  • 1/2 cup chopped Vidalia onion
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 5 Tablespoons canola oil; I should have used olive oil but didn’t

I peeled the carrots and used a food processor to shred them. I chopped the onion, this was 1/2 of a smallish Vidalia. I put these in a bowl with the sesame seeds. I mixed the dressing ingredients and poured over to mix and set this in the fridge to meld the flavors. Aren’t I fancy!

I served this over chopped fresh spinach. It was tasty but a bit dry. So I fixed another portion of the dressing (olive oil this time) and mixed it in. This will then dress the greens instead of leaving them a tad dry.

And it was good. However, another lesson: Hubby does not particularly care for carrot salads. He might like the sweeter version using orange juice and raisins.

Summer Salads: not my mother’s potato salad!

I decided to make potato salad. Mom made hers with Miracle Whip, boiled eggs, and pickle relish. I perused several cookbooks and found too many ideas, as usual. I thought a vinaigrette would be nice for a change. Most of these are for warm potato salads but, “what the hey”, I’d try it for a cold dish. The following is a conglomeration from various recipe books, none more than another.

  • 6 medium potatoes, approximately 2 1/2 – 3 inches in diameter
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 radishes, sliced
  • 1 green onion, chopped using both white and green parts
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper, to taste

I scrubbed the potatoes and put the whole potatoes with the skins in a pot to boil expecting this would prevent me from overcooking them. It did. When done (I did not time this–just stuck a fork through the center) chop into inch or so pieces. Place in bowl with the chopped celery and green onion. Mix the dressing, pour over, and stir. Done!

This was not a hit. Hubby said “it’s okay” but did not like it that much.

So I repaired the remainder by adding:

  • 2 more sliced radishes
  • 2 more sliced green onions, white and green parts
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise

This repaired version was much more enjoyable. Lesson learned: Hubby likes creamy potato salad.

Jumbo Raisin Nut Cookies

I had a hankering to bake cinnamon rolls. I mentioned this to Hubby and he said “can we make cookies?”. By “we” he meant me. So what type of cookies? He likes oatmeal but asked if we had chocolate chips. I told him I was not going to make his “loaded oatmeal cookies” but proceeded to do so anyway. I went to my mom’s recipe notebook and there I found a recipe to try. This comes from the back of a C&H sugar bag from way back. Mom has typed a note saying one can substitute 2 cups of oatmeal for 2 cups of the flour. Supposedly this will make 6 dozen cookies. I don’t need six dozen cookies; we’ll eat them all!

I figured I would make ordinary sized cookies using a cookie scoop which I believe is the medium sized.

First of all I saw no reason to boil the raisins. I also did not want to use 2 cups of raisins. I put 1/2 cup raisins and 1/2 cup Craisins in a measuring cup and filled it with water. The soaking water is needed in the recipe but in future I would leave this out. I added walnuts, mini chocolate chips, and ginger bits to equal another cup. Those are the additions. I used 2 cups oatmeal and 2 cups all-purpose flour. I made Hubby grind the nutmeg. I almost forgot the spices and added them to the finished dough before putting in the fridge to chill. In general I followed the directions above using butter instead of shortening.

I did not expect the dough to spread out so much. I baked three batches with different amounts of chilling times, with and without parchment paper. Same result. It was a very wet dough.

The name of the cookie is “Jumbo”. These are cakey but tasty and easy to eat. Too easy to eat!

Testing one, two, three

How does one make a birthday cake for a sugar-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free dietary need? Luckily for me the particular family member is a grown adult who is open to experimentation in recipes and not a small child who doesn’t understand why they cannot have cake.

Looking into gluten-free flours it seems important to get the 1:1 product that contains Xanthem Gum. I looked at the Xanthem Gum and it was not inexpensive and why would I need that much anyway? Oh, and the gluten-free flour must also not contain any almond flour. I found a small bag and purchased it with the intent of experimenting on my standard cake recipes.

Sugar-free is a challenge. Approved sweeteners are honey, dates, and maybe, coconut sugar. I found a small bag of coconut sugar as well.

Dairy-free is simpler as there are so many dairy-free “not milk” products out there. I like oat milk which is better for the planet than almond milk. Soy has a mixed reputation but would more closely match the protein in cow’s milk. Plant-based butters are available but if you read ingredients carefully you can find margarine that is completely lactose-free. An olive oil cake won’t need butter at all.

I have a Betty Crocker snack cake recipe from the back of an ancient flour bag which I have used for almost 40 years. This recipe is actually vegan. I have chosen the first cake experiment for this recipe as it will only need two substitutions: flour and sugar.

  • 1 2/3 cups flour (Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 GF flour used)
  • 1 cup brown sugar (coconut sugar used here)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (why is vanilla used in chocolate cakes?)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray or oil. I do this even though the original recipe does not direct one to grease the pan.

Whisk all dry ingredients together and then stir in the wet ones. Mix thoroughly and pour into prepared pan. Bake for 35 minutes until done.

Thoughts: coconut sugar is brown in color with a vague caramel aroma. It also does not hold moisture as well as brown sugar (according to the internet). I was concerned the cake may be dry, but it was not. It may have been done just earlier than 35 minutes though. It did have a hint of a caramel/”burnt-but-not-really” flavor. Coconut flavor was not detected. And the texture was good and cake-like, spongy. Perhaps some espresso powder to enhance the cocoa would not go amiss.

Fresh Yeast

I store my instant yeast in the refrigerator and had paid no attention to the length of time it has been there. A thought came to me out of the blue that perhaps it is past its prime even though the breads and rolls I have been baking over the past few months do rise some. “Some” is what was concerning me. Why did not my bread rise to the heights above the bread pan as shown in recipe books?

for example

I truly have no idea how long that yeast I have has been. It has been there throughout the course of the pandemic and before. I looked on the internet for information on how long instant yeast should be stored. I found information that recommended anything from 4 months to one year. Then I went and purchased a new batch. And then made a loaf of bread.

What a difference the new yeast made!

This particular bread was flour, salt, water, and yeast with a touch of milk. The dough rose significantly higher than my recent bread endeavors. The baked bread was above the rim of the loaf pan.

I have put the date on the container that the yeast is in and will endeavor to use this up within a year’s time. Now that I am retired I will have more opportunity to bake bread and other goodies.