Friday, April 30, 2010

Greek Salad

A fresh salad always sounds good to me, especially one with crisp, fresh ingredients. I know that many people won't make a salad with tomatoes unless it's summer when the tomatoes are at their best. I very seldom have a problem getting a nice ripe tomato any time of the year. The trick is to take them out of their carton and put them in a nice big bowl on the counter. They're beautiful to have sitting out and they ripen as the days go by. When you're buying tomatoes, try not to buy tomatoes that have been refrigerated and never refrigerate tomatoes because they'll go mealy (mushy). If you buy them, put them out to ripen and if they are still mealy, it's probably because they have been refrigerated either in the store or during the delivery process.

I went to the store this past week and they had beautiful beefsteak tomatoes. They were pretty ripe to start with so I didn't have to wait long. A nice change to a regular salad is a Greek salad, especially when you have nice ripe tomatoes! If you have time, make the salad dressing before the salad so the flavors in the dressing have time to develop.

Greek Salad

1 ripe tomato, cut into wedges
1/2 cucumber, peeled and cubed
1/4 red onion, sliced
1/4 green pepper, cubed
3-4 kalamata olives
1 slice of Feta cheese
1 teaspoon Greek seasoning

On a plate, arrange the tomatoes, green pepper and olives. If you don't have or like kalamata olives, you can leave them out or use regular black olives. Same goes with any of the other ingredients as well. Top with a slice of feta or you can crumble it on top. Sprinkle the dried Greek seasoning over the feta and then add the dressing. Happily serves 1.

Absolutely Fabulous Greek House Dressing (adapted from - Danielle M.)

This dressing is delicious on the salad.

1 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried Greek oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

In a large container, mix together the red wine vinegar, garlic powder, oregano, basil, pepper, salt, onion powder and Dijon mustard. Pour in the EVOO and mix vigorously until well blended. Store tightly, covered at room temperature.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Girls Weekend in Cambria, CA

Last weekend, I headed to beautiful Cambria, California, one of my favorite places, for a girls weekend.  It was an excuse to get away from the everyday craziness to laugh, eat and drink lots of wine - which we did all three in abundance.  It helps when you are minutes away from over 100 wineries.  Cambria is located just north of San Luis Obispo and about 30 minutes west of Paso Robles.  The drive to Cambria was absolutely gorgeous this time of year.  With all the rain California has had, everything was luscious, green and blooming.

The thing to do in Cambria is to rent a house.  We had a great place with spectacular views as you can see from the photos.  The highlight was on Saturday when two of the ladies surprised us with a long, white limousine to take us to the wineries, a gift to the ladies celebrating birthdays.  We made our way to several wineries in style (I have to say, if you ever get a chance, do this!) and stopped off at Oso Libre winery for a special brunch offered to wine club members.  Luckily, one of the ladies was a wine club member.

The meal we had was fabulous.  The dishes included huge, sweet strawberries with real whipped cream, guava and cream cheese puffed pastry, smoked salmon on corn cakes with a mango, serrano chili sauce (Yum!) and the best part was the quiche they served - a chili relleno's quiche with tortillas as the crust.  The chili flavor was really mild but the quiche was so creamy - it melted in your mouth.  Oh and I can't forget the salad - really good too.  We washed all this down with a fruity, wine infused sangria.  Heaven!  I have to say we were really roughing it.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Strawberry Cake

I am not usually one for making cakes unless it's a birthday or some other special occasion, mainly because I love sweets and if they are within a five mile radius I will eat them all and more; but in honor of my grandmother who passed away last month I decided to make one of her cake recipes that is one of our favorites.  My grandmother always had something sweet on the counter in case you needed a sweet fix after lunch or dinner.  My brother and I came up with the name "slack cake" because it's so easy and really tasty.

Since I had super sweet strawberries and I just happened to have a strawberry cake mix ... one of my favorite flavors for cakes, cupcakes and pies, I decided to make a strawberry cake. 

With this recipe you can do any flavor, with or without frosting.  It's all good!

Now I got a bit carried away, but you certainly don't have to with this recipe.  My grandmother always did just a plain cake without frosting. I incorporated diced pieces of strawberry into the batter and then I also pureed some strawberries and drizzled it on the warm cake so they would soak in.  I used what was left of the strawberry puree to make the strawberry cream cheese frosting. Feel free to just make the cake and frosting without all of the extra strawberries mixed in and drizzled on top.

The cake is REALLY simple to make.  The recipe is basically one cake mix, one box of instant pudding, four eggs and 2 cups of milk.  That's it and you can do any flavor.  I would only use a chocolate instant pudding if you are doing a chocolate cake.  Vanilla works for the rest unless you can find other flavors.  The cake is really moist and delicious and usually can be made with what you have on hand.  I can see adding lemon, blueberries, chocolate chips, pineapple, coconut, etc. ... whatever you like.  You can also make a round double layer cake, cupcakes or even a bundt cake with this recipe. 

Strawberry Slack Cake with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

1 Cake Mix (I used strawberry)
1 small box Instant Pudding Mix (I used vanilla)
4 eggs
2 cups milk
1 cup diced up strawberries, tossed with flour (so they don't sink to the bottom of the cake). You can use frozen here. Just defrost them and drain them.

Heat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13 inch pan.  Use a wire whisk to mix the cake mix and pudding together, removing any lumps.  Measure out the milk and add the eggs to the milk just to mix them together first before adding to the dry ingredients.  Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and combine well, about 2 minutes.  I did this all by hand, but you could use a mixer up until you add the strawberries.  Bake for 40-45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean from center.

Glaze for warm cake:
1 cup frozen or fresh strawberries
1 Tbsp.Chambord Raspberry Liqueur (optional)
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

Puree all this in a food processor or blender.  When the cake comes out of the oven, poke holes in the top using something that is about a half inch round.  Spread all but 1/4 cup of the puree on the cake and spread it around until most of it is absorbed into the cake.  Let cake cool completely before frosting.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 (8oz) pkg cream cheese (room temperature)
1 stick of butter (room temperature)
1/4 cup strawberry puree (I would gradually add this until you have the consistency you want for the frosting. You also can just use a bit of red food coloring if you don't have strawberries)
1 lb. powdered sugar

Using a mixer, blend all ingredients together until smooth.  This makes enough frosting to do the sides of the cake too.