Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Cucumber Sandwiches with Feta and Champagne Cucumber Salad

We all say this but "Where did summer go?"!  I hope you don't mind me holding on just a bit.

It's always a shock when it's Labor Day and then the first day of Fall arrives. Granted, I missed a few weeks of summer enjoyment due to my injury, but I always got outside to inspect my garden and pick a tomato, cucumber or flower here and there, even with one hand :) Here in SE Wisconsin, we have been having gorgeous September weather.  It has been in the 80s this week, and reached 89F on Monday.

I'm still picking 2 or more cukes a day, which is down from 4-5 a day earlier this month. I've been blessed with a bumper crop from my small planting area. I planted seeds of a new variety this year that I ordered from Burpee called "Iznik Hybrid".  It's been a wonderful producer with delicious, thin-skinned cucumbers. I trained the vines to grow up a fence with velcro plant ties.

I've used cucumbers for my favorite Refrigerator Pickles and also in umpteen salads but I really needed more ways to use them so they wouldn't go to waste.  I'd like to bid farewell to summer with these recipes using cucumbers. 

Would you believe I had never made a cucumber sandwich?  I've eaten them at brunches and luncheons and always enjoyed them so I don't know what took me so long.  Slow learner? I prefer to point to my delicious and bountiful cucumber crop being the inspiration. My personal twist on the traditional recipe was adding a little crumbled feta to the cream cheese base. I think I would have preferred a thin-sliced whole wheat bread but wanted to stick with the traditional thin-sliced white for my first attempt to let the flavor of the filling shine.

Have you ever had cucumber water?  They say that cucumber water is a wonderful detoxifier and we all know that drinking water is good for you.  It's a simple process. Add cucumber slices to a pitcher of water and refrigerate. I made 'stripes' in the cucumber skin by running a dinner fork along the length of the cucumbers from top to bottom all around before slicing. The longer you allow the cucumber slices to 'marinate' in the water the better it tastes. Four hours would be optimal. You could also add a few lemon slices.  It's very refreshing!

Next, is a Champagne Cucumber salad that I really enjoyed. Another recipe I had never tried before, preferring to go with the simple sugar and vinegar preparation of my refrigerator pickles. There are many great recipes to be found on the Net.  The one I liked the best was adapted from Ina's which used of a splash of Champagne vinegar to which I added a little sugar for balance. The Champagne vinegar adds a delicious, fruity flavor to the cucumbers.  I love Champagne vinegar in salad dressings!

If you are faced with more cucumbers than you know what to do with, there is also a way to preserve cucumbers by making freezer pickles which will last in the freezer for up to a year.

Did you know that cucumbers are a valuable source of Vitamin K which is essential for bone health? Cucumbers also contain high levels of nutrients known as cucurbitacins and lignans, which early research indicates may have cancer fighting properties. Way to go, Cucumbers!

Cucumber Sandwiches with Feta

Printable Recipe

Serves 2 as a luncheon course (makes 4 small sandwiches cut into 16 wedges)

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 ounce Greek feta cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup of finely diced cucumber (I used 3 small garden cucumbers)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon fresh dill, snipped, for garnish
8 slices thin white sandwich bread, such as Pepperidge Farm

Slice cucumbers and place in a colander or strainer fitted over a bowl. Sprinkle the cucumber slices with salt and toss. Allow to drain for about 15-30 minutes, tossing occasionally (this will remove much of the water in the cucumbers so the spread will not become soggy). Turn out the cucumber slices onto a layer of paper toweling and pat dry. Dice cucumbers finely with a chef's knife.

While cucumbers are draining, mix together the cream cheese, feta and mayonnaise in a medium bowl. Blend thoroughly with a fork or use a hand mixer to blend. Add the minced garlic, pepper, dried dill, and diced cucumbers. (I would not add any additional salt as the cucumbers will have retained salt from the draining step.) Spread on 4 slices of sandwich bread to desired thickness and top with remaining 4 slices of bread. Cut the crusts off of the sandwiches and cut each sandwich into quarters diagonally, making 4 triangles each. Arrange triangles on serving plates or platter with points facing up and sprinkle with snipped fresh dill and serve.

Champagne Cucumber Salad

Printable Recipe

Serves 1-2

3-4 small garden cucumbers, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon red onion, thinly sliced and quartered
1/2 (4 ounces) sour cream
1 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon dried dill or 1 tablespoon freshly chopped dill
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Place the sliced cucumbers into a colander or strainer and place over a bowl. Sprinkle with salt, toss and allow to drain for about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally. This will remove much of the water content of the cucumbers so the salad will not become watery. Turn the drained cucumbers out onto a layer of paper toweling and pat dry.

Add the cucumbers and remaining ingredients to a medium bowl. (I would not add any additional salt as the cucumbers will have retained salt from the draining process.) Toss well, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving (desirable but not necessary).

Garnish with freshly snipped fresh dill, if desired.

Loosely adapted from Ina Garten and Food Network

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Grilled Halibut and Kale Pesto Pasta...with a Broken Wrist Update~

Hello everyone! First some delicious food for you and then an update on my broken wrist.   

Before summer is official over, I wanted to share a couple of recipes that I prepared and photographed in early July, just before my accident.  This delicious Grilled Halibut with Lemon-Caper Wine Sauce and Pasta with Kale and Walnut Pesto are company-worthy recipes but also an easy and delicious meal to make any time you can find halibut available at a reasonable price.

My husband and I were lucky enough to find halibut again in the fish case at our local market just last week.  We like to grill fish on the flat side of a cast iron griddle so that we don't loose any fish that flakes apart and falls through the grates.  The griddle has saved many a tasty morsel! 

I don't know how I first came across the recipe for kale and walnut pesto, but it was probably one the best new recipes I tried this year.  My personal twist on the recipe was adding some chopped garlic scapes from the garlic that I grew for the first time this season but you can simply add a clove of regular garlic. Thank you to Monique for the encouragement to grow garlic! I can't believe it will be time to plant garlic again next month! Time to scope out the local garlic sold at the farmers markets, which is the best to use for growing your own garlic. 

Before my wrist update, I want to thank everyone for your wonderful comments on my last post when I announced that I had broken my wrist! Also, many thanks for the wonderful emails, cards and care packages! Each and every one meant so much to me.

Today, I am exactly 8 weeks post surgery! My cast came off 2 weeks post surgery and an immobilizer (slash torture device) was made for me to wear.  A very stabilizing device, which is removable, but extremely difficult to accomplish.  It actually hurt my hand trying to get it off. 

At my 6 week post-surgery appointment, I was told that I did not have to wear an immobilizer any longer.  My doctor wanted me to start using my hand and wrist and start physical therapy.  I've seen my therapist several times already and have been given exercises and stretches to do to regain flexibility of my fingers and wrist. My doctor also said that I could drive again! Being able to get around on my own, even short distances, has done wonders for my mental well-being. 

I do get impatient and try to do too much and then I pay the price with more swelling and discomfort. As my doctor said, I'll likely take 2 steps forward and then 1 step back for a while.  I can't bear much weight with my left hand yet so I need to be cautious about what I do.  I guess I shouldn't have tried doing those wall push ups last week :(

I know it's going to take patience and perseverance with the exercises/stretches to regain strength and mobility in that hand.  Hopefully, in the next month, I should see more rapid improvement.

Until next time! 

Grilled Halibut with Lemon-Caper Wine Sauce

Printable Recipe

Serves 4

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel (use organic, if possible)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil (divided)
2 teaspoons drained capers, coarsely chopped
4 halibut filets, about 6-8 ounces, cut from the thick end for even grilling

Whisk together lemon juice, lemon peel, olive oil, wine and garlic in small bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons fresh basil and capers. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and let stand at room temperature until ready to use. Vinaigrette can be made 1 hour in advance.

Pat fish dry with paper toweling and brush about 1 tablespoon of the vinaigrette.

Place a cast iron griddle on top of the grill grates with flat side facing up. Heat grill with cover closed to medium-high for about 10-12 minutes. When ready to grill fish, spray griddle with non-stick cooking spray. You may also broil the fish.

Grill (or broil) halibut for about 3-1/2 minutes per side until just barely cooked through (fish will continue to cook after removing from grill. Watch carefully as halibut can become dry when cooked too long. Transfer fish to a platter and tent lightly with foil. Note: If your fish comes with skin attached, grill the skin side first and remove skin with tongs before flipping over to other side, if desired.

Whisk remaining vinaigrette and pour over fish. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of basil and serve.

Adapted from Epicurious

Pasta with Kale and Walnut Pesto

Printable Recipe

Yield: 1 cup pesto

1/3 cup walnuts
3 cups chopped organic kale, thick stems and veins removed (you could also use arugula)
1 clove of minced garlic – or 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic scape, if available
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (divided)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound of pasta of your choice
½ cup of pasta cooking water, reserved

Toast the walnuts in a preheated 350F degree oven until lightly browned and fragrant – about 5-7 minutes. Cool completely.

In a food processor with steel blade, pulse the walnuts until finely ground.

Add the kale, garlic (or chopped garlic scapes) and 1/4 teaspoon salt and pulse until finely chopped.

Add ½ cup grated Parmesan and pulse to combine.

Slowly pour in the olive oil, pulsing to incorporate. Transfer the pesto to a bowl. This will yield about 1 cup of pesto. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Remove ½ cup of the cooking liquid before draining.

Add cooked pasta to a large bowl and add kale pesto to taste (roughly 1/2 cup per pound of pasta).

Add additional grated Parmesan to taste and enough reserved pasta cooking water to make a creamy sauce.

Serve immediately.

Adapted from Food Network