Tag Archives: balsamic

Tomatoes and Cucumbers…the Fruits of the Season!

Wow, where has the time gone? I can’t believe it’s already August. And I can’t believe that it’s been so long since I’ve had a blog post. I guess vacations, cleaning up the overgrown yard of the new house, and every day life got in the way. So sorry, I’ll do better, I promise!

The warm weather and humidity continues in this area, Heat waves and thunderstorms have been a regular occurrence, it seems like since June. The only good thing is that the produce has been delicious and abundant. During this time of the summer, tomatoes and cucumbers are especially delicious, and they make the perfect summer salad.

For me, nothing says summer like cucumber and tomato salad. With the addition of some basil and a tangy balsamic vinaigrette, it’s the perfect side for any meal. Not to mention, it’s great to keep the oven and stove off!

To start, use about equal parts cucumbers and tomatoes. I used 2 cucumbers and 3 large, ripe tomatoes (I know there are 4 in the picture, but I only used 3). Core the tomatoes, and slice into chunks. Add to a large bowl. Peel the cucumbers, and slice into rounds. Add to the same bowl. Finally, add fresh basil. Use 10 basil leaves, thinly sliced, and add to the same bowl.tomatoesslicedchoppedcucumberpeeledready for dressingbasilNext, grab a small bowl to make the vinaigrette. Use equal parts Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar. I used about 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Whisk the two to combine. Add about 3 times the amount of olive oil. I used about 3 tablespoons olive oil. Whisk until emulsified. Add salt and pepper. ingredientsmustardbalsamicPour the vinaigrette over the vegetables and stir to combine.

My favorite way to enjoy this salad is after it’s sat for about 30 minutes, so the juices of the tomato combine with the vinaigrette. One caveat though, be sure to let the salad marinate on the counter. The salad is best at room temperature, and it really is delicious. Fresh, crunchy, and tangy…just perfect!

Enjoy this last month of summer before it’s gone. And stay cool!

A Great Spring-Summer Dessert…Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries

It’s so nice to have the warm weather back.  The sun stays out longer, the birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and I love it.  After such a long winter, it’s so refreshing to finally be in the heart of spring, with summer right around the corner.

StrawberriesWith the warm weather, I get excited about summer clothes and outdoor activities, but I also get excited about summer food.  Just like swapping sweaters for t-shirts, I think most people also change their eating habits in the summer, even if they don’t realize it.  Instead of the heavy stews, we start eating dinner salads and lighter meals.  We start to replace the starchy vegetables for fresh summer produce.  And, we no longer crave the rich desserts like bread pudding, but start to focus on lighter desserts with fruit, like panna cotta with balsamic strawberries.

Cream and SugarI’m not sure if you’re familiar with panna cotta, but it’s a delicious, creamy dessert that’s surprisingly simple to make.  Panna cotta literally means cooked cream in Italian, and the cream is really the star of the dessert.  It’s delicious sweetened cream that takes on a creamy, semisolid texture.  And ok, ok, I’ll admit it, it does have cream, so I guess it’s not as light as I said.  But it’s cool and has a light, creamy texture that’s perfect for summer.

Cooked CreamTo start, you’ll need 1 quart heavy cream.  Pour about a cup of it in a bowl and sprinkle in 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin.  It ends up being a total of .5 oz of gelatin.  Let that begin to dissolve while you heat the rest of the cream in a saucepan over medium heat with 1 cup sugar.  You want to heat this mixture until the cream warms and the sugar dissolves.  It should only take a few minutes, but make sure you stir so the cream doesn’t burn.  Once the sugar is dissolved, add the gelatin mixture.  Continue to stir until the gelatin dissolves in the cream.

Ready for UnmoldingOnce the gelatin has dissolved, you can remove the cream mixture from the heat.  Add 1 teaspoon vanilla, and that’s it.  Your panna cotta is done.  You just need to pour the mixture into molds and allow it to chill.  You can pour the whole thing into a big bowl, so that you just scoop out the solidified mixture once it’s cooled, or you can pour the mixture into single serve molds that you can then unmold for a great presentation.  I just used small 1 7/8 cup rectangular Pyrex containers, but you can really use anything you like.  Once you pour the mixture into whatever container/containers you’re using, put them in the refrigerator for a few hours to cool and solidify.  I made mine the night before.  And don’t cover them when they are hot, or you’ll end up with water in your panna cotta.

Balsamic GlazeWhile that is chilling, you can make the strawberries.  Simmer 1 cup balsamic vinegar for 10-15 minutes until reduced and thickened.  Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons honey.  Allow the mixture to cool, then add 1 lb sliced strawberries.  That’s pretty much it.  Let the strawberries stay at room temperature for a while so the flavors meld.

After several hours or overnight, when the panna cotta has solidified, you can unmold (or scoop and serve if you’re not unmolding).  UnmoldedSimply run a knife around the edges to loosen, then set in warm water for a few seconds.  That should melt the edges just a bit and loosen the panna cotta.  Just put a plate on top of the mold and flip it.  You may have to tap a bit to get it out.  To serve, scoop some of the strawberries with the balsamic reduction around the plate, and that’s it.  Enjoy!

Oh, and this recipe is great, but really, the panna cotta is great with anything.  It’s delicious with some chocolate sauce, or just some fresh fruit or berries, or just plain, on it’s own.  It’s cool, creamy, and delicious.