I have a weakness for bite-sized nibbles. Everything is so much cuter when it’s pint-sized or wrapped up in a neat little package. The thought of a obese cheeseburger makes me cringe. But, if that cheeseburger was divided into 20 petite sliders, I could eat my weight in them. Just a simple triscuit cracker transforms with an elegant topping which is where my fig & olive tapenade recipe comes into play.
Remember when I said I used to be a picky eater? Well, olives used to be one of the foods I despised. So in order to slowly introduce them into my diet (baby steps remember) I would mix them with something a little sweeter to dull their briny flavor. Awhile back I stumbled across a recipe for this tapenade (which may have been this David Lebowitz recipe) soon lost it and was forced to wing it. Every time I make it, I’ll just dump all the ingredients into the food processor, or at least all the ones I can remember, and pulse it together.
Even though I absolutely love olives now, I still prefer this tapenade with luscious figs. It’s more of a compote really. In order to balance out the sweetness of the tapenade, I love to pair it with a thin ribbon of proscuitto and a dallop of goat cheese. Those components tie it all together in a nice little package. Just like I like.
You’re probably getting tired of all the seafood dishes I post on my blog! Truth is, the seafood that’s available during the summer-time in Seattle is incredible. I get enough beef and chicken the rest of the year that I try to make the most of all the fresh salmon, shrimp, and scallops while they last. We’ve been stuck in a bit of a heat wave over the last two weeks here in the Northwest. I’m sure it’s nothing compared to the sticky, suffocating temperatures wafting over the east coast, but when you’re used to a mild, soggy July, it can be a bit overwhelming.
All I wanted tonight was a light salad bursting with bright, fresh flavors. I craved a dinner I could scarf down and still have the energy to do jumping jacks afterwards. So here’s what I came up with. Quinoa is an airy grain that cooks up quickly like couscous, but with just the slightest bit of crunch. I like it a bit better though because it has more texture and tends to soak up the flavors of whatever you mix it with. You’ll want to cook up extra so you can enjoy it for lunch the next day too!
It’s not very often that I get the pleasure of cooking for my loved ones. Jason and I live such hectic, full-to-the-brim, jam-packed lives that it’s hard to find time to treat my family and friends to a home-cooked meal. So when I found out my mom was going to be in town dog-sitting for my brother last week, I jumped at the opportunity to spoil her! She’s been so supportive of my culinary passion and I think it’s safe to say it has rubbed off on her a little too. I wanted to make something I knew she wouldn’t normally make herself, in hopes of exciting her taste buds a bit. We just ate these curried mussels out of the bowl with a chunk of bread to soak up the broth. This would be equally delicious over a bed of rice. Or if you’re not a fan of mussels, try it with shrimp!
I love cooking shellfish like mussels and clams because you can do it all in one pot (easy clean-up!) and it will all come together in just 10-15 minutes. In Seattle, we’re blessed to have incredibly fresh, meaty mussels from Penn Cove which is just a short drive from where I live. If you’ve never cooked mussels before, don’t worry! Here are some things to keep in mind.
- Buy them fresh the day you plan to eat them, if possible. Keep them cool on ice until you’re ready to cook.
- Rinse and scrub them lightly to get rid of any barnacles or loose shell fragments.
- Pull off the “beard” (the fibers that attach a mussel to a rock).
- If any mussels don’t open during cooking, don’t eat them.
One of my favorite things to do is to open people’s eyes to lesser known foods, particularly ingredients that they never would have touched otherwise. I didn’t grow up an adventurous eater. Tuna noodle casserole and sloppy joes were the norm in my diet. Trying lemon meringue pie was the equivalent of tight-rope walking across Niagra Falls. In fact, “picky eater” in the dictionary featured my picture til I was 18.
But now, I love roasted brussel sprouts dusted with sea salts as much as french fries. So what changed things around? When I met my now-husband, I couldn’t cook so much an eggo waffle, but that was all about to change. One day, I plopped in front of the TV and stumbled across the Food Network. As I watched the episode (I wish so badly I could remember which one it was!) I realized it didn’t seem that hard afterall. So little by little, I began to branch out and try new things.
What I loved most was that I had control over ingredients like onions which I normally would have picked out of my dinner tirelessly. But when I was in control of the meal, I started to scatter those ingredients in slowly and surely until I found out that if you caramelize onions, they take on a deliciously sweet flavor. Or if you roast brussel sprouts, they take on a crispy, nutty persona. With me in the drivers seat of the next meal, I began to thrive on the idea of doing the same thing for other people: transforming the frog into the prince.
Sea beans are a vegetable that most people have never heard of before. A final challenge on Top Chef was my first introduction to these branchy, coat-rack like plants but I never realized that they grew right in my backyard. Sherlock Holmes-esque foragers scour Pacific Northwest beaches for croppings of these veggies. When I saw them at my local farmers market, I tried to get the vendor to leak the location where he snips his sea beans but his lips were sealed.
Nonetheless, I snatched them up to give them a try myself. They add a nice, crunch and salty bite to this roasted potato salad. Green beans make a perfect stand-in if you can’t find them yourself. I realize this potato salad is a little time consuming, and dirties up it’s fair share of pots and pans…but it’s worth it! Plus it tastes even better the next day, always a bonus. : ) Give it a try at your next bbq and you won’t be disappointed. This recipe is more or less a rough guideline so don’t bother measuring everything exactly.