The California Salad

California Salad
Light & Healthy

So light, so healthy & sooooooo delicious!  I concocted this simple, yet elegant side salad after messing around with a few different ideas.  It’s even VEGAN, and it goes with just about anything you can think of …

What’s In It?  All my favorite things!

Arugula and/or Baby Spinach – My go-to choice is Arugula, but if I’m feeling frisky, I’ll pick up some Baby Spinach instead.  OR, if you’re feeling totally rebellious, mix them together as you throw your head back and laugh manically!

Sunburst Tomatoes – For most of my life I turned my nose up at cherry tomatoes or anything that slightly resembled them.  WHAT WAS I THINKING?  Holy mother of Solanum Lycopersicum, these little golden treats pack a sweet & delectable punch!  They add a unique compliment to the tangy, slightly bitter flavors of this salad.

Avocado – I mean, really, how can you go wrong with avocado?  It’s the best and most, er, one of the most versatile fruits.  (I sat here for a good 6 minutes and argued with myself about whether an avocado or a lemon is the most versatile fruit – I’m torn!)  I could eat avocado on ANYTHING & it lends some creaminess to this salad.  Growing up in Northern & Southern California, we had avocado trees & come to think of it – why don’t I have one now?  Ok, I just decided I’m going to propagate the next pit of an avocado.

Lemon – I love lemons, too.  And I do squeeze them on just about everything, so one day when I was sick of making dressing & just wanted something light & simple, I squeezed lemon all over the salad.  Hello!?  Why had I never thought of this before?  Lightbulb!

Garlic – Yep, another one of my faves … pressed & as much (or as little) as you like!  Me?  Two big, fat cloves!  (p.s. the garlic press is nice because it gets a little garlic juice in there, but if you don’t have one, just mince the garlic.)

Olive Oil – Just a little so that it all melds together nicely.

So like I was saying … You can eat this alone, or with your best buddy if you are nice enough to share.  Kidding, I mean, you can eat this as a stand alone salad, or it accompanies pretty much anything from chicken, to turkey chili, to white bean vegan soup, to grilled salmon or even barbecue!

You’re welcome … 🙂

Butternut Squash Risotto

I recently signed up for this service where they will deliver a box of fresh, organic produce directly from local farms to your doorstep. I was leery of doing this because I’m a planner & you don’t know what you’re going to get until you open the box, but there was a special offer on Groupon, so I figured what the hell. The box comes every other Wednesday, so on those weeks, I can only meal plan for Monday & Tuesday until I see what I’m working with produce-wise.

This past Wednesday, I opened the door and shrieked like a child on Christmas morning. “It’s here! It’s here!” The Boy was thrilled by my enthusiasm & we dragged the box inside & opened it up, exclaiming with excitement at each item we pulled out.

Carrots, Meyer Lemons, Fiji Apples, Spinach … Butternut Squash!! It was very exciting, let me tell you … ok, that makes me sound like a housewife whose life is not very eventful, getting all excited over produce. Or maybe it just makes me sound like an enthusiastic cook. In any case, it was a great opportunity to talk about each fruit or vegetable with The Boy.

I have concocted a really delicious recipe for Butternut Squash Risotto. Allow me to share it with you. But before I do, let me give you a few insights about Risotto. It’s a dish that requires attention. You can’t just walk away from it, it needs to be stirred consistently.  It’s a fun dish to make with a friend / lover / spouse, so you can take turns stirring the risotto.  Using the correct heat is also important ~ if you cook with the heat too high, the grains won’t cook evenly & using too low heat will render you a sticky, gluey risotto.

I usually make this on Thanksgiving, but this year I was on my own in the kitchen with a house full of boys who were busy watching football, so I decided to skip it … Lucky for me, my first farm fresh delivery included 2 perfect butternut squash so I got to make this last night.

butternut squash risotto

serves 4-6
(a lovely side dish, but filling enough for a main dish as well)

1 butternut squash (2 lbs) Peeled, seeded & cubed into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch cubes (about 6 cups)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
smidgen of cinnamon
2 tbsps olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken stock (you can use vegetable stock instead if you prefer)
6 tbsps unsalted butter
1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 oz)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place the squash in a bowl and toss with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, the nutmeg and just a dash of cinnamon.  Toss well to coat all the butternut squash cubes.  Roast for 25-30 minutes, tossing half way through cooking time.  Be careful not to overcook the squash, otherwise it will turn to mush.  You want it fork tender.

While the squash cooks, heat the chicken stock in a saucepan, leave on low heat to simmer.

In a heavy-bottom pot or a dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the shallots on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the shallots become translucent but not browned.  Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with the butter / shallot mixture.  Add the wine and cook for about 2 minutes or until the wine is mostly absorbed.  Add 2 ladles of stock to the rice, plus the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt & 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Stir and simmer until the stock is absorbed (about 5-10 minutes.)  Continue to add the stock – 2 ladles at a time – stirring every few minutes.  Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry and then add more stock.  Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente – about 30 minutes total.  You may not use all the stock, don’t fret!  Taste frequently to gauge the doneness of the risotto.  Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes & the Parmesan cheese.  Mix well & dash with a tiny smidgen of nutmeg.  Serve & enjoy!

Cranberry Apricot Sauce … YUM!

I don’t know about you, but I am not a big cranberry fan.  It has to be coupled with something sweet … like, I really dig Cranberry Grape Juice.  And that’s about it.  Hahaa … I never liked the cranberry jelly that was always sitting on the Thanksgiving table like a jello mold of a tin can.  No bueno!

I went on the search for a deliciously sweet cranberry side dish.  And I found one about 3-4 years ago.  I copied the recipe & I’m sorry that I cannot credit it to the proper source, but I did make a few adjustments, so I’ll say it’s kind of sort of my adopted own.


Cranberry Apricot Sauce
Serves: 6-8

1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsps finely grated fresh ginger (just use your microplane)
16 oz cranberries (fresh or frozen, I prefer fresh if possible)
2/3 – 1/2 C granulated white sugar
1 C fresh orange juice (I’ve used store-bought OJ & it’s fine to use, and FYI: 2 large navel oranges produce about 1 cup of fresh OJ)
½ C – 3/4 C Apricot Preserves / Jam

In a saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the ginger and cook, stirring for 2 minutes.  Stir in the cranberries, sugar, OJ & apricot preserves.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries burst and the sauce thickens – about 20 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and serve warm.

Make-Ahead Note: The sauce can be made up to 2 days in advance.  Cover and keep refrigerated until ready to re-heat.

Voila!  The house smells Dee-Lish!  And people rave about this dish.  Now, you can mix it up by using different preserves & juice – the sky is the limit with these cranberries.  Enjoy.

Note:  In my store, they sell 12 oz bags of cranberries, so I have to get two bags … I use 1/2 of the other one to put in the bottom of a vase & fill with white roses or mums … or any kind of holiday-type flower.  Very pretty & the cranberries last for a while.