Lentil Beet Salad

Let's be honest, lentils and beets are NOT for everyone. But don't let your preconceived "dislike" for these ingredients dissuade you from trying this recipe. Not only will the subtle flavors surprise your taste buds, but this salad will make you feel great! The nutritional benefits are unbeatable. Plus - if you are the vicinity of a Trader Joe's grocery, this salad can be made in under 10 minutes!

I often refer to WHFoods when researching new ingredients and their nutritional values. It is a good source for the average consumer who wants to know just a little more about what, in fact, he or she is consuming.
WHFoods: Lentils
Lentils, a small but nutritionally mighty member of the legume family, are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber. Not only do lentils help lower cholesterol, they are of special benefit in managing blood-sugar disorders since their high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal. But this is far from all lentils have to offer. Lentils also provide good to excellent amounts of six important minerals, two B-vitamins, and protein—all with virtually no fat. The calorie cost of all this nutrition? Just 230 calories for a whole cup of cooked lentils. This tiny nutritional giant fills you up--not out.

WHFoods: Beets
Remember all those legendary Russian centenarians? Beets, frequently consumed either pickled or in borscht, the traditional Russian soup, may be one reason behind their long and healthy lives. These colorful root vegetables contain powerful nutrient compounds that help protect against heart disease, birth defects and certain cancers, especially colon cancer. Benefits include: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and support of detoxification.

Lentil Beet Salad Recipe:

. 1 package pre-cooked Lentils (found at Trader Joe's)
. 2-3 medium size beets, peeled and cooked (You can use pre-cooked beets)
. 1/2 medium size onion, thinly sliced
. 2 cloves garlic, minced
. 2 tbsp olive oil
. handful of fresh chopped herbs (I used basil and mint)
. juice from 1/2 a lemon
. white balsamic vinegar (any vinegar can be used)
. fresh cracked black pepper and salt
Heat skillet over medium heat with 1 tbsp olive oil. Sautee chopped onion and garlic over medium-low heat for 7-10 minutes (salt and pepper). Meanwhile, empty package of pre-cooked lentils into a large bowl. Roughly dice beets and add to the lentils. Finely chop a handful of each herb being used (mint and basil leaves). Add most of the fresh chopped herbs to the bowl, reserve some for garnish. Once the onion/garlic mixture is translucent, toss with the lentils and beets. Finally, dress the salad with remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil, a couple glugs of white balsamic vinegar, and the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Salt and pepper to taste and garnish the salad with remaining fresh herbs.
*Serving suggestion: Toss chilled salad over a bed of lettuce with vinaigrette and fresh goat cheese.

Fresh Spring Rolls

Nothing tastes better on a hot August day than fresh Vietnamese-style spring rolls. They are the perfect summer snack - cool, light, and delicious! Oh and incredibly easy to make.

You can virtually put anything inside of a rice wrapper and it will taste good - but I like to keep it simple and stick to crisp veggies, low-fat proteins, and fresh herbs.

Here is a basic recipe that I use when making spring rolls:
(Recipe found on allrecipes.com)
. 2 ounces rice vermicelli
. 8 rice wrappers
. 8 large boiled shrimp - peeled, deveined and cut in half
. 1 1/3 tablespoons chopped fresh Thai basil
. 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
. 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
. 2 leaves lettuce, chopped
. (Optional add-ins - julienned carrots, cucumbers, sliced avocado)
Dipping Sauces:
. 4 teaspoons fish sauce
. 1/4 cup water
. 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
. 1 clove garlic, minced
. 2 tablespoons white sugar
. 1/2 teaspoon garlic chili sauce

. 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
. 1 teaspoon finely chopped peanutsDirections:
1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Boil rice vermicelli 3 to 5 minutes, or until al dente, and drain.
2. Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip one wrapper into the hot water for 1 second to soften. Lay wrapper flat. In a row across the center, place 2 shrimp halves, a handful of vermicelli, basil, mint, cilantro and lettuce, leaving about 2 inches uncovered on each side. Fold uncovered sides inward, then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with the lettuce. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
3. In a small bowl, mix the fish sauce, water, lime juice, garlic, sugar and chili sauce.
4. In another small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce and peanuts.
5. Serve rolled spring rolls with the fish sauce and hoisin sauce mixtures.

Celebrating 50 and 'Never-Fail' Salad Recipe

Grilled goat-brie cheese drizzled with thyme infused honey, fresh sliced figs, and cracked pepper
"Never-Fail" Spring Sensation Salad with Sweet Spicy Pecans
Recipe adapted from "Roux To Do" The Art of Cooking in Southeast Louisiana
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons honey
3 garlic cloves, pressed
3 green onions, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup pecan halves
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
8 ounces spring mix greens
1 head red leaf lettuce, rinsed and torn into bite-size pieces
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
2 small avocados, sliced (my addition)
2 cans (11 ounces each) mandarin oranges, drained
1 pint strawberries, sliced

Whisk the balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, garlic, green onions, salt and pepper in a 2-cup measure until blended. Whisk in enough olive oil gradually to make 2 cups. Chill, covered, until ready to serve.

Microwave the water in a small microwave-safe glass bowl until the water boils. Add 1/4 cup sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the pecans. Soak for 15 minutes; drain. Combine 3 tablespoons sugar, the chili powder and red pepper in a sealable plastic bag. Add the pecans and shake to coat. Arrange in a single layer on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, stirring once.

Toss the spring mix greens, red leaf lettuce, cheese and balsamic vinaigrette in a large salad bowl. Add the mandarin oranges, avocado slices and strawberries and toss gently. Sprinkle with the sweet spicy pecans just before serving.
While I was in charge of things in the kitchen, I left Sarah, and her creative eye, to decorating the dining room. She did an absolutely stunning job of displaying the cupcakes on various candle holders while highlighting some of my mom's favorite flowers (hydrangeas and orchids).

The table was equally gorgeous. She playfully set the table using antique Franciscan Madeira glassware, new French countryside salad plates from Williams & Sonoma, and classic white china. The centerpiece was a bouquet of summer flowers given to my mom earlier that day by Lance. Everything came together perfectly - mixing festivity with elegance.
My mom. The beautiful birthday girl.

Simplicity. A Birthday Dinner

This past weekend my family and a few special guests celebrated my mom's 50th birthday. My mom didn't want to too much attention this year, so we opted against hosting a large party and decided to keep things intimate with a family dinner party at the house. My sister and her boyfriend live 4 hours away, so we had to celebrate my mom and her 50 wonderful years of life on Saturday. *(Recipes and photos from Saturday to come!)* On Tuesday, August 9 - her real birthday, I decided to buy a nice bottle of wine, cook a simple meal, and re-celebrate her special day at home with gifts and cake.
. Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Dip with smoked paprika cucumber slices
. Cheese board and crackers
Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Dip Recipe:
1 eggplant
1 red bell pepper
2 garlic gloves
3 teaspoons organic Tahini paste
Salt & pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
5 mint leaves, chopped
1 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut eggplant and bell pepper in half and put them on a baking sheet. Roast until the eggplant and bell pepper skin becomes black (about 45 minutes). Place the bell pepper in a plastic bag, and cool for about 15 minutes. Peel the peppers, remove the seeds and stems and put in a food processor. Let the eggplant cool off a little and then scoop out the flesh into a food processor.
Add tahini, olive oil and garlic and process until smooth. Add lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with mint.
. Heirloom Tomato Salad with avocado
. Baked Herb and Garlic Salmon fillets
. Roasted Asparagus tossed with Parmigiano-Reggiano
. Cast-iron skillet cookie cake