lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

charred shishito peppers

If you’re a home gardener, shishito peppers are an easy-to-grow, heavily-producing plant that bears fruit earlier than a lot of other types of peppers. These peppers are fast growers too; two plants easily produce about 10-20 peppers every week or so during peak growing season.

Because these aren’t easy plants to find, I start seeds indoors, typically in mid-February. This gives me about a 6-inch plant to put into the ground come early May, which jump starts the growing season here in zone 5 Northern Illinois.

If you’re not much into growing your own peppers but lucky enough to come across these delights at your grocery store or farmer’s market, I suggest you scoop some up. These are mild peppers packed with great flavor. People will tell you that every so many of these peppers are hot and that’s true but “hot” here is not anywhere near a jalapeno. Yes, some peppers have more heat than others but it’s not anywhere near an unbearable or uncomfortable heat, at least in my experience.

lola rugula how to grow shishito peppers

One of the easiest and most typical ways to cook these peppers is to roast them or char them with a drizzle of oil and some coarse kosher or sea salt.  This method brings out their flavor and makes it easy to eat a couple of handfuls in one sitting.

You can accomplish cooking them this way in a number of ways, via a hot grill, a hot, heavy skillet or under a broiler. All you’re looking to do is char the skins a bit and give them a beautiful roasted flavor. If your peppers are large enough, you can actually place them directly on the grill, just keep a close eye on them. You can char them a little or you can char them a lot but, either way, I think you’ll like the end result.

lola rugula charred shishito peppers (2)

All you need to make these are:

  • Shishito peppers
  • Olive oil
  • Coarse kosher or sea salt

When I cook these on the grill, I toss them in a small pan or sheet of foil with the olive oil and salt and spread out into a single layer. Place the pan on a preheated grill and cook for about 7-10 minutes, tossing them around occasionally, until they’re browned a bit on all sides. Use this same method if cooking under a broiler.

lola rugula grilled shishito peppers

To cook them on the stovetop, heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes. Add oil and heat the oil for a minute or so – do not let the oil become smoking hot.

Add peppers in a single layer and let brown slightly on one side then, using a pair of tongs, flip them over and let brown on the other side.

lola rugula how to cook shishito peppers

These are perfect for cookouts and parties and are always a huge hit. The bonus is that there isn’t a simpler dish to make.

To really kick them up a notch, toss in some minced garlic and shallots before cooking; I promise you won’t be disappointed.

If you’ve ever seen these and wondered how to cook shishito peppers, now you know how easy it is. Now get out there and enjoy your summer while it lasts.

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

bloody mary shrimp

This is one of those ridiculously easy recipes that’s just as fun to serve as it is to eat. I love a good Bloody Mary and I love shrimp, so these Bloody Mary Shrimp are the best of both worlds. I keep my recipe pretty simple, with a kick of horseradish and hot sauce, but you can adjust this recipe to your own personal tastes.

lola rugula how to make bloody mary shrimp

bloody mary shrimp recipe

  • 1 lb. large cooked shrimp, shelled and deveined, with the tails removed
  • 1 cup thinly sliced or small diced celery
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced (save about 1 tablespoon for serving)
  • 3/4 cup V8 Juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons horseradish (don’t drain)
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/4 cup vodka (totally optional)
  • lemon wedges for serving

Special serving pieces, such as Chinese soup spoons or shot glasses – you can use glass or plastic, whichever you prefer.

In a large bowl, whisk together everything except the shrimp and lemon wedges. Toss the shrimp in and mix well again.

Spoon  1 shrimp and some of the bloody mary mix into each serving piece, until all of the shrimp and mixture is used. Sprinkle with reserved sliced scallions and fresh lemon juice immediately before serving. You can refrigerate these for a few hours before serving. but don’t add the scallions and lemon juice until right before you serve them.

Makes about 35 servings.

lola rugula how to make bloody mary shrimp recipe

The style of serving these is really key, as you want each serving to include a shrimp plus the bloody mary mix, which is why Chinese soup spoons and shot glasses work perfectly. This way, you and your guests can slurp them down easily.

I’ve served these with and without the vodka and they’re just as good either way, it really just depends on your taste and the occasion you’re serving them at.

You know I always tell you not to be afraid to play with your food, so play it up with these. The scallions, horseradish and hot sauce can all be adjusted or removed entirely if you’re just not a fan of one or all of them.

As a gardening side note, check out my post on how to grow and make your own horseradish, in case you’re interested.

Tell me this doesn’t make an impressive presentation…

lola rugula bloody mary shrimp recipe

Chilled, spicy and delicious, I think this will become one of your favorite go-to appetizers. It’s easy and always a hit at every event I serve them at.

Enjoy!

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

chicken liver pate’

Liver. You either love it or hate it; there’s rarely an in-between. I grew up with parents who liked liver and onions so it was an occasional dinner of my youth and one I’ve always enjoyed. And it wasn’t just liver and onions we ate, but liverwurst and (American) braunschweiger, too. Ahh, what was better than a braunschweiger sandwich with raw onion slices piled onto Wonder bread?

When I started cooking on my own, chicken livers became my new favorite. They’re small and tender and cook pretty quickly. I love them sauteed with a bit of olive oil and garlic and sprinkled with salt and pepper. I totally lucked out that my husband likes liver too, so it’s an occasional treat for us. I say occasionally because liver is high in cholesterol, although it’s also a good source of iron and B vitamins. I’ve told you before I”m a big believer in enjoying a variety of foods and not overindulging in any of them. Variety is the spice of life, no?

Over the holidays it’s become a tradition for me to make chicken liver pate’. Smooth, creamy and packed with flavor, and yet I’m still pleasantly surprised at how many people actually enjoy it. It’s typically one of the first things to disappear from the array of appetizers.

After making it for so many years, I’ve discovered just how easy and flexible making liver pate’ can be. Sometimes I add a little bourbon. Sometimes I add a bit of heavy cream. Sometimes I change up the spices and herbs. The basic idea here is chicken livers cooked with garlic, onions or shallots, a bit of spices and/or herbs and a touch of water and/or liquid. Puree it all up, chill until firm and you have liver pate’.

As an interesting gardening side note, the fresh sage pictured here was all harvested from one of my sage plants that was buried under snow in the middle of December. Amazing, right?

lola rugula how to make homemade chicken liver pate

chicken liver pate with bourbon recipe

  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 medium white onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs chicken livers, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh sage
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream

Over medium heat, melt the butter in a large skillet. When it starts to foam, add onions and garlic and cook until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add livers, herbs, spices and water and stir well.

Cook at a simmer for about  10-12 minutes, stirring often, until the livers are cooked through.

Add bourbon, stir well to incorporate and then remove from heat.

Add heavy cream and stir well. Let cool at least 5 minutes.

Place the entire mixture into a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. If the mixture seems too thick, add just a bit more water or cream.

Smooth the pate’ into a dish or ramekins and chill. I love this best when it’s made a day ahead of time…it’ gives the flavors time to meld. I use ramekins and this recipe makes about 3. It will also freeze well for a week or two, which I discovered by necessity one year when I made a double batch of it. Serve with a selection of crackers and/or small appetizer breads, such as rye and pumpernickel.

lola rugula chicken liver pate with bourbon recipe

Liver pate’ may not make a gorgeous picture to everyone, but to me and those who love it, it’s a beautiful thing.

If you want to make a particularly nice presentation, line your ramekins in plastic wrap and place some fresh sage or thyme leaves in the bottom of the dish.

lola rugula chicken liver pate recipe

Spoon the pate’ in over the leaves and then refrigerate. Before serving, pull the whole ramekin of pate’ out by pulling the plastic wrap out of the ramekin and then invert on a dish before serving. You’ll end up with a small batch of pate’ with a beautiful presentation of herbs on the top. Not necessary but it makes things pretty, if you so desire.

Never be afraid to try new things and never, ever, ever, be afraid to play around with your food.

Liver. Do you love it or despise it? I’d love to hear your comments. Here’s to a fabulous, amazing, delicious New Year. Cheers.

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

asian style steak and veggie rolls

I had steak and vegetable rolls similar to this many moons ago and finally decided to make them myself. The steak is sliced thin, pounded thinner, then marinated and stuffed with barely-cooked veggies that add a flavorful, nutritional punch. These work as an appetizer or a meal and all of the work is in the prep. They’re a little time-consuming to put together but once there, these cook in under 5 minutes.

You don’t want to skimp out on the meat for these – I use Black Angus Sirloin and it’s worth it, even if it makes these more of a “special occasion” treat than an every day treat. These 2 steaks were 1 inch,  3/4 of a pound and well-marbled.

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Beef (and veggies!)…It’s what’s for dinner.

The steaks here have been trimmed of excess fat and frozen for 40 minutes, making them ready for easy and consistent slicing. When I slice them, I slice the steak on the diagonal at an angle.

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The steaks are the easy part of this. The vegetables require a bit more effort.

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Julienne the veggies into about 2-3 inch long strips.  I don’t get overly worked up about the length, as long as they’re approximate. Lifes’ too short to go crazy over julienned veggies. Besides, I like them to look a little crazy sticking out of my rolls. 🙂

The best way to prepare these – at least for me – is to get the meat sliced and marinating and the veggies cleaned and cut the day before making them. This way, everything is ready to go and throwing them together and cooking them takes me less than 30 minutes.

Are you ready to put together some awesome steak and veggie rolls? Okay…let’s do this thing.

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asian-style steak and vegetable rolls recipe

Marinade

For the marinade, I use my basic marinade recipe, with a few additions, to add some Asian flair.

  • 1/2 cup oil – I typically use olive oil (+ 2 tablespoons for cooking rolls)
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (+ 1-2 tablespoons for cooking rolls)
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 thinly sliced scallions
  • 1 teaspoon white miso paste
Prepare the Beef:
  • 2 sirloin steaks, about 1 inch thick and 3/4 pounds each, frozen for 40 minutes and sliced thinly on the diagonal (see photo above)
  • When steaks are sliced, pound them on both sides until thin
  • Place beef slices in a shallow dish and cover with marinade. Cover dish and marinate for anywhere from 4 to 12 hours.
Prepare the Veggies:
  • 8 asparagus spears, julienned
  • 8 scallions, whites and greens, julienned
  • 8 small sweet peppers, julienned
  • 10 baby carrots, julienned

Quantities are approximate and attributed to what I actually had on hand when recording it for this post. Obviously, if you’re using regular bell peppers, it will only take 1 or 2, the same with regular size carrots. For the record, I also added some fresh pea tendrils to some of this batch, but hey…I like to play with my food.

To Make the rolls:
  • Meat
  • Veggies
  • Toothpicks
  • 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced

Remove the beef slices from the marinade and blot well well with paper towels. Set aside.

In a heavy pan or grill pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and some minced garlic over medium-high heat. Add julienned vegetables, keeping them in groups, until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. I prefer my peppers and carrots cooked a minute or so longer and my onions cooked about a minute less…adjust to your preference. Set aside.

Place a few pieces of each veggie on the end of a slice of beef and roll, securing with a toothpick. Repeat with remaining beef slices and vegetables. Now we’re going to cook our rolls.

Heat another tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat and saute 1/2 batch of rolls for about 2 minutes on each side. Repeat with 2nd batch. Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds and sliced scallions.

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This made about 35 rolls for me, There are so many veggies that will work in these – you should use whatever you have on hand and truly love. Broccoli or broccolini, mushrooms (especially shiitake or enoki), baby leeks, kohlrabi, cabbage, greens, and even eggplant will all work. Think of the veggies you love and put them to work here. Fresh cilantro or parsley…Yes! Add them. Greens, such as kale, pea tendrils or arugula (my favorite!) – please add them.

I’d love to hear your variations on these – I’ve had a lot of fun playing with different variations.

Do you play with your food? I hope so. Enjoy!

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

hot cherry peppers stuffed with prosciutto and provolone

In case you didn’t know it, I’m huge on Pinterest! Okay, well, my Pickled Hot Cherry Peppers recipe is huge, anyway. One of the things I miss most about living in Connecticut is being able to find both fresh and pickled cherry peppers at the store. Stuffing pickled cherry peppers with provolone and prosciutto is popular out east, but the ones I’ve come across here in Northern Illinois are all made with raw peppers, which is not very appetizing at all.

Not being able to find these beauties forced me to start growing, pickling and stuffing them myself. This isn’t really a bad thing, as it’s made me pretty damn popular at the holidays. It may sound like an odd combination but trust me that they’re delicious.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to buy  cherry peppers at your local store or market, I have just the appetizer for you! The pickling part is super easy, even when canning and processing them to put up. All you need is fresh cherry peppers white vinegar and water.how to can hot cherry peppers lola rugula

Pickling the peppers:

You don’t have to can these, though. You can pickle them and put them in the fridge, as long as you have the space. When I don’t process these for preserving, I call it “quick pickling”.

Prepare the peppers by washing them and cutting the stems off. Using the tip of a sharp knife, make a small slice into the pepper at the top of it, around the stem area. I like to do this to assure the hot juice is released from inside the peppers. Now you’re ready to pickle them.

  • 6 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 1/2 pounds hot cherry peppers (red or green both work!) washed. Using a sharp knife tip, make a small slit in the top (stem end) of each pepper

In al large saucepan, bring the vinegar and water to a boil. Add peppers, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool and transfer peppers to a glass jar or container and then cover completely with vinegar/water brine. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Here’s an extreme stuffed red cherry pepper close-up shot:

lola-rugula-hot-cherry-peppers-stuffed-with-provolone-and-prosciutto-recipe

Stuffing the peppers:

Be sure to reserve the pickling juice for storing and serving. To prepare the peppers for stuffing, use a sharp knife to cut the top off of the peppers. Then, using a small spoon, scoop out the seeds and discard them.

For the stuffing, take a chunk of provolone and cut it into cubes  The actual size of the cubes may need to vary, depending on the size of the peppers. Cut strips of prosciutto in half lengthwise, Wrap a cube of provolone with a piece of prosciutto and stuff the wrapped cube into a hollowed-out pepper. Set the stuffed pepper into a shallow dish and repeat until all of the peppers you have are stuffed.

Using the reserved pickling juice, fill the dish of peppers until the level is about half way up the peppers. Cover dish and refrigerate until ready to serve, preferably within a few hours.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing these, you’re missing out. It may sound like a strange combination  but the heat of the peppers, the tang of the vinegar, the smooth creaminess of the provolone and the salty earthiness of the prosciutto is a fabulous collaboration. I typically make these at the holidays and for get-togethers and they are always, always the first thing to disappear.

Enjoy!

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

fried green tomatoes with fresh tomato salsa

Summer is barely past us and I”m already thinking about what veggies and flowers I want to grow next year! It’s part of my winter ritual to browse online and through catalogs, finding something new and different to grow. I love growing stuff. And eating stuff.

A big part of being a great cook and eating well is knowing how to create a myriad of dishes using fresh fruits and vegetables. Grow or shop fresh, learn to cook and prepare veggies to perfection and celebrate the beauty of the bounty from the earth. Challenge yourself to work with the real thing and not the store-bought version.

lola-rugula-how-to-make-fried-green-tomatoes-recipe

For me, one of the highlights of my late-summer harvest is tomatoes. In case you missed my recent post on fresh tomato sauce, I love creating an amazing and delicious pasta sauce with the best tomatoes of the season. It’s packed full of garlic, shallots and herbs and it freezes perfectly, for you to enjoy many months into the snowy weather.

Another highlight of the end-of-tomato season is this:

lola-rugula-fried-green-tomatoes-recipe

fried green tomatoes with fresh tomato salsa

Fresh tomato salsa
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/2 jalapeno, diced
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 lime, for juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and stir. Set aside until ready to serve.

Fried green tomatoes:
  • 5 medium green tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (your choice, I like whole wheat)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3/4 cup sunflower or olive oil (these are moderate heat oils because I don’t high-heat fry my fried green tomatoes)

Slice tomatoes into 3/4 inch slices, discarding (please compost!) tops.

Arrange your breading station: Place 1 cup of the flour on a plate. Beat 2 large eggs in a shallow bowl or dish. Place remaining 1/2 cup of flour and all of cornmeal on another plate and stir to combine.

Dredge a slice of tomato in flour, coating both sides and shaking off any excess. Dip floured slice in beaten egg, flipping and swishing until coated, letting excess drip off. Finally, dip slice into cornmeal/flour mix and coat well on both sides. Place battered slice on a platter and repeat with remaining slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

lola-rugula-fried-green-tomatoes-recipe

Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. (My big cast iron skillet works perfectly for these). Oil should be hot but not too hot – a pinch of the flour mixture dropped in should sizzle but not immediately sputter and smoke.

Working in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan, place slices, salt and pepper side down, in oil, leaving space in between them. Salt and pepper the tops and fry for about 5-7 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown. Flip tomato slices and fry on the other side for another 5-7 minutes, again until golden brown. Transfer to a warm plate lined with paper towels. Repeat until all slices are cooked.

Serve fried green tomatoes topped with the fresh salsa.

As a meal, serves 2 with fresh greens, such as arugula (my favorite!) or mesclun. Serves 4 as a side.

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This recipe is a true celebration of the end-of-season harvest; the burst of tart green tomatoes topped with red, ripe tomatoes. The lime juice and fresh cilantro in the salsa contrast the crunchy fried tomatoes perfectly.

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I love cooking with fresh ingredients and love is a wonderful thing.

Celebrate fresh, in-season ingredients while you have them and experiment with different flavors as much as you can. Remember to never be afraid to play with your food.