Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Butterflied leg of lamb with mint and garlic

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Mint is one of those herbs that grows like crazy. When we first moved into our house, I bought a small plant and had it in a window box on my deck along with my other herbs. At the end of the season I planted it in a patch of my yard along with the other perennial herbs. Right now it's competing with the oregano for space - the oregano tends to win since I use the mint more often (see my mojito for the reason why!) I also use mint in a number of Moroccan and Asian dishes.

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I typically grill lamb with garlic and rosemary, but I served this with the grilled vegetables with harissa dressing so I thought the mint a better flavor pairing. It's an adaptation of the recipe that appeared in the June issue of Martha Stewart Living. I trimmed the lamb of most of the fat, leaving just enough to keep it juicy. The recipe recommended pounding the meat to a relatively even thickness - this was a first for me with leg of lamb and I'll try it again for sure. I'm not sure if it was the marinade, the meat or the pounding, but this was the tenderest leg of lamb we've ever eaten. (It could also be the way my husband grilled it - perfection!)

Easy to put together and easy to prep ahead, this would make a great party dish.

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Butterflied leg of lamb with mint and garlic
adapted from Martha Stewart Living, June 2010

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small bunch fresh mint, coarsely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic crushed and peeled
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
  • 2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, butterflied
Combine oil, mint, garlic, zest, 3 tablespoons salt, and the red-pepper flakes; season with pepper.

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Pound lamb to an even 1-inch thickness. Place lamb in a baking dish, and massage marinade into meat. Refrigerate overnight or at least 4-6 hours.

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Let lamb stand at room temperature for 1 hour before grilling. Heat grill to medium-high. Brush grates with oil.  Grill lamb, flipping every 5 minutes for even cooking, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 130 degrees to 135 degrees for medium-rare, 8 to 10 minutes per side. Let stand for 10 minutes. Slice lamb across the grain. Garnish with fresh mint and lemon wedges if desired.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer grilling: Mixed vegetables with harissa dressing

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Throughout the year, we love to grill. My husband will dig paths through the snow to get to the grill during the winter so we can have lamb chops or a juicy steak. But during the summer, anything and everything goes onto the grill. It keeps the kitchen cooler and it's a fresh, simple way to prepare great meals. I have a number of grilling cookbooks that I love to flip through: Italian Grill by Mario Batali and BBQ USA and the Barbecue Bible, both by Steven Raichlen are at the top of my list.

All of my foodie magazines are full of grilling recipes at this time of year, so there's not shortage of new ideas to try. Veggies are one of my favorite things to throw on the 'cue. We grill asparagus, mushrooms, squash, peppers - you name it. We've even grilled bok choy. Usually they just get a little brush of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper before they hit the heat. But this year I've noticed some more unusual veggie recipes in some magazines. I recently clipped one from Living that is a kebab of lamb and cucumbers. I've never had a grilled cuke, but add lamb and a feta tzatziki and I'm willing to try it. Another I found was in Bon Appetit for grilled vegetables with harissa dressing. I had to try it...

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Harissa is a North Africa chili paste. I've made homemade for tagines, but on a recent trip to the Wine Library, I noticed a tube of it on the shelf. It went straight into my cart. It contains hot chili peppers and other flavors like garlic and coriander. The Bon Appetit called for harissa powder - I substituted the paste with no problems. According to BA, if you can't find the powder (or the paste), simply combine 2 teaspoons coriander, 1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chile powder, 1 teaspoon each garlic, cumin and paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon paprika. My modified version of the recipe follows...

And if it sounds like a lot of veggies for two people, it is! But the leftovers were delish too. I also made a grilled veggie sandwich with some hummus. Yum!

Grilled vegetables with harissa dressing 
adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2010 issue

1 red pepper, cut into 4 or 6 strips
2 zucchini, halved lengthwise, then halved crosswise
1 yellow squash, halved lengthwise, then halved crosswise
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
3 Tbsp. plus 1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2-3 tsp. harissa paste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

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Arrange the vegetables on a large platter or baking sheet. Drizzle with the 3 Tbsp. olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.

Grill on medium direct heat to desired doneness - typically just a couple minutes per side. Remove to a platter.

Whisk together the remaining oil, harissa and lemon juice. Pour some of the vinaigrette over the warm veggies and sprinkle with the chopped cilantro. Add extra vinaigrette as desired.

Note: for a spicier vinaigrette, add more harissa.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Turkey and artichoke stuffed shells

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I first tried this recipe from Giada DeLaurentiis's Everyday pasta a couple of years ago and it makes a reappearance in my kitchen once or twice a year. It's a great use of ground turkey and the recipe makes a ton especially for my two-person household. If you're like me, make it in 3 smaller baking dishes, putting about 12-16 shells in each dish. Or if you have a big family or expect a crowd, go for one big dish. This go-round, we ate one dish immediately, one went straight into the freezer for future use and the third went to mom and dad.

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I use Giada's Arrabiata recipe (follows) because I like the little kick from the red pepper and the extra meatiness of the pancetta, but feel free to use regular marinara too. Don't skip the fresh basil - it adds a ton of flavor to the dish. Add a side salad and you've got a perfect dinner.

This happens to be my stuffed shell recipe of choice. My mom makes great shells that are filled with cheese only. Leave a comment with your favorite filling - I'll give those a try next time instead of turkey and artichoke.

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Turkey and artichoke stuffed shells

1 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1/4 teaspoon
1 (8 to 10-ounce) package frozen artichokes, thawed and coarsely chopped
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
5 cups Arrabbiata Sauce, recipe follows
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella (about 5 ounces)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and partially cook until tender but still very firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain pasta.

Meanwhile, in a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and the garlic and cook until the onions are soft and starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the ground turkey, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is slightly golden and cooked through. Add the artichoke hearts and stir to combine. Remove from heat and let cool.

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In a large bowl combine the cooled turkey mixture with the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, eggs, basil, parsley, and the remaining salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

To stuff the shells, cover the bottom of a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking dish with 1 cup of Arrabbiata sauce. Take a shell in the palm of your hand and stuff it with a large spoonful of turkey mixture, about 2 tablespoons. Place the stuffed shell in the baking dish. Continue filling the shells until the baking dish is full. Drizzle the remaining Arrabbiata Sauce over the shells, top with the grated mozzarella. If freezing, cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 1 day and up to 1 month.

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To bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake until the shells are warmed through and the cheese is beginning to brown, about 60 minutes (20 minutes if shells are unfrozen.)

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Arrabbiata Sauce

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces sliced pancetta, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 cups jarred or fresh marinara sauce

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until tender, about 1 minute. Add the marinara sauce and red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and let cool until ready to use.

Yield: approximately 6 cups

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The perfect mojito: perfect for father's day

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With Father's Day a couple days off, I'm sure everyone's planning menus and getting the grills ready. We've got it a bit easier - my sister's hosting Father's Day this year, so I'm just bringing an appetizer. (Of course I still have no idea what I'm bringing, but the night is still young.) This weekend is also my Dad's birthday so there's plenty to celebrate. The weatherman is call for 90 degree heat so while the grill is getting hot, cool off with a refreshing mojito.

Mojitos are my favorite summer cocktail - I love the combination of lime and mint. When we bought our house 4 years ago, I planted mint just so I could make my own. I've experimented with the recipe over the years and I think I've got it right (I'll keep sampling to make sure!)

Before I get to the recipe, I have to say I'm more than a little annoyed this evening. It's gorgeous out so I went out to have dinner on the deck. My husband's not home so I took the latest issue of Bon Appetit for company. I was reading the BA Foodist column and a restaurant owner from California wrote in asking whether Yelp and sites like it might be the future of restaurant reviews - she was concerned she'd have to spend her time responding to a bunch of "semi-literate nincompoops". Really?! I use Yelp from time to time, I love Zagat and I also use the boards on Chowhound. So I really don't appreciate some restaurant owner in California calling me and those like me a semi-literate nincompoops.

I know many of my followers and tons of food bloggers and blog readers are actively engaging on the web today. I'm not pretending to outweigh a New York Times critic's review, but the name-calling is a bit much. I'm glad I don't live near that woman or her restaurant (North Shore Cafe in Fawnskin, by the way). Perhaps she should be reminded that we semi-literate nincompoops are her customers (or could've been!) And by the way, there are more of us than there are NYT restaurant critics. So perhaps using a public forum like Bon Appetit to call us names isn't the best idea. I doubt most of us are semi-literate - I happen to have a very good education and 10 years' experience in communications - and I know there are many wiser than me out there.

 Tastes, as Andrew Knowlton puts it, are subjective.  But all of us, literate or not, nincompoop or not, are ALL customers and should be treated as such. Anyway, I'm done ranting. Time for a mojito.

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The perfect mojito

2 large sprigs fresh mint
1/2 lime
1 shot of white rum
2 tsp. white sugar
Club soda or seltzer

Tear the mint leaves into the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Squeeze the juice of the lime on top of it, the cut the lime into 4 pieces and add to the shaker. Sprinkle the sugar over the mint and lime.

Use a muddler to smash the mint leaves and lime together with the juice and sugar (the handle of a wooden spoon will work too if you don't have a muddler). Add the rum and stir.

Pour the entire mixture into a highball glass filled with ice. Pour soda over the top and give it a stir so some of the mint and limes move down in the glass.

Garnish with a sprig of mint.

This makes 1, but can easily be multiplied.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The ultimate steak sandwich

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I have a love/hate relationship with leftovers. On one hand, they mean a night off from cooking, but on the other, they mean I have to have the same thing twice in one week. So often I try to make dishes where the leftovers can be given a makeover. This sandwich is a perfect example.

On Saturday night, I made surf and turf for dinner. We grilled one shell steak and steamed one lobster. I served them with a simple pasta with fresh tomato basil sauce. We had some of each leftover. Finding myself home alone tonight, I decided to use up the steak. I'd bought a nice crusty roll that I hadn't used so that and the steak inspired my ultimate steak sandwich.

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In my opinion, sandwiches are rarely memorable and are typically unworthy of the title ultimate. But some sandwiches make the grade. Of note are the Chicken Madness from Wisemiller's in Georgetown, the fish sandwich from Linda Jean's on Martha's Vineyard, and the first muffaletta I ever ate in New Orleans. That's about it. I add this one to the list because it was just too good not to. The steak had been cooked medium rare so it stayed tender and juicy - go ahead and use leftover steak or make fresh for these sandwiches. The other thing that made it good was the ingredients - I fire roasted my red peppers and I used Divina Organic olive tapenade (I found it at Whole Foods). I also love the store-brand olive tapenade from Trader Joe's, but use your favorite.

Have other ultimate sandwiches? Leave a comment and let me know! I'm always looking for new ideas for lunch and quick suppers! I only made one, but the recipe can easily be multiplied for two or even a crowd.

Oh - and I cannot neglect my accompaniment. I was overjoyed that the local Scotch Plains Farmer's Market opened so I went a got some fresh veggies and a few other things from my favorite vendors. At the top of the list are the half sours from Pickle-licious (I simply love pickles!). Find them at farmer's markets throughout New Jersey or check out their website to find them near you.

The Ultimate Steak Sandwich

1 crusty Italian bun
A little butter
Garlic powder
4-6 oz. cooked steak
A few slices of fire-roasted red pepper
3 slices provolone cheese (or more, who's counting?)
3 tsp. black olive tapenade
Baby arugula

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First, slice the roll lengthwise and spread a little butter on each side. Sprinkle with garlic powder and brown in a toaster oven until just golden.

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Remove the bread from the toaster oven and layer the steak and peppers on one side and the cheese on the other. Put it back in the oven until the cheese melts.

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Remove from the oven and spread the tapenade on the cheese. Pile the arugula on top of the steak and peppers then put the sandwich together and dig in!

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Braised calamari stuffed with shrimp and spinach

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It's hard to recall life before DVRs. I don't really watch much TV, but most of the shows I do watch are on thru the day - no, not soaps. I'm talking about cooking shows, of course. Most air thru the day so I have our DVR set to record my favorites: Giada at Home, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, Jamie at Home, occasionally Tyler's Ultimate... the list goes on. Add to that the competitive cooking shows - currently I'm watching the Next Food Network Star and I know the season finale of Top Chef Masters is awaiting me. All of this usually leads to a back-up of food shows on the DVR. Add that to my husband's motocross events, news shows, and concerts, and our DVR tends to be pretty full. But it's so much better than sitting through all those commercials.

After dinner I usually head upstairs to watch one of my shows while he heads downstairs to play guitar. Since I can fast forward through commericals (and recipes I don't like), it takes no more then 20 minutes to watch most shows. I do get a lot of ideas from them - not only for recipes, but also techniques. One show I've tried many recipes from is Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. Our all-time favorite from the show is Anne Burrell's Eggs Flamenco, but I've tried many others. I saw her make this calamari and decided I must try it. I knew I could get whole calamari at Whole Foods and the other ingredients are all standard in my kitchen.

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It comes together pretty quickly. If you're having company, you can stuff the rolls and prep the sauce ahead, then just pop the rolls into the sauce about 30 minutes before you want to serve dinner. Anne's original recipe calls for pulsing the shrimp in a food processor but I left mine chunky because we prefer more bite. I have to say, this was very tasty but texturally it wasn't our favorite. The filling, even with the chunks of shrimp, was very soft - if I made it again, I'd probably try to use more shrimp and less breadcrumb and egg. But give it a try - you might love the texture - and cooking the rolls in the sauce lends a delicious taste.
Braised Calamari Stuffed with Shrimp and Spinach
recipe adapted from Secrets of a Restaurant Chef with Anne Burrell

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For the calamari:
  • 11 clean medium calamari tubes, about 5 to 6 inches long
  • 1/2 pound peeled, deveined medium shrimp, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped baby spinach
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/2 bunch fresh oregano, leaves chopped
  • 2 pinches crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt
For the sauce:
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 small onions, finely diced
  • Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes
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Directions

To make the calamari:
Roughly chop 3 of the calamari tubes and add to a large bowl with the coarsely chopped shrimp and garlic. Add the spinach, eggs, bread crumbs, cheese, herbs, and pinch of crushed red pepper. Season with salt and stir to combine. The mixture should be a little chunky but moist and holding together. Optional: Test the seasoning of the mix by making a mini patty, cooking it in a small pan and eating it. It should taste really good! If it doesn't it is probably missing salt. Add more salt, to taste. Divide the stuffing among the 8 remaining calamari bodies and secure closed with toothpicks.

To make the sauce:

Coat a large, wide skillet or saucepan with olive oil and add the onions and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Season with salt and put the saucepan over medium heat. Saute the onions until they are soft and aromatic, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes until fragrant. Stir in the wine and cook until the wine has reduced by half. Pass the tomatoes through a food mill or puree them in a food processor and add them and 1 cup of water to the pan. Season with salt, to taste, and simmer the sauce for 15 minutes.

Add the calamari to the pan and cook for 20 to 25 minutes turning them over halfway through the cooking time. Remove the calamari from the pan and remove the toothpicks. Reduce the sauce to thicken, if needed. Arrange the calamari on a serving platter and cover with the sauce before serving.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mango smoothie, or how the 69¢ mango became a million bucks

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Before I get to the miracle mango, a few thoughts... Right now, things are winding down after a few particularly busy weeks. We have an appointment tonight, but then the calm sets in, or at least should. Yesterday, we drove to Albany and back for a funeral and when we got home, we were both drained (leftovers for dinner). A little before 8, we sat down on the couch to watch TV and found nothing on, so we decided to watch Food, Inc. from our Netflix online queue.

Food, Inc., is a documentary I'd recommend, but not to the faint of heart. It's a very interesting view of the food industry in America, some of it a bit horrifying. As the film ended, we both questioned our own eating habits. Fortunately we're in far better shape than many others - we cook at home, using fresh ingredients. I eagerly await the summer farmer's market in town to get local produce. But one switch I haven't made is the switch from regular to organic meat. Food, Inc. helped me see just why the switch might be a good one, but even for a middle class couple like us, the price tags are pretty steep. But after watching the film, it's something I'll certainly be investigating further.

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I'm sure lots of other foodies have seen the film, so curious what your thoughts are. Have you made the switch? Have you chosen selected organic products to use? Why? Please share your thoughts - I'd love to know.

Back to the mango... My local farm market had fresh mangoes on special for 69 cents so I grabbed a beauty and headed home. I love mango flavor but I've never been a big fan of the fruit on it's own. I decided a hot summer day called for a nice cool smoothie. It was cold, thick and just what the doctor ordered as temps rose into the 90s. One thing I love about smoothies (aside from the freakish power I feel as the blender does its thing) is their adaptability. They're a great way to use extra fruit and there are millions of possible combinations. I've got a pineapple in the fridge that's probably headed the same direction.

Bottom line, this one was delish! My inexpensive little mango became a late morning treat that tasted like a million bucks. Give it a try, or substitute your favorite fruit.

Mango Smoothie

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1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and cubed, preferably cold
About 8-12 ice cubes (mine are small so I used 12)
juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup non-fat vanilla or plain yogurt
Slice of lime and a strawberry to garnish (optional)

Place the ice cubes, mango, lime juice and yogurt in a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into a tall chilled glass and garnish with lime and strawberry. Serve immediately.

Make 1 large or 2 small smoothies.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A whole new potato salad: Bacon, goat cheese, tomato, arugula and potato salad

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Memorial Day has come and gone. Ours wasn't too eventful - we had a great dinner out with the family on Friday, but the rest of the weekend was pretty lowkey. Long weekends are always a welcome change - I always try some new recipes and even found a ltitle time for a much needed manicure and pedicure. Our dinner last night changed from my original plan - I was going to pick up lobsters because they were on sale but we'd had our fill of seafood of late, so we put two t-bones on the grill. The day was pretty hot so I wanted side dishes that weren't too much fuss. I settled on corn on the cob - surprisingly good for this time of year - and a potato salad that might just be the most memorable thing about our quiet Monday at home.

A couple of years ago, my mom gave me a cookbook that she'd found on Martha's Vineyard. It's called Raising the Salad Bar by Catherine Walthers. I remember opening it and thinking, "Salads? Boring." My opinion has changed as I've tested more recipes from this book. They're packed with flavor and combine common salad ingredients in new and unusual ways. There's a whole section on potato salads - the chapter title is "Not Your Mother's Potato Salad." My mom happens to make great potato salad, but it's the traditional kind with mayo, so the ones in the book are definitely a departure from that. I opted to try the Potato Salad with Arugula, Tomatoes, Bacon and Goat Cheese. Why? Because the name of the recipe combines my favorite things and a quick scan of the ingredients revealed more tasty delights: kalamata olives and balsamic vinegar.

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This is a recipe I'll make again. Boiling the potatoes is about the hardest part. Once that's done, just toss in everything else and you're good to go. And the flavors go great with steak. (And hopefully with chicken because we'll be having the leftovers on Wednesday with some grilled chicken.). I cut the recipe in half since there are only two of us. But it could also be multiplied for a crowd. Boil the potatoes and cook the bacon in the morning before the summer heat kicks in and the rest is a cool and easy assembly of ingredients.

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Potato Salad with Arugula, Tomatoes, Bacon and Goat Cheese
adapted from Raising the Salad Bar by Catherine Walthers

2 pounds new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
6 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2/3 cup kalamata olives, halved
1 1/2 cups baby arugula coarsely chopped
4 ounces goat cheese
2 Tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
4 Tbsp. Extra Virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

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Boil the potatoes in a large pot of salted water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and run under cold water. When cool enough to touch, cut into bite-sized pieces.

Cook the bacon and drain well on paper towels.

Whisk the vinegar and oil together in a small bowl.

When ready to serve, add the tomatoes, arugula, and olives to the potatoes then drizzle with the dressing. Toss to coat and add salt and pepper to taste. Put the goat cheese in the freezer for 5 minutes then use a fork to crumble it over the top of the salad. Sprinkle the bacon over the top and serve.
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