Meera’s Arugula, Feta, Cherry, and Toasted Almond Salad

If you need to bring a side or a salad to a Labor Day Weekend fête, I’ve got just the one.

This salad is quick, colorful, and delicious with the added bonus that it could easily become dinner with the addition of sliced grilled chicken. The first time I had it, on the weekend of the eclipse, my good friend, and relative, Meera Ballal, brought all the ingredients over in a Trader Joe’s grocery sack. By the time the chicken was grilled, the salad was assembled and on the table. Everyone loved it!

Yield: Serves 10-12 as a side dish

Ingredients
2  7-ounce bags arugula, (have a third on standby to perk up the salad)
1  8-ounce package dried, tart Montmorency cherries
1  6-ounce package crumbled feta cheese (sometimes Meera uses 2 containers)
1  8-ounce package raw, sliced almonds
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Judy’s Chickens Every Day Salad Dressing or TJ’s Balsamic Vinaigrette
Lemony Grilled Chicken Breasts  (optional)

Mise en Place

Instructions

Put the arugula, feta and dried cherries in an extra-large mixing bowl that leaves plenty of room for tossing the ingredients together.

Next, toast the almonds in olive oil to enhance their nutty flavor. To do so, pour olive oil in a warmed medium-sized sauté pan. Add almonds and mix to coat. Sauté over medium-low heat for about two minutes. Meera told me to stir the nuts almost constantly because they go from toasted to burned, quickly. She said, with her infectious laugh, “This is not the time to multitask in the kitchen.” She was right about that. The nuts went from creamy-white to brown, to dark brown around the edges of the pan in the blink of an eye. When they start to brown, dump them immediately into a small bowl to stop the cooking process. Keep the nuts warm in a separate bowl until dinner time.

 

Just before serving, add the nuts and salad dressing. I like to use my own homemade salad dressing  @judyschickens Everyday Salad Dressing.  I sprinkle a little white balsamic vinegar over the greens for added “bite” before tossing. The greens start to collapse quickly, so don’t add dressing until you are ready to serve.

For the grilled chicken, try my chicken marinade recipe, Lemony Thyme Grilled Chicken Breasts.  The lemon and thyme in the chicken enhance the flavor of the salad.

The cost of this salad? $17.14 if you use your own salad dressing.

For a fun Labor day activity, check out Catfishing with Noodles on Lake Barkley, Kentucky!

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe. Thanks!

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Italian Sesame Seed Cookies

When a cookie can transport me back to a summer afternoon in the jalousie-windowed sunporch of my grandmother’s house, complete with a tableful of visiting Italian relatives sipping coffee, that’s a pretty powerful cookie.

Such was the case when, after many attempts, I came up with a recipe for these Italian Sesame Seed Cookies. When I finally got it right, I fixed a cup of coffee and dunked the cookie in; the ultimate taste test. The taste was just as I remembered: light, buttery, nutty, and slightly crunchy, all of it made even more flavorful by the milky coffee. I didn’t normally drink coffee as a young girl, but when the sesame seed cookies were out, my grandmother gave me a cup so I could dunk with everyone else. Heaven on Earth.

Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds come from the fruit pod of the sesame plant.

Once the pods dry, they open up and the seeds fall out. Open Sesame! I was so enamored by the process, I grew my own small crop.

When baking with sesame seeds, use hulled, untoasted seeds. I purchase them at the Indian grocery store Patel Brothers in Nashville or from the bulk dispenser at Whole Foods. You need about two cups.

   

Life for many seeds and nuts laden with oils, sesame seeds become rancid when sitting in a cupboard for a long period of time. Thus, if you are not going to finish the package soon after opening it, store it in the refrigerator or freezer. A rancid nut or seed can quickly ruin any savory or sweet dish. Often, you can tell if the seeds or nuts are rancid simply by the smell. Even without a rancid smell, I do a taste test to be sure.

Ingredients:

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1½-2 cups untoasted sesame seeds
⅔ cup milk

Mise en Place:

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350º. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream butter in a mixing bowl on medium speed for one minute. Add the sugar and cream for another minute until the batter is light and fluffy.

Add eggs and vanilla and mix one more minute, still on medium speed.

Combine baking powder, salt, and flour with a wire whisk.

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Add dry ingredients to batter. Mix on slow for 30 seconds. Do not overwork the dough.

Spread flour on countertop and fold dough over on itself about ten times.

Divide dough into four equal sections.

Roll each portion into ¾-inch thick ropes and slice those into two-inch pieces. My relatives would pull off a clump of dough and roll each cookie into a small oval log, but I like to do it this way because there is less handling of the dough.

Set-up two wide-mouthed bowls, one with milk and one with sesame seeds. Put about a cup of milk in one and 1½ cups of sesame seeds in the other. Pick up about 5 pieces of dough and put them in the milk. Then lift each piece of dough and roll it in the bowl of sesame seeds.

 

Arrange dough on parchment-lined sheet pans.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until cookies become lightly browned. Let cool for five minutes and then move cookies to a cooling rack.

Other Italian Faves:
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Rachelle’s Italian Sausage, Onions, and Peppers
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
@judyschickens Everyday Salad Dressing
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup with Little Meatballs

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© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may not be reproduced without the written consent of Judy Wright.

Crunchy Roasted Tamari Almonds

I love these salty, crunchy protein-rich almonds and the best news is they are a cinch to make. I start with a large bag of whole, unsalted almonds, toss them with tamari soy sauce, add a few shakes of cayenne pepper, and then slowly roast them in the oven.

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Tamari is a refined version of soy sauce known for its smooth and earthy taste. The primary ingredient in soy sauce is soybeans. I realize you probably know this, but have you ever wondered how soy sauce is made?

How Chinese soy sauce is made:
1. Dried soybeans are soaked and cooked in a vat of water.
2. Oven-roasted cracked wheat kernels are then mixed into the vat of cooked soybeans. Yeast is added to start a fermentation process.
3. Salt water is added, the ingredients are mixed together, and the mash is poured into a wooden barrel to ferment for a  year.
5. When sufficiently brewed, the mash is placed in a cloth sack and pressed to yield soy sauce.

Tamari, the Japanese version of soy sauce, is also made from fermented soybeans, but little or no wheat is used. Thus, tamari is typically a gluten-free product. The brown fermented mash in this version is known as miso. The high protein miso, also known as a fermented soybean paste, is pressed, as well, to yield tamari.

How are soybeans grown?
I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to write about how soybeans are grown for a long time, as they are a common sight to see along Kentucky backroads.

In mid-June, I saw a planter truck drill a hole into the ground and drop a seed between the rows of stubble left behind from the just harvested winter wheat. By this I mean, the planter truck followed directly in the tire tracks of the harvester truck; crop harvesting and new-crop planting in the same afternoon. Check out this post if you want to learn the difference between a planter, a combine, a harvester, and a grain truck.

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A soybean field in early September.

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Soybean pods up close and personal.

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Soybeans, with their golden color, are usually the last crop standing in the fall.

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As the number of daylight hours wanes, the combine and grain cart get ready for one last call of duty before the close of the year’s farming season. I’m always a little sad when the growing season is over.

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Dried soybean pods after an October harvest.

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Ingredients for  Tamari Almonds:
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3-pound bag of unsalted whole almonds
⅓ cup Tamari Soy Sauce (look in Asian section of grocery store)
2-4 shakes of cayenne pepper, depending on how much heat you like (optional)

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 200º.
Line two rimmed baking pans with parchment paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together almonds and tamari. Be sure to shake the bottle of tamari first. Add a few shakes of cayenne pepper and mix well.

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Divide coated almonds evenly between the two large and lined baking pans.

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Every 30 minutes, remove pans from oven, toss the nuts and return to oven. I rotate the pans in the oven each time I take them out. Nuts should be ready in two hours.

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They will be soft when they first come out but will crisp up as they cool down.

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Other appetizers.
“Croatian Cheese” a Flavorful and Exotic Appetizer Made with Feta and Goat Cheese
Auntie Martha’s Spicy Spinach (aka Spinach Madeleine)
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
The Classic Pimiento Cheese Sandwich

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Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Lemony Grilled Chicken Breasts

When I wake up in the morning a little panic-stricken thinking about what I’m going to prepare for a large crowd coming in for a holiday weekend, I approach the menu by considering my entrée options first. My go-to’s are grilled Premio Sweet Italian Sausage from Costco, Brooks’s Marinated Pork Tenderloin, and marinated chicken breasts.

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Next, I consider my sides, which I prepare depending on what is in season. Often, though, I delegate the sides to guests. The beauty of this approach is you get to try other people’s specialties, and that is always a fun and tasty option. Desserts are my favorite food to cook, and for a large crowd, I like to make a hotel-sized pan of the ever crowd-pleasing Pumpkin Bread Pudding only made with seasonal fruit instead of pumpkin, and either Italian Sesame Seed Cookies.

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or Ricotta and Lemon Cookies.

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I was never a fan of grilled chicken breasts until I saw my friend from Tiverton, R.I., Sheila, a master at feeding huge crowds, carry Ziploc bags full of pounded-flat marinated chicken breasts out to the grill. By pounding the breasts flat Sheila could ensure the chicken would cook quickly and evenly throughout. I’ve been pounding chicken breasts ever since.

Ingredients:

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Whole chicken breasts (for these photos, I made 24 breasts equalling 8 pounds)
@JudysChickens Everyday Salad Dressing
1-2 lemons, sliced thinly (depends on how much chicken you are preparing)
10 stems of thyme, rough chopped
a couple shakes of white balsamic vinegar, if you have it.

Instructions:

Rinse chicken breasts and trim fat.

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Pat dry with paper towels.

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Place each chicken breast in a thick bag and pound flat with the smooth side of a meat mallet.

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Marinate pounded breasts in @JudysChickens Salad Dressing along with lots of sliced lemons and sprigs of thyme. You could add a little white balsamic vinegar and Grey Poupon for even more flavor if desired. Allow to marinate for a few hours to up to two days.

Grill for no longer than ten minutes.

Favorite Flavor-Enhancers: The Acids!

My mother always kept a bottle each of white and red balsamic vinegar in the fridge. She especially loved the white. Add a few shakes of white to the marinade for an extra burst of flavor.
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Other Foods That Are Good To Serve At A Cookout
Sliced Beet Salad
String Bean Salad
Amazingly Delicious Sautéed Carrots
Marlin’s Black-Eyed Pea Salad
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
“Croatian Cheese” a Flavorful and Exotic Appetizer Made with Feta and Goat Cheese
The Classic Pimiento Cheese Sandwich

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Don’t miss a recipe! Become a follower and have every post delivered to your Inbox.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.