salad.chopped.lascala.jpgGrowing up, eating the perfect chopped salad could only be found at La Scala in Beverly Hills.  I would crave this salad and when I worked as a talent manager in the 80′s, one could find me at lunch time, sitting in one of their big red leather booths, at least once a week.  Other than The Palm, The Grill, Hugos (for breakfast), La Scala was my drug of choice!

It truly is one of the simpliest salads; finely chopped iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced julienne salami, thinly sliced provolone cheese, garbonzos, and one kalamata olive.  If you choose, you could add in sliced turkey, grilled chicken, tomatoes, or basil.  Dressing on the side of course (perfect for dipping their freshly baked bread).  Their salad dressing is distinct, like no other.

When a friend of mine visited from New York, I took her there for that salad.  She put me on a mission to recreate the dressing.  I tried and tried.

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tabbouleh.jpg Summer is nearly here. For many Memorial Day weekend marked the beginning of summer with barbecues and backyard parties. And with the hot weather that we on the East coast are already having, it's easy to start entertaining like it's summer. I found myself pulling out the grill for the first time yesterday, and it couldn't have happened any sooner. My oven will be on hiatus for the next few months. Right now with the availability of fresh spring salad greens and herbs in farmers' markets, I find myself creating recipes that require little or no cooking. I'm taking every opportunity to use garden-fresh produce, especially herbs.

One in particular is my favorite as well as the most utilized herb of many cuisines. Parsley, what would Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking be without it? You might only know parsley as a sprig of green that garnishes food. But one of the best uses for parsley as a main ingredient is the popular Lebanese dish of tabbouleh. Served in many Mediterranean restaurants and even supermarket salad bars, it's no stranger to American palates. It's a refreshing salad typically served alongside Middle Eastern appetizers called mezze. It can also be very versatile, making a great summer salad to eat with grilled meats.

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redcurrants.jpg Red currants, the beautiful ruby red berries pictured above, make the perfect tart jelly. Growing in grape-like clusters on small bushes, the fruit has become a rarity in the United States. Mistakenly thought to promote a tree disease, currant bushes across the country were systematically uprooted in the early 1900s, and production was prohibited for many years.

Currants are high in vitamin C and taste tart but pleasant when eaten. Commonly red and black currants are made into jellies. In fact black currant jelly or jam is very popular in England. I remember that while studying abroad in London, no matter how hard I looked, I could not find Concord grape jelly for my peanut butter sandwiches, so black currant jelly became my unusual but greatly liked substitute. Red currant jelly is practically the same color as black currant jelly, so after making this you really won’t tell the difference.

Every year we pick every last red currant berry off the small bushes in my parents’ yard and make jelly. It has been a summer tradition since I can remember. I really appreciate that we have the berries available at our fingertips.

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raspberrycakeOur local market recently had raspberries on sale -- 77 cents per half pint. I bought 8.

Since tangy fresh raspberries are highly irresistible (and perishable), Jeff and I have eaten a lot of berries over the last few days in cantaloupe boats, smoothies, berry parfaits, salads, scones, and today's raspberry sour cream cake.

This may just be the perfect summertime cake. It's delightfully quick and easy to make, and it's versatile. I know. I loved the raspberry sour cream cake so much that I made a blueberry buttermilk one too. Most of all, it's delicious.

Underneath the crunchy sugar-dusted top is a pillowy soft interior punctuated by bursts of juicy, tart raspberries. This cake needs no adornment, but a dollop of creme fraiche doesn't hurt.

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tomatopasta.jpgWith my garden laden with cherry tomatoes this year, I've tried to come up with different solutions for using them in recipes besides eating them raw as fast as they ripen. Last year I made cherry tomato salad, but even then the plants were so abundant that I fed my coworkers with tomatoes for weeks upon weeks. This year, my cherry tomatoes are the only ones that haven't been affected by the blight, which has caused havoc on farms in the Northeast. Some farmers have now resorted to burning their crops. Luckily the disease hasn't been so drastic in the small scale. This year I'm keeping all the tomatoes to myself.

For me each raw cherry tomato is a burst of powerful summer flavor, but with a bit of cooking, they are even better. One of the best ways to get the maximum flavor from vegetables is by roasting them. Roasting cherry tomatoes concentrates their flavor so that they taste almost like sun-dried tomatoes. In this recipe, I roast them with the addition of garlic, oil, red pepper flakes, and vinegar. The balsamic vinegar brings out a layer of savory sweetness while the other ingredients create a simple and very tasty sauce. There are no long hours of cooking sauce on the stove top required. Once the pasta and roasted tomatoes are combined, the addition of fresh herbs releases perfumed aromas and pungent flavors. It's truly a very satisfying and quick-to-make pasta dish.

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