What would summer be like without a million family gatherings, parks, pools, friends – and, of course, food! With all the excitement of summer, food is a must. Often the labor of love is shared between the hosts and their generous guests. Salads seem to be very popular for good reason: They are quick, easy, and fresh.

Photo © Jason Lugo

Mixed Greens with Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 cup strawberries, halved
2 cups strawberries, quartered for atop salad
4 cups mixed baby greens
7 ounce package crumbled feta cheese
½ cup slivered almonds, toasted
½ cup canola oil
3 tablespoons reduced balsamic vinegar
TT salt and pepper

Using a food processor add strawberries and pulse a few times to blend. Add balsamic, salt and pepper. Slowly add canola oil, making an emulsion. Place remaining strawberries in large bowl. Add greens, cheese, and nuts. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Reduced Balsamic:

Some of the most-asked questions I get in cooking classes are, “How do I pick a good balsamic? Where is the best place to buy it?” The answer to the first question is to look for a balsamic that has been aged in oak barrels for a long period of time. The best place to buy is a specialty shop because that will ensure the best quality. This technique is really fast and makes a big difference in your end product. All you have to do is place the balsamic in a pan and reduce on medium heat until it has reduced by half.

Toasting Nuts:

This is a great way to enhance the flavor of nuts. Place them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until browned. This will bring out all the oils in the nuts, which in turn brings out the flavor.

Photo © Jason Lugo

Mediterranean Beef Salad with Sweet Balsamic

6 medallions
Season with herbs de Provence, salt and pepper
2 roasted red peppers
½ cup caramelized onion
6 cups mixed green
1 cup balsamic reduced to ½ cup
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 ounces goat cheese
1 tablespoon thyme, chopped

Season steaks with herbs and salt and pepper, place on hot grill and cook until done to your liking. Set steak aside and let cool. On a large platter place mixed greens on bottom and top with onions, red peppers, salt and pepper. On a small plate place thyme leaves, salt and pepper, and roll goat cheese over herbs and then slice into 1-inch rounds to place on salad. In mixer combine garlic, balsamic, mustard, and salt and pepper. Pulse a few times until well combined then slowly add olive oil to make emulsion. Add balsamic dressing to your salad.

Caramelized Onions:

These are so amazing! In this cooking process, the sugars are released and the onion takes on a whole new flavor. Using a large stainless steel sauté pan (stainless steel makes the color better and allows the onion to carmelize faster than using a non-stick surface) over medium heat, add a small amount of olive oil, let it heat up, and then add thinly sliced onions to the pan and sauté. This will take about 15 minutes or longer depending on how dark you want them. They are the very best when they are a really dark shade of brown. It will take a little time and patience but I promise it will be worth it. These also keep well in the refrigerator.

Roasted Pepper:

Roasting peppers is a great way to change its flavor and texture. It’s easy and it’s kind of fun to burn something on purpose. First, take the pepper and rub it with a small amount of oil and place on the grill. Let the pepper sit long enough for it to burn and then roll it until all sides have been charred. When the pepper is completely charred, place in a plastic bag and seal. This allows the steam to get under the skin, making it easy to peel. When the pepper has cooled, take it out of the bag and remove the skin. These will stay good in the refrigerator for about a week.