Mr. RC and I always seem to be short on time, but we love cooking together so much that we don’t always want to eat out. Our solution has been creating themed appetizer plates, with mostly ready-made options for ease, but enough homemade parts to still get a little cooking time together. We’ve been doing these for quite some time now and have developed an array of themed app-dinners (as I like to call them) so I thought it would be fun to share them with you over the next several months. First up, our favorite Greek/Mediterranean themed app-dinner. We probably eat this at least once every couple weeks during the summer. The lighter fare and refreshing elements make it especially perfect for warm summer nights. Here’s what we like to include in our Greek appetizer spread:
Greek Yogurt Dip (homemade, recipe below)
Tahini Dip (store bought)
Stuffed Grape Leaves (we want to try making these but for now they are store bought…the canned ones sold at Trader Joe’s are really good)
Pita Pieces or Pita Chips (store bought; homemade recipe here)
Falafel (homemade; Trader Joe’s sells a good one too)
Olives (Trader Joe’s Greek Olive Mix or Fairway’s olive bar)
Feta and/or haloumi cheese
Cherry Tomatoes and Cucumber
Roasted Red Pepper & Eggplant Dip (Trader Joe’s) or Roasted Veggie Dip (recipe here)
To make this into a bigger, slightly more complicated meal we’ll serve these appetizers alongside a Greek Salad or Spanakopita.
Last week I sent Mr. RC I text that read something like ” I can’t decide between a betty, a crisp, a crumble, a buckle, or a cobbler!”. He, of course, had no idea what I was talking about. And to be honest, I’m not so sure I had much of an idea either. I had made things with crumb toppings or biscuit topping before, but I never really knew the exact definitions of each. I just knew I wanted fruit with some kind of crunchy topping. I stumbled upon this article which helped me clarify the difference between a ‘betty’ and a ‘buckle’ and everything in between and ultimately decided biscuit topping was just what I was looking for (because then it totally counts as a breakfast food, too!). So on the one 90 degree day we’ve had all summer I got to work baking up this blueberry peach cobbler (because ovens, cast iron skillets and 90 degree days make total sense together). I think I sweated out every liquid ounce in my body, but that just meant I could justify eating half the pan of blueberry peach cobbler, obviously with lots of vanilla ice cream to cool me down!
Did you know the difference between all the different fruit desserts? If so, which is your favorite? Mine are definitely the cobbler and crumble!
Blueberry Peach Cobbler with Lime, Lavender, Cornmeal Biscuit Topping
A fresh summer fruit cobbler with crunchy biscuit topping, perfect for dessert or morning-after breakfast
5 tblsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1/3 cup plain greek yogurt
2 tablespoons of heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon of dried lavender
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
For the filling: Cut the peaches in half and remove the pits. Then cut each half into 4 slices. Spread the the peach slices evenly across the bottom of a 10-12 inch cast iron skillet.
Sprinkle on the blueberries, then the cornstarch, sugar, lime juice and salt. Gently toss to coat the fruit. Let stand for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, bake the fruit until it begins to bubble around the edges, about 10 minutes.
For the biscuit topping: While the fruit is baking, in a food processor pulse the flour, cornmeal, lime zest, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lavender for a few seconds. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal (should need about ten 1-second pulses). Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl; add the yogurt and mix with a rubber spatula until a dough forms. (Don’t over mix the dough, or the biscuits will be tough).
To assemble the cobbler: After the fruit has baked for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and spoon on small mounds of the biscuit dough, spacing the mounds about 1/2 inch apart (they should not touch). I had a total of 9 biscuit mounds on my cobbler.
Bake until the biscuits are golden brown and the fruit is bubbling, about 16 to 18 minutes. Cool slightly before serving with ice cream or whipped cream. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days and then simply reheat a serving for 30 seconds in the microwave before eating it.
I chose not to peel the peaches to save time and effort and also because I don't mind the skins, but feel free to peel them if you choose.
You can also store this, tightly covered, on the countertop for 2 days, but the biscuits will get soggier more quickly and beware of fruit flies want to enjoy your dessert as well!
I’ve always been a fan of the popular feta watermelon salad, even before it was popular. But in true Alyssa fashion, I can never leave well-enough alone, especially after something has become too popular. So when we recently picked up a hulking watermelon (and I do mean hulking, as it did indeed look like the Hulk), I decided I had more than enough watermelon to play around with some new salad combinations. I have to say I’m pretty peachy keen (pun intended) on the peach adjustments and prosciutto additions I made to the watermelon salad and I know this healthy and refreshing salad will be regularly appearing on our summertime menu…or at least, until I get bored again!
P.S. You can find the recipe for quick pickled onions here.
Peach Watermelon Salad
A light and refreshing salad that's perfect for a hot summer day or night
1/2 a medium-sized watermelon, or about 4 cups of watermelon cubes
3 slices of prosciutto
1/4 cup pickled onions
1/4 cup feta cheese crumbles
1/4 cup grated manchego cheese
A sprig of mint, chopped
Chop the peach and watermelon into cubes and place in a large bowl. Set aside.
Chop (or free-hand shred) the prosciutto into small pieces. Toss the pieces into a frying pan over medium-heat. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the pieces turn slightly crispy, making sure to toss them a few times while they're cooking. Let the pieces cool for a few minutes, then toss them on top of the fruit.
Next, add on the pickled onions, feta cheese, and mint. Finish the salad off with a heavy drizzle of balsamic vinegar, some fresh black pepper and the manchego cheese.
This can be made ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator until serving time. Just leave the prosciutto off until you're ready to serve the salad. Please note, though, that as this salad sits, it will become juicer.
This salad pairs nicely with grilled chicken or steak and a crusty bread.
You can also toss some crusty bread cubes or farro into this salad to make it a bit heartier of a meal.
Bleu cheese can be substituted for the feta and manchego cheeses.
I chose not to add any additional salt to the recipe because of the salt from the meat, the cheeses, and the onions, but feel free to add more salt per your tastes.
Up until we went to Greece, I typically thought of Greek salad as rather blah. With bland produce and a basic dressing, about the only thing the salad had going for it was the feta cheese (give me all the feta!!). And then, in Santorini, I had the most life-changing Greek salad ever. Literally, my life will never be the same (you can see the salad here). I have visions of this salad while I eat lunch, or nightly dreams where I’m back in Santorini eating it, and to this day I can still taste the sweet, crisp vegetables, the crunchy bread, and the salty feta all topped off with the slightest hint of oregano. The vegetables alone would have been life changing. They were literally bursting with juicy flavor unlike any I had ever experienced (even homegrown) and the green pepper (which I’m normally not a fan of) tasted like candy. Now, every time we go to a Greek restaurant, I order a Greek salad, in the hopes that it will somehow magically be like the one in Santorini, and every time I’m so let down by the plate they bring out, that I just want to send the plate back. I’ve informed Mr. RC that the only remedy to this problem is to go back to Santorini so I can get my Greek salad fill (and hoard about 50 pounds of it back on the plane). He had to go and be all practical and suggested I just recreate it at home. Obviously, my idea is much better, but to tide me over I’ll go with his idea. Of course, it’s not exactly identical (the vegetables aren’t quite up to par in flavor and mine is missing scallions), but this Greek salad is still, most definitely, life changing.
A light and fresh dish based on a traditional Greek salad served in Santorini
First, make the "croutons". I like to use a cast iron skillet, but a regular skillet would work as well. Place the pan on a burner turned to medium heat. Add in some olive oil, and let it heat for a couple minutes before adding the bread. Toss the bread in the oil, and cook for a few minutes, tossing the whole time, until the bread is crispy and golden. Turn the burner off and set the pan aside.
Next, prep and cut the vegetables and cheese. The feta cheese I like to cut into thick triangles and the tomatoes I like to cut into sixths. The peppers and cucumber I cut into thin, matchstick strips that are about 3-4 inches long.
To begin assembling the salad, place a generous handful of croutons on the bottom of a large plate. Next, arrange the cucumber and pepper strips on top of the bread. Add on a few tomato slices and pieces of feta. Drizzle the entire plate with olive oil and squeeze on the juice of half a lemon. Finish the salad off with a sprinkle of oregano, salt and pepper, and garnish with parsley.
This salad is great as an appetizer, a light lunch, or as a part of a dinner meal. We love to have this with grilled chicken and a glass of red wine.
This can be prepared up to 6 hours in advance and kept in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it. Any leftovers can be refrigerator but keep in mind the bread will get soggy, so I would recommend storing the two separately if you do happen to have leftovers.
I know what you’re thinking. Prunes? Is this lady nuts? I mean, who eats prunes?! (Besides 80 year-old ladies, of course.) And that’s just what you were thinking based off the title, I’m sure. But don’t hate it til you’ve ate it (or at least until you’ve read through the entire story). You see, growing up, my Mom would make a variation of these stewed prunes and would then force us to eat it on things like yogurt and oatmeal. I was all too happy to leave stewed prunes in the past. And then just like that, the prunes stewed their way back into my life…when we were out to dinner recently what should the server recommend as their most popular dessert, but stewed prunes? Because it was topped with marscapone (and only because), I couldn’t say no (heck, if someone topped paper shreds with marscapone, I probably wouldn’t say no….I love the stuff!). Much to my surprise, it was delicious (the Mr. and I were even fighting over the last bite). So I immediately did something that only old ladies do….I went and bought prunes. And then I stewed them. And I ate them on everything. Where were these 80 year-old taste buds when I was 12?
Italian Stewed Prunes
A healthy dessert that's a little spicy and a little sweet
In a medium saucepan combine the prunes, citrus fruit, cinnamon stick, and wine. Add enough water to cover everything.
Place the pan on medium-low heat and allow to simmer, stirring every once in a while. Cook until the prunes are soft, at least 30 minutes. You can also continue cooking this for up to 2 hours (make sure to continue adding water), allowing the prunes to become even softer.
Serve warm, topped with mascarpone. Refrigerate the leftovers in an airtight container for up to a month.
Because I prefer this to be as healthy as possible, I don't add any sugar. However, feel free to add some to suit your tastebuds.
This can easily be reheated in the microwave and it tastes great in yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, on ice-cream, with whipped cream, in pudding, on toast/pancakes/waffles and even on pavlova.