CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Broccoli Pasta Salad

Salads are for summertime — especially if you have a garden. There’s nothing like a bunch of fresh veggies from the garden — all tossed together in a bowl and seasoned with a homemade vinaigrette — to start off a meal.

With a nice crop of lettuce and kale in our garden, we’ve been enjoying fresh salads for going on three months now. And with the tomatoes just starting to ripen, the salads are only going to get better.

But there is more to salads than the greens. Take, for example, the following broccoli salad recipe, which has many variations, and is a favorite of ours in the summer.

We usually have three or four broccoli plants in the garden, which keep on producing right up until freeze-up. This summer, however, baby bunnies raised havoc with the plants, and we have only two out of four remaining, and they have been stunted by the “Wascally Wabbits,” as cartoon character Elmer Fudd used to call Bugs Bunny and his ilk.

The hasn’t stopped Therese from making the broccoli salad, though. I just finished the last of her most recent batch, all the while wishing there was more.

I guess I’ll have to settle for more garden green salads instead.

Broccoli Pasta Salad
2 cups broccoli, broken into bite-size pieces
4 ounces feta cheese
2 cups uncooked rotini pasta
½ cup black olives, chopped
1 7½-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
1 16-ounce bottle Italian dressing (can use fat-free)
Cook pasta according to package directions. Cool. Mix in large bowl with remaining ingredients. Refrigerate overnight.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — 3-Minute Swiss Chard

Just about everyone has heard or read about the health benefits of green, leafy vegetables such as kale. It’s true, there is plenty of evidence that eating kale, which has high levels of folate and more calcium — gram for gram, than milk — is beneficial to your health.

But kale isn’t the only healthy green around. Another that should be at the top of your shopping list when perusing the produce section of your local supermarket is Swiss chard.

Swiss chard is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin C, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, vitamin E and iron. It also is a very good source of dietary fiber, choline, vitamin B2, calcium, vitamin B6, phosphorus and protein. Additionally, Swiss chard is a good source of pantothenic acid, zinc, vitamin B1, vitamin B3, folate and selenium

But perhaps Swiss chard’s biggest nutritional benefit is that it is loaded with phytochemicals and antioxidants, including anthocyanin — an anti-inflammatory compound that has been shown to offer protection from type 2 diabetes.

I’ve been growing Swiss chard — which belongs to the same family as beets and spinach and shares a similar taste profile — in my garden for several years. With a flavor that is bitter, pungent and slightly salty, it’s probably more suitable in salads in the mind of many. But cooked chard is another option.

That’s what I did with my first picking from the garden, complementing it with some Swiss cheese, garlic and olives. The dish, ready in less than five minutes, was phenomenal.

The chard was cooked in boiling water for just three minutes and then mixed in a bowl with the cheese, olives and garlic along with salt, pepper, olive oil, soy sauce and lemon juice. Cooking the chard in boiling water helps reduce the vegetable’s concentration of oxalic acid.

Swiss chard is available year-round. Its peak season runs from June through August, when it is at its best and in the greatest abundance at supermarkets.

When buying, choose chard that is held in a chilled display, since this will help to ensure that it has a crunchier texture and sweeter taste. Look for leaves that are vivid green in color and that do not display any browning or yellowing. The leaves should not be wilted nor should they have tiny holes. The stalks should look crisp and be unblemished.

Do not wash Swiss chard before storing. Exposure to water encourages spoilage. Place chard in a plastic storage bag and wrap the bag tightly around the chard, squeezing out as much of the air from the bag as possible. Place in refrigerator where it will keep fresh for up to five days. If you have large batches of chard, you can blanch and freeze it.

Combined with kale, Swiss chard gives me a great one-two punch in my goal of eating healthy.

3-Minute Swiss Chard
1 pound Swiss chard
1 medium clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
6 kalamata olives
½ cup Swiss or feta cheese
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Chop garlic and let sit for 5 minutes to bring out its health-promoting benefits
Use a 3-quart pot filled with water. Make sure water is at a rapid boil before adding Swiss chard.
Cut off tough, bottom leaves of chard stems. Add the chopped leaves to the boiling water. Do not cover. Cook for 3 minutes; begin timing as soon as you drop the chard into the boiling water.
Place cooked chard in colander and press out excess water. Transfer to a serving dish and toss with the remaining ingredients while it is still hot.
Using a knife and fork, cut the chard into small pieces for better flavor.

CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Marinated Carrot Salad

Side dishes are just as important as the main course when it comes to holiday celebrations such as Thanksgiving Day dinner.

It’s always been that way in our family. From the time we used to go to my Grandma and Grandpa Menard’s in the 1950s and ’60s to our smaller get-togethers these days, side dishes have played a big role at mealtime.

Probably my favorite side for the holidays over the years has been baked oysters (recipe follows). It’s a recipe that Grandma fixed at every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. Mom carried on the tradition and passed it on to me. Nowadays, several of my cousins make the dish for the holidays, which some might consider an acquired taste.

But you certainly can count salads among the tasty sides, too, that have caught my fancy. I have my favorites, some of which haven’t crossed my palate in years — such as a seven-layer salad with bacon bits, water chestnuts and peas — to those that make an appearance at every holiday meal.

One side salad that we’ve come to like over the years is made with carrots. My late Aunt Harriet Hendrickson always used to make it, and I’ve been fixing it the past couple of years after finding the instructions when going through my Mom’s orderly recipe boxes after she died.

This Thanksgiving is no different. I just put the finishing touches on a container of the salad and placed it in the refrigerator, so the carrots can soak up the tomato soup-vinegar-sugar-vegetable oil marinade.

If you’ve never tried this salad, it is definitely something I would recommend. It may not supplant the the turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy, but it will certainly be worth your while.

Marinated Carrot Salad
2 pounds carrots, sliced and steamed (not overcooked)
1 can tomato soup
¾ cup vinegar
½ cup salad oil
1 cup sugar
1 small onion, chopped, or 6 to 8 shallots, chopped
Combine vinegar, sugar, tomato soup and oil in saucepan. Barely bring to a boil. Pour over cooked carrots and onions. Store in refrigerator overnight and serve the next day.
Note: The longer the carrots marinate the better.

Baked Oysters
1 quart raw oysters
1 cup Holland rusk crackers
1 cup of butter, softened
2 cups of saltine cracker crumbs
¼ to ½ cup half and half
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crush crackers and Holland rusk. Add butter and mix thoroughly. Spray a 9-by-9-inch cake pan with Pam or other vegetable oil. Layer the bottom of the pan with half the cracker mixture and then top with oysters. Add remaining cracker mixture. Pour oyster juice and ¼ to ½ cup of half and half over ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 to 60 minutes.