Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Violet! You're turning violet, Violet! (pt. 3)

Roasted Violet Figs with Sweet Mascarpone Creme, Caramel Waffle and Balsamic Fig Honey

Lately I just can't seem to help myself from nabbing a tub of mascarpone when I'm grocery shopping and see some on the shelf. I love eating it with fresh, roasted or macerated fruit. The mouthfeel of the butterfat coating my tongue puts me in a moral conundrum over whether food making you feel this good is right.

And I'm not sure if they can be found on American grocery store shelves, but I've recently discovered these awesome Dutch caramel waffles, that are essentially cookies. They are thin disks and look much like an ordinary biscuit.. Until you bite into one and discover that in addition to being crispy at the moment of tooth-impact, they are chewy – with a thin caramel center. I find the large versions of these to be perfect bases for this dessert, as they can be cut with a fork and knife.

The preparation for this dessert seems a little involved but I promise it is truly simplistic.

3 Figs – Tops and bottoms trimmed, sliced in ½
4 T. Honey – divide in ½
8 oz. Tub Mascapone
1 T. White Sugar
½ t. Vanilla Extract
2-4 T. Cream
2 t. Fig Juice or Fig Balsamic Vinegar
6 Large Dutch Caramel Waffles

* Set oven to broil and place figs, face side up, on a foil covered cookie sheet. Drizzle fig halves with 2T. Of the honey. Broil figs for approx 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

* Combine remaining 2T. Of honey with the fig balsamic vinegar and set aside for the last step.

* With an electric mixer, combine mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, and enough cream to get the mixture to a “dolloping” consistency.

* Place one waffle on a dessert plate, put a dollop of mascarpone cream in the center and arrange a fig half over top. Drizzle with some of the fig honey. Rich but yummy! Perfect served with coffee (Serves 6)

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Best known for it's use in the popular dessert Tiramisu, mascarpone is an Italian triple cream “soft cheese” with a butterfat content of between 60-75%. Indeed, mascarpone isn't really a cheese so much as it is the product of combining the cream skimmed off milk and tartaric acid. It is gently cooked and then left to thicken and mature, although it does have a very short shelf life.
It's extremely creamy and is usually spreadable but sometimes has the consistency of butter (no wonder with that high amount of butterfat). It is very similar to commonly known creamcheese. It can be used in both savory and sweet dishes, even in drinks like smoothies and coffees (Casper & Gambinis here has a mascarpone latte *Homer Drool*). It can be used to finish soups and risottos and is awesome in cheesecakes.

It can be made at home but is a specialty in the Lombardy region of Italy.


Violet! You're turning violet, Violet! (pt. 2)

A juicy Smithfield Ham + Spiced Blueberry Glaze = Angels crying heavenly tears of meat, directly into your mouth.

And since the first course is already a starch, a potato starch at that, I decided to serve this alongside some southern spoonbread (with spring onions).

The glaze you can make ahead of time and keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.......

Spiced Blueberry Glaze

1 bag frozen Blueberries
2/3 c. Brown Sugar
1/3 c. Red Wine (a port would be ideal but you can use whatever you have *cough cough*)
2 Cinnamon sticks
1 T. Whole Cloves
Dash or two of Ground Nutmeg

In a saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool. Discard Cinnamon sticks. Done! It's that easy..

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Non-Alcoholic wine! Yay!! It's “Fre” but pronounced like “free” (can you sense the written equivalent of eyerolling?). This basically tasted like sour grape juice but again.. doing my best with what I have to work with. At least it's made by Sutter Home.. Yeah, or not.
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Finished glaze..
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How to Cook a Ham

For a bone-in Ham, cook in a 350*F oven for anywhere between 20-30 minutes per pound. A fully cooked ham should register 160*F on a meat thermometer. Glaze the ham during the last hour-30 minutes of cooking time.

After having cooked for about 3 hours
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Southern Spoonbread

2 c. Boiling Water
1 c. Cornmeal
5 T. Butter – plus extra for greasing and serving
1 t. Salt
2 Eggs – well beaten
1 c. ½ and ½

* Preheat oven to 375*F. Grease a casserole with butter.

* Bring water to a boil and slowly add in the cornmeal, stirring until thickened and smooth. Add butter and salt and let cool.

* Once cool, add eggs and ½ and ½ – beat for 2 minutes. (From here you can fold in any additions, like chives, spring onions, bacon bits, shredded cheese, corn etc).

* Pour into casserole dish and bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Spoon out while hot and pass around the butter! (Serves 8)

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And do I think I have enough meat, you might ask? No.. No I don't. Ham is my Jello baby!
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Violet! You're turning violet, Violet! (pt. 1)

This will be a 3 series entry, broken up by course for the sake of avoiding picture and research overload.

The inspiration for these entries came from my intentions of making one of the umpteen Hams that my husband so proudly dragged home, two 10lb hunks at a time (right along with his club - Me Man! Me bring Meat!). Not much else is as satisfying to me as a lovely glazed ham. It's salty sweet meat is a treat to my insatiable sweet tooth that is so bad, it prefers even DINNER to be sweet.

But I wanted to think outside the ordinary-glazed box. Not brown sugar. Jesus Lord no pineapple.. I had done a nice fig balsamic glaze on the Ham for Christmas. Thinking dark, I thought, “why not blueberries?”. Blueberries lend themselves extraordinarily well to delicate meats like lamb and pork. I've been wanting to try blueberries on a savory dish for a good while now, so this was my opportunity.

With that settled, I was in Dean & Deluca (shocker) when I ran across some All Blue baby potatoes and some gorg French Violet figs. Eureka! App and dessert, right here. Now to just figure out the schematics..

So here is the first course. I decided to do a Blue Potato and Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette. To keep as much of the potatoes integrity and nutrient value as possible, I opted to steam them with the skins on after being stabbed with a fork a few times for ventilation purposes. The color of the potatoes can be diminished through boiling and being cooked after peeling.

Blue Potato and Spinach Salad w/Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

8 c. Spinach (or any mixed green you like)
4-8 All Blue Potatoes (depending on size)

8 slices Bacon - diced
1 Shallot – minced
2 Garlic cloves – minced
3/4 c. Oil
1/4 c. Brown Sugar
1/3 c. White Wine Vinegar (or raspberry vinegar or even balsamic *I personally used an apple balsamic)
White Pepper & Salt TT

Grated Parmesan (optional)

* Wash and dry your greens (Yes, even if you buy them “pre-washed” in a bag – Please don't entrust the cleanliness of your produce to others). Keep in the fridge, covered, to keep crisp.

* Scrub potatoes under cold running water with a vegetable brush. Fork each potato over a few times and steam for 20-30 minutes until just tender. Set aside to cool (and once cooled, gently peel the skins off and cut into quarters. Or if the skin is in really good shape, feel free to leave on.)

* In a hot saute pan, render bacon for a few minutes – add in shallots and garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes before adding in the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and season. Keep warm.

* Divide spinach among 4 salad plates and top with desired amount of potatoes. Drizzle warm bacon vinaigrette over everything and sprinkle with cheese if desired. (Serves 4)

Peeling cooked potatoes – Isn't that purple gorgeous?!
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Bacon Vinaigrette
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All Blue Potatoes

They might be new to you but blue potatoes have been harvested for thousands of years now. A small medium-starched tuber, they are just like their thin-skinned cousins, the more popularly known Red Bliss, but what makes these potatoes unique is the photochemical that give them their violet hue. That photochemical is the same one that give other fruits and vegetables, like red cabbage, blueberries, and pomegranates, their coloring. It's also what gives them their great antioxidant properties.

It has also been discovered that blue potatoes, who grow very close to the surface of the soil, developed their purple pigmentation as a means of shielding themselves from excessive ultraviolet light given off by the sun's rays.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Spinach, Chorizo and Manchego Salad w/Saffron Vinaigrette

Pretty simple entry for today but some of my favorite favorite food items.. Cheese, sausage, spinach and wonderful wonderful saffron.

I served this alongside a steak dinner, which I don't recommend. This salad is probably better off as a first course, paired with a medium-ish second course like a hearty bean soup or a simple pasta/rice dish.

Anywho, I was inspired during a recent Dean & Deluca run when I saw turkey chorizo on the shelf. Latin/Hispanic food on the whole, isn't very popular in Kuwait. So far, the only chorizo I've been able to get is dried Spanish that I've ordered through the mail and I can never seen to keep enough of it around.

So I thought - get the chorizo, pick up a Spanish cheese (immediately manchego came to mind, probably the most popular Spanish cheese) and get some baby spinach since Dean & Deluca seems to be the only place where I can find any fresh. Dressing.. Dressing.. What do I dress this with? Ahh.. Something with saffron! A Saffron Vinaigrette? Ah yes, perfect! I wonder if there's a recipe I can fiddle around with online? (there was).

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The result....

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Quite good. As I said, pair it with something that isn't so heavy because the flavors of this salad are quite big themselves and you don't want to overwhelm your palate (especially with chimi-marinated steaks Image and video hosting by TinyPic)

For the Saffron Vinaigrette:

½ c. White Wine Vinegar
1 Shallot - minced
½ t. Saffron threads
½ c. Quality Olive Oil
1 T. White Sugar
Salt to taste

* In a small saucepan, with a small pour of olive oil, saute shallots over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add in vinegar, saffron and sugar and heat to a simmer for 2-3 minutes (in order for the saffron to get blooming). Remove from heat and let cool.

* When vinegar is cooled, whisk in olive oil and salt either by hand or in a food processor. Ta-da.

(Dean & Deluca AND TSC failed me when it came to a good vinegar selection so I was reduced to using apple cider but for a better dressing please please use something like white wine vinegar)
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Manchego Cheese

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A lovely artisan Spanish cheese, Manchego is produced only in the La Mancha region of Spain exclusively through Manchego breed ewes. It is semi-firm (although sometimes described as firm, which is how I would describe it personally) and is cave aged for at least 2 months.

It's taste is described as being much like feta (although hard, and less salty) with a bit of piquant and a very tell tale sheep's milk aftertaste (whatever that means, haven't developed the palate yet to figure that one out). I do find that it has a nice peppery bite to it though.

I usually use this cheese much as I do Parmesan in that I really like it grated or shaved in pastas, risottos and in salads. However, it's a fantastic snack cheese that can be served with bread, oil and fruits so it does have more versatility than simply being grated.

Source(s): (very extensive site regarding subject matter)


Heavens to Betsy, I'm not sure charcuterie
gets much better than Chorizo. One of the most awesome culinary finds my MIL exposed me to, I'm not sure how I lived before I'd ever tried Chorizo. And that's saying a lot because I use to be a former sausage-nay sayer, not ever really appreciating the value of such art (and don't kid yourself, stuffing gut linings with manipulated meat IS art).

There are two major types of chorizo – Spanish and Mexican. Both are very commonly made from pork, but beef, turkey and venison (and even vegan? /shockface) versions can be found. The Spanish type tends to be mostly dried and cured (curado) (although sometimes is made with fattier cuts of pork and can be found fresh). Spanish chorizo also, in most instances, incorporates pieces/chunks of ham in it's production. The main spicing agent of Spanish chorizo is sweet Spanish paprika. Spanish chorizo is meant to be sliced without being cooked and is typically eaten alongside breads, cheeses and olives, tapas-style.

Mexican chorizo tends to be fresh (fresco) (although it can be found dried as well) and is meant to be crumbled and cooked like other ground meats (Mexican chorizo is ground, while Spanish is more or less chopped). The main spicing agents are chile powders, which makes Mexican chorizo typically much spicier than it's European counterpart. It can be added to soups, eaten as a breakfast meat along with eggs and/or potatoes, and is fabulous in fresh tortillas as a taco filling.

There is also an other type of chorizo from Portugal that is very similar to the Spanish variety but incorporates the addition of wine in it's production. “Portuguese chorico” is said to be popularly served by slicing and cooking over an open flame, tabletop.

Spanish “dry” Chorizo
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Mexican “fresh” Chorizo
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GREAT place from which to buy/order a HUGE variety of Spanish chorizos and other Spanish/pork products

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Papas Rellenas.. Cuba's gift to the world

Ahhh Papas Rellenas. One of the things I've taken from my Mother In Law and improved upon :D My husband's father is Cuban, so his mother had added a few authentic cubano meals to her repertoire. I, in turn, took note of my husband's most favorite foods and simply learned how to make them by watching my MIL from the kitchen table.

I remember being in her kitchen when my husband's step-brother was over for a visit. This man owns and operates his own Cuban restaurant in Detroit so naturally when he found out my MIL was making papas, he asked for one. She was sheepish to hand one over but did and I saw why after he did his fair share of critiquing, haha. After eating at a few cuban places, and working on my own techniques, I hope I'm not too scurrd to hand one over to him if he should ask for one someday.

Now what are papas rellenas? Most simply, they are fried potato balls. A very popular side dish/snack in Latin America. They're also known throughout the world in different places as potato croquettes or Alu Chops (potato chops).

The traditional Latin American version is mashed potatoes filled with seasoned meat (aka picadillo) that are then shaped into small balls, breaded and fried. Some accompaniments are aji (a vinegary, peppery, tomato sauce), blackbeans, avocado or, as is popular in my home, sourcream.

Papas Rellenas are one of the quintessential Cuban dishes and I have them at every Cuban restaurant I come across. One thing that I've picked up on in regards to papas preparation, is that it seems to be a whole lot easier to simply add the picadillo to the potatoes and mix them together - then form balls from that mixture. I used to make them stuffed so I can say firsthand that this is an easier method of an already some-what time-consuming dish.

My Papas Rellenas:
5 lg Potatoes – peeled and cubed
1 lb Ground Pork
1 Yellow Onion - diced
1 Yellow or Orange Bell Pepper – diced
2 Garlic cloves – minced
2-3 T. Sofrito (optional – you can use just spices if you wish)
1 T. Ground Cumin
2 t. Ground Coriander
5 lg Eggs
1 c. Flour
3 c. Bread Crumbs
Salt and White Pepper for seasoning

* Boil potatoes, drain and mash (do not add any oil or liquid to the potatoes)
* In a large saute pan, brown & crumble ground pork. Set aside in a medium bowl.
* In same saute pan, saute onion & pepper for 5-7 minutes. Add in minced garlic and saute one minute more. Add to bowl with the ground pork, the sofrito, cumin and coriander and mix all together.
* In a large bowl mix together mashed potatoes, one of the eggs that have been slightly beaten & the seasoned meat mixture. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes until the mixture is cool enough to handle.
* With a large muffin scoop, scoop out about ½ c. portions of the potato mix and shape into balls. Once you're done with scooping and shaping, place balls back in the fridge for 15 minutes to chill again.
* In three containers place your flour, breadcrumbs and remaining eggs for your breading station. When it's time to bread the potato balls dip into flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs - and if you want extra crispy papas, dip them back into the egg and then again in the breadcrumbs. Place back in the fridge to rest and chill for at least an hour.
* In a deep fryer heated to 375F, place papas into the basket and lower into hot oil. Fry for 3 minutes. The papas will keep for another hour in a warm oven.

Boiling! (Keep in mind, the correct way to boil potatoes is to start them in cold [salted] water and then bring them to a boil. Once they come to a boil they should be brought down to a simmer and cooked for 15-25 minutes – depending on how big you've diced them)
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Mix together potatoes, picadillo and beaten egg
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In the interest of time saving, I put the potato mixture in a casserole dish. The larger surface area will cool the food faster.
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I believe it was my American Regional chef who told us that when it comes to breading, you should season everything – the breadcrumbs, the egg and the flour. So that's what I do. Salt and pepper go into the flour and egg and when it comes to papas, and other things like tortas, I like to use Dean & Deluca's Southwest blend in the breadcrumbs. IMO it's the perfect amount of chile powder, cumin, coriander & oregano
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Frying! (Thank you hubby for the xmas present! <3 my cooldaddy)
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Delicioso! (Yes this is normally a side dish/snack but we eat it for dinner 'round these parts)
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And there you have it. Papas a'la guera :D

Now, in some versions of papas, pimento stuffed green olives are added to the picadillo. This is the way my MIL makes hers. The Mr. truly dislikes olives however, so I omit them. They're just as tasty without.

Picadillo is also a dish that can be eaten as it is made, with a side of rice or in tortillas as tacos.

One thing I have not made yet, but I feel is very worthy of mention is the sofrito. Sofrito is a base of many Latin American cuisines, indeed even in some Mediterranean cuisines. The salsa differs from region to region but the basic of it seems to be tomato, onion, pepper and olive oil. One of these days I'll have to do up a big batch of it and do a Latin American week for dinner. Another thing I want to try is the aji sauce. I'm enjoying learning more about these little nuances in regional food and their accompaniments. Loving this blog more and more :)


Hookah/Shisha/Hubbly Bubbly... NFR

Whatever you call it, if you've ever been to the mid-east you'll know what it is. It's one of the first things I fell in love with as a traveler. Narghile, Ghalyoon, Chillim, Lula.. These are a few names for the same waterpipe made so famous by this part of the world.

Most sources indicate India as the origin of the device, by which tobacco is smoked and “purified” by passing through water. (The pipe is said to be circa late 1500's). In India it is often referred to as a “Huqqa”, which most westerners learned through the British empirical period and have since dubbed it “Hookah”.

In the modern era, the middle-east is where hookah is smoked most prevalently. The actual waterpipes themselves come in an astonishing array of colors and design/motifs. Almost everything about the device can be decorated - from the waterbowl to the hoses all the way up to the tobacco bowls.
And there is a surprising variety of tobacco flavors to choose from as well – from vanilla and mint to all kinds of fruit (seriously, every kind of fruit you can think of). They even make cola & cappuccino!

Layalina is a very popular brand over here in Kuwait, being imported from Dubai. It's the only kind I've smoked at home thus far. My favorite (or fave of the moment, I have lots to try) is the apple bahraini but I really want to try their new Better Than Sex shisha! (lol, something I'm not so sure will be hitting the kuwaiti markets so I'll have to order online).

Now, I am an utter and complete novice when it comes to this stuff. So far, all I have is a plastic 8KD shisha pipe but I've been trying to talk the Mr. into getting a bigger and better one (a 2 hose pipe would be nice). There's a cute black one in the shop I go to that has camels on it, but I definitely need a new hose. The guys who were working the shop the day I bought my little hookah were very lackadaisical. When I bought a hookah as a present there once, they really hooked me up so.. I don't know what happened but I'm guessing I just need to find a better shop to avoid more slap-together service.

Anywaysssss, I digress.. This is how (I know) to set up shisha, and it's fairly simple – you can even prep it ahead of time. You will need your waterpipe, your tobacco, charcoal, small patch of foil, a toothpick, tongs, water and a receptacle for carrying the heated charcoal (will include a picture – I don't have one yet personally, I use a stone ramekin that I carry on a plate so I don't burn myself by the ambient heat).

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First, you unscrew your hookah to fill it with water (some people like to use ice cold water for a supposed “smoother” smoke, and some like to add to the water fresh fruit or mint for extra flavor infusion. Some even like to add milk!)

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Then you fill your tobacco bowl with some crumbled tobacco – You cover the bowl tightly with foil and then poke concentric holes through the foil for a “screen” effect. Some people disregard foil use all together and just put charcoal directly on the tobacco. Haven't tried that yet though so can't tell you the difference. Foil just seems like a better idea to me though. (Also, nicer hookahs have bowls with windscreens on them and metal discs to cover the bowl – this sidesteps the whole foil step. Something I should look into getting)

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(with windscreen)
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Then you put the bowl on it's base which has a plate underneath to catch charcoal ash.

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The last step would be to heat your charcoal. You want to heat your charcoal until it is uniformly gray on the outside and you can no longer see black. Place the bricks on top of the foil that covers your tobacco bowl and you should be ready to smoke almost instantly, as the charcoals are extremely HOT!

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Enjoy! And remember.. all things in moderation.. Except for cuddling and sex, and maybe chocolate.


Pasta Salad - Mozz, Spinach & Olives.. (& some technical difficulties)

I've been having some technical difficulties due to my camera suddenly “vanishing” from my computer desk. While the hunt continues (or rather, the wait for an upgrade to be purchased *winkwink husband*), I won't be trying out anything particularly challenging or new but rather just yummy simple things to share.

I am subscribed to Chowhound's Recipe of the Day and when I received one in my inbox about a pasta salad calling for fresh mozzarella, I knew I had to make it (my husband and I being the fresh mozz fiends that we are).

I didn't plan this entry very well. Heck, I only found my old powershot and an old SD card when I was in the middle of making it so again, excuse the lameness.

Now, the recipe basically only calls for spinach, mozz, pasta and olives. Kalamata olives at that, which I don't normally care for but I think are growing on me. However, due to the husband's limited tolerance for olives in general, I bought black Spanish olives (which I mistakenly bought whole, and being that I don't yet own a pitter I had to dice each one 6 slices at a time. Very annoying. Very reminiscent of classical french class where we were forced to do a number of such mundane tasks. Tourne anyone??).

I also thought that tomatoes would be a nice addition to this salad, but upon slicing up cherry tomatoes, whose innards were still green, I lamented that I should have replenished my sun-dried tomato stores in the pantry and have added some of those instead.

So tomato and olive debacle aside, and scorned lack of wine vinegar (I instead used a mix of balsamic and rice vinegar to make the vinaigrette /shockface) I daresay a refreshing pasta salad this still made.

And forgive my lazy chopping of the spinach. Not the pretty chiffonade it should have been, just trying desperately to get dinner on the table after realizing I was more late on serving it than I thought.

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1 pound orecchiette or conchiglie pasta
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, drained and cut into small dice
3 ounces baby spinach (about 4 cups), thoroughly washed and dried
1 1/2 cups pitted and halved kalamata olives
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil

* Bring a medium pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook pasta according to the package directions, or until al dente. Drain, then rinse under cold water until cool.
* Transfer pasta to a large bowl and add mozzarella, spinach, olives, and Parmesan. Toss to combine.
* In a separate, nonreactive bowl, combine vinegar, salt, and pepper. While whisking constantly, slowly add oil by pouring in a thin stream down the side of the bowl. Whisk until completely incorporated.
Pour vinaigrette over salad and toss until pasta is coated. Taste, adjust seasoning as desired, and serve.

What “chiffonade” means for those wondering