Monday, June 28, 2010

Foxy Focaccia....Seriously!

This quick focaccia bread takes only about one hour from start to finish, making it an easy accompaniment for any dinner, and an easy homemade bread for sandwiches.

We love to eat at Buca di Beppo, for the salads, pasta, and seafood, the fun and quirky atmosphere, and probably most of all for the focaccia bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. After much experimenting, I finally came up with a recipe that we can all make often and enjoy. It is really delicious, tender, yeasty, and  quick to put together.

The dimpled surface of focaccia is one of its signature traits. After you've put the dough in the oiled pan, drizzle it with a bit of olive oil and dust it with herbs and coarse salt, then use your fingers to press the oil and herbs into the bread. There should be lots of lumps and bumps. If you have children in the house, this is a perfect job for them to do!

Foxy Focaccia

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour, divided
1 envelope quick-rising yeast (such as Fleischmann's Rapid Rise Yeast)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more for dusting
1 cup very warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Desired dried herbs (I like the Victoria Taylor Tuscan or Sicillian blends.)

(This is a cinch to make using a stand mixer (like Kitchenaid's Artisan) but you can certainly do this by hand; it will just take a bit longer and use more muscle power.)

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour, dry yeast, and salt. Attach the dough hook, and stir together the flour, yeast, and salt while slowly adding the water and oil. Scrape the sides of the bowl as you go. Add the remaining flour while running the dough hook on low, and increase the speed as the dough gets thicker. Run it for a few minutes till the dough is smooth and not sticky. Cover lightly with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes or so while you prepare the pan.

Lightly oil a nonstick baking pan. Use an 8x8-inch or 9x9-inch for square loaves, or a 9-inch round for round loaves. Place the dough in the pan and spread it out with your fingers. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over the top and sprinkle with herbs of your choice. Using your fingertips, push the herbs and oil into the surface of the dough. Cover lightly with a clean towel and allow to rise in a warm spot until it's about doubled in size. That should take 20-25 minutes.

Bake in upper third of preheated 400 degree oven for 25 minutes or until puffed and golden brown on top. Immediately remove from the pan and set on a wire rack or your cutting board. Give it about 10 minutes before you cut into it or, to serve later, cool to room temp, wrap in foil, and heat in 375 degree oven for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Other toppings for focaccia can be anything you would put on a pizza: cheese, diced cured meats, diced vegetables, caramelized onions, etc. You are limited only by your imagination!

Slice and serve with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. A great way to make sandwiches is to bake this bread in a round pan, slice horizontally, layer meats, cheese, veggies, and condiments of choice, then put the top of the loaf back on. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Unwrap, cut loaf into wedges, and serve.

Note: Use water that feels warm to the touch. If your water is too hot, it will kill the yeast and your bread won't rise. If the water is too cool, it will rise, but will just take longer to do so. Be kind to your yeast!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Shrimp Scampi, an Easy Make-Ahead Meal to Freeze and Heat

This dish goes together quickly; the greatest effort is in cleaning the shrimp. While it is heating, quickly boil the angelhair pasta, drain, and combine with the shrimp and the delicious broth to make a mouthwatering dinner for the special people in your life.

There are times when it is just not acceptable to take shortcuts: freshly squeezed lemon juice instead of the squeeze bottle, freshly minced garlic rather than the jarred, leafy green parsley instead of dried, and wild-caught shrimp in the shell. Don't compromise ingredients in this dish. As a matter of fact, don't ever use the squeeze bottle lemon juice or jarred minced garlic for anything!

I have reduced the amount of fat traditionally used in this dish and added more flavor by using shrimp stock, made from the shrimp shells. I know you will enjoy this change.

Shrimp Scampi with Angelhair Pasta

Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds large wild-caught shrimp, with shells on, frozen unless you have access to just off-the-boat shrimp
2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup minced garlic
1/4 cup white wine
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Salt & Pepper TT (to taste)

8 ounces angelhair pasta, cooked, drained

Peel shrimp, leaving the tails intact. Place shells in a small saucepan and just cover with water, about 2 cups. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat. Allow to steep while you prepare the rest of the ingredients, then strain and reserve shrimp stock.

Remove the sand vein (a.k.a. shrimp poop) from shrimp by making a shallow incision down the length of the back to expose the vein. Scrape it out with the tip of your paring knife.

Combine olive oil, garlic, and hot pepper flakes in a cold saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and add butter. Stir occasionally until butter is melted, then add shrimp and cook, turning frequently, just until shrimp is opaque and pink-rimmed. Remove the shrimp from pan, but leave the garlic-butter-oil mixture in the pan.

Increase heat, and add lemon juice, zest, and white wine to skillet. When hot and bubbling, add 1/2 or more of the the shrimp stock. Taste and add more salt if needed.

Combine the shrimp and pasta in the skillet with the stock. Toss in chopped parsley, grate pepper over, and turn, using tongs, until pasta is coated with stock and shrimp are distributed. Remove from heat and serve.

Nutrition per serving: 483 Calories; 15g Fat (28.2% calories from fat); 36g Protein

To freeze for later use: Prepare shrimp as instructed. Cool quickly by placing in a stainless steel bowl and then setting that in a larger bowl of ice water. Spoon shrimp and its stock into a container, seal, label, and freeze. When ready to prepare and while pasta is cooking, defrost and heat the shrimp mixture in the microwave at 50% power just until hot. (Don't overdoDrain the pasta, return it to the pot and add the shrimp mixture. Toss with tongs until shrimp and pasta are combined. Serve.

Note: To thaw frozen shrimp from the market, place in a bowl in the sink. Fill the bowl with cold water and place it under trickling cold tap water. The shrimp will thaw in just a few minutes this way and will remain cold and safe from bacteria growth. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Refrigerate if not using immediately. Never thaw shrimp in the microwave or by leaving it lying out on the counter. Never purchase previously frozen, thawed shrimp from the market showcase. Request frozen shrimp and have the attendant wrap it tightly with ice so it will remain frozen till you get it home.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mint Jelly

Serve mint jelly over cream cheese with crackers for a quick hors d'oeuvre, on a piping hot biscuit or toasted English muffin slathered with butter in the morning, or as an accompaniment to ham, pork, chicken or lamb.

Mint jelly really is easy to make (or I wouldn't have been able to make it while maneuvering my Roll-About in the kitchen), and when you make this jelly at home, the mint flavor is much more subtle than the factory-produced jelly. I added a few drops of green food coloring to mine because I just love the emerald green jewel tone, but it's fine if you choose not to. Its natural color is a yellowish-brownish-green that I don't find very appealing, but you might not mind. Once my mint recovers from its trimming, I'm going to make some more but I think I'll add some minced jalapeno and maybe even some hot pepper flakes next time for variety, and I bet that will be delicious.  A special thanks to my neighbor and friend, Fran Bundy, for stopping by in time to pour this into the jars for me. Her timing was perfect!

Homemade Mint Jelly
(Makes about 5 cups or so)

1 1/2 cups packed spearmint, leaves and stems coarsely chopped
3 1/4 cups filtered water (I think the odd flavor of chemically treated tap water might ruin your efforts.)
3 drops green food coloring (optional)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 box fruit pectin (such as Sure-Jell)
4 cups granulated sugar

Place mint and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let the leaves steep for at least 10 minutes, up to 20. Strain through a coffee filter-lined strainer and measure out 3 cups of the mint-infused water. Set aside.

In a 5-6 quart pot, combine the mint infusion, lemon juice, and Sure-Jell. Stir this until the Sure-Jell powder is dissolved, then bring all to a boil, uncovered. Add the sugar and food coloring and bring this back to a rolling boil, stirring almost constantly. (A rolling boil is a boil that you cannot stir down.) Stop stirring, boil for 1 minute, and then remove from the heat. Using a large stainless spoon, skim off any froth and discard.

Ladle the mint syrup into clean, hot jars, seal, and store.

Note: You can use any jars for this. If you are using canning jars, follow the manufacturer's directions for processing jelly. If you are using odds-and-ends cute jars you have on hand, fill to within 1/4 inch of the rim and place the lid on tightly while hot. (Pour hot tap water into your jars first to heat the glass, drain and dry. If the glass is cool, it might crack from rapid expansion as you pour in the hot mint syrup.) Leave in a cool spot until the jars have cooled to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dinners & Lunches Ready in a Flash, First Installment: Beef & Pasta Goulash

Yesterday one of my Facebook friends sent me a message asking for help. She wanted to (primarily) save money by cooking at home instead of eating out and (secondarily) she also is worried about what all those restaurant meals might be doing to her health. There is a really easy solution; it just takes a bit of planning and she will be saving money and eating healthier in no time.

The simple way to cook for one person is to cook a regular meal for 4-6 people and divide it up into single servings. That is what I do as a personal chef for my clients, and it's what I did for myself before my surgery so that I would have fast and easy meals to just pop in the microwave when I'm dining solo. You can do it, too.

First, plan a menu for a week's worth of dinners. Choose the recipes you want to use, make your grocery list, and gather all the ingredients together. You can make all the meals in one day, or split the cooking up into two days. You might do this on a Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon, for example, or whenever you have two days off.

I prepared 7 different meals; some stews, some protein/veg/starch. I tried to stick to about 500 calories or fewer for each serving. You can figure that out for your own needs. Out of those 7 meals, I packaged a total of 35 individual servings. Then I stocked my freezer with the "Steamers" bags of frozen vegetables because, well, I just really like extra vegetables.

To save money, I purchased most frozen, canned, and dry goods at Wal-Mart, and meats and fresh vegetables at Bi-Lo or Harris Teeter because the quality and selection are better there than at Wal-Mart (that will be a future blog topic). I spent about $150 for 35 nutrient-packed and low fat meals cooked just to my taste. That's about $4.27 for each meal. Don't forget to supplement your meals with fresh fruit, whole grain snacks, or proteins such as 1/4 cup of dry roasted nuts, throughout the day so you won't be tempted to buy that huge peanut butter cookie for an afternoon snack that you'll probably and justifiably regret later. Go ahead and plan to go out with your friends to your favorite restaurant once a week. You've been so smart about how you're managing your budget and nutrition!

Not everything freezes well, and there are tricks to freezing many foods so that when they are heated you get a good tasting meal with good texture. I'm going to share some of my favorites with you, and this comfort food many of you may remember from childhood is my first installment. You can use any pasta for this Beef & Pasta Goulash recipe, but if you use a whole grain, or "smart" pasta, you'll be packing a lot more nutrients into every calorie, which is our goal. For packaging, you don't have to use professional containers (as I do for my clients). You can use the Rubbermaid "Take-Along" sandwich containers to pack your meals, then be sure to label and freeze them. That is what I use for myself at home.

When you're ready for a meal, just thaw one in the microwave at the "defrost" setting for 2-3 minutes or so, crack the lid, and finish heating it at 50% power, one minute at a time, until your food is as hot as you want. If you don't want to heat your food in the containers, then spoon it out onto a dinner plate to heat. You can wash and re-use your containers. I bought these containers at Wal-Mart in packages of 5 or 6 for less than $3.00. It might not look like much when you're packing the food in the container, but when you spread it out on your dinner plate, it makes a gracious helping.

Beef & Pasta Goulash

1 pound extra-lean ground beef (You can substitute turkey if you like, but I like the taste of beef in this.)
1 cup onion, coarsely chopped
1 large green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 (28-oz.) can good quality diced tomatoes (such as Hunts or Furmano's)
2 (8-oz.) cans tomato sauce (low sodium if possible)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups whole grain dry pasta of your choice, cooked, drained (do not rinse), and returned to pot

-In a large saute pan sprayed with canola oil spray, combine beef, onion, and bell pepper. Stir and break up the beef as it browns and the vegetables soften.
-Stir in the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar, and salt. Simmer for a few minutes, then pour the beef/tomato mixture into the pot with the drained pasta. Stir to combine, then spoon into 5-6 of the small 2.9 cup size Rubbermaid Take-Along sandwich containers. (Each container will hold 2 servings of this.) Cool, cover, and freeze.

Nutrition:Your servings will be about 550 calories each, with only 10g of fat, but a big 24g of fiber and 30g of protein. Serve with a low carb veg for a side, such as the celery in this photo, broccoli, or green beans.

Variations: Add garlic and dried Italian herbs to the onion, bell pepper, and beef when sauteeing, then toss in fresh chopped basil or parsley at the end for an Italian pasta dish. For Southwestern flavor, add a 4-oz. can of chopped green chiles, some chili powder, and hot sauce to taste.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Crunchy & Delicious Basil Salt (or, Something Else to Do With All that Fresh Basil!)

It had been more than two weeks since I'd been able to go out on the deck to check my potted herbs. Yesterday, I set off on my Roll-About to see how I could maneuver the threshold at the back door and the spaces between the wooden planks on the deck. You never notice these things if you have two good feet to use. I am glad this is just a temporary state of affairs for me.

With all the rain and heat we have been having here in my little corner of South Carolina, my herbs (that only three weeks ago were small sprigs) are now luxuriously draping over the sides of their rustic pots and mounding together prettily in the centers. Everything looks healthy and beautiful, but I discovered that a hungry little insect is helping itself to dinner in the basil pot. I decided to pluck off a healthy bunch, along with a pretty little chive flower that I couldn't resist. Back to the kitchen with my bounty!

I recently read a post on Lucullian Delights in which Ilva made basil sugar. (I am planning to try that, too.) This made me think of using the same concept, but with good kosher salt instead. It turned out beautiful and aromatic. It brightened the flavor of of the store-bought tomatoes I quartered for my lunch, and when I sprinkled it on disks of goat cheese, it added a delightful crunch to contrast the creaminess of the cheese. I wish I had some good ricotta to sprinkle it over.

Basil Salt
A large handful of basil leaves, rinsed and spun dry (lay out on a towel to dry; the drier the better)
About a cup of kosher salt

Place the basil leaves and salt in your food processor or blender and pulse until the leaves are very fine. Spread salt out on a rimmed sheet on the counter for several hours to dry. (Do not cover.) Store in a tightly closed container. Use to flavor chicken breasts and white fish steaks and fillets; sprinkle on vegetables and soft cheeses such as ricotta. The flavor is delicate and mild.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cannellini Bean Salad with Feta & Fresh Herbs

Want a healthful and delicious alternative to high fat, mayonnaise-laced potato and pasta salads this summer? Try my white bean salad at your next cookout. It goes great with poultry, seafood, or meat. Serve it with grilled vegetables and you have a delicious and nutritious vegetarian meal. One serving is only 207 calories, just 2 grams of fat (1 cup of potato salad has about 20 grams), 13 grams of protein, and 9 grams of dietary fiber. How about that? It's really easy to make, too.

Cannellini Bean Salad with Feta & Fresh Herbs

For the vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
6 ounces olive oil & canola oil blend
1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper, or to taste

For the salad:
2 cans cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
2 slices red onion, diced
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves (curly or flat)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
2 ounces feta cheese, diced (reduced fat is great if you can find it)

-Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients and set aside.
-In a medium bowl, add the beans and red onion.
-Combine the herbs in one pile on your cutting board and, with a very sharp knife, chop them all together until they're all minced about the same size, 1/4 inch or so. (If your knife is dull, your herbs will look like what you pull out from under your lawn mower, and that's not very appealing.) Add the herbs to the beans and toss together.
-Give the vinaigrette a stir and pour onto the salad. Mix well to combine. Adjust seasoning. (That means add more salt and pepper to suit your taste!)
Make this recipe the day before up to this point for maximum flavor, cover and refrigerate, then bring to room temperature before continuing.
-Right before serving, gently fold in the feta cheese and tomatoes.
-Serve this salad at room temperature for ultimate flavor. Enjoy!

Serves 8

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Vegetable Plates in the South

I had never heard of a "vegetable plate" until I moved to South Carolina 25 years ago. I remember going to a local diner (although they are not called "diners" here as they are in Pennsylvania, where you'll find the "This Diner" and the "That Diner" in every community) and seeing a listing for a "vegetable plate." What??? Since that first visit, I've traveled enough throughout my beautiful state to know that almost every community dining establishment where the parking lot fills up with more pickup trucks than sedans at mealtime has this offering on its menu. (If you're lucky enough to have a Cracker Barrel in your area, you can have a vegetable plate there, too.)

Following the listing on the menu is a row or two of vegetable and starch dishes from which the hungry diner can choose, usually looking something like this:

Green beans
Fresh greens
Stewed okra
Sweet potato souffle
Hash brown casserole
Pinto Beans
Macaroni and cheese
Cucumbers with onions and sour cream
Pickled Beets
Sliced tomatoes

Combine two or more of these, often seasonal selections, to create your own custom meal. Many times sweet tea and cornbread are included. It is what it is, simply vegetables, starches and no meat. It is incredibly popular, very healthy (as long as you stick to the vegetables), and satisfying. I think the reason so many diners enjoy the vegetable plate is because it tastes like home cooking, and is comfort food to the Southern palate.

Saturday, an angel came to my house, laden with boxes and bags of food. As she unpacked her containers, my kitchen counter filled up with tubs of home grown corn cooked to a crunchy sweetness, nutty brown crowder peas in their delicious liquor, okra and tomatoes stewed with garlic and seasoned perfectly, mouthwatering collard greens, fresh from her garden summer squash cooked with sweet onions and ginger, Yankee AND Southern cornbread, a fresh strawberry pie with fluffy not-too-sweet whipped cream flavored with triple sec, and a gallon jug of peach/raspberry iced tea. I've never had a more bountiful nor delicious vegetable plate!

Get with the national movement toward meatless meals; the savvy folks down here in South Carolina have been enjoying vegetable plates for generations, and thanks to my dear friend Pam Hegler, I've been enjoying some of the best I've ever tasted!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cherry Salsa with Goat Cheese

My mid-morning snack:

I can't do too much in the kitchen these days, but I can tell I am feeling better because I actually got inspired this morning to get creative in the kitchen and make an easy snack.

Every morning I have a snack, and it's usually fresh fruit of some kind (because that's easy and healthy), but this morning I came across a recipe on one of my favorite websites that got my taste buds tingling. I took a quick inventory of ingredients (by memory; I pretty much know what I stocked up on in the fridge before surgery) and realized that what I didn't have EXACTLY, I had ingredients I could easily substitute. And then, of course, I added my own touches.

So, I rolled on out to the kitchen and began the journey that ended with me exhausted, but with a delicious snack that includes the fresh sweet cherries that are in season right now, crunchy and aromatic celery, low fat dairy, and whole grains. What great fuel for a healing body, delicious and (for a two-footed person), takes about 10 minutes to make!

Cherry Salsa with Goat Cheese

1 cup of chopped sweet cherries
1/2 cup diced celery
1 scallion, very thinly sliced white and green parts
Splash of red wine vinegar (not too much, maybe 1 tsp.)
Salt and pepper to taste
Sprinkle of hot pepper flakes (optional, but I like it)
Honey for drizzling
Crisply toasted crostini slices, whole grain toast, or crackers
1/3 cup soft goat cheese
1/3 cup fat free cottage cheese

Combine the cherries, celery, scallion, vinegar, S&P, and hot pepper flakes. Stir to combine and taste for seasoning. (Depending on your preference, you may want to add more salt, pepper, or hot pepper flakes.)
In a small bowl, use the back of a spoon to mash together the cheeses. Spread desired toast or crackers with cheese and top with cherry relish. Drizzle with honey and serve.
Note: If you make this quantity, you can get 4 or 5 servings on regular toast. It will probably top 18 or so small crostini or crackers for party food. I think the salsa would be good served with grilled chicken breasts, too. 1/4 of this recipe is only 78 calories, 4 grams fat, 6 grams carbs, 1 gram fiber, and a generous 6 grams of protein. It's a bit over the 30% calories from fat guideline, but in this case I think it's worth the trade off for so much fresh flavor and protein. I think you will, too!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Rosemary Scented Chicken with Caramelized Orange Pan Sauce

I love my Roll-About. It has given me great mobility around the house, but it does have its limitations. The model I have is not maneuverable enough in the kitchen for me to do more than grab something quick out of the fridge to eat, so I'm shopping around for a smaller model with swivel front wheels to give me a better turning radius. I am determined to be able to cook again because I just don't think I'll be able to endure 5 more weeks without being able to enjoy my favorite passtime/therapy!

In the meantime, Bob is learning new cooking and knife skills. Wednesday, for example, he trimmed a fresh pineapple for the first time, and even painstakingly removed every trace of each little brown eye with the tip of his paring knife. He was so proud and so was I. I'm enjoying the "fruits" of his labors now while he is out of town.

The day after my surgery, Bob grilled chicken breasts, which he has frequently done, and then made a simple pan sauce, which he has never done. I had found a recipe for him to try that I suspected would taste amazing but yet would be attainable for a novice in the kitchen. The sauce turned out just delicious, Bob felt like a master chef, and now he's motivated to try his hand at more protein/pan sauces combinations. That's what I call success!

I was still on narcotic pain killers that day, so of course I didn't even think of taking a picture of his dish, but it is a lovely golden sauce that would be perfect also on pork tenderloin medallions. I'd love to try a nice thick mahi mahi or halibut fillet swimming in this Caramelized Orange Sauce; oh, that would be so delicious!

By the way, this is a great recipe for entertaining. It's simple, easy, yet adds a touch of elegance to an every day protein to make it perfect for serving your dinner guests.

Rosemary Scented Chicken Breasts with Caramelized Orange Sauce
Serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 inch sprig of fresh rosemary
Salt & pepper to taste
12 pitted Kalamata olives, sliced
1 large navel orange, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3/4 c. orange juice, as needed
1 T. very cold unsalted butter

Pound chicken breasts flat to 1/2 inch and season with salt and pepper. Spray with cooking oil spray and grill just until firm (don't overcook). Cover and keep warm while making the sauce.

In a saute pan over medium heat, combine the olives, rosemary, orange pulp, garlic and 1/4 c. of the orange juice. Gently simmer, covered, for a few minutes to blend flavors. Raise the flame and add 1/4 c. or more of the orange juice and boil it down to a syrupy consistency. Stir into this the cold butter until it is melted. The sauce should look velvety and yet chunky with the diced orange pieces. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. At this point, you can nestle the chicken breasts (or whatever protein you are using) into the sauce for a moment just to warm them before serving. Remove the rosemary sprig; serve with fragrant basmati rice, sugar snap peas, and garnish with sprigs of fresh rosemary.

(Based on a recipe gleaned from NPR's The Splendid Table.)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Black Bean & Corn Salad

Just when you need a picture, you can't find it! I would make the salad and take more photos of it, but I'm laid up with foot surgery right now, and doctor's orders are "no weight bearing for 6 weeks." I'm already missing getting into the kitchen and creating!

Take my word for it that this is a beautiful salad, with the black beans, yellow corn, colorful peppers, and bright green cilantro. The flavors are vibrant, too. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Black Bean & Corn Salad

2 cans black beans, rinsed well and drained
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1/2 green bell pepper, diced same size as corn
1/2 red bell pepper, diced same size as corn
1/2 medium red onion, diced same size as peppers
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt & pepper to taste
Ground cumin or chili powder to taste
Juice of 1-2 limes, to taste
1 ripe avocado, diced (optional)
Drizzle of olive oil (do not use if using avocado)
Handful fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Combine vegetables in a bowl. Add salt and pepper, cumin, and lime juice to taste. The lime juice should add brightness but not be overpowering. Toss in the cilantro. Best if made an hour or more ahead and is great the next day. Serve chilled or at room temperature, as a side dish or as a dip with corn chips. Great dish to make for a crowd, quick to throw together, inexpensive, and healthy, too!