Grape and Cherry (Tomato) Avocado Toast

food-blog-january-2017-0152This one is a restaurant recreation from a spot we like in Culver City. These guys appreciate the lux/simplicity combo that is avocado toast; in fact, they are also the inspiration for my last foray into this ever-so-trendy meal base.

food-blog-january-2017-0136Cherry tomatoes and grapes seemed like a strange combination, and I was dubious about how well grapes would play with avocado, but it all works. The tomatoes are bright and acidic, and the grapes are tart enough that, with a squeeze of lemon and flake or two of salt on top, they toe the savory/sweet line successfully.


I hope all is well in your world.


Grape and Cherry (Tomato) Avocado Toast
Serves 2 as an appetizer; 1 as a light lunch
About 15 minutes
4 thin slices sourdough or French bread (you can remove the crusts if you want more uniform toasts)
Olive oil spray, or 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, divided
1 ripe avocado
1 tablespoon lemon juice, divided
freshly ground black pepper to taste
12 cherry tomatoes, halved (I like a mix of colors)
12 red grapes, halved
1 teaspoon fresh dill sprigs
1 teaspoon finely chopped chives
  • Preheat your broiler to high and prep the bread by spraying or brushing it with the olive oil on both sides. Sprinkle ¼ – ½ teaspoon coarse salt evenly over both sides of all four slices (that is, ¼ – ½ teaspoon for all four, not ¼ – ½ teaspoon per slice). Set the slices on a broiler tray or a wire oven rack set over a cookie sheet and broil on high, flipping each slice over once, until nicely browned and quite crisp on both sides. Don’t step away or try to prep other ingredients while you broil; the bread can burn very quickly. Once you have crisp, golden toast, set it aside to cool slightly.
  • In a small bowl, smash up the avocado with 1-2 teaspoons of the lemon juice. Add black pepper to taste, and slightly underseason with salt (we’ll be adding more to finish). You can go with a perfectly smooth mixture if you want, but I like to leave a few small chunks of avocado for extra texture.
  • Smear ¼ of the avocado mixture in an even layer onto each piece of toast. Then cut each slice on the diagonal and arrange it on a plate or serving platter. Arrange the halved grapes and tomatoes on each piece – aim for even distribution. Scatter the chives and dill sprigs over the top, then squeeze on the remaining 1 teaspoon lemon juice and a very light sprinkle of coarse sea salt. That way we get a crunch and salty kick with each piece.
  • Serve immediately – underneath the weight of the avocado, the toast will soften very quickly.


Burrata, cress, and balsamic crostini

Food Blog September 2014-0558The first week of school has come and gone and went to bed. That being the case, and with a wonderful friend in town, Friday afternoon happy hour was without question the right thing to do. N. and I frequently enjoy a weekend happy hour of some sort, whether that involves a decadent spread, or just a few nubs of cheese and some almost-not-stale-yet crackers with a handful of dried fruit. Either way, there’s something tasty, something to sip, and a breezy deck to sit on.

Food Blog September 2014-0556This week, though, called for something special. I had an alliterative crostini concoction in mind – a brash combination of burrata cheese, broccoli rabe, and a thick drizzle of balsamic vinegar all smeared atop a perfectly toasted slice of baguette. As these things usually turn out, however, ruled by what was on the shelves in the produce section, I had to make an adjustment or two. But I think what I ended up with was just as good – maybe even better.

Food Blog September 2014-0543Food Blog September 2014-0545Food Blog September 2014-0546Let’s talk ingredients. Have you had burrata cheese? Think fresh mozzarella, but then one-up the creaminess and milkiness and melt-in-your-mouthiness, and you’ve got something like burrata. It’s a globe of fresh mozzarella cheese, filled with a mixture of curds and cream. When you cut into one of these fragile little blobs, what emerges looks something like ricotta in texture, but it’s all mozzarella freshness on the tongue. It’s a very sexy cheese, and a smear (don’t even think in terms of slices) atop some well-oiled, well-toasted bread sounded dreamy. I found some in my Trader Joe’s, but I think most specialty or upscale grocery stores – or maybe even your usual haunt with a well-stocked cheese counter – would have it.

Food Blog September 2014-0563Though I wanted broccoli rabe for its bitterness, I settled instead on some upland cress, which I assumed was another name for watercress. A shamefully lazy internet search (read: Wikipedia) has taught me that though they look similar, upland cress is part of the landcress, rather than the watercress, family. I didn’t know there was such a thing. Regardless, either one has the necessary peppery bite to offset the creamy sweetness of the cheese. In a pinch, I bet arugula would work too.

Food Blog September 2014-0560Food Blog September 2014-0549To put it all together, I decided I wanted a play of temperatures. After a liberal bath of olive oil, I toasted thin slices of bread – mine was in the ciabatta family, with its floury crust and moist, springy interior. A gentle smear of burrata on this warm toast, followed by a few sprigs of cress wilted into a resistless pile, all topped with a definitive drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Done. The cheese melts a bit into the bread; the cress and the balsamic and the residual olive oil flavors melding together create a kind of salad component. They are, I hardly need to say, delicious. I couldn’t stop sampling. It’s not just a nice play of flavors, but a good study in textures. I am criminal at over-toasting my bread, and this batch was just on the edge of being servable. But against the softness of the cheese and the pleasingly stringy feel of the wilted greens, the aggressive crunch of extra toasty toast was right.

Food Blog September 2014-0553I’d recommend a light, crisp wine to pair with this; something sparkling would be extra nice. I’d recommend a sun hat and sandals, if you have the option, and a few friends to laugh with. And I’d recommend making a bit more than you think you want, because you’re going to eat it all.

Food Blog September 2014-0557

Burrata, cress, and balsamic crostini
Ingredient quantities are a bit fast and loose here, because your demands for how much cheese, how many greens, and how liberal a drizzle of balsamic may be different from mine. And depending on how many people are clamoring for a taste and what size loaf you’ve bought, you may need more or less bread than I used. What seems most important is that one bunch of cress was enough to top 8 or so slices of crostini.
8-10 thin slices ciabatta or other fresh, artisanal bread
Olive oil, to drizzle and to cook the greens
1 bunch upland cress or watercress (or, as noted above, arugula)
Salt to taste
8 ounces burrata cheese
* Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling


  • Preheat your broiler. While it warms, arrange bread slices on a sheet tray and drizzle with olive oil on both sides. Broil until deeply golden. Depending on your broiler, this could take anywhere from 2-5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it. When it is well bronzed and crisp, remove and set aside.
  • While your bread toasts (if you’re a successful multi-tasker), prepare your greens by slicing off the bottom inch or two of stem (there may be an attached root bundle at the bottom too). Warm a teaspoon or two of olive oil over medium heat in a skillet and add the cress with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon or tongs, until the cress has wilted down but is still bright green. It will have lost much of its crunch, but that’s okay. We are looking for tenderness here.
  • Just like that, we’re ready to assemble. For each piece of toast, cut a wedge of burrata and scoop onto the bread. Be sure you get the outside coating of mozzarella and the creamy curds inside. Top the cheese layer with a few sprigs of cress, then drizzle some balsamic vinegar over the whole thing and serve immediately.

* Note: if your balsamic vinegar is thin, or is more tart in flavor than you enjoy, try this – heat about ¼ cup of balsamic with 2 teaspoons brown sugar in a small saucepan until it simmers. Stir to dissolve the sugar, and allow it to reduce almost by half, so you have barely more than 2 tablespoons. This will thicken and sweeten the liquid, making it more of a glaze. It will still be plenty strong, though, so you’ll only need a little bit for each crostini.

Chicken Salad on Smashed Avocado Toast

I do a lot of complicated, multi-step recipes here. There are reasons for this, of course. One is that I want to keep things interesting. I mean, there are millions – possibly billions – of “easy” recipes out there, boasting 5 ingredients or less, 10 minutes or less, all pantry or store-bought items, one-pot, you name it. But I figure, how many 5-ingredient-chicken-and-veggie-casseroles does the internet need? If I’m going to cook for you, I want it to be fresh and intriguing. Sometimes that means embracing complexity.

Food Blog June 2014-3758The other, more important reason, is that I want to challenge myself. It’s all very well to master a dish, and I like that. But after a while, I get bored. I need something new, to keep my taste buds and my fingers and my mind nimble. I chose to become a professor, which means I work to teach. But I couldn’t have embarked on this career without being a bit of an eternal student, which means I want to learn. That’s why I do these annual projects here – exploring dough, whisking away at a sauce a month. To keep myself enthralled and improving, I have to tackle new challenges.

Food Blog June 2014-3731These challenges find their way to you, most of the time, after some finagling and practicing. Usually I get an idea, fiddle with it, add and subtract and mess and annotate, and out comes a recipe that I post here. It’s not often that I throw together some depth-of-the-fridge ingredients and produce something I consider blogworthy.

Food Blog June 2014-3734But “not often” isn’t the same as never. A few weeks ago, as a heat wave rendered Los Angeles practically immobile (or maybe that was just my un-air-conditioned living room), I dragged myself to the kitchen to (I hoped) find something reasonably delicious to throw together for dinner that didn’t involve the oven or the stove. Great expectations, no?

Food Blog June 2014-3741What we ended up with was a dinner that made our eyebrows climb, and almost immediately we were thinking about when we would have it again. And as sometimes happens, it was just what I had, layered together into something great. Chicken salad. Toast. Avocado smashed with extravagant quantities of lemon juice and raw garlic. Layered and mounded into an open-faced sandwich as at home on a picnic blanket as on your dining room table. So bright and fresh! Satisfying but so light and summery! And, if you have had the presence of mind to make your chicken salad the day before (or, if you’ve got a deli you love, bought some), assembly requires all of five minutes with minimal application of heat. Oh, and if you find yourself in need of a way to use up some homemade mayonnaise, this is your salad.

Food Blog June 2014-3743This is a summer dinner you need to make. And then make again. Because really, complexity is fun, but sometimes simple is just right.

Food Blog June 2014-3750A few extra thoughts: the lemon and garlic smashed avocado is currently my food crush. It’s great with the chicken salad, but it would also be spectacular (and really quite aesthetically lovely too) underneath thin slices of hard boiled egg or smoked salmon. Or, you know, just plain on toast. Or to dip chips into. Or a spoon.

Food Blog June 2014-3747I’m also thinking you could quarter your toast slices, or even cut them into long, skinny toast soldiers, before loading them up, to make sweet tea sandwiches or easy hors d’oeuvres for a bridal or baby shower.

Food Blog June 2014-3753Finally, and this is not about chicken salad or avocado, if you have an iPhone, you should ask Siri “What does the Fox say?” Then you should ask her again. It could well be that I’m the last person on the planet to know about this, but still. You’re welcome.

Food Blog June 2014-3763

Chicken Salad and Smashed Avocado toasts
Serves 4
Much about this recipe is to your liking. More or less mayonnaise, more or less salt, a few extra grinds of pepper, a squeeze or two less lemon juice – use your taste buds and find out what you like best. These are suggested quantities that we found we liked enough to want to tell you about it almost immediately.
For the chicken salad:
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, patted dry
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
⅓ cup finely sliced green onions (from 3-4 green onions)
⅓ cup celery, stalks halved or quartered lengthwise, then finely sliced (from 1-2 stalks)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons Dijon or whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons roughly chopped capers
¼ cup mayonnaise, or to taste (for us, 6 tablespoons, or ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoon, ended up being perfect)


  • Preheat the oven to 350F.
  • Use 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to grease a 9×9 inch square baking dish.
  • Sprinkle the chicken breasts with the salt and pepper on both sides, then nestle them into the pan in a single layer. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the chicken.
  • Bake for 45-60 minutes or until juices run clear and flesh reaches an internal temperature of 165F. You know, fully cooked chicken. Remove from oven and cool completely.
  • While the chicken cools, assemble and prep the other ingredients. Place the green onions, celery, dill, lemon zest, mustard, and capers in a large bowl and toss together with a fork.
  • When the chicken is cool, shred or cube it. I prefer my chicken salad shredded. To do this, place one chicken breast on a cutting board or a plate. Stab two forks, backs facing each other, into the chicken and pull them away from each other to shred it. Or, if you prefer, stab the chicken with one fork and hold it stationary, while you drag the other fork through the meat to create shreds. See photos above.
  • Add the cooled, shredded (or cubed) meat to the bowl with your other ingredients.
  • Add the mayonnaise and toss with the chicken and vegetables to combine thoroughly. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as desired. Be careful, though: the smashed avocado gets salt of its own, so don’t overdo it on the sodium here unless you are a salt fiend.


For the toasts:
8 slices sourdough bread (2 slices per person; thick sliced would be lovely)
2 whole avocados
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon coarse salt
Handful of arugula or spinach leaves, optional


  • Toast your bread in a toaster or under the broiler until nicely golden. While it toasts, halve your avocados, remove the pits, and put the flesh in a small bowl. Add the lemon juice and pepper.
  • Peel and finely chop your garlic cloves. When they are well minced, sprinkle them with the ¼ teaspoon coarse salt. Using the flat of your knife, drag it across the garlic and salt, applying firm pressure. The idea here is that the salt will act as an abrasive, breaking down the garlic into a paste to make it less aggressive (biting into a chunk of raw garlic is an adventure, but not always a fun one), and to help it integrate more easily into the avocado. Repeat until the garlic becomes a pulpy, juicy paste.
  • Scrape the salted garlic paste into the avocado bowl, and smash the ingredients together with a fork into a chunky green mass. Delicious. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking, remembering that the acidity will be cut a bit when you add the toast and chicken salad components.
  • To build these open-face sandwiches, for each slice of toast, spread a few tablespoons of smashed avocado all the way out to the edges, scatter a few fresh arugula or spinach leaves over it, if desired, and then spoon ¼ – ½ cup chicken salad on top in an even layer.
  • That’s it! Serve up. Enjoy.