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The Perfect Summer Side

Ah, summer. The season of picnics and cookouts, graduation parties and camping trips. You know what all of those things have in common? Food! Whatever’s happening, people need to eat, right? And most of the time, there will be pasta salad on the table. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s drowning in mayo and isn’t so good. Sometimes, much to Andy’s dismay, it’s the only side dish at the party.

Unless, of course, this pasta salad is available. It’s so good that Andy (who says pasta salad makes him gag), eats more than just a polite serving. He goes back for seconds and thirds. And then he raids the fridge for the leftovers.

The first time I tried it, I was amazed  that something so simple could be so delicious. It’s just orzo, lemon juice, olive oil, fresh basil, feta and dried cherries, with some greens thrown in for good measure. My friend Bethany made it for a get-together, and wow. It was summer loving at first bite for me. Clearly, this was something special.

Like any good summer salad, this one is easy to throw together. It tastes good straight out of the fridge or at room temperature. I can’t decide if it’s the basil, the cherries or the feta that puts this one over the top. Maybe it’s all three together, in a trifecta of awesomeness.

I didn’t have arugula on hand, but I’d gotten a bunch of Swiss chard in our CSA the week beforehand, so I figured that would work out OK. I ended up sauteing the stems and then the chopped leaves, since I think they’re a little tough and chewy raw. It didn’t take that much longer, and it gave me something to do while I waited for the pasta to cool. Good thing too. Otherwise I might have eaten all of the feta before it made its way into the salad. 😉

I almost skipped the pine nuts because they were ridiculously expensive in my grocery store but decided to splurge when I found a slightly cheaper package of them. I used some of my awesome Italian olive oil from Andy’s brother, Dan, and I think it really made a difference in the end result. So if you have the good stuff, this is the time to break it out. And then you may want to keep it out, since you’ll probably need to make a second batch to take to a picnic or something.

OrzoPastaSalad

Tri-Color Pasta Salad

1 lb. uncooked orzo pasta
3 tablespoons plus up to 1/4 cup of olive oil, divided
2 cups chopped greens (arugula, spinach or Swiss chard)
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup dried cherries
12 fresh basil leaves, torn
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 1/2 teaspoon salt (I didn’t measure this.) 
1 teaspoon pepper  (Again, I didn’t measure.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, then drain the pasta and quickly rinse it with cool water.

Spread the cooked pasta in an even layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with three tablespoons of olive oil. Set aside to cool.

While the pasta cools, prepare the rest of the salad.

If you’re using Swiss chard, separate the stems from the leaves and chop the stems into 1/4″ pieces. Add some olive oil to a large skillet and saute the stems until they are crisp tender. Chop the leaves into bite-sized / manageable pieces and then add them to the skillet when the stems are almost done. Take the pan off the heat.

If you’re using spinach or arugula, simply wash the leaves and tear them into bite-sized pieces.

Place the greens in a large bowl and then add the pine nuts, cherries, basil and feta cheese. Scrape the orzo into the bowl and add the lemon juice. Gently mixed until everything is well-distributed. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil (up to 1/4 cup) until the pasta is well-coated and doesn’t appear dry. Mix everything one more time, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve cold or at room temperature. Hide store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

From my friend Bethany

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2016 in Side Dishes

 

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Too Good To Be Seasonal

I know, I know. This post is six months too late or too early, depending on your perspective. But really, who says you can only enjoy stuffing on the fourth Thursday of November?

It may be a seasonal dish for some people, but it’s one of my favorite things. I love it in all forms (although I wish people would stop filling it with mushrooms), and I’m not ashamed to admit that even the Stove Top variety holds a special place in my heart. In fact, my cousin and I do our very best to eat the entire bowl each Thanksgiving.

Turns out, one of my favorite bloggers agrees with me, and when I saw her recipe, I knew that I just had to try it. And once we tried it, I knew there was no way we’d only eat it one day a year.

It’s easy to make, and it goes well with practically everything. I’ve added sausage (per Deb’s note at the bottom of the recipe) and called it dinner. (I’m sure I served it with a salad for balance, of course.) It’s a great way to use up the stray pieces of celery that get lost in the bottom of the crisper drawer (or the apple that’s on its last legs). And, thanks to my ever-growing cast iron obsession, I realized that I could make it in my  skillet, save a dish and have it look pretty at the table (or on the kitchen counter).

AppleHerbStuffing

OK, so it’s technically dressing, since it’s not “stuffed” in anything before baking. Potato, potah-to. 😉

Apple Herb Stuffing

6 cups of torn bread chunks, I typically use French bread
4-5 tablespoons unsalted butter (4 if you’re baking the stuffing in a cast-iron skillet; 5 if you need to prepare a separate baking dish)
1 large onion, sweet if you have one, regular if not, finely chopped
1 large stalk of celery, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (or a scant 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon table salt, plus more to taste
fresh ground black pepper
1 large or 2 small tart apples, peeled and finely diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 fresh sage leaves, minced, or a generous pinch dried sage
1/2 chicken stock
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350° and make sure that the oven rack is in the center position.

Place the bread cubes in a single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the bread is lightly golden, about 15-20 minutes, stirring every so often. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool while you prepare the rest of the stuffing.

If using a separate baking dish, butter a one-quart baking dish with 1 tablespoon of butter. If you plan to bake your stuffing in the same pan that you’ll cook the vegetables in, skip this step. (Cast iron for the win! We are all about streamlining things over here. Ha!)

Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a 10″ skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the celery and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the apple to the skillet and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Place the bread in a large mixing bowl and scrape the contents of the skillet on top of the crumbs. Whisk the egg and 1/2 cup of stock together in a glass measuring cup and pour it over the bread crumb mixture. Stir in the parsley and sage and mix until just combined.

If you’re baking the stuffing in your already-prepared baking dish, spoon / scrape the stuffing into your baking dish. If you’re baking it in your skillet, spoon / scrape the stuffing back into the skillet. (Deb notes that you can add an extra 1/2 cup of chicken stock if you think it looks dry, and you can also let the stuffing rest, if you’re prepping it as part of larger meal. I’ve never done either.) 

Bake, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, or until the stuffing is golden brown on top and no liquid shows when you poke it with a knife. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

From Smitten Kitchen

Click here for a printable version.

 

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2016 in Side Dishes

 

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Sweet Potatoes and Bacon!

So, things have been a little dessert-heavy around here lately. I feel like that always seems to happen this time of year. Our CSA is still a few months away, and it’s not light enough in the evenings to get any decent pictures of dinner. And, let’s be honest, I’ve kind of been on a dessert kick, and I don’t see that ending any time soon. In an attempt to keep things balanced, I figured I’d talk about the sweet potatoes that I made for our Easter dinner. 😉

I actually first made these for Friendsgiving. I spent a lot of time flipping through cookbooks and magazines, searching for the perfect dishes to round out the menu. Sweet potatoes aren’t usually my first choice when it comes to sides (mostly because I like white potatoes better), but when I saw the picture in the Thanksgiving issue of Southern Living, I was immediately interested. And with good reason, too. I mean, there’s bacon, after all. Do I really need to say more?

Fine. It’s also super easy, AND it cooks in the crock pot. This means that you can get the potatoes going before church and come home to a great lunch, or free up stove / oven space during a big meal. Of course, it’s one of those crock pot recipes that only cooks for 4 hours, so unless you have one of those fancy crock pots with a timer, it’s not ideal for a workday meal.

Frozen concentrate isn’t an ingredient that I typically have on hand, but since the unused portion keeps well in the freezer (obviously), I figured  I could just use keep the extra for another batch. As long as we liked them, anyway. Which we did. So much so, in fact, that I made the full batch for Easter, even though it was just the two of us.

CrockpotSweetPotatoes

The picture won’t win any food blogger photo awards, but you can only take pictures for so long before you give in and eat the food. 🙂

 

Slow-Cooker Sweet Potatoes with Bacon

4 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ thick slices
1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
4 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
3 cooked bacon slices, crumbled

Place the sliced sweet potatoes in a 5-6 quart crock pot.

Mix the concentrate, butter, brown sugar and salt together and pour the mixture over the potatoes. Stir the potatoes until they are well-coated with the butter/sugar/concentrate mixture.

Place the lid on the crock pot and cook on low for about 4 hours, or until potatoes are tender. (The original recipe says to cook for 5-6 hours, but I found that the longer time turned the potatoes into mush. Maybe my crock pot runs hot?) 

When the potatoes are tender, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a serving dish. Whisk the cornstarch and water together, and then whisk it into the juice in the bottom of the crock pot. Turn the crock pot temperature to high and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 3 to 5 minutes. Pour the sauce over the potatoes.

In a small bowl, combine the parsley, orange zest and garlic. Sprinkle the parsley mixture over the potatoes and top with the crumbled bacon. Serve warm.

From Southern Living, November 2015

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Posted by on April 6, 2016 in Side Dishes

 

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Spontaneous Success!

Let me start by admitting that I did not plan for this one. Aldi had a sale on mangoes last week, so I violated grocery shopping rule #1 (STICK TO THE LIST!) and put one in the cart. I had no idea what I’d do with it, but 69-cent mangoes are not to be passed up.

Not only did I go off-list at the grocery store, but I also slacked off on the meal planning for the week. I put the fun important things down (dinner with friends Monday night and tacos with friends on Friday night), but that left me with three dinner-less days, and man cannot (or should not) live on Christmas cookies alone. (Not that we aren’t giving it our best shot… 😉 )  And then Andy went on a last-minute work trip, which kind of killed the meal-planning motivation. I would just scrounge up something with what was in the house.

Hmm. One mango. Roughly half of a head of Napa cabbage from our last CSA share (Don’t be grossed out by that. I promise it was still good. Those produce saver bags are AMAZING.) Limes. Onions. Hmm.

Smitten Kitchen to the rescue again! This slaw was incredibly addicting. It was sweet (from the mango), sour (from the lime) and spicy (not sure if it was the red pepper flakes or my red onion) all at the same time. I subbed green pepper for the red pepper (because that’s what I had in the fridge). I didn’t have mint or cashews, so I toasted some almonds and chopped up some cilantro instead.

I was going to cook some shrimp to go with it, but, as I said before, my motivation was dwindling. Plus, I was kind of going to town on the slaw, so I decided to make a meal out of just that. And then I ate the rest for lunch the next day. Like I said, addicting. Good thing Andy was gone so I didn’t have to share. 😉

MangoSlaw

Cabbage & Mango Slaw

1 pound of Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
1-2 mangoes, thinly sliced (Deb’s recipe calls for 2 mangoes. I only had one on hand, but I would definitely go for 2. More mango is never a bad thing.) 
1/2 green pepper, thinly sliced
1/3 of a large red onion, thinly sliced
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Combine the cabbage, mangoes, green pepper and red onion in a large bowl.

Whisk the lime juice, rice vinegar, red pepper flakes, salt and oil together in a small bowl. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and add the cilantro to the bowl. Toss the salad a few times to make sure the dressing is well-distributed.

Just before serving, sprinkle with the toasted almonds.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2015 in Side Dishes

 

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Putting My Spin On Things

Like dips, pasta salads aren’t something I make very often. Since only 50% of our household enjoys it, I usually opt for other pasta dishes. I don’t even make it for potlucks because, “what if EVERYONE makes pasta salad and that’s the ONLY thing at the party?!” (In Andy’s defense, this did happen once… seven years ago. He still hasn’t let me forget it.)

But when I started looking for a different way to prepare asparagus (because variety is the spice of my life), I stumbled on the idea of an asparagus salad. And then I realized that if I bulked it up with some pasta, I could get away with only making one dish for dinner. Plus, if I served it warm and called it “pasta with asparagus and feta,” Andy probably wouldn’t associate it with the chilled, mayo-slicked salads that give him flashbacks to that fateful day in 2008. It’s all in how you spin things. 😉

I made a couple changes to the original recipe. I added pasta (obviously). I roasted the asparagus since our grill is on the fritz, and I upped the lemon, adding the zest and juice from an entire lemon. I used my “good” Italian olive oil from my brother-in-law to finish off the dish, since its flavor would come through. We enjoyed it warm the first night, and I liked the leftovers at room temperature as well.

LemonAsparagusFetaPasta

 

Lemon Asparagus Pasta Salad with Feta 

1 lb. of asparagus spears
8 ounces uncooked short pasta
zest and juice of one lemon
olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup feta cheese
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and lightly oil a baking sheet with olive oil. Wash the asparagus and trim off the tough, woody ends. Cut the asparagus spears into 3″ long pieces. Place the asparagus pieces in a large bowl and drizzle them with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Place the minced garlic in the bowl and toss to combine.

Spread the asparagus in an even layer on the baking sheet and roast until golden brown in spots, about 12 minutes. Hang on to the bowl – you’ll use it to mix everything together at the end.

While the asparagus is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta and place it in the bowl you tossed the asparagus in earlier. Zest the lemon and squeeze the juice over the cooked pasta. When the asparagus is done, remove it from the oven and add the asparagus to the pasta. Scrape any garlicky oil from the pan into the bowl with the pasta.

Mix the feta cheese in with the pasta. If the mixture seems too dry, add another tablespoon or so of olive oil to the  bowl. Toss to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Adapted from Once Upon a Chef

Click here for a printable version.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2015 in Main Dishes, Pasta, Side Dishes

 

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Garlic + Parm + Potatoes

Mashed potatoes. Come on, who needs a recipe for mashed potatoes? You cook the spuds, add some butter and milk (and sour cream and cheese, if you’re feeling indulgent), and season with salt and pepper. What’s to know?

A lot, according to my latest copy of Cook’s Illustrated. I was reading the article about a French apple tart (looks beautiful, but I think it will take all day just to slice the apples for it!) when I noticed the recipe on the preceding page: Parmesan Garlic Mashed Potatoes. The potato recipe looked significantly less involved than the tart recipe, plus, I had everything to make it. On the menu it went!

It goes without saying that since it’s a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, it’s more involved than your standard potato recipe. I did question some things in the recipe (such as why I have to cut the butter into chunks when I’m melting it anyway…), but since CI has tested for practically every scenario, I stuck to the recipe. For the most part, anyway. I saw no reason to pour the melted butter, garlic and Parmesan cheese from the saucepan into a separate bowl before then pouring it into the potatoes. They may have a dedicated dish crew, but I am not that lucky. 🙂 (I do appreciate all of the testing and science behind their recipes though. I definitely learn something from each issue – even if I don’t get around to making all of the recipes.) 

Extra steps or not, it was worth it. The recipe says it feeds 4-6 people as a side dish, but I could have skipped the rest of dinner and just had potatoes. I hoarded the leftovers. (Sorry to all of my coworkers for making the office smell like garlic!) I licked the spatula and the potato masher clean. (OK, so I do that anytime I make mashed potatoes… let’s not get hung up on the details…) If I were making the potatoes for Thanksgiving, these would definitely be on my short list. But since I’m not in charge of the spuds (to my knowledge, anyway), I’ll just make these for other special occasions. You know, like Tuesday dinners. 😀

Garlic Parm Mashed Potatoes

Parmesan Garlic Mashed Potatoes

2 pounds potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/2″ thick chunks (CI recommends Yukon Golds; I just used the white potatoes from my Grandma.)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, mixed with 1/2 teaspoon water
1 1/4 teaspoons garlic, zested/minced into a paste, divided
2/3 cup warm milk
1 1/2 ounces (3/4 cup) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
parsley, for garnish (optional)

Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and add water until potatoes are covered with 1″ of water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender (about 15 minutes) and pierce easily with a paring knife. Remove from heat and drain the potatoes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic powder/water mixture and 1 teaspoon of minced garlic to the butter and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in Parmesan cheese, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of garlic and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper.

Place the potato saucepan back on the stove over low heat. Add the potatoes to the pot and mash them. (Cook’s Illustrated recommends using a potato rice, but since I don’t own one, I just used my hand masher.) Stir the butter-Parmesan mixture into the mashed potatoes. Pour the milk into the potatoes and stir until combined. Taste the potatoes and season with salt, if necessary. (I added a scant 1/2 teaspoon to the mixture… significantly less than the 1 1/4 teaspoons that CI recommended.) Transfer the potatoes to a serving dish and top with parsley, if using. Serve immediately. (Unless the rest of your dinner isn’t ready yet. If that’s the case, simply cover the potatoes with foil and place in a warm oven.) 

From Cook’s Illustrated, December 2014

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Posted by on October 19, 2014 in Side Dishes

 

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Cooking Club Win!

The theme for our most recent “cooking club” evening was appetizers, which meant that I had lots of possible recipes to chose from. There’s the avocado feta hummus. Or the avocado lemon feta dip. Or the sweet potato discs with pecans and cranberries (and since I’m not crazy about goat cheese, I’d swap it out for, you guessed it, feta). And those are just the recent additions to the list.

Thanks to some crazy schedules (and some last-minute planning), I knew I didn’t have time to fit in a stop to buy avocado, feta, or sweet potatoes. So I decided that bread could be an appetizer. I mean, you eat it while you wait for your meal to come at a fancy restaurant, right? (OK, so maybe that’s fancy bread that you dip in balsamic and olive oil, but just go with me on this, mmmk?)

What we have here is a cheesy, bacony loaf of deliciousness. It smelled fantastic while it was baking, and it tasted good too. (It had cheese and bacon. How could it not??) Its’a quick bread, which meant no monkeying around yeast and letting the dough rise. It was good on its own, and it wasn’t bad with apple butter either.

I have to admit, the directions for this one weirded me out just a bit. Pour the melted butter in the bottom of the loaf pan? Add the dough and pour the bacon grease on top? I was convinced that I was going to end up with a greasy, soggy mess. But amazing things must have happened inside my oven, because the finished product wasn’t greasy OR soggy.

Amazing things indeed. After all, we’re talking about bacon, cheese and beer. In bread. The finished product didn’t last long at all.
Bacon Beer Cheese BreadBacon Beer Cheese Bread

6-7 slices of bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled, drippings reserved (The original recipe called for 6 thick slices, but my bacon was on the thin side, so I went with 7.) 
3 cups of all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1 12-ounce bottle of beer
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons reserved bacon grease

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.

Stir the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Add the cheese and crumbled bacon and stir to combine. When the cheese and bacon are evenly mixed into the flour, pour the beer into the bowl. Stir the mixture with a large spoon until it comes together.

Spoon/pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Spread it evenly in the pan and drizzle the melted butter and bacon grease over the top of the loaf.

Bake until a knife inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool on a wire rack. After 10-15 minutes, you can flip the loaf out of the pan.

Slice and serve. Cover leftovers (what?) with plastic wrap and store at room temperature.

From Brown Eyed Baker, who adapted it from the Novice Chef

Click here for a printable version.

 

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2014 in Breads, Muffins & Rolls

 

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