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.

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 cup 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.

 

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

Click here for a printable version.

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.

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.

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

Click here for a printable version.

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.

 

Weekend Food

Let’s face it. There are some dishes that I will never make during the week (at least, not as long as I’m gainfully employed full time). Roasts (unless they’re hanging out in the crockpot). Yeast bread. Short ribs. Let’s add risotto to that list.

It’s not like any of these foods are particularly hard to make; they’re just time consuming. And since we’d rather not sit down to dinner at 8 p.m., I’ve just accepted the fact that some things are better saved for the weekend, when I can take my time and make a complete mess in my kitchen. In fact, that’s one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday afternoon, especially if the weather isn’t the greatest.

I’d had my eye on this recipe ever since Annie posted it, oh, FOUR years ago. I kept waiting for that magical moment when asparagus, leeks AND peas would all show up in my CSA delivery at the same time. No such luck. I finally decided that I’d just suck it up and buy the veggies I needed. Except that I refuse to pay almost three dollars for a tiny clamshell of chives, so I decided to use green onions instead. Which I forgot to add when I finished the risotto. Oh well. Such is life.

Whenever I make risotto, I do my best to have things chopped and prepped before I get going, which makes it easier to focus on stirring the pot. I rinsed the leeks, blanched the asparagus, shredded the cheese and measured out the frozen peas first. That way, I can give the risotto the attention that it deserves. (It’s such a needy dish… “Stir! Constantly!” Ha.) 

I was a little short on the amount of asparagus (because we had been roasting it for dinner), which worked out okay, since Andy didn’t love the texture of the asparagus in the risotto. I did add extra lemon juice to cut the richness of the cream cheese. Next time, I think I’ll omit the cream cheese altogether – we thought that it was rich and creamy enough with just the Parmesan cheese. All in all though, it was an afternoon well spent.

Asparagus Risotto

Spring Green Risotto

5 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used a combination.) 
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, minced
3 cups chopped leeks, rinsed and spun dry
1 1/2 cups medium-grain rice
2/3 cup dry white wine (I used my favorite wine, mostly because it’s what I have on hand most often.) 
1 lb. asparagus spears, woody ends removed
10 ounces frozen peas
zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish if desired (We forgot about that…oops.) 
1/3 cup cream cheese, optional (I’ll leave this out next time, but that’s just me.) 
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the heat down to low and keep the stock warm.

Chop the asparagus into inch-long pieces. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the asparagus until it’s crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Immediately drain the asparagus and place it in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Once the asparagus has cooled, drain it and set it aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil together in a large pan (I use my stainless steel Dutch oven because I don’t have a saute pan that I love). Saute the shallots and leeks until they are tender, about 7 minutes. Add the rice to the leek/shallot mixture and cook for about a minute, stirring to coat the rice with the butter and olive oil. Add the wine to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is almost all absorbed.

Ladle two scoops of stock from the saucepan into the pan with the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has absorbed into the rice. Continue adding the broth, two scoops at a time, cooking and stirring until the liquid is almost absorbed before adding more stock. When the rice has been cooking for about 15 minutes, add the cooked asparagus to the rice. Stir in the lemon zest and the frozen peas. Continue to add stock and cook the rice until it is creamy and tender but still slightly firm.

Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the lemon juice, Parmesan cheese and cream cheese (if using). Stir until the cheese melts and the risotto is creamy. Taste the risotto and then season with salt and pepper as desired.

Serve warm, garnished with Parmesan if desired.

As seen on Annie’s Eats, originally adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.

Click here for a printable version.

Twice Baked Awesomeness

Did you have big plans for Valentine’s Day? A fancy dinner somewhere, or a romantic weekend away? Not us. Andy firmly believes that it’s a holiday engineered by Hallmark and FTD, and he’s lucky he married a girl who doesn’t get hung up on stuff like that. 🙂 

Instead of an overpriced dinner out, we had a great dinner in with some of our favorite friends. Karen picked out the wine, made salad and baked an awesome chocolate cheesecake. I volunteered to bring steak and sweet potatoes. The steak was easy – I turned it over to the guys and let them work their magic on the grill. (Yes, the grill. It warmed up to about 20 degrees last weekend… hello grilling weather!) 

I went with the twice-baked sweet potatoes from Cook’s Illustrated. I’d made them once before, and they earned five stars on the Andy scale. I mean, there’s a crispy, buttery breadcrumb topping and a filling spiked with Parmesan cheese. But as I was making them again, I started to worry that they weren’t going to be quite good enough for our Friday night feast. What if the first time was just a fluke? 

My concerns were completely unfounded. They were just as good the second time, and the four of us devoured every crumb. In fact, I *might* like them a little more than regular twice-baked potatoes, and that’s saying something. 

Amazingly enough (especially for a CI recipe), this one is easy enough for a weeknight. I made these after I got home from work on Friday, and we were ready to leave for dinner in less than an hour. The microwave gives you a head-start with the potatoes, and once they’re stuffed and topped, they only bake for 20 minutes. So while they look (and taste) like a special occasion dinner, there’s no reason not to make them tonight. 🙂 

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes

4 8-ounce sweet potatoes, unpeeled and scrubbed (nicely shaped, if you can find them)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 shallots, thinly sliced
4-6 slices of French bread, cut into 1/8″ – 1/4″ cubes*
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (one ounce), divided
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 large egg, lightly beaten
salt

Lightly prick the sweet potatoes with a fork, then place in the microwave. Cook potatoes until they’re easily pierced by a toothpick and the sides of the potato yield to a gentle squeeze. This takes about 9-12 minutes, depending on your microwave and sweet potatoes. Flip the potatoes about every 3-4 minutes while they are cooking. Set them aside to cool slightly. 

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the bread crumb topping. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet. (I love my cast iron one for this.) Add the shallots to the melted butter and cook for about 5 minutes, until they are lightly browned and tender.

Mix the breadcrumbs, thyme and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese together in a small bowl. Pour the butter and shallot mixture over the breadcrumbs and gently mix until the breadcrumbs are all coated in butter. 

Preheat oven to 425. Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise, and scoop the sweet potato flesh out and place in a large mixing bowl, leaving about a 1/4″ margin around the edge of the sweet potato skin. Place the empty potato skins on a large baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until shells are slightly dry and crispy. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 375. 

Mash the sweet potato with a potato masher until smooth. (I used both my hand masher and my hand mixer.) Stir the beaten egg, remaining Parmesan cheese and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt into the potato. 

Choose six potato skins to fill. (That’s probably all of the filling you’ll have, but I wait to choose my shells until after they bake. That way, I don’t end up short if one gets a little too crispy in the oven.) Divide the sweet potato mixture between the skins, and top them with the breadcrumb mixture. 

Bake for 20 minutes, or until filling is puffed and the breadcrumbs are golden. Remove from oven and enjoy. 

From Cook’s Illustrated, November/December 2013

*CI calls for two slices of “hearty white sandwich bread,” something that I don’t have on hand and didn’t buy. I used several slices of French bread instead, since they were smaller than a standard piece of sandwich bread. It worked just fine.

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Brussels. Bacon. Cheese.

I don’t remember eating Brussels sprouts as a kid. Maybe my mom didn’t make them, or perhaps I’ve just repressed that memory. 😀 So, when we received a stalk of Brussels sprouts in our CSA last fall, I was at a loss for how to prepare them. My M.O. for “strange” or “possibly unlikable” vegetables is to roast them. I’m pretty sure you could toss just about anything with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, roast it for 20 minutes and have it taste good. Especially if you hit the final product with some lemon juice and Parmesan cheese before you dig in.

That’s what I did with those first sprouts. Then I saw this recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts with blue cheese. Roasted sprouts with melty, creamy, tangy cheese? Sign me up. But then, I started thinking about how much better those sprouts would be with some bacon. Smoky, salty bacon. (Bacon is Andy’s suggestion for nearly every savory dish. “It’s good, but it’d be better with bacon.”)

And better it was. The outer leaves of the sprouts crisped in the oven, and the cheese melted into delicious strings puddles pockets studded with bacon crumbles. Most of the sprouts didn’t even make it to our plates – we gobbled them straight from the serving dish. I’d even go so far as to say it’s the best side dish I’ve made in a long time. In fact, it gets 10 stars on our dinner scale – a scale that only goes up to 5.

BaconBlueCheeseSprouts

Bacon Blue Cheese Brussels Sprouts

3 strips of bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
1/2 lb. Brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for the pan
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce blue cheese crumbles

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil.

Wash the Brussels sprouts and trim the stems off the base of the sprouts. Halve the Brussels sprouts and place in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle olive oil over sprouts and toss with with oil, salt and pepper. Spread Brussels sprouts on the baking sheet.

Roast until sprouts are golden brown and centers are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove tray from oven and sprinkle with blue cheese and bacon crumbles. Stir the sprouts with a spatula to evenly distribute the cheese and bacon among the sprouts. Return the tray to the oven and bake for an additional 2-3 minutes, or until cheese is fully melted.

Serve immediately.

Adapted from An Apple a Day, originally from Nicole Morrissey’s “Prevention RD’s Everyday Healthy Cooking”

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