Archive for the ‘Side dish’ Category

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Beans, glorious beans!

August 10, 2009

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I love, love, love green beans. Their snap. Their crunch. Their verdant, subtle sweetness. (The only form of green bean I can’t stand is, honestly, the canned variety. Such sadly abused beans make me sigh, not swallow.)

So when the husband concocted a salad that starred one of my favorite vegetables, I insisted that he make it again. And again. And again. This green bean salad elevates the slender green minxes to new heights. It features a tangy, sweet, light dressing that makes all the green bean’s best qualities stand out in relief. Think you’ve got some fresh, tender, delectable green beans from the grocery store? They’ll be even more mouthwatering when lightly dressed with this precocious concoction, and made lovely with a smattering of sweet, acidic grape tomatoes.

Doesn’t the humble green bean deserve some star treatment? (Especially after years of abuse at the hands of bean canners and cafeteria ladies?) I should say so.

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And now, the husband’s take…

This salad was really just an idea I whipped together. Now, it’s become a staple and a frequent demand from the wife. A couple of months ago we were visiting family, and I decided to throw together a barbecue as a quick way to feed a good number of people. I found some great green beans and wanted to serve them cold, but needed a dressing. A few minutes later I put this together, and was surprised to hear the very satisfied, “Mmmms…” and “Can I have this recipe?” requests that started coming my way.

Of course, I hadn’t a clue at first what “exactly” I had done. I had made it thinking I wanted a sorta-vinagrette for the salad… but nothing too tangy, watery, or sweet so that the beans and tomatoes were still the focus. Once again, it took insistence by the wife to have me sit down, think about it, write it down and then of course make it “bloggable.”

A few notes about the recipe. First, when I originally made it, I had yellow wax beans in as well. I would have loved to have put them in this version and in the photos; I think they add a great variety in presentation and texture. However — and I don’t know why because they seemed pretty ubiquitous growing up in the Midwest — I cannot seem to find them easily in Northern Virginia. My family in North Carolina says they don’t see them much either. (So, bean farmers, what’s the deal?) Anyway, I’d recommend them if you can get them. Just use equal parts green beans and yellow wax beans.

Second — and this is crucial — you want the beans to be “al dente.” This salad is all about crunch. Better to slightly undercook the beans than overcook them. Therefore, it’s important to pull them from the boiling water and shock them in the ice bath or under cold running water. If you lose that satisfying crunch, I’m not sure even a good dressing makes it worth the effort.

Third, the recipe below produces at least twice as much dressing as you need. I simply keep the rest handy for people to add extra themselves or for a quick version later (currently, I’ve a batch sitting in the fridge in an old Dijon mustard jar). But, with all that extra dressing, use it sparingly. When I overdressed it once, I really felt the green beans and the tomatoes became lifeless and worthless. So, use a careful hand when preparing.

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Green Bean Salad with Dijon Dressing
Ingredients:
2 lbs. green beans
1 cup grape tomatoes (quartered)

Dressing:
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup sherry vinegar
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. fresh ground black pepper

Directions:
1. Bring to a boil a large pot of well-salted water (it should taste like the ocean).

2. Prepare an ice bath of equal parts ice and water.

3. Trim the ends off the green beans and then cook them in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Transfer to the ice bath. Once the green beans are cool, drain and allow them to air dry.

4. Whisk together the ingredients in the dressing and set aside. Note: The dressing should be just slightly salty. This allows the whole salad to be well dressed.

5. In a large bowl, toss together the beans, tomatoes and dressing. Move to a serving dish and enjoy. Note: In dressing the salad, I typically put very little on the beans, but most along the sides of the bowl and toss the beans to coat. This recipe likely makes enough dressing for twice the number of the beans, but I always make extra and it keeps very well.

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A refreshing rhubarb-grapefruit salad for a sizzling summer day

June 10, 2008

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It’s hot here. Brutally hot. The kind of hot where the scorching seat of your car can inflict third-degree burns and the sidewalk can literally cook eggs. It’s too hot to venture outside. It’s too hot to move. It’s almost — dare I say it — too hot to eat.

Wait. It’s never too hot to eat.

Of course, at times like these you do have to be very discerning about what you eat. That’s why my husband has cooked up — all caps, here – a REFRESHING salad that reminds the eater that no, it won’t always be 100 degrees outside, it will get better… and why don’t you go to the pool or something.

Yes, his rhubarb-grapefruit salad does speak that eloquently to me. It is light and (it bears repeating) refreshing, with a delightful sweetness from the cooling grapefruit and crunchy rhubarb and a wonderful twang from the zesty vinagrette. Plus, that beautiful heap of greens hides shredded mint to further cool your taste buds… and the whole thing is just plain gorgeous.

Sure, it’s hot outside — but at least the salad I’m eating is cool.

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And now the husband’s take…

Well, the wife is right about the heat.

When I got in my car today, I saw something I didn’t think was even possible. I looked down at the dashboard where it displays the temperature and saw three numbers: a 1 and a 0 and another 0. That’s right: One hundred degrees here in the US capitol.

It was the empirical evidence of what the last four days have been — HOT. A stifling hot. The kind that, unless you have been trained in Arizona for several years, you are unlikely to survive if you go outside. The kind that makes you sit in your air conditioned house and not want to move for fear that any slight twitch of friction might cause the trees outside your window to ignite.

But even with triple-digit heat, you still get hungry. The solution? Cold recipes. Something refreshing to keep the minions happy. This salad is all about being cool. While there is a stove component, you can do even those parts over a grill. Or you can bear 10 minutes of high heat.

Now to the brass tax on this recipe — there are a lot of little things going on. First, you have the poached rhubarb. It is cooked lightly in a sweet syrup of sugar and grenadine. Second, the grapefruit. It becomes the backbone of the salad through the tartness of its flesh, and its acidity in making a vinaigrette. Third, the greens. They are a combination of spring greens and herbs to give brightness. Fourth, syrups. Simple syrup is used to keep the grapefruit from becoming too tart, and a ginger syrup adds a bit of zing. Finally, there is a little bit of pecan to give you that deeper flavor and savory sensation that would traditionally be associated with a cheese (which has been omitted since dairy and 100 degree temperatures don’t mix).

Finally, I want to suggest a pair of perfect drinks for this. When we came back, my wife mentioned my growing love affair with beer. And the past few days, I’ve had reason to enjoy the pleasures of beer. So my suggestions to pair with this are two fruit-influenced beers. First is Abita’s strawberry harvest lager. Enough subtle strawberry to match with the grapefruit and rhubarb that you get a nice fruit flavor. Second is Unibroque’s Ephémère. This beer is fermented with apple juice and then flavored with classic orange peel, coriander and allowed to develop slightly bready character by being bottled with its yeast. Both these beers are delicious and dry (meaning not sweet…).

By the way, let’s not go into the fact I chose such light, delicate beers as my first recommendations. It’s hot enough without my manhood being questioned… just wait until the red meats and I’ll show you!
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Poached Rhubarb & Grapefruit Herb Salad

Yield: 2 servings
Ingredients:
3 cups water
2 cups sugar
2-inch piece of ginger (peeled & chopped)
1 large ruby red grape fruit
1 cup spring greens
1/2 medium head frisee lettuce
12 leaves mint (chiffonade/thin ribbons)
20 leaves flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pecan (toasted/crushed)
rhubarb batons (see recipe below)
salt
pepper

Directions:
1. Prepare the rhubarb according to recipe below.

2. Prepare the syrup. In a medium-size sauce pan, combine the sugar and water over high heat. Once the sugar has melted completely, pour half out and set aside. Return the other half to the heat and add the chopped ginger. Bring the sugar water to a boil until it starts to form tight bubbles and thicken into a syrup. You are looking for something the consistency of maple syrup. Remove from heat, let cool. Once cool, strain the ginger out, and cover or place syrup in a bottle. The ginger syrup should keep refrigerated nearly indefinitely. Both this and the rhubarb can be done a day in advance easily.

3. Supreme the grapefruit. Using a sharp knife, slice the top and bottom of the grapefruit off just until you reach the flesh of the fruit. Slicing along the shape of the fruit remove the pith and skin of the fruit. This should leave you with just the juicy flesh. Working over a bowl, cut along both sides of each membrane, removing the grapefruit segments. Allow the juices to collect in the bowl and place the segments in the unflavored sugar syrup you set aside earlier. Once all the segments are removed, squeeze the remaining fruit over the bowl to extract the last of the juice.

4. Make the vinaigrette. Whisk together the reserved grapefruit juice with two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. And salt and pepper to taste.

5. Wash and dry all the herbs and lettuce. Toss together. Then toss gently in a little of the grapefruit vinaigrette. Place on a plate. Make sure you have a decent amount of frisee, this is what will give your lettuce height. Layer with some grapefruit segments, rhubarb batons, pecans, and then gently drizzle the ginger syrup lightly over the salad.

Rhubarb Batons

Ingredients:
2 stalks rhubarb
500 ml water
100 ml grenadine
200 g white sugar

Note: This is based on a recipe by Heston Blumenthal. You can find it printed in the Times here. Furthermore, this recipe makes more rhubarb than is needed for this recipe. However, I found them a delicious sweet/tart snack, so I didn’t make any alterations to the amounts in this recipe.

Directions:
1. Clean the rhubarb and cut stalks into 2-inch segments. Make sure you discard any leaves of the rhubarb. They are poisonous and can give you a nasty stomachache.

2. In a medium-size saucepan, add the water, sugar and grenadine. Bring the water to 65C/150F. Add the rhubarb, shut off heat, and let sit for 15 min.

3. Pour rhubarb and liquid into container and refrigerate for several hours.

4. Once cool — and when you are ready to make the salad –slice the rhubarb into thin strips along the length, creating planks of rhubarb, then cut the planks lengthwise again to create batons. (Note: A sharp knife is your friend even though these will be soft.)

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Nothing lost in translation: Sunchoke and Potato Gratin.

February 26, 2007

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You say po-TAY-to, I say po-TAH-to. You say sun-CHOKE… um, I say sun-CHOKE.

My husband says grah-TAHN. I say GRAW-tin.

It doesn’t quite make for a catchy song, but it does make for a damn fine dinner. However you pronounce it, sunchoke and potato gratin is delicious.

I love a good gratin. Who doesn’t? Layers of silky, creamy potatoes in a rich buttery sauce… maybe some onions, garlic, and herbs nestled into the mix… and topped with a layer of delicious cheese, of course. Paired with a meaty, savory entree or just forked in as a solo act, gratin is oh-so satisfying.

Needless to say, then, I got pretty excited when my husband got out his fancy new gratin pan (or as he says it “grah-TAHN” pan, having taken French in high school). But, being the adventerous gourmand that he is, he had more than potatoes in mind for his gratin. He pulled out from his grocery bag sunchokes, a humble and misshapen little brown root vegetable — which I had been under the mistaken idea would look something like an artichoke. (Possibly because they both have the word “choke” in their name. Or possibly because I’d heard them referenced on some TV shows, and thought they’d have a more glam appearance.)

Anyway, here’s where the tension builds, folks. Would the addition of these foreign little vegetables throw off the gratin magic?

I’m happy to report that sunchokes make an excellent addition to your familiar old gratin. The hint of sweetness that they add melds beautifully with the herby, creamy sauce of the gratin. And their potato-like texture makes it hard to distinguish which starch you’re sinking your teeth into. It was a gratin not quite like one I’d ever had before (and I’ve had a few), and it was good. Damn good. Enjoy, folks!

Click here to download the recipe for Sunchoke & Potato Gratin.

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Have Christmas Stress? Need a no fuss dish? But want it to shine? Try Ramen Noodle Salad! Yes, I said Ramen Noodle Salad. Sheesh.

December 24, 2006

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I enjoy food, as you know. But it isn’t often that I eat something and then sincerely plead, “I have to have this recipe.” (Perhaps because I prefer to have others prepare food for me, and then, who needs the recipe?)

But after sampling the Ramen Noodle Salad at my in-laws’ house, I had to demand the recipe. Twice. That’s right. I got it, lost it, and then wasn’t too embarrassed to call the next week to get it again. It’s that good.

Ramen Noodle Salad is simple to prepare and absolutely delicious. I think it’s a well-kept secret, in part, because the recipe seems so unlikely to yield anything as awesomely good as it is. Cabbage, some nuts, some sugar, oil and vinegar… and Ramen noodles and their “flavor packets”?

Doesn’t really set the tummy rumbling, does it?

If that’s the case, it’s only because you haven’t had the salad. It requires nothing more than the ingredient list and a little time to marinate. No baking… no heat of any kind. And it fulfills my requirements for a salad that I will absolutely rave about: It’s incredibly delicious… and not that healthy for you, after all. (Think: Nuts, nuts, noodles and oil. Not really your heart specialist’s dream.)

But who cares? It’s so damn tasty. And by publishing the recipe on the Internet, I — and any other Ramen Noodle Salad lovers — can fulfill our Ramen Noodle Salad cravings anytime – without having to make repeated phone calls for the recipe!

Click here to download the recipe for Ramen Noodle Salad
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What’s a little fried food between friends? Parsnip chips.

December 22, 2006

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Munch, munch, munch.

Let’s face it: Homemade chips are the bomb. We are genetically and evolutionarily driven to consume salty fried snacks. And while you can’t always yield to Mother Nature’s urges, if you’re going to sock away that many calories, you want them to be worthwhile, don’t you?

That’s where these homemade parsnip chips can come in.

They’re delicate, sweet and light — yet fried and salty. It’s a contradiction I can’t explain, particularly with my mouth full of parsnip chips. Honestly, I found these unexpectedly tasty. Viewing the vegetable that they come from, I was duly skeptical. But from that oversized white carrot, that humble root, comes a superior chip. It tastes a lot like what I thought a sweet potato chip would taste like — except I’m usually disappointed by sweet potato chips (they’re often too chewy, thick and mealy).

In fact, it turns out that parsnip chips were what my imagination, and tummy, were craving.

So when you’re mindlessly reaching for that bag of Lay’s, bat your hand away, man. Pull out that other white root vegetable and get a fryin’. You won’t be sor… Munch, munch, munch.

Click here to download the recipe for Parsnip Chips.

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It’s fennel slaw-tastic…

December 5, 2006

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Even the fiercest of us carnivores have to get our roughage in. And while I’m not a huge salad fan, I can be persuaded to chow down on some tossed veg, if the right ingredients are in the offing.

Enter the husband’s fennel slaw salad.

Pecans, carrots and fennel. An unexpected salad trinity perhaps, but quite tasty indeed. The fennel provides a delicious, crunchy bite, the carrots lend their sweetness, and the pecans add their nutty richness. Bathed in a dressing that contains the perfect mix of spicy, salty and sweet, it’s a refreshing entry point into any meal.

So, fellow meat-eaters, pick up your fork and get your veg on.

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The food pyramid commands you: Roast chicken and quince and sausage stuffing

December 1, 2006

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Stuffing is one of the more perfect side dishes. Think about it. Not only is it hot and delicious, but the best stuffings also have representatives from the major food groups: Bread, vegetable, meat, and in this case, fruit. Translation: Stuffing is totally good for you.

So when you’ve grown more than a little uncomfortably full and the zipper on your pants is starting to show its teeth — and yet you’re still contemplating that second helping of grandma’s stuffing … don’t hesitate. Remember your food pyramid, and fork up that stuffing, soldier. After all, our government says it’s good for you.

So now that I’ve convinced you that you not only like stuffing, but that you need stuffing, let me tell you about my husband’s latest grand design (featuring all four major food groups): Sausage and quince stuffing. Yessir.

Baked in that warm, fatty crevice that is the inside of a beautifully brined chicken, the stuffing’s many flavors — sweet and savory — mingle to create a stuffing piece de resistance. I’m a savory stuffing kind of gal, so I enjoyed the aroma and earthiness of the fresh herbs and sweet Italian sausage. But the nuggets of quince were wonderful players in this ouevre, and added their sweet song to its soaring medley. It was like a stuffing symphony arranged on the molars of my gaping maw.

Am I waxing poetic (and silly) about stuffing? Sue me. If you’d had it, you’d be spouting verse, too. And if stuffing can be a muse, I think you’ll agree, it must be damn good stuffing. (Not to mention the chicken. Oh, the chicken…. But that’s enough swooning for one post, don’t you think?)

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