Sides and Appetizers

Shredded Greens with Marinated Glass Noodles and a Garlic-Soy Vinaigrette

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We are waist deep into summer, and for me that means that I need to avoid using my stove / oven at all costs.  Especially this week; it was over 100 degrees F yesterday.  So that means no real baking for the next couple of days / weeks / months.  Oh, how I miss the 2 feet of snow I had in the backyard nigh just a few months ago.  So since cooking and baking slow down, all this heat also means a lot of outdoor grilling and a lot of salads.  And with the farmer’s markets in full swing, why not take advantage of nature’s bounty?

I may have said this before, but I am not a fan of iceberg lettuce.  It’s only real purpose, in my opinion, is to keep my hamburger bun from getting soggy with burger-y juicy goodness.  So this salad will not have any of that stuff.  I use Red and Butter Lettuces here with some sliced onion and radish.  The little twist is that I added some marinated glass noodle.  It adds a nice bit of texture and interest, especially after chilling in the fridge of a couple of minutes or so.  I do also rather like the dressing.  It’s simple and I think you have a nice balance of flavors — you get some sweetness from the honey, some saltiness from the soy sauce, there’s the acid from the vinegar, and the raw garlic adds some heat and bitterness.  And all that flavor is wrapped up in a lovely olive oil.  Here’s what you need:

For the noodle:

  • 1 – 2 “bundles” of glass / cellophane noodles (Chinese vermicelli)
  • 2 c. water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T. seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1 – 2 t. sesame oil

1.  In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil with the bay leaf.  Once boiling, add the vinegar and soy sauce.

2.  Remove from the heat and add the glass noodle.  Let steep for 5 – 7 minutes.

3.  Strain and toss with some sesame oil.  Set aside.

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T. seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 T. soy
  • 1-2 T. honey
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped

1.  Whisk together olive oil, vinegars, and soy sauce until well blended.

2.  Add honey and combine.  The honey will help hold the emulsion and add some sweetness.

3.  Add the black pepper and chopped garlic.  Stir to coat and set aside.

Assemble the salad:

  • 1 head of butter lettuce
  • 1 head of red lettuce
  • 3 radishes, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 large white onion, thinly sliced

1.  Separate the leaves of lettuce.  Place them in a water bath to wash them.  Shred the leaves into bite-sized pieces and spin them dry.

2.  Place a bed of the lettuces on a plate.  In the center of the lettuce, place 1/2 the noodle, twisted with a fork to make a “nest”.

3. Drizzle the salad with the dressing.  Whisk the vinaigrette to re-emulsify if it separated whilst assembling the salad.  Repeat the steps to make a second salad or save everything to make a salad tomorrow!

Notes — I did top off the noodles with some left over lo mein.  I figured it would add a little bit of extra flavor, plus help clean out the fridge. . .  Also, I tend to like my dressings on the tart side, so I probably use more vinegar than most.  Usually the ratio of oil to vinegar is around 3:1 depending on the strength of the vinegar.  Try some different things out and see what you prefer.  And use high quality stuff.  You can’t mask sub-par ingredients here because you will definitely taste it. . . You will have plenty of extra greens here.  After shredding them, just place them in a zip top bag with a slightly damp paper towel and they will stay fresh for a while, maybe a week or so.  I can’t really recommend someone go to the market and just peel off a few leaves of lettuce here and there!

Gougere (aka Cheezy Poofs)

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Happy Bastille Day!  So to celebrate I thought I’d make some Gougere.  That’s just French for “cheese puffs”.  Well, probably not, but that’s what they are.  But I was thinking one day about making certain sweet items more savory.  Cream puffs came to mind, so I was thinking about what would be a way to make them less sweet.  And — Bam! — cheese would work.

After doing some digging, it turns out I’m not all that much of  an innovator.  Looks like the French did this like millions of years ago.  Maybe I should read more French cookbooks.  This recipe basically follows your simple pate-a-choux recipe which is essentially a 1-1-1-4 combination.  That is 1 stick of butter, 1 cup of water, 1 cup of flour, and 4 eggs.  Plus any salt, pepper, and sugar you might add.  This makes about 40, depending on how big you make them.

Anyhoo, here’s what you need:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. sugar
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. grated Gruyère
  • 1/2 c. grated cheddar
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 T. fresh herbs
  • 1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Make an egg wash by mixing together one egg and 1 T. heavy cream; set aside.  Bring 1 c. water, the salt, sugar, and butter to a boil in a saucepan.  Cook until butter is melted.  Add in the flour all at once and stir to combine.

2.  Cook the flour combination for about 5 minutes, until there is a film covering the bottom of the pan.  Transfer to a bowl.

3.  Add the cheeses to the mixture and mix well.  One at a time, add 4 eggs, mixing after each addition.  Now add the herbs and black pepper and incorporate.

4.  Using a piping bag, pipe out 1 – 2 inch rounds onto a lined baking sheet.  If needed, dip your finger into a bowl of water and smooth out the tops.  Brush the puffs with the egg wash and top with a little cheese if you have any leftover.

5.  Bake for about 20 – 25 minutes until golden and puffed.  Serve immediately.

Notes — A couple of things:  (1) Now I was watching a clip on-line from Martha and they said that you could bake these and freeze them.  I certainly hope that’s the case since I will have a lot leftover.  I have frozen some pies before with no problems so I’m guessing it should work out fine.  (2) Also, you can just drop the puffs if you don’t want to pipe them out.  Just smooth out the tops to get a nice uniform shape.  (3) You can substitute a variety of cheeses, but I’d figure you want some kind of good melting cheese at least.  I wonder what using a Stilton would be like.

Grilled Beet Pilaf

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I don’t know about y’all, but when I think about rice pilaf, there is always an air of mystery.  But when you look up what a rice pilaf actually is, it’s basically some rice with some other stuff in it.  It’s usually some wild rice, but it could be some toasted onion, spices, raisins, nuts, etc.  Tah-Dah!  Mystery solved.  Of course, some are more complicated where you toast the pre-cooked rice in some butter with some vegetables and spices, then cook everything in some broth or some saffron water.  This recipe is much simpler.

Pilaf can be traced back to the Middle East to about 2500 years ago.  Historians have found that the dish was probably served to Alexander the Great and Darius the Great. It has spread to become a very international dish.  But if you think about it, paella or risotto could be considered a pilaf.  Even fried rice could fall into that category.

Now I don’t really know how to quantify some ingredients since some leftovers were used and everything was thrown together.  I had some beets leftover from some other dish that I didn’t end up doing (I had originally planned that Mixed Green Salad with Chive Flowers and Fried Goat Cheese to also have Roasted Beets.  But it seemed too busy so I nixed the beets.)  Plus, there was some leftover brown rice in the fridge with which I needed to do something.  So this is my first real attempt to “standardize” the recipe.

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 beets, peeled and sliced about 1/4 – 1/2 ” thick and cut into quarters (I used a red and an orange beet)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced about 1/4 – 1/2″ thick
  • 1 t. Herbes de Provence
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 T. chive butter
  • 3 c. cooked brown rice

1.  On a large sheet of foil, place the beets, onion, and herbes de Provence.  Drizzle with the olive oil and toss gently.  Add the salt & pepper.  Fold half of the foil sheet over and crimp the edges to seal them and make a pouch.

2.  Place the foil pouch on the grill and cook for 25 – 30 minutes, until the beets are tender.

3.  Transfer the cooked rice into a serving dish.  Empty the contents of the foil pouch on top of the rice and toss to combine.  Top with the chive butter.

Note — If you are making this for someone who’s vegan, just omit the butter.  Plus you can still cook this on the grill with some burgers and hot dogs and the like along with the beets because they are self-contained.  Since they are in a foil pouch, the beets are protected from the meat.  Of course, there are some who might object to using the same cooking surface regardless.  You could always get a second grill!

Mixed Greens Salad with Fried Goat Cheese and Chive Flowers

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So in honor of National Fresh Fruit and Veggies Month and National Salad Month (which was last month), I thought I’d give a try to make a nice salad.  Now I’ve never been a fan of salad.  Maybe it’s because historically for me, it usually involves some bits of iceberg lettuce and some kind of dressing.  Sometimes a special treat would be a couple of croutons.  Not fun, at least in my opinion.  So whenever I make a salad, I try to make it interesting with a wide range of flavors, different textures, different colors, fun ingredients, seasonal inspiration. . . all that jazz.

Chive flowers were the inspiration for this dish.  I have some chives growing in a couple of pots which I usually take into the house over the winter.  This time, for whatever reason, I left them out to face the winter head-on.  Fast forward to Spring 2011 and there are an abundance of chive flowers.  Not sure if it has anything to do with being exposed to the elements, but that’s beside the point.  Point is, I had at least twice the amount of chive flowers than I’ve had before.  If you’ve never eaten them, they are somewhat milder than chives, but they have a subtle spiciness and bite.

For this salad, the greens that I chose are a mixture of butter lettuce (yum) and some frisee (also yum).  The nice soft sweetness of the butter lettuce is a nice contrast to the bitterness and hardiness of the frisee.   I use about 2 parts frisee to 1 part butter lettuce (which is nice cuz frisee costs a lot less).  Add in the nice, tart, creaminess of the goat cheese and I think it’s a winner.  Here’s what you need to make 2 nice-sized salads:

For the salad:

  • about 3 c. mixed greens (I usually get extra greens, cuz you could have enough for a couple of salads the rest of the week.  For this batch I got 2 heads of frisee and 1 of the butter lettuce.)
  • 8 – 10 chive blossoms, leaving some whole and some divided into florets
  • 4 rounds of goat cheese, 1/2″ thick
  • 5 T. toasted breadcrumbs
  • 2 t. fennel seeds
  • vinaigrette, to taste (I made a raspberry vinaigrette with just a touch of balsamic)
  • salt & pepper, to taste

1.  Place the goat cheese in the freezer for about 15 minutes.  This makes it easier to slice and handle later.  It also helps it not melt too much when it is fried up.

2.  Wash and dry greens.  Cut or tear into bite-sized pieces.  Place on a serving plate or salad bowl.  Wash and dry chive blossoms.  Keep four whole, but separate the other four into the individual florets.  Sprinkle florets over the greens.  Set aside the whole flowers.

3.  Slice rounds from the goat cheese log.  In a small dish, mix together the bread crumbs, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper.  Coat the rounds in the crumb mixture.  Quickly fry the rounds until golden.

4.  Place the warm rounds on top of the greens.  Drizzle with prepared vinaigrette.  Garnish with the whole chive flowers and serve.

For the raspberry vinaigrette:

To make your standard vinaigrette, the ratio of oil to vinegar is somewhere between 3:1 and 2:1.  It all depends on the strength of the vinegar and how tart you like it.  Plus vinegars come in a wide range of flavors, so the ratio needs to adjust to accommodate.   Do what you feel comfortable with!  For this recipe, I used a 2:1 ratio.  There’s no additional emulsifiers here, but if you want something a little bit creamier, you can add maybe 1 T. of honey, or maybe 1 T. of raspberry preserves.  Personally, I don’t really add any emulsifiers unless I need them for the flavor they provide.  Lately I don’t even mix them together; I just drizzle some vinegar and olive oil on the greens and toss it together in my bowl.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. raspberry vinegar (with a splash of balsamic)
  • 1 t. chopped chives
  • salt &  pepper, to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a container and whisk until combined.  Or you could put all the ingredients in a mason jar and shake to combine.

Cinco de Mayo Menu — Guacamole, Ceviche, and Margaritas

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Happy Cinco de Mayo!  You know what that means — time to get your drink on!  But what it really commemorates is the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 (the Mexican Day of Independence is September 16, 1810).  Napoleon was looking to get some money back that Mexico owed France and this invasion was a way of doing that.  But things on this day didn’t turn out the way he had planned and Mexico defeated the superior (yet uncoordinated) French force.  It’s like the Alamo. . . if Texas had won.

So this isn’t really a menu per se.  More of a collection of recipes that are easy to make and that you can have for your holiday celebration.  So let’s start off with the Guacamole.  It’s simple and easy to make.  Plus it’s easy for you to put your simple twist on it.  Por exemplo, you could keep everything in a rough dice and make an avocado salad, or add some jalapeno or serrano chiles, or add cilantro (yuk — I am one of those folks who cannot stand cilantro).  Here’s what you need:

  • 3 or 4 Hass avocados, about 1 1/2 lbs.
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or chopped
  • 1/2 of a small white onion, diced
  • 1 tomato chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

1.  Prepare the avocados by cutting them in half lengthwise and twisting them to open up the halves.  Remove the seed.  Scoop out the flesh and place in a bowl.  Now mash it with a fork (depending on how chunky you want it).

2.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir.  Serve with some tortilla chips or use as a topping for tacos, burritos, eggs. . .  anything really. . . except like blueberry pie and the ilk.  Press down a cover a plastic wrap onto the surface of the guacamole if you’re not using it immediately.  I have heard that in order to keep this from turning brown, you can place the avocado pit on top of the mixture.  Not sure how or even if this works.  But if it does, in theory, you won’t need to cover this dish and can even cut back on the lime.

Ceviche.  There are all different kinds of ceviche, but they all involve “cooking” or marinating fresh seafood in some citrus juice, usually lime.  “Cooking” doesn’t necessarily happen in this dish, but the citrus does denature the proteins in the seafood, which is what the heat from cooking does.  It probably originated in Peru and made its way up the coastline to Mexico, although some place origins of the dish closer to Central America.  There are some cultures in Asia who may also have a claim on “inventing” the dish (I luv Hawaiian Poke).  Again, a variety of seafoods are used — different fishes, scallops, squid, octopus, crab, I even saw one with smoked fish for those who have concerns about eating raw fish.  Since this is Cinco de Mayo, I will “de-Asian” my recipe to put it closer to the Mexican version (I like to put a little ginger, green onion, and soy sauce in mine).  I will be making some later today.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 lb. ocean fish like halibut, mackerel, or snapper (go to your fish monger and see what’s fresh and use that.  you could also tell them that you’re planning on making ceviche and ask them for suggestions.  any good fish monger should be able to help you out.  if they can’t offer any good advice buy your fish somewhere else!).
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or chopped
  • 1 c. fresh lime juice
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 c. chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley
  • hot chiles, to taste
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • sugar

1.  Cut the fish into about 1/2 in. cubes.  Place in a non-reactive bowl (like glass or stainless) with the onion, garlic, and lime juice.  The fish should be covered with the lime juice, if not just add some more, or top it off with some water.  Let marinate in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours, to get the fish well done.  If you want it more raw, just marinate it for about an hour or two.

2.  Strain out the lime juice and discard it.  Add your tomatoes, chile, cilantro (or parsley), and olive oil.  Stir to combine.  Season with the salt and pepper.   Balance out the flavors with just a scant amount of sugar, maybe 1/2 teaspoon.

Margaritas.  What would today be without a good margarita?  Origins of this drink are highly debatable, with several stories about where and why this drink was created.  But it is definitely Mexican in origin and can be made in lots of variations, which I’m sure y’all know.  Just go to a local restaurant and see what different kinds they have.  This recipe is simple, requires only three ingredients (not including ice and salt or sugar on the rim of the glass) — Silver Tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau.

1.  Prep the glass by running a lime around the rim and dipping it into a shallow plate of salt or sugar, depending on your taste.

2.  Pour your tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau into a pitcher.  If you use a cup of each, you’d probably get 5 margaritas, depending on how much of a booze hound you are.  Fill a cocktail shaker about half full of ice.  Add enough of your Margarita mixture for a couple of drinks and shake vigorously for about 15-30 seconds to chill and dilute it.  Strain into the prepared glass.

Now these are just a couple of things that you can make today to help celebrate the holiday.  We typically think of this day as an excuse to drink, but take some time to celebrate Mexican culture and heritage.  One e-magazine that can offer some information on a wide variety of topics ranging from culture to cuisine to travel is MexConnect.  On the Culinary side of things, one great resource is Chef Rick Bayless.  He has a series on PBS called Mexico – One Plate at a Time where he explores the culture and food traditions  of Mexico, as well as the variations across the different regions of the country.  He has won various awards including a couple of James Beards.  You can learn about his books, restaurants, products, and his bio at the hyperlink above (I did not know that he did some doctoral work in Anthropological Linguistics at the University of Michigan).

Sorry for the long post, but hope it was helpful.  I’ll try to post some other things throughout the day that are Mexican themed.  Depends on how many margaritas I have 🙂

Fiddleheads

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It’s spring and I again have an unbelievable craving for fiddleheads.  I haven’t had any since I lived in Maine which was several years ago.  There they weren’t as “odd” an ingredient cuz I could just drive up to the Hannaford up the road and get them.  It might be a cultural phenomenon, which I think is due to the large French influence in the area (Quebec is just north of Maine), and I have found several rustic French recipes that use them, usually from Northern France.  That region is a lot more similar in climate to Maine and Quebec so that could explain the regional popularity of them; similar climate, similar flora.  It’s that whole work-with-what-the-land-gives-you kind of thing.  I am not a horticultural anthropologist, so who knows if it’s true, but it makes sense to me.

Apparently these all come from the ostrich fern.  For those who don’t know, fiddleheads are the immature shoot from the fern.  Now do not go and just start harvesting some ferns from your backyard.  Some ferns are toxic to eat at any developmental stage and if you don’t know what you are doing you could be making a big mistake.  Which is why I just try to scour the markets for them.  I did find them once at a market in downtown Ann Arbor, but they were not in good condition.  The season for them is very very short keep an eye out for them.  That’s probably why there are a lot of pickling recipes out there.  The University of Maine does have a page of info that you should check out.

It’s hard to describe the taste.  I’d say it’s a cross between asparagus and mushroom.  Not like a button mushroom, but more earthy from like a woodland mushroom or morel.  It’s a very delicate flavor, which could be easily overpowered.  So recipes tend to be fairly simple with few ingredients.

Now to prep them, you have to thoroughly clean them.  Since these are hand harvested, I imagine that there isn’t some gigantic mechanical produce cleaning machine to process them.  You’ll have to bear with me (or is it “bare”?) because it has been some time since I’ve made this.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 lb. fiddleheads
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. grapeseed oil (or some other neutral tasting oil)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • fresh dill, to taste

1.  Melt the butter in a saute pan with the oil over medium heat.

2.  Add the shallot and cook until tender and opaque, about 2 minutes.  Throw in the garlic and saute until the garlic perfumes the dish, maybe 1 minute.

3.  Add the fiddleheads and cook for about 3-5 minutes.  Add the salt and pepper and toss.  Cook for another 3-5 minutes until tender.

4.  Sprinkle on your fresh dill and serve.

Again, it has been a long time since I made this so the timing might be a little off.  I still am having some difficulty finding some fiddleheads here.  But I am trying to encourage folks to try something that they might not consider.  Expanding your horizons can be delicious!