Sides and Appetizers
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.
- 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!
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.
- 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.
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!
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.
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!