pasta with broccoli, sausage, and roasted red peppers

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Wow, New Years Resolutions are seriously unpopular this year. While I understand that January 1st isn’t a magical date where you get to start over with a clean slate, and it isn’t the only day of the year where you’re allowed to resolve to better yourself, I do think that it’s a good date to start thinking about new goals. For one thing, there is something to having a fresh new year to focus on. For another, it’s the official end of the holiday season, during which it can be difficult to focus on new goals because of travel and parties and other things that disrupt normal routines.

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This isn’t to say that I’ve always been a hard-core New Year’s resolver. I don’t usually bother, and last year I kept it very simple with the intention to start flossing regularly. This year, however, I have a categorized list of goals. 2008 wasn’t my best year, and I’m eager to make up for it in 2009.

One of my resolutions is actually to cook less, or at least to be more reasonable about cooking, by focusing on quick weeknight meals and making enough for leftovers. This pasta fits in perfectly with that mindset, because it can be made in the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta and uses only a few ingredients.

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There’s nothing complicated about this recipe. Brown some sausage, stir in garlic and roasted red pepper, and then add broccoli with some water to help it cook. Mix all that with pasta, add some cheese, and there’s dinner – you have starch, protein, and vegetables, all in one very easy recipe. And there’s the added bonus that both broccoli and garlic are even more nutritious than your average vegetable.

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The recipe recommends orechiette (an ear-shaped pasta), but I don’t generally get hung up on pasta shapes. My favorite brand of pasta doesn’t come in orechiette, so I tend to use whatever short tubularish pasta I happen to have. Also, this time I used Cento jarred roasted red peppers, and I hated them. They were so soft and slimy. Cooks Illustrated recommends them, so I don’t know if I got a bag batch or I’m a bad judge of roasted red peppers or what. Since roasting my own peppers complicates this simple meal, I might just sauté some fresh red peppers with the sausage in the future.

I find that I often like recipes with quite a bit less pasta than the original version calls for, and this recipe is no exception. I reduced the pasta to 12 ounces, plus I wouldn’t have minded more sausage and red peppers. Either way you prefer it, this meal is quick, tasty, and healthy.

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One year ago: Pad Thai – one of my favorite meals

Orecchiette with Broccoli, Sausage, and Roasted Peppers (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish

CI note: In this recipe, begin cooking the broccoli immediately after putting the pasta into boiling water. When cut into small pieces, the broccoli takes only a few minutes to cook through.

Bridget note: I reduce the pasta to 12 ounces (¾ pound), and I’ll probably add more peppers in the future. More sausage couldn’t hurt either.

table salt
1 pound orecchiette
4 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
9 medium cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced (3 tablespoons)
1 cup roasted red peppers (8 ounces), cut into ½-inch squares
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds broccoli, florets cut into bite-sized 1-inch pieces, stalks peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into ¼-inch thick pieces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (2 ounces)

1. Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil, covered, in stockpot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta, stir to separate, and cook until al dente. Drain and return to stockpot.

2. While pasta is cooking, cook sausage in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking it into small pieces with spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, roasted peppers, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to high; add broccoli and ½ cup water, then cover and cook until broccoli begins to turn bright green, 1 to 2 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring frequently, until water has evaporated and broccoli is tender, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Add broccoli mixture, oil, and cheese to pasta in stockpot; toss to combine. Serve immediately.

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sausage apple hash

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I’m not the most creative cook ever. You may have noticed that most recipes on my blog are from some other source – very few are my own creations, and even those are pretty much just heavily adapted versions of ideas I got somewhere else. So when I am actually creative, I’m very proud of myself.

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I saw this sausage apple hash on Mark’s blog last summer, and put off making it until apple season. I decided to add potatoes to Mark’s recipe – that would make this a complete meal, and potatoes just seemed to make good sense here. I was pleased with my mild creativity.

Oh, except when I read the recipe closer, I saw that it originally included potatoes, and Mark just left them out for convenience. Phooey. So much for it being my own idea.

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Oh well, at least I was right that potatoes were a good fit for this. The sausage and onion are sautéed together until browned (or until the onions are black if you’re me and Mark), then the potatoes and apples are sautéed until browned and cooked through. Then everything is mixed and a simple sauce of ketchup, mustard, and thyme is stirred in. I raised my eyebrows at the ketchup and mustard, but they gave the hash nice tang and spice.

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The whole thing was very good, and pretty easy. I think there’s a lot of room for adaptations too, if you do happen to be the creative type. I was thinking that squash would be a nice addition, or maybe a poached egg served on top.  Or bacon instead of sausage.  Things to think about for next time.

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One year ago: Lemon Squares

Sausage and Apple Hash (from Mark’s No Special Effects)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 pound Italian sausage (bulk, or links with casings removed)
1½ pounds russet potatoes, cubed
1 large apple, such as Rome or Braeburn, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat half the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the sausage and onion and cook, breaking up the sausage, until the sausage is golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Park the sausage and onions into a separate dish.

Add the remaining oil in the skillet, then add the apples and potatoes. Cook until the apples are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. (I covered the pan for a bit in the beginning because I was worried about the potatoes cooking through.) Meanwhile, mix the ketchup, mustard, thyme, parsley, and water in a small bowl. Return the sausage and onions to the skillet and stir in the ketchup mixture. Cook until the hash has browned nicely, about another 5 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper before serving.

chanterelle salad with speck and poached eggs

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I don’t know if there could be a less appetizing name for a more delicious food than there is for Speck. When I hear Speck, I think of Star Trek or maybe dust particles – I do not think of spicy smoked ham.

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I almost dismissed the Speck in this recipe entirely. I figured that proscuitto or pancetta, both of which I can get at my regular grocery store, would make a convenient substitute. But then I was right near an Italian butcher, and it was no big thing to go in and grab some Speck. I’m glad I did, because I love the stuff. I wish I’d had some proscuitto to taste alongside it, because I feel like I liked the Speck more than I normally do proscuitto, but I haven’t eaten enough proscuitto to really remember.

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After my first uncertain egg on salad experience, I seem to have become somewhat enamored with the idea. In this salad, I really enjoyed the warm savory egg on the tart dressed greens. The Speck, sautéed until crispy, was of course delicious. I wasn’t crazy about the cooked chanterelles in the salad – they seemed a little too chewy to fit in with the other ingredients. Dave really liked them though.

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I didn’t follow the recipe exactly – I had just made fresh bread, so I skipped the toasting step. I also made a different dressing. As if one hard-to-find ingredient in the recipe wasn’t enough, you’re also supposed to reduce Vin Santo, an Italian dessert wine, for the vinaigrette, and mix it with walnut oil. I made a simple balsamic vinaigrette and was happy with it.

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Notwithstanding the chewy mushrooms, this salad was very good. This was a nice, light meal that left me plenty of room to eat some of the chocolate chip cookies that I have coming out the wazoo.

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Warm Chanterelle Salad with Speck and Poached Eggs (from Bon Apetit December 2008 )

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 fresh thyme sprigs
3 garlic cloves, divided
1 pound fresh chanterelles, cleaned, cut into ⅓-inch thick slices
nonstick cooking spray
4 ounces ⅛-inch-thick slices Speck, rind trimmed
6 ¾-inch-thick slices ciabatta or pain rustique
½ teaspoon salt
6 large eggs
2 small heads butter lettuce, coarsely torn (about 11 cups)
6 cups mâche or arugula (3½ ounces)
Vinaigrette

Preheat oven to 500F. Combine 4 tablespoons oil and thyme in large bowl. Press 2 garlic cloves into oil with garlic press; whisk to blend. Add chanterelles and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Spray rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Spread mushroom mixture on sheet. Roast mushrooms until tender, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes.

Cut Speck crosswise into ¼-inch-thick strips. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in small skillet over medium-high heat. Add Speck; sauté until crisp, 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Toast ciabatta slices until golden; rub with remaining garlic clove. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil. Halve each slice lengthwise.

Fill large skillet with water and bring to boil. Add ½ teaspoon salt. Crack eggs, 1 at a time, into custard cup, then slide egg from cup into water; reduce heat to low. Poach eggs until whites are set and yolks are softly set, 3 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss lettuce and mâche with enough vinaigrette to coat. Mound salad on 6 plates. Using slotted spoon, remove eggs from water, dab with paper towels to absorb excess liquid, and place atop salads. Garnish with mushrooms and Speck. Place ciabatta fingers around salad and serve immediately.

Balsamic Vinaigrette (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar , or wine vinegar
½ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
⅔ cup olive oil

Whisk first 2 ingredients with salt and pepper in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil, so the vinaigrette emulsifies. Serve.

chickpea and butternut squash salad

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Do you like squash? It seems like as soon as we were past Labor Day, everyone went squash crazy. I have reservations about squash that I think can be traced back to childhood.

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I remember one Halloween, my mom roasted acorn squash for me and my brother, with brown sugar in the middle. We were less than pleased. I can’t remember any other squash experiences until I was cooking on my own, and I’m not the only one in my family who is inexperienced in squash. A year or two ago, my older sister called me to ask what she was supposed to do with the butternut squash she had bought.

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I do like squash these days, but every time I eat it, I’m surprised I like it. “Wow! This is actually good!” That’s exactly how I felt about this recipe, which I heard about from Deb, but is actually from Molly. Both tend to recommend recipes that are right up my alley, so that made this recipe worth trying even with the less than familiar squash.  (This is only the third recipe I’ve ever used winter squash in.)

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My doubts did go beyond just the squash issue. I wasn’t so sure about combining sweet squash with hummus ingredients – chickpeas and tahini, lemon juice and cilantro. And then I was worried that the sauce wouldn’t come together and be smooth (somehow it did) and that there would be too much sauce (I ended up adding it all).

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The recipe was easy, aside from my snail-like squash peeling and cutting pace. And I was, yes, surprised by how much I liked it. The sweet squash was balanced so well by the bitter tahini and sour citrus. What a great combination.

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Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini (reworded slightly from Orangette, who adapted it from Casa Moro)

Thoughts: I’m anti raw garlic lately, so I threw the garlic in the oven with the squash for a few minutes, just to tame its sharpness a little before adding it to the sauce.

For salad:
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 to 2½ pounds, seeded, and cut into 1½-inch pieces)
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed
½ teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ medium red onion, finely chopped
¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves

For tahini sauce:
1 medium garlic clove, finely minced with a pinch of salt (or shredded on a Microplane)
3½ tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons well-stirred tahini
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to taste

Preheat the oven to 425F.

In a large bowl, combine the butternut squash, garlic, allspice, olive oil, and a good pinch or two of salt. Using a large spoon or your hands, toss until the squash pieces are evenly coated. Turn them out onto a baking sheet, and bake for 15 to 25 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and cool.

Meanwhile, make the tahini sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend. Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and taste for seasoning. The sauce should have plenty of nutty tahini flavor, but also a little kick of lemon.

To assemble the salad, combine the squash, chickpeas, onion, and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Add tahini sauce to taste, and toss carefully. (Alternatively, you can also serve the salad undressed, with the tahini sauce on the side. That way, each person can use as much or as little as they want, and the individual ingredients taste a little brighter, too.) Serve, with additional salt for sprinkling.

Note: This salad, lightly dressed, keeps beautifully in the fridge. (Hold a little of the tahini sauce on the side, for dressing at the table.) Before serving, warm slightly with quick jolt in the microwave.

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tuscan-style couscous salad


Food generally tastes better outside. Even more so after you’ve hiked eight miles while carrying a 25-pound pack. Since Dave and I almost always eat this couscous salad while we’re backpacking, it’s no wonder we like it so much. But last time we went camping, we got driven home early by, um, we’ll just say fear of Lyme disease and spare you the creepy details. We ate this salad when we got home that night, and it tasted just as good while sitting on the couch watching a movie as it does when we’re eating it out of zip-top bags in the woods.

What’s so great about this salad is that it’s a perfectly balanced complete meal – a couscous base, both beans and nuts, and plenty of tomatoes, onions, and basil. There’s no real cooking involved and not much chopping.

I have tweaked the original recipe slightly – while it’s basically the same list of ingredients, I’ve doubled the amount of pine nuts, tomatoes, basil, and onion. I’ve also reduced to the olive oil in the dressing, which I do with most vinaigrettes recipes.

One final change I make to the original recipe is to toast the unpeeled garlic cloves before adding them to the dressing. Lately I’ve been unhappy with the sharpness of raw garlic, and toasting it mellows its flavor a bit. It’s still garlicky and good, but it won’t burn your tongue. And since the pine nuts are already being toasted, it’s no problem to add the garlic cloves to the skillet as well.

Between the vivid colors of this dish, its healthfulness, the ease with which it comes together, and of course, its flavorful mix of ingredients, this salad is well worth eating at home and in the woods.

Tuscan-Style Couscous Salad (adapted from Vegetarian Classics, by Jeanne Lemlin)

Serves 4 as a main course

1½ cups couscous
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 cups boiling water
½ cup pine nuts
1 (15-ounce) can small white beans such as navy or Great Northern, rinsed well and drained
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
¾ cup shredded fresh basil
1 small red onion, slivered

The dressing:
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
⅓ cup lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
Generous seasoning freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1. Place the couscous and turmeric in a large bowl and mix. Pour on the boiling water, stir, and immediately cover the bowl with a large plate. Let sit for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and fluff the couscous with a fork. Let cool.

2. Place the pine nuts and unpeeled garlic cloves in a small skillet and toast over medium heat, tossing often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Watch them carefully because they can easily burn. Let the pine nuts cool, then mix them into the couscous along with the beans, tomatoes, basil, and red onion.

3. Mince the garlic. Place the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously. Pour over the couscous mixture and toss well. Let marinate at least 30 minutes before serving. Cover and chill if longer than 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

soba salad with feta and peas

Apparently I can’t always predict when a dish is going to be good. The only reason I made this was to use up some soba noodles and scallions. Then I found two opened bags of peas in the freezer and half a lemon in the refrigerator, so the meal seemed worth making even if it ended up being no better than edible.

There are some unusual ingredient combinations in this recipe. Soba noodles and feta? Soy sauce and lemon juice? This is why I had my doubts.

I was really surprised when the meal wasn’t just edible, but I loved it. Between the lemon juice and the feta, I was expecting it to be too sour, but the tartness was nicely balanced by the soy sauce and sugar.

Not only was this delicious, it’s one of the easiest meals I’ve made recently. Only one ingredient needs to be chopped, which is a such a welcome change from the meals I normally cook. It’s nutritionally balanced on its own, requiring no side dishes to be a full meal. It can be served warm or cold. I had it ready as soon as Dave got home from work, but when he decided to work out and shower before eating, it was no problem to set the salad aside until we were ready.

Really, this might be the perfect dish – tasty, healthy and easy. I’m already looking for the next opportunity to make it.

Soba Salad with Feta and Peas (adapted from Gourmet July 2006)

Makes 4 servings

1 (10- to 12-ounce) package soba noodles*
1 (10-ounce) package frozen baby peas
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper
6 oz feta, crumbled (¾ cup)
4 scallions, finely chopped

1. Cook noodles and peas together in a 6- to 8-quart pot of lightly salted boiling water until noodles are tender, 4 to 6 minutes.

2. While noodles cook, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, soy sauce, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.

3. Drain noodles and peas well in a colander, then rinse under cold running water to stop cooking. Drain well again, then add to dressing along with feta and scallions. Grind more black pepper to taste over salad.

crockpot pulled pork

crockpot pulled pork new
Updated photo 5/31/12

My brother has a habit of giving out remarkably vague “recipes.” For example: “Put some pig or cow in the slow cooker with some liquid. Use a spice rub if you want. Cook until you get home from work, then give the fat to the dog and shred the meat.”

Um. Right.

I needed more information. Does the size of the roast matter? Whether it has a bone? I used pork shoulder, and Cooks Illustrated has a recipe for barbecue pulled pork, so I adapted some of their instructions – the ingredients and method for the spice rub – for this slow cooker version. I was reluctant to add liquid to the slow cooker liner with the meat, because I had some idea that it would dilute the flavor in the meat, so I added just a bit of water and some liquid smoke. I cooked it for about 10 hours, added some barbecue sauce, then cooked it for 1 hour longer.

Oh my gosh, it’s so good. I almost didn’t want to add barbecue sauce, because the meat tastes so good without it, but of course it was that much better once I added it. And it makes a ton of food. I’m going to guess that the pork shoulder I used, which was probably the smallest I could find, was about twenty servings. I froze most of it, and it reheats really well.

I learned a few things from this. For one, there’s no need to worry about liquid diluting the flavor of the meat – the meat exudes a surprising amount of liquid anyway. It’s best to add just a bit of water to help the slow cooker get the cooking started. Also, as far as cooking times go, longer seems to be better. So, as my brother said, start dinner cooking before you go to work, and when you get home 9 or 10 hours later, you’ll be just in time to shred the meat, add the barbecue sauce, and let that all cook together for a bit.

Overall, served with coleslaw, this makes for a fantastic meal. I know that crockpot pulled pork recipes are a dime a dozen, but trust me that this spice rub adds far more flavor than root beer ever could. Plus, it’s not much work at all, so with minimal effort you can stock your freezer with multiple nights’ worth of easy and tasty meals.

Update 9.21.08: Last time I made this, I used a pork shoulder that just barely fit in my crockpot; I think it was in the 7.5 pound range.  After 8.5 hours, the pork wasn’t tender enough to be pulled, at least on the inside.  So I recommend erring on the longer side of this cooking range, especially if you’re using a large roast.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork (spice rub from Cooks Illustrated)

Spice Rub:
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground white pepper

1 (6-8 pound) bone-in pork shoulder
½ teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
2 cups barbecue sauce

1. Mix all spice rub ingredients in small bowl.

2. Massage spice rub into meat. Wrap tightly in double layer of plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least 3 hours. (For stronger flavor, the roast can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

3. Unwrap roast and place it in slow cooker liner. Add liquid smoke, if using, and ¼ cup water. Turn slow cooker to low and cook for 8-10 hours, until meat is fork-tender.

4. Transfer roast to cutting board; discard liquid in liner. “Pull” by tearing meat into thin shreds with two forks or your fingers. Discard fat.

5. Place shredded meat back in slow cooker liner; toss with 1 cup barbecue sauce, and heat on low for 30-60 minutes, until hot. Serve with additional barbecue sauce.

asparagus and arugula salad with cannellini beans and balsamic vinegar

The combination of my upcoming beach trip and Tuesdays With Dorie has prompted a series of main dish salads for dinner. I’m surprising myself by how much I’m enjoying it. I was especially surprised by this salad, which I expected to be edible but not special. I’m so glad I chose the recipe even though I wasn’t excited about it, because it was so good that now I’m waiting for an opportunity to make it again.

The salad is composed of two rather distinct parts. The base is a bed of arugula, dressed with a very simple balsamic vinaigrette. This is topped with a mixture of red onions that have been browned, asparagus that is sautéed just until tender, and cannellini beans, all of which is dressed with the same vinaigrette. It’s an unusual but delicious combination.

I did drastically reduce the arugula. The recipe calls for 14 ounces (although I’m unsure if this is before or after it’s stemmed), but even one whole 5-ounce bag of pre-washed arugula seemed like a lot. Five ounces ended up being the perfect amount. That’s the only change I made, and I even used a cheapo balsamic vinegar, with no noticeable adverse affects on the salad.

Last time I made salad, I flaked out on the meal-planning and made bread to go with it, even though croutons are a primary feature of Caesar salads. This time, I didn’t serve anything else with the salad and realized half-way through eating it that there was no carbs involved anywhere. Next time I swear I’ll get it right.

Asparagus and Arugula Salad with Cannellini Beans and Balsamic Vinegar (from Cooks Illustrated May 2003)

Serves 4 to 6 as a first course or 2 to 3 as a main dish

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium red onion, sliced 1/8 inch thick (about 1 cup)
1 pound asparagus, trimmed of tough ends and cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces)
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (about 1½ cups)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, plus 2 teaspoons
14 ounces arugula (1 large bunch), washed, dried, and stemmed (about 6 cups lightly packed)

1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until beginning to smoke; stir in onion and cook until beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Add asparagus, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook until asparagus is browned and tender-crisp, about 4 minutes, stirring once every minute. Off heat, stir in beans; transfer to large plate and cool 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, whisk remaining 3 tablespoons oil, vinegar, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in medium bowl until combined. In large bowl, toss arugula with 2 tablespoons dressing and divide among salad plates. Toss asparagus mixture with remaining dressing, place a portion over arugula, and serve.

caesar salad

I almost never make salads. Not because I don’t like them, but because I don’t like them as a side dish. To me, salad doesn’t coordinate well with other dinner items. I do like when it’s served before a meal, or as a meal.

I went the route of serving Caesar salad as a meal the day that I made the peanut butter torte. I figured that if I was going to eat peanut butter and cream cheese and oreos and chocolate and whipped cream for dessert, something was going to have to give.

In one of Alton Brown’s first Good Eats episodes (um, before the show was very good), he discussed the original Caesar salad recipe, which was built tableside at a restaurant by chef Cesar Cardini. The recipe starts with a thin coating of oil on the lettuce, then salt, pepper, more oil, lemon juice, and a coddled egg. I’m not all about this method. I like to at least attempt to emulsify my salad dressing ingredients, and I also think that putting oil directly on the leaves keeps the other ingredients from flavoring the lettuce. Instead, I whisked the dressing ingredients thoroughly, then dressed the leaves with the mixture.

The only ingredient in this recipe that struck me as unusual was the coddled egg. Coddled eggs are cooked in boiling water for about one minute, so, yeah, they’re still mostly raw. I didn’t tell Dave about the raw-ish egg in the salad, and I tried not to think about it myself. I’m not worried about salmonella, I’m just grossed out by eating raw egg white. But I really don’t think the salad would have been as good without it. The egg gives the dressing not only smoothness and body, but a pleasant rich, but not overwhelmingly eggy, flavor.

Alton’s croutons are really exceptional. I had my doubts that grinding the garlic into the oil and then straining the oil to toast the bread in would add enough garlic flavor, but they were extremely garlicky and delicious.

Because I’m a flake, and I forgot while planning this meal that one of the key parts of Caesar salad is the croutons, I made Deb’s pizza bianca to go with the salad. I used my pizza dough recipe instead of the one she gives (although they’re very similar) and followed the directions in the recipe for forming the dough. (Keep in mind that Deb rolled her dough out much thinner.) Also, because Peter Reinhart’s constant reminders that a slow rise is better for artisan breads has stuck with me, I made the dough the day before (with less yeast) and let it rise in the refrigerator overnight. The next day I took it out and let it come to room temperature, then shaped it and put it back in the fridge until I wanted to bake it. It was very good. The only thing I’ll change next time is to use less olive oil on the top, because “Oh my god, there’s a fire in the oven!” aren’t words Dave likes to hear from me when I’m cooking.

Hail Caesar Salad (from Alton Brown’s Good Eats)

Bridget note: I made a few changes to the recipe. I dried the bread as slices instead of cut up into bite-size pieces, because they were easier to cut once they were dried. I didn’t use kosher salt. I found 2 cups of water to be far too little to be able to cover the eggs. I probably used a bit more Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan cheese.

1 loaf day old Italian bread
3 garlic cloves, mashed
9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon plus 1 pinch kosher salt
2 eggs
2 heads romaine lettuce, inner leaves only
7 grinds black pepper
1 lemon, juiced
6 drops Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut ½ to ¾-inch croutons from the loaf of bread and place on a baking sheet and put into the oven until dry but not browned.

Use a mortar and pestle to mash the garlic with 4 tablespoons of oil and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Strain the oil into a skillet over medium heat. Add the dried croutons and fry, tossing constantly until all of the oil is absorbed and the croutons turn gold. Set aside.

Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the eggs and cook for 1 minute. Chill in ice water to halt cooking. Set aside.

In a very large bowl, tear lettuce and toss with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with the remaining kosher salt and the black pepper. Add the remaining olive oil. Toss well. Add the lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Break in the eggs. Toss until a creamy dressing forms. Toss in Parmesan cheese and serve with croutons.

rice and beans

I love beans. This is a recent revelation, as the only beans I remember eating as a kid were refried or mixed with hot dogs. (And just like that, pork and beans has been added to my “To Cook” list.) I’m not sure if it’s the beans that are so good, or the type of recipes that beans tend to be in – mishmashes of various flavors and textures blended together so each bite is just a little bit different from the last, but equally delicious.

Rice and beans is beans at their simplest. I have a Puerto Rican friend who makes fantastic rice and beans, and I’m kicking myself for not getting the recipe from him before I moved away. However, I’m finding that rice and beans is completely adaptable to personal tastes and availability of ingredients. The first time I made it, I used a recipe, but I don’t find myself following it very closely these days.

The original recipe uses sausage, onions, garlic, beans, chicken broth, and some seasoning. It’s a great recipe, but the beauty of rice and beans is that you can ignore the recipe and still get something fantastic. This time I used a bit of celery, a chipotle chile, and as many tomatoes as beans. Last time I used red pepper and less tomatoes. Any number of additions would be great – green pepper, squash, maybe even sweet potatoes. The only requirement is beans, although I admit that I wouldn’t make it without onions, and now I’m loving the tomatoes. I also love the sausage, even though I prefer not to use meat in my staple weeknight meals. If you can think of a great substitute, let me know!

I’ve linked to the original recipe above, and I’ll provide a recipe for what the pictures show, but keep in mind that this is a fun meal to adapt to your own preferences.

Rice and Beans

Serves 4

8 ounces cooked sausage, such as kielbasa (I used salami this time)
1 medium onion, diced small
1 stalk celery, minced (red pepper would be great too)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cumin (I’ve also used Old Bay)
2 (15-ounce) cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes (I used 2 cans, but it was admittedly very tomatoey)
1 cup chicken broth (I didn’t use this, but I should have)

6 cups cooked long-grain white rice (from 1 cup uncooked rice)

In a 3- or 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, cook the sausage until it begins to brown and fat begins to render. Add the onions and celery/pepper/whatever and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and just beginning to brown. Add the garlic and spice(s) and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans, tomatoes, and broth. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and the flavors have blended, about 45 minutes (or as long as you want actually – I’m not sure I’ve ever cooked it for the full 45 minutes). Serve over rice.