Friday, May 24, 2013

Dinner Tonight, Pasta Salad Tomorrow – May 24, 2013

The weather is finally nice here in Kentucky so my husband, mother-in-law and I sat outside one evening and grilled chicken and asparagus for a great relaxing dinner.  We even had a small salad made with the greens from our garden.  The next day, I needed to find something to take for lunch and my usual as I have written before is refrigerator salad, using everything left over plus some fresh greens and salad dressing plus croutons made from left over bread and stuck in the freezer.  This, however, would not work in this case, so I needed a new plan.  I decided to try pasta salad.

Now, I must begin by saying that I have never been a pasta salad fan because I don’t like mayonnaise except on a tomato sandwich.  But, recently I tried a pasta salad made with veggies and cheese tortellini that had an Italian dressing.  So, I thought I’d give it a try.  I had a box of healthy pasta shells made by Barilla.  The pasta is actually made with carrots and tomatoes and although the color is orange, the pasta is quite good.  I removed the skin and bones and cut the chicken and then cut the asparagus in sections and tossed in as well.  Searching through my fridge, I also found and added pickled white beets (so my salad was not red), olives, carrots and Italian dressing.  I also added fresh basil and chives from the yard and a bit of Parmesan Cheese.  It was really quite good and more filling than my usual salad.

I did a Google search to try to learn about the history of pasta salad but only found that Italians traditionally topped lettuce with cold pasta while the Greeks mixed pasta with various veggies, etc.  I haven’t figured out how we got to the potluck mayo-based salad from my childhood.  I’d love to hear your favorite combination or anything you know about the history of pasta salad.  Let me know!
One year ago - Stuffed and Fried Day Lilies

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Honey Nut Muffins - May 19, 2013

My husband and I thought we’d try a box of off brand Honey Nut Cheerios.  It seemed like a great idea when we didn’t have anything else at home for breakfast, but as soon as we did have alternatives, the opened box sat in the cupboard for weeks.  In fact, they started to get a bit stale even with all the preservatives in cereal. 

I knew there had to be a way to use them and I was surprised to find there are actually several websites devoted to nothing other than the many uses of Cheerios.  Some of these uses like necklaces and funny doughnut seed packets don’t even involve eating the cereal, but I thought that should be a minimum requirement.  So, I found something that always makes me happy, a muffin recipe, just in time for Mother’s Day brunch. 

Cinnamon Applesauce Muffins

cups Cheerios cereal (I used Honeynut Cheerios)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
tsp. cinnamon
tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
cup applesauce (I had one last jar of homemade applesauce which was not enough, so I used apricot jam for the rest)
1/3 cup milk
T. vegetable oil
1/2 cup raisins (I used ½ c. dried cranberries and ½ c. walnuts)

Heat oven to 400° F. Spray bottoms of muffin tins or use paper liners.  Crush cereal (I did this in blender).  In large bowl, stir together cereal, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda.  Add each additional ingredient one at a time until moistened. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.  Bake 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown.

I doubled the recipe which made 24 delicious muffins, so I had some to freeze, others to eat at brunch and a few still to share.  There was also about a half cup of Cheerios still left in the box and I can say that they made great bird food!

One year ago today – Natalie’s Peanut Sauce and peanut butter cookies

Friday, May 10, 2013

Stir Fry on the Fly – May 10, 2013

Like omelets and salads, stir fry is a great way to clean out the fridge.  My husband, John, made jambalaya last weekend and there was left over raw, peeled shrimp and chicken broth.  We also received carrots, asparagus and shallots in our farmer’s box.  It seemed like the perfect opportunity to make stir fry.  Basically, you need some type oil or fat, some veggies and soy sauce or spicier sauce if that’s how you like it.  We also like some type meat and salted nuts.  Here is the basic recipe so you can adapt to your liking.

Harris Stir Fry

2 T. oil or broth (I used fat free chicken broth and added a bit more when it cooked down, but any vegetable oil, especially sesame is great)
1 chopped shallot (onion and garlic would also work, or leave out and add chopped green onion at the end)
1 ½ c. chopped vegetables (I used asparagus, red pepper and
¾ c. chopped meat (I used shrimp, but beef, chicken, scallops, etc. work well)
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. Szechuan sauce (or more soy sauce if you don’t like spicy)
1 T. Hoisen sauce
½ c. salted peanuts (or cashews, etc)
2 c. cooked spaghetti egg noodles (cooked)

Place oil in wok and heat.  Add shallot and stir fry 1 minute.  If using land animal meat, add now with soy sauce and stir fry 2 minutes.  Add veggies and fry until crisp but cooked through to taste.  Add Szechuan and Hoisen and seafood if using and cook 3 minutes.  Taste to make sure everything is cooked and add green onions if you like.  Then fold in spaghetti a little at a time until you get the right pasta to stir fry ratio.  Serve in bowls with nuts and fresh green onions on top. 

I love stir fry now with pasta, but for years I did make with rice which is also an option.  The benefit of rice is that it is better to have as a left over.  I’m not sure what to do with left over pasta except open a bottle of canned spaghetti sauce or make some fresh and serve on top.  But, with day old cold rice, you can make stir fried rice or rice pudding.

Leftover Rice Pudding

2 cups milk
1 cup leftover pre-cooked rice
2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
1/3 cup raisins

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and rice, stirring to keep the milk from burning.  Bring to a slow simmer.

In a separate large bowl, combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla.  Add to the milk and rice and allow to cook for just a few minutes, stirring occasionally.  Pour into casserole or baking dish and bake for 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

One Year Ago – Dutch Oven Beer Bread and Chicken Paella

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ramp Risotto – May 3, 2013

Ramps or wild scallions grow wild in the mountains and woods of Kentucky, but until this year, I had never seen one.  My friend Cindy changed that this year by planting some in our community garden so I was able to see them grow and then offering me a bag full to use in cooking.  Ramps are mostly simply put a combination of onion and garlic all in one plant.  They have a small bulb that is a bit larger than a green onion and a wide leaf that looks like lily of the valley.  The bulb are very strong tasting but the leaves can be eaten as well and have a much milder taste.  Ramps go particularly well with eggs, so they are a great addition for omelets and frittatas.  I also discovered many recipes for wilted ramps with fried eggs.

I decided to go another route.  I love to make risotto and there are many great risotto recipes for the Spring when delicate things like mushrooms, peas and fresh herbs are first growing.  I settled on a recipe from a famous restaurant in Portland which was fresh and delicious.  We ate it alone the first night and with scallops the second evening.

Lemon Ramp Risotto

1 quart vegetable or chicken stock
2 T. butter
1 cup sliced ramps, thoroughly cleaned and the white and green parts divided
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Parmesan Reggiano 
Salt and black pepper
In a small saucepan bring broth to a simmer. Place a heavy bottomed, tall-sided pan over medium heat and add one tablespoon butter and the sliced white portion of the ramps and sweat for two minutes until translucent.  Slightly increase the heat and add the rice, stirring frequently.  Cook for a few minutes until the rice is no longer opaque.
Add the white wine to the rice and cook until it has completely evaporated.  Lightly season the rice with salt, and then add enough hot stock to just barely cover the rice.  Stir, letting the rice absorb the liquid almost entirely before adding a small amount more.  The rice should be cooking at a moderate temperature and slowly bubbling as you continue stirring and adding liquid.  This will take about 15 minutes total.
Cook for a minute or two longer, then add the remaining butter, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Stir in the ramp greens and season the risotto with more salt and fresh black pepper. Adjust the consistency with a little more hot stock if necessary.  Grate some Parmesan into the risotto and gently give it one or two stirs to incorporate the cheese without creating a stringy texture.  Serve immediately.

It’s good to know that since these wild veggies only come around once a year, you can freeze the bulbs and use throughout the year to season.  While I was doing that with the bulbs, I had another idea.  We have kale greens just coming in.  I decided rather than sauté onions and garlic before adding the kale to wilt, I’d put my ramp greens to use.  I heated olive oil in a pan, tossed in chopped kale and ramp greens and stir fried.  I tossed in salt with red and black pepper at the end and had a great mess of greens with one less step than usual
Happy hunting for ramps in your area.  I promise they’re worth the search.