Archive for the ‘Side Dishes’ Category

Asparagus Parmesan Spears
After such a long and unpleasant winter, I’ve been really, really savoring the return of warm weather. The twiggy trees outside our apartment are now lush with foliage, the sun is up when we awake and its light lingers in the sky long after we’ve arrived home from work, and laundry goes so much faster since sweaters and jeans have been replaced by tank tops and light, swishy skirts. ‘Tis the season of sunglasses and short haircuts and flip flops and farmer tans (the only kind of tan I get, thank you).

But above all else, ’tis the season of local produce, each week appearing in more abundance and variety at farmers markets around the city. And though leafy greens tend to be the very first fresh items available, the truest harbinger of the coming summer bounty is the mighty asparagus spear.

Springtime spears
These tender shoots are the rock stars on the local produce stage, producing a short-lived but iconic album every year to their adoring fans. For a brief moment, there is a glut of asparagus, piled high on market tables for eager customers to sort through, seeking the perfect stems. And then, just as suddenly, the harvest is over. This year, during these short lovely weeks of asparagus, I stumbled across this simple recipe that has quickly become my favorite.

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Simple Glazed Carrots

My grandmother, who I’ve talked about quite a lot on this site, passed away this week just a few days before her 97th birthday. She was an inspiration to me in almost every way that affects this blog: canning, gardening, cooking, and even just appreciating the delight of fresh, homegrown food. She always insisted that the best recipes were the simplest ones, and that “modern recipes” just had too many unnecessary ingredients. I frequently watched her shake her head and scoff at magazine recipes bedazzled with so many obscure herbs and spices that you’d hardly be able to taste the feature of the dish (let alone afford to make it). Since she was renowned for what she could do with food from seed to table, I usually find it’s best to heed the advice she seemed to live by: grow food, buy fresh, cook simply, and savor the resulting meal.

To honor my grandmother, I want to share with you some of the simple, basic recipes that I rely upon heavily in my daily cooking. I admit, I feel both ridiculous for sharing them and also ridiculous for keeping them from you for so long. Sometimes it’s hard to decide what to share here in this space, and I often think, “nah, they don’t wanna hear about this, it’s nothing fancy.”

But then I remember that many of these dishes have entered my kitchen in only the last few years: why should I assume that they are already in yours? It seems unfair to keep them to myself. Plus, while I’m sure we all love the idea of elaborate culinary projects resulting in surprising and impressive dishes, my guess is that most of you (like me) are ultimately just trying to put dinner on the table every night without relying on a microwave dinner or a frozen pizza. For me, having an repertoire composed of simple, savory dishes is the key to making this happen.

Thin and simple carrots
This is one of my favorite side dishes both in flavor and style, it goes well with just about anything, and it starts and ends with a bunch of carrots. Though many of us get our carrots mostly in the form of stripped-down nubbins that appear on veggie platters at office parties, this dish uses the whole thing. For this particular dish, I like to use the thinnest carrots I can find.

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Easy Stove-Top Mac and Cheese

I’m just gonna come right out and say it. When discussing cheese and pasta, sometimes one must be blunt.

I like stove-top macaroni and cheese more than baked macaroni and cheese.

This is the truth, straight from me to you.

I mean, that’s not to say I won’t consume a mound of baked mac rapidly if it’s served at a potluck, a cookout, or a picnic. And I won’t say no to a fancy mac, like this one I made last year. But the macaroni of my dreams is prepared on the stove-top: al denté, piping hot, and swimming in thin, just-a-little-bit-spicy, orange cheddar cheese sauce.

Mac and Cheese
Is this a product of being raised on the blue box? Perhaps. Is this a product of wanting my pasta so firm that it nearly crunches between the teeth, a state that is nearly impossible to achieve when baking pasta? That’s probably reading too deeply into the whole thing. Maybe I don’t like the breadcrumbs that typically accompany a baked mac? Maybe I don’t like the waiting?

One significant downside of loving so much a mysteriously created product of food science is that it can be incredibly difficult to replicate at home. What the hell is that orange powder anyway? I theorize it must be fairy dust, for I have searched for years for a mac and cheese recipe that, if not identical, could at least be a satisfactory homemade replacement to the mac and cheese of my childhood.

Friends, I HAVE FOUND IT.

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Skillet Corn with Zucchini & Onion

For most of my life, I’ve eaten corn one of two ways: from a can or on the cob. (And I’m talking about kernels of corn here, not the corn syrup, corn meal, corn starch, and other corn products that certainly make up most of the “corn” in the average American diet.) In the summer, there was no greater thrill than Dad bringing home a bag full of fresh Colorado sweet corn, and I still look forward to the arrival of corn on the cob every time the season rolls around.

But it’s really only in the last few years that I’ve started appreciating fresh corn as an ingredient, as something more than just a cob of kernels slathered with butter. Fresh corn has flavor and texture that give everything from pizza to fajitas a little something extra.

In this dish, corn is not just an ingredient, it’s the star of the show. With two of my other favorite veggies to support it.

Simple summer veggies

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Perfect little roasters

For most people in the US of A, myself included, french fries are the primary way that we consume potatoes. Sure, we eat mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving and heaped atop shepherd’s pies, and certainly a fair number of potatoes turn into potato chips. But mostly, we eat fries. I even figured out how to make my own a few months ago, and boy oh boy are they delicious.

But I’d like to propose that we overthrow King French Fry from its mighty throne over potatoes everywhere. I don’t want to kick ‘em out, just bring them back down on an equal plane with other potatoes.

And in the vacuum, let’s make THESE instead.

Tiny Roasted Potatoes

Despite the fact that I grew up enjoying new potatoes from my grandparents’ garden every summer, I had never once before this spring considered buying a batch of teeny little potatoes to make at home. My dad was in town to visit so I decided to try out a recipe I’d been eying in the beautiful Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. The author herself (eeeee! I met her!) said that her Flat Roasted Chicken with Tiny Potatoes seems to be one of the more popular among her readers, so with an excellent excuse like company in the house, I gave it a shot. The chicken was delicious, but it was the potatoes that stole my heart.

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Best Ever French Fries

Every once in a while, I come across a recipe for a homemade version of a dish that I’ve previously classified as “will-never-be-made-as-well-at-home” that blows my mind. It’s the culinary equivalent of an explorer uncovering an ancient temple, a researcher finding stunning results, an eager learner having their first philosophical epiphany. I’ve felt this on a number of things I’ve shared with you here: yogurt, fresh mozzarella, handmade pasta, beef jerky… all products that, a few years ago, I never would have considered being possible.

Such was my opinion with french fries. I always heard other people talk about making them, but I was firmly convinced that they couldn’t possibly be as good as fries I could get from my local burger joint. I’d learned that the best fries are cooked twice: once to actually cook the potato so the inside of the fry is light and smooth, and again to give that light-and-smoothness a crisp outer shell. There was no way I could be bothered to hand-cut my own fries, purchase large quantities of oil, possibly a deep-frier, and then cook TWICE a side dish that I could have exactly perfect in 10 minutes from a dozen restaurants near by.

Folks, I have never been so wrong.

Potatoes and oil

This method, which I’ve repeated already and plan to again, is SO easy and SO satisfying. No special equipment is required beyond what I’ll wager you already have in your kitchen. The ingredients are simple and few. And let me repeat: it is breathtakingly easy.

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I told you on Thursday, when I posted this Ginger Apple Chutney, that I would have a recipe utilizing it that would blow your dang socks off. This, my friends, is it.

I must be honest: until about one year ago, I never so much as ordered potstickers or Chinese dumplings as take-out. I thought they looked, frankly, kind of gross. So sad and pekid compared to the seemingly superior fried wontons farther down the menu.

Oh, how times have changed.

Suddenly, I’ve become obsessed with these tiny pouches of savory filling. I order them whenever I find them on a menu and often abandon any pretense of planning to order an entree, simply doubling up on potstickers. As someone who loves ravioli, finger food, and anything dippable, I really can’t say why it took me 25 years to see the salty, potsticker-y light.

And what better way to truly embrace the potsticker than to make them from scratch? Having found this fantastic recipe for filling, I also wanted to try my hand at making homemade wonton/potsticker wrappers. That’s just sort of what I do here.

While it is a bit time-consuming and I totally understand if you want to buy yours from the store, I urge you to try it at least once from scratch, especially if you have a pasta crank. These homemade wrappers are soft, not at all rubbery, and can be made in any size that you want (though I found a 3-inch diameter to be absolutely perfect).

Like most doughs, homemade wonton wrappers start with a sifter full of flour, some warm water, and a fork.

Once the dough is mixed, barely pliable due to its low moisture content, it needs to sit for a while. Just cover the bowl with a damp cloth so the little moisture that IS in this dough doesn’t escape.

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As a junior in college, I moved out of the dorms and into my first apartment. I was thrilled to flex my baby culinary muscles beyond what they could make in a microwave or a contraband toaster, so my friend and I marched to the grocery store to see what there was to see. And what there was to see was Jiffy corn muffin mix, for twenty cents a box. We bought about a dozen boxes and a 2-pack of cheap muffin tins so that each of us could make cornbread at any hour of any day with our new-found kitchens.

Several years have passed, and my kitchen has come a long way since those first cornbread-baking days (though I still have that very same muffin tin). I still make this tasty treat quite a lot, though I haven’t bought a box of the Jiffy for years. Why? Because I discovered it’s just as simple to make it from scratch as it is from a mix. Seriously.

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Folks, we need to talk about mac and cheese.

Mac and cheese, when I was little, meant the blue box. Oh, beloved blue box of tiny elbows and mysterious orange powder. Then those Velveeta shells came out, and the blue box was supplanted by tiny shells and mysterious orange goo.

And they were delicious, weren’t they?

I discovered, early in my surfing of the foodie corners of the internet, that mac and cheese was something I had never really known. Baked casseroles of pasta and cheese, topped with a decadent crust of cheddar and bread crumbs, seemed to be what the foodie world wanted mac and cheese to be. And I confess! I looooove a good baked mac.

But sometimes, I just want some dang stove top cheesy pasta, creamy and without the crunch, but also without the mystery of the orange powder and goo. Is that so much to ask?

The answer is here, friends. No, this sauce isn’t a classic orange hue. It’s not a copycat recipe of the blue box. But it’s so, soooo good. And, I’m pleased to report, dreadfully easy. No tedious grating of cheese, no tempering of cream, no casserole dish required, no 45 minute bake in the oven.

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I frequently lament that I need another freezer. We have your standard apartment fridge-and-freezer combo, but our freezer is, shall I say, stuffed. Filled to the brim. There are many reasons for this. I have given up on buying chicken breast and now buy the whole dang bird, break it down, and separate the parts into meal-size portions. I capture strawberries at their peak ripeness, freeze them on cookie sheets, then bag them up to use in winter months when the only berries to be found are the imposters at the grocery store. Insanely, I recently made enough soup to open a deli and froze most of it because really, who wants soup in 95° weather?

Oh, and last summer, after foolishly planting seven basil plants that plotted to take over the world, it was all I could do to keep up with it by tossing it in the food processor with some nuts, garlic, parmesan, and a glug or two of olive oil before freezing it in my ice cube trays to make an army of pesto cubes. (Finding actual ice in our freezer is, coincidentally, impossible. Icy beverage lovers, beware.)

And then there are the pizza doughs. I made about twenty of them in the afterglow of my homemade mozzarella cheese experiment this spring with the leftover whey, and may have over-estimated the value of their convenience in relation to my precious freezer real estate.

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