One-Pan Thanksgiving Sides: Easy is as Easy Does

Thanksgiving is definitely my favorite holiday. There’s no gift buying or wrapping, little decorating except the table, and it’s all about the food and wine. I’ve cooked for two times twenty and I’ve cooked for two, loved both and everything in between.

Table-Thanksgiving-2

Thanksgiving in the Time of Covid-19: Is It Safe to Celebrate….

This year, with distanced or small Thanksgivings on tap for many folks, it could be the time to pull out all of the stops for a dinner-party style meal complete with several small courses and wine pairings. What if you dig out grandma’s china and crystal, throw on a table cloth, light the candles, and go big? It’s not something easily possible when there are 15 of you including 2 toddlers who eat nothing, a newly-vegan teenager, and aging parents (low sodium, please), but it is doable and entertaining for four who might share the cooking. Yeah, so that’s one idea.

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Lemon and Garlic Chicken with Parmesan Vegetables–How and Why to Roast a Whole Chicken at Home this Week!

While chicken often tops the list of dinner ingredients in the U.S., (“Winner, winner, chicken dinner!” or “A chicken in every pot!”) it doesn’t take much to figure out those meals today are often based on ubiquitous, tasteless boneless chicken breasts instead of the flavorful cage-free chickens Herbert Hoover supposedly wanted for us. The American obsession with huge chicken breasts (hmph) is a sad one and continues for many reasons–one being it’s easy to not remember where meat comes from if you only have a slab of it and no fat, bones, joints, tendons, guts, or skin. I’ve had more than one adult student who, faced with putting a whole chicken (already cut up, by the way) in a skillet to brown for a tasty fricassée, admitted they had never before handled a chicken with bones. I, on the other hand, almost never buy boneless breasts, though I’ll admit I adore boneless thighs for everything from sandwiches to chili. There are several reasons–the main one being the taste factor–but here’s the critical other one. Because we demand outrageous and overwhelming numbers of inexpensive low-fat, protein rich boneless breasts (just try to buy bone-in breasts in today’s market) compared to other parts, chickens today are often–though not always– raised in incredibly poor and horrific conditions by inhumanely treated workers. How’d that come to be???

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Warm Quinoa Salad with Roasted Autumn Vegetables or a Vegan Thanksgiving

( Just thinking:  If you’re interested in the huge South Dakota snowstorm, please read my friend Margaret Watson’s post on her blog Leave it Where Jesus Flang It.  We had just passed by there in gorgeous weather on our trip to Colorado.)

While a towering stack of boxes looms, I can’t find the stereo or my knife block, I still want to eat something delectable AND I want those around me to have a decent healthy meal as well.  For the next little bit, we’ve got our oldest son and grandson living with us while their house is being renovated.  Daughter-in-law arrives on weekends, traveling down from her job in Boulder.

Photo: :)

 We now have four dogs in the house for a Four-Dog Kitchen:  photo coming!

My plan: Keep boxes in garage, bring in a few at a time; keep house from being screaming mess.  HA!

While I cook most meals without a recipe (and you have the evidence in this blog), I’m also an avid cookbook, newspaper, blog, and newsletter reader; I like to see what others are cooking.  And, just like everyone, I give these recipes a whirl when one of them truly appeals  to me.

One of my regular email newsletters is from CHOWHOUND–a site that includes boards with local restaurant and food information, recipes, reviews of equipment, a blog, and more.  To receive the newsletter, you’ll need to sign up for the site and click on the newsletters tab in your profile.  It’s well worth it.  Another newsletter I’m really fond of is one from FINE COOKING; mine comes daily and focuses on quick meals. That it includes wine pairings makes it all the better, of course.  FOOD AND WINE has a few newsletters; I receive the daily one and love it.  I’m more apped (sic!) to use the email newsletter than the app on my ipad. Dunno why.

Over a week ago, this Chowhound Warm Quinoa Salad with Roasted Autumn Vegetables showed up in my inbox and I ran to the store, brought the recipe up on my iphone, bought the ingredients and ran home to make it for dinner. It happened to be a first full night in the house celebration and I also bought some small steaks and salmon filets for a surf  n turf motif, but I really think the salad was the star of the show.  Not only that it, the recipe made lots.  We ate it cold for lunch for two days (delicious) and I snacked on it once or twice.  If by chance you don’t like brussel sprouts, just leave them out and add some extra root vegetables.
Later, I kept thinking what a great vegan or vegetarian main for Thanksgiving. October 14 is Thanksgiving in Canada, by the way.

While you’ll need to go to Chowhound and find the recipe  (adapted from Joann Chang), you can see by looking at this that it’s very simply a gorgeous amount of roasted root vegetables on a bed of quinoa.  The idea is to roast some vegetables, cook the quinoa, and stir it all up together.  Great food; great leftovers. What you don’t see is the Asian-style dressing — YUM.

My changes:  small, but critical for this version……………

The given recipe on Chow calls for stirring the vegetables into the quinoa and doesn’t include the fresh greens.  I thought the salad would be more attractive with the vegetables on top for visibility and I just loved the idea of a bed of freshness (the spinach or other greens) underneath for color and texture.  The key element is the quinoa, which is quickly cooked –as quinoa is–and then stirred up with an Asian dressing that includes a whole bunch of chopped green onions.  If you don’t like quinoa, make brown rice; it would work perfectly well.  My other change was adding crushed red pepper to the Asian dressing.  It’s almost perfect, but I thought it needed a bit of a bang.  I didn’t do this, but next time I would add some toasted nuts of some kind–chopped walnuts or sliced almonds–for extra crunch.

——————

Coming into Colorado Springs:  Cows and brilliant sun

don’t know quinoa??It’s really a seed related to spinach or tumbleweed (rather than a grain) that can be    traced back to ancient Peru…and yes, it’s gluten free, though it looks a bit like couscous.

Low in calories and fat, quinoa is  high in carbohydrates, fiber, and protein.  While it cooks in just about the same time and same way as white rice (maybe a few minutes longer), it also has close to the same amount of calories.  A good source of all the amino acids, iron, potassium, and magnesium, quinoa also offers a bit of zinc– about 1/4 of the daily allowance for women.

Try quinoa as tasty hot breakfast cereal with maple syrup and hot milk, or as a good foil for spicy hot chili.  This grain is luscious in salads and can sub for couscous or even rice in many places.   On it’s own or nestled next to your chop, add a little butter, salt and pepper and it’s ready.  Read all about quinoa here.

IF YOU LIKE THIS, YOU MIGHT LIKE MY
Shrimp-Quinoa Salad with Pomegranate Seeds, and Blue Cheese

Sing a new song, unpack the house, write your editor, and keep cooking while remembering Craig Alexander–who crossed the river two years ago today,
Alyce

Turkey Pot Pie or Last Ditch and Best Effort for Thanksgiving Leftovers

Turkey Pot Pie

You might have lived when pot pies were a regular feature of your mom’s menus.  Maybe you had them instead of TV Dinners.  I have a sketchy memory of frozen pies from the grocery @10 for $1. This undoubtedly dates me in an unkind way.  I did not have a mother who refused to cook; she cooked a lot.   That didn’t mean we never had a frozen pot pie.  I remember liking them, though I maybe haven’t tasted one in fifty years.

If you go out to eat at any number of restaurants these days, you’ll find homemade pot pies are on lots of menus and people order them over and over.  Definitely comfort food.  Certainly fattening.  But oh so filling and often luscious.  They’re full of all kinds of things–poultry, vegetables, roast beef, sea food, etc.

Before Thanksgiving, I set out to make the best turkey pot pie (using leftovers) I could.   No more expensive restaurant versions and certainly no more frozen pies.   I invited a group of people for a turkey and roasted root vegetable dinner and then had my way with what was left.  I discovered it was a. simple and b. better than the 10 for $1 ones from Garofalo’s on Crawford Avenue.  I served it up with a side of lemoned broccolini and a scoop of my red hot cranberry sauce, as well as a handsome glass of Oregon Chardonnay or maybe a French Côtes du Rhône–a lovely, medium-bodied and inexpensive wine that flatters oven-roasted vegetables, as well as pork or poultry.  (And lots else)
Dave and I both liked the pie better than the meal from which it came.  Go figure.

Feel free to take this filling and top it with biscuits–even Bisquick biscuits– in a 2 qt greased rectangular glass casserole dish.  (I made chicken pot pie often for my kids growing up…usually with biscuit topping.)   Or buy the Pillsbury pie dough from the refrigerator section.  But do make it.  You’ll be glad you did.  I promise. *If you’d like to make my crust, use the recipe I made for Kathy’s Apple Pie; that’s a good all-purpose crust.
Here’s how:

Alyce’s Turkey Pot Pie

There are three parts to this recipe:  1.  Crust  2.  Filling  3.  Sauce

2 9″ pie crusts* (Plus 1T melted butter -or 1 egg white beaten with a bit of water- brushed on top crust before baking.)  Made or bought.

Filling:

1 Tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 stalks celery with leaves, diced
4 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon each fresh thyme and tarragon (or 1/2 t each dried)
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage (or 1/4 t dried, powdered sage)
2 cups chopped roasted root vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, potatoes, winter squash, etc)
2 c chopped cooked turkey, white or dark meat


Sauce:  (Basically a velouté with added cream or milk)

2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon each ground sea salt and ground white pepper
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup (8 ounces) chicken stock
1 cup milk, cream or half and half

1.  If you have made or bought pie crusts, put one in the pie pan (trim and pinch) and place the other between two sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap.  Refrigerate the pan and the wrapped dough while you make the filling and the sauce.
2.  In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat and add onion, celery, and mushrooms.  Cook until vegetables are softened, 5-7 minutes.  Add garlic during last minute of cooking and stir in herbs.
3.  Take out pie pan with bottom crust and spoon onion mixture evenly over the bottom of the dough.  Top with chopped vegetables and turkey.

Spoon onion mixture into pie pan.

 

Top with roasted vegetables and turkey.  Pour on sauce.

 

Add the top crust and brush with butter or egg whites.  Make slits for steam.

4.  Make sauce (see below) and pour over the turkey and vegetable mixture.  The turkey and vegetables should be just about covered.  If not, drizzle in just a little more chicken stock, milk, or cream.
5.  Take the top crust out of the refrigerator and place on top of the filled pie.  Trim edges and pinch together edges of the two crusts.
6.  Brush entire top crust with butter or an eggwhite beaten with a bit of water.  Make several slits in the top crust (for steam to escape) and bake for 20 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake until browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes.
7.  Place pie on rack and cool 15 minutes or so.  Slice and serve hot with broccolini (squeeze lemon on top) and cranberry sauce.

Making the sauce:  In a 2qt saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat.   Add salt, pepper, and flour.  Stir for 2-3 minutes for flour to cook a little bit and slowly whisk in chicken stock and milk or cream. Simmer, stirring often, until just barely thickened.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  A quick sprinkle of nutmeg is a possible addition, as is a drop or two of hot sauce.

Two-Dog Kitchen or Around the ‘Hood
                  A few really random pics from our Thanksgiving Trip to Illinois

Turkey Soup… of course…Yesterday!

Read my recipe for the above soup on examiner.com

 

Visiting with sister and niece on way home.

 

Grandpa and Grandma’s Dining Room

 

Turkey ready for its sauna.  4 cups turkey stock with lots of veggies at bottom of roaster makes for great gravy.

 

Dave’s Tomatoes with Smoked Oysters, Capers, and Horseradish

 

Making Turkey stock.  Yes, use the giblets and the neck., though our turkey had NO NECK!

 

Cranberry Bread

 

Pumpkin Bread with Candied Ginger and Pecan Topping

 

Cauliflower Gratinee from SILVER PALATE

 

Making a wine cork wreath in the garage.

 

Needs a bow.

 

Grandpa–a last mow of the yard.

 

Me–making homemade rolls.

 

 

Leftover pumpkin pie filling–in the microwave for a quick dessert.
Happy Thanksgiving!
Sing a new song on the First Day of Advent, friends….  
Prepare Him Room!
Alyce

 

Roasted Pork Loin and Hot! Cranberry Sauce

 

New USDA regs say it’s ok if it’s a bit pink.

 

As a recipe tester for Cooks Illustrated, I get to make all kinds of things.  I mostly like them, but sometimes I don’t.  The note that arrives with each recipe always says something to the effect of:

If you don’t care for one or more of the ingredients in the dish or wouldn’t ordinarily eat it, please do not test this recipe…

So, for instance, if you hate hot stuff, don’t test the On-Fire Texas Chili.  I love to see the magazine months and months later to see recipes on which I’ve worked; I’m interested to see the final result-which may not be the recipe I saw originally.  I test recipes far out of season sometimes (I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before–) and adore that out of time and place experience that has us eating turkey in March.  That was one of the best turkeys I’ve ever eaten, by the way, but felt like it took all day to make. If you didn’t buy the magazine last January or February, the recipe is online, but you must subscribe.

Testing recipes is much like my life as a church choir director that often has me reviewing Christmas cantatas over the summer when I’m less busy.  Even now, while I’m somewhat late getting started as I didn’t begin my new job until September, I’m singing daily about the baby Jesus while folks are buying Halloween candy and setting out their pumpkins.  Of course, I, too, am setting out my pumpkins despite adoring canned pumpkin.

Worth mentioning again:  buy canned pumpkin now if you need it for Thanksgiving pies or pumpkin bread.  There is, for another year, a shortage.

A bigger meal:  Add the pumpkin soup from the last post for a first course. For starters, serve something quite light like warmed olives and a few crispy chips; this is a big meal.

Want to bake a sweet something?  Make my pear or apple crostata for this fall dinner.

Not baking?  Purchased ginger cookies and a scoop of rum raisin ice cream.  Perfect.

Wine:  This is a meal for a splurge if you’re up for it:  buy an Oregon Pinot Noir.  Or try an entry-level bottle, which are now at entry-level prices.  For instance: Ken Wright’s under $30 beginner Pinot, which is not “beginner” at all.  Another option is a (French) Côtes du Rhone– many of which are so tasty, truly fallish, and under $15.  Ask your wine shop for a recommendation about which one.  Or just pick one to try.  You’ll probably be quite satisfied.  The 1/2 cup of wine you need in the cranberry sauce will be perfect out of any of these bottles.

A note about cooking pork loin: Unless done correctly (I don’t want to say “well” as we don’t have to cook it done anymore–145 degrees F is the USDA number today), pork can be dry and tasteless.  This particular recipe, however, which I often pair with roasted vegetables, is juicy and incredibly flavorful even leftover and/or warmed up.  Great for pork tacos the next day or chopped up in a frittata, it also makes lovely sandwiches.  We like it with my hot and spicy cranberry sauce.

Drizzle cut up root vegetables with olive oil, dust well with salt, pepper, and rosemary and roast at 425 F for 35-40 minutes or at 350 for closer to an hour.
This is easy, lush, and spicy–if you want it to be. (Recipe below) Good hot or cold.

So, just for a fun change from my own kitchen’s recipes, here’s one I’ve adapted from CI, and hope you enjoy.  A 3 or 3.5 pork pork loin feeds 6 generously and a 5 # roast feeds 8.  I like to carve the loin, place it at the center of a large serving platter, and surround it with roasted vegetables.  It can be placed at the center of the table or passed and everyone can help themselves.

Roasted Pork Loin and Hot Cranberry Sauce

  •  3-5# pork loin
  • 3 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons coarsely-ground black peppper
  • 2 Tablespoons finely minced fresh or dried rosemary
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  1. Unwrap pork loin and set in roasting pan on a cooking sprayed or lightly oiled “V” Rack if you have one.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together sugar, pepper, rosemary, and salt.  Rub spice mixture over the pork and let sit an hour.  You can do this the night before and leave it covered in the frig, too.  Let the meat come to room temperature before roasting.
  3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  (Make sure your oven is clean.)  Place roasting pan with pork on a  rack situated at the middle of the oven and roast 30 minutes.
  4. Lower emperature to 375 degrees F and continue to roast another 30-40 minutes.  Check temperature at this point and remove from oven to rest or continue roasting until thermometer reads 145 -150 before resting.  Let sit 15-20 minutes (tented with foil) before carving.  It’s fine if it’s a bit pink and it should be juicy.
  5. Serve with a side of my Hot! Cranberry Sauce (recipe below.)

Hot! Cranberry Sauce

serves 6

  • 1 pound fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 apple, peeled, and chopped
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (leave out if you don’t like spicy food)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • Water to cover
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine

In a 3 qt heavy sauce pan, place 1 pound fresh cranberries, 1/2 lemon quartered, 1/2 large apple peeled and chopped, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, and 1/2 cup (or more to taste) brown sugar.    Add water to cover fruit, the pour in 1/2 cup red wine.  Bring to a boil, and lower heat.  Simmer for about 15 minutes until cranberries pop, fruit is softened, and mixture is thick.  Stir frequently  and add water if it becomes too dry.

Remove lemon to serve or let your sour puss friend eat it.  (Oranges can be used in place of lemons or in addition.)  Serve hot or cold.  Keeps well in refrigerator for several days.    If you do not like spicy food, leave out the crushed red pepper.

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood

Busy around our house as fall takes hold.  Temperatures are dipping down toward the 40’s at night and it’s pretty dark at 7:30 am this far north.  Fall gardening chores are in swing (trimming back and covering rose bushes and cutting back hydrangeas, etc) and the leaves are still falling.  My lilac trees continue to hold green leaves, but the oak leaves from the neighbor’s yard are all over.  Along the Mississippi River, the maples are shedding leaves rapidly.  Last week, I drove to work through nearly a maelstrom of leaves flying all over the car.  When the dogs and I walk, Gabby is loving playing through the carpet of brown.

 

Below:   I couldn’t have done this if I tried.  Setting down my music bag on a dining room chair the other day, the bag caught the edge of the fall-decorated table/cloth and pulled everything off without damaging a thing.

 

 

Et voila:  set for Sunday night supper for World Food Day.

 

Pumpkin bread time.  Set out early to defrost in its wrapping.

I had Sue for dinner Monday night to celebrate the end of Opus and Olives, Book Club for wine and cheese and apple crostata on Tuesday night, Choir on Wednesday, church music friends on Friday, and 6 for dinner Sunday night for World Food Day….  It was a cooking week, but mostly did things I’ve done before and didn’t take many pictures???  Too busy, I guess.  The beautiful thing was sharing so many moments with so many people I love.

The house will be in an uproar as the kitchen floor is taken up next week and the new wooden floor installed the following week.  In between, I get a new refrigerator to replace the nearly- new refrigerator that won’t open it’s freezer side because it’s too big for the space!  So silly and wasteful.  I bought a German refrigerator, a Fisher and Paykel.  It arrives Friday to go into the dining room until the kitchen is done!

$1159 is the 2-drawer dishwasher price!

I continue to do lectionary study at St. Frances Cabrini in Prospect Park on Thursday mornings with an ever-growing group of worship planners.  While I sometimes miss my old Bible study at Faith awfully (Love you all so!), I’m so thrilled to be part of a new group.  We’re also planning an ecumenical Thanksgiving service for Monday, November 21 at Cabrini.  Time tba.

Note re salmon:  Read yesterday’s NYT article about purchasing Pacific wild salmon.  
They appear to be infected by a virus that started in the commercial fish farms.

COOK THIS NOW : 120 Easy and Delectable Dishes You Can’t Wait to Make  by  NYT columnist and long-time cookbook author, Melissa Clark. is the newest cookbook on my shelf.   Studded with sumptuous photos, this seasonal charmer will tell you  with a delightful “voice” exactly what to cook exactly now.  Get yours soon (or today as an e-book) by clicking on the title!

Meantime, we’re about to commence a bit of travel east and west while the dust flies in the house.  Might be a hiatus in the blog, but know I’m cooking another “The Big Night” feast with the gang in Colorado.  Keep watch for pics.

In memoriam…
Saddest week for organist and friend, Roberta Kagin, who lost her dear husband Craig Alexander last week.  The stories told about this man (one goal, nearly achieved, was to race past the police dept in Woodbury 100 times going over 100mph)  were so many and indicated a love for life I couldn’t help but admire to the nth degree. At age 84, he was still in-line skating to his volunteer job comforting families at the hospital surgery waiting room.  Go, Craig, go!  The rest of us:  Live, People, Live!!

Do it all with joy and sing a new song,
Alyce

Chicken, Chicken, Chicken or It’s Still Hot Around Here

 

Don’t know what to do with chicken?  How about cook it?

I simply don’t know how to do anything without doing it with all my heart.  In fact, I don’t.  Unless it’s washing sheets (yes, I’ll do it today), cleaning the stairs (twice a week with golden retrievers), driving through construction (not on googlemaps, of course), going to the DMV, shopping for a pair of black pants at Macy’s (How many places could black pants be and how much should I pay?), or picking up the trash folks leave in my yard (the price for living in the city.)  I mean, boredom or even half-heartedness is not interesting and I don’t learn or grow from it.  Thriving on change is a good way to live.  Especially since change is the way things are.  The new normal.  Change, in fact, is the status quo.  Hmm.

So when I look at the stack of chickens in my freezer (Book club friend’s husband has a tie to great organic, free-range poultry and the order just came a couple of weeks ago.) and go, “Oh, no!” I rear my head in disappointment at myself and begin dreaming chicken.

With tomatoes
With pasta
In the oven
On the grill
On potatoes
Poulet au vin blanc (chicken with white wine)
In soup
Con poblanos  (with green chiles)
Next to asparagus
For sandwiches
TACOS!!
In the crock pot
Snuggled up in noodles, celery, and onions

In a world where the hungry numbered 925 million in 2010, I am embarrassed that how I cook chicken is even a topic.  I do indulge myself on this blog, however, and go on after breathing deeply.

The other night, I just couldn’t come up with anything terribly new and entertaining for chicken (in the summer) and just began throwing the parts into the pan.  They’d get done, wouldn’t they?  We’d eat, wouldn’t we?  But, wait:  first the parts should be seasoned very well with salt and pepper.  (Leaving out an entrancing snout-full of pepper is what people often do with chicken.  And it’s pale and insipid and oh, you fill in the blank.  Same for salt.  Poultry HAS to be well-seasoned, whatever you choose to do it with.  Particularly if you’re eating it as is or the poultry is of the very inexpensive sort.)   And, oh, let’s roll into the pan some fragrant olive oil if we’re just cooking it any which old way.

As this what-the-hell supper began to cook, here’s what it looked like:

You know the drill; you have the picture.   Well, I don’t know what you do with yours, but I’m not standing there watching chicken cook.  I had other fish to fry.  (Right.)  After it browned well on both sides (a good 5-7 minutes each side over medium-high heat), I threw that sucker in the oven to finish cooking for another 20-25 minutes or so:

And wondered what else was for dinner.  Just like you.  A quick bang of the pantry and frig doors showed pasta, rice, capers, carrots, yellow squash, celery, lemon, and feta.  On the counter were onions and garlic because in Alyce’s kitchen, God (and a gardening neighbor) is good and those things are always there.  A glass full of basil sat at the sink.  Mint’s in a pot next to the tub of rosemary (that needed water so badly it looked like a Christmas tree in January) outside my backdoor.  And because there’s a difference between eating and enjoying the meal with my husband, I began to grab pots, knives, cutting board, and so on.  It soon appeared that an orzo salad was coming together as orzo cooks quickly and is a great home for savory and piquant additions.  And oh how I love olives! with orzo and feta.  No olives, though, more’s the pity.  Capers would have to suffice unless I wanted to sprint to the store during rush hour.  Probably not.  Before the chicken was done, the salad was ready:

So you have the idea of the chicken.   Season well, brown throughly on both sides, and finish in a moderate (350 F) oven until quite browned and juices run clear or thermometer registers 165 F.  Unsure about temperatures, read the USDA guidelines–very simple.  While the chicken is in the oven, cook the orzo and chop the veg and cheese.  While this chicken with an orzo salad isn’t an instant meal, it’s fairly quick and hits the major food groups in a tasty way.  And, hey!   There would be leftovers for lunch.  Yum leftovers.  Who isn’t, after all that, glad to reach in the frig and pull out a piece of chicken come noon?

Take the time to season this baby (the orzo salad) lovingly.  It takes a bit of thought, and trial/error, but you can go from “Yeah, that’s ok” to “Wow!” with attention, care, and a bit of knowledge.  Generally the wow factor comes from one of these:

The best ingredients you can find
Thorough, but not over-seasoning
Not over-cooking
Use fresh herbs (usually at the very end before serving)
Appropriate addition of acid (in this case lemon juice)

If you’re unsure, take a small portion, add the questionable ingredient and try it.  See if that’s going to make the difference.  Take three small portions and try three techniques…which do you like?  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by this process. So here’s how I did it this time:

Alyce’s Orzo Salad on That Day (amounts are approximate)   Serves 4 (as does a whole chicken)

1 cup uncooked orzo
1/2 cup each chopped finely diced carrots or cucumber,  and yellow squash
1/4 cup chopped celery 
2 cloves garlic smashed and finely minced (or more to taste)
2T minced red onion
2T ea chopped fresh mint and basil
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
Pinch of oregano
1T capers (or a small handful of chopped kalamata olives)
1/2 t grated lemon zest
Kosher salt and pepper to taste (try just a bit of salt at first as capers and feta are salty)
Big pinch of crushed red pepper
1T white or red wine vinegar
3T extra virgin olive oil, divided (You’ll use some to flavor the hot orzo and some later for dressing.)
Juice of half a lemon
Optional:  Top with 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes and a sprinkle of pine nuts or toasted chopped walnuts

Directions:

  1. Cook orzo according to package directions and drain well.  Pour the orzo into a mixing bowl and stir in 1 T of the olive oil.  Sprinkle with just a pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. Add vegetables (including garlic and onions), feta, herbs, oregano, capers or olives, and lemon zest.  Stir well.
  3. Add salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.  Taste and reseason.
  4. Sprinkle with vinegar and stir. Drizzle in other two tablespoons of olive oil and stir again.  Add tomatoes and nuts, if using.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
  5. Squeeze lemon over all.
  6. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.  Store leftovers in refrigerator, tightly covered, for 2-3 days.

Another cook might have added finely chopped fennel, marinated artichokes, green peppers, jicama….and so on.  

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood

 
It isn’t quite the last rose of summer (above), but there are moments, despite the heat, that I want to run to each flower and smell each one up close while I can.  I bravely planted some new things last week near the perennial hibiscus in my corner garden.  I’ll show you when they bloom.  (Please bloom.)

What else I’m cooking: 

       I’m considering some new recipes for those who are in the healing process or need softer meals:
  

A lovely butternut (and other) squash soup with thyme for garnish.

 A healthier, chock-full of stuff zucchini bread is in the works and you’ll read about it here first.

Whole wheat zucchini bread with dried cherries, raisins, nuts and bits of dark chocolate for your heart.

 About the house:

And will it look like this again?  Guess so.

  I am finally getting my house to make sense nearly three months after the moving truck arrived.  While the kitchen, bedrooms and dining room quickly fell into place (though bedding and tablecloths still seem to be in short supply), the living room defied taming.  A small, but pleasant light teal room that has a 3-season porch attached and boasts a bright, clean piano window (Thanks to my friend, Chris Brown:), it just made me shake my head (read that want to puke) whenever I took the time to look at it.  Now my living room, unlike some, is in constant use.  I often work at home and am at the piano or on the couch (with the good lamp) reading and studying.  I run between the pots in the kitchen to the hymnal on the stand to the computer to write and I need that room to not only be comfortable, but to be feng shuied mighty fine.  I nurse a glass of wine in there while enjoying the  Sunday New York Times sometimes in the evening.   (I never get it done on Sundays.)  I sit and read while Dave naps with his head on my lap.  The dogs have their favorite spot on the wool rug.  To say nothing of sharing a cup of coffee with a friend.   But the room had its own ideas about itself and it wanted to be tilted in the direction of what appeared to be a huge (it is) piano and a squeezed in sofa with two chairs nearly on top of one another in the corner with a beautiful table that cried, “Get rid of me.  I’m too crowded.”  It made my lip curl like Elvis and my brow crease like Bruce Willis when he’s in a real tight place.  I said nasty stuff about my furniture.  Talked about paying designers.  Wrote friends who WERE designers. Hemmed and hawed.  (What is hemmed and hawed?)

They aren’t concerned about what color the walls are; they just want to be together.  Rightly so.  Love dogs!

 Our physical selves often mimic our emotional or spiritual circumstances and, in this case, it was exactly so.  (Thanks to old friend Rev. Virginia Memmott for knowing that.)  As long as I hithered and thithered and dithered about the move, living in Minnesota , the hot summer, our Colorado house, the need for a job, etc, I couldn’t settle down enough to “see” how things had to be.

Living room the day the truck arrived

 One day last week, after receiving word of my new choir director job at Prospect Park United Methodist (Come sing!), I just walked in there, started moving stuff, called Dave down to pound nails in the walls for artwork, and found a way for that room to be arranged that not only made sense, but was downright charming.  After a day or so, I also saw that the light had changed.  The walls were more awake and you could read more easily as the sun was now in its late August position.   No more cave feeling.  And I like it.  And so there, room.  And, while it’s still hot outdoors, my eyes fall upon space that is welcoming, comfortable, and full of the things I love.  I didn’t have to go buy all new furniture or consign the art; I just had to give myself time to breathe and want the space to work.  Thanks, God.

A bit more welcoming, huh?

 Below:  Late hostas blooming on the east side of the house.  In other places, leaves are falling and the acorns crunch underfoot.  The acorns are even falling on the patio table that sits below a maple tree.  Now there IS an oak tree in the yard next door.  And somehow the acorns are moving from the oak to the maple and falling on us during dinner. 
  

 

Sing a new song,
Alyce

Pasta Primavera with New Peas, Ramps, Leeks, Asparagus, et al or I Guess I’m Home Because the Cream Soups are Unpacked

If you have a yard surrounded by old lilacs, spring is a good time for a dinner party.
And, if it’s spring, it’s a good time for Pasta Primavera (Spring Pasta).
And, if it’s time for Pasta Primavera, it’s a good time for pink wine.  French rosé.  Or Oregon rosé.

You needn’t be picky about the wine, though it must be dry and young (2010).  It shouldn’t cost much–not more than $15 and often much less.  Just make sure you have enough.  A variety of choices would be a kind gesture to both you and your guests.

And if you were really loving that day, you might make an appetizer platter of tapenade and local goat’s cheese blended with fresh basil and grated lemon rind.  Some proscuitto and tiny tomatoes make the plate.
The rosé will be quite stunning with that goat’s cheese.  Promise.

I’m sold lately on lemon ice cream.  In fact, it’s a perfect solution to dessert.

Picture taken later after the ice cream had been in the freezer.

I used a recipe from epicurious. com (Gourmet, 1993), though I didn’t use as much sugar.  I thought 2/3 c was plenty and it was.  The brightness and/or sourness of the lemon can easily be overwhelmed by too much sugar. (Click on the purple recipe.)  Note that the mixture must be made ahead, cooked briefly, chilled very well, and have more half and half added right before freezing.

About the Primavera... you could look up twenty recipes for Primavera and they’d all be different, except that they should all have spring vegetables of some sort (leeks, ramps, scallions, peas, asparagus, baby greens, fennel, etc.).  If you go to the farmer’s markets now (when you think there’ll be nothing), you should find some spring vegetables.  If not, pick up your favorites at the grocery and use those.

A gorgeous fennel bulb..use the fronds for garnish.  There’s a core here much like in cabbage.  Cut it out and slice the fennel into half moons.

Fresh pea shoots–leaves, shoots, and tendrils from pea plants.  Yummy greens.

 The basic directions (serves 4) that would include your choice of vegetables  would look like this (and I don’t think the Primavera police are out tonight if you want to change the process):

Ramps–quite like scallions

 

1.  Bring a big pot of salted, peppered, and herbed pasta water to a boil.  (Fresh herbs only–parsley, if it’s all you have. Parsley’s a perfect herb and quite nutritious.) Lower the heat to low until you need the water in a few minutes.  That is,  unless you’ve timed it perfectly. Ha.
2.  Meantime, in a large, deep skillet, saute in a tablespoon of olive oil a half cup of sliced something(s) from the onion family:  scallions, leeks, ramps (kind of like green onions…sort of between them and lilies of the valley), a mixture…even a bit of garlic, though just a bit–say 1 clove, minced.  I would include fennel here (another half cup if you have it) as it requires a similar cooking time. Do not brown these vegetables, just cook until softened.  A shake of salt and pepper wouldn’t come wrong here.  Remove them from the pan and reserve.
3.  Add a bit more oil, heat it to medium-high, and cook a cup of freshly sliced mushrooms for three or four minutes until golden.  They needn’t be –though they could be!–expensive; button mushrooms will do.  Don’t salt them til later.  Do, however, add a tablespoon or so of fresh chopped herbs to them  and pepper it all lightly.  (I like marjoram, but rosemary or thyme is so good, too.)  Remove them from the pan and add to the onion  mixture.  Note:  Like meat, you must leave mushrooms unmoved for best browning.  Don’t stir until well-browned on one side.  Watch closely!
4.  A little more oil, medium heat, and cook 1/2 cup each new peas (or frozen if you can’t find new), chopped asparagus, chopped haricots verts (very slim green beans), even a bit of zucchini or yellow squash sliced thinly–despite the fact that they are summer vegetables.  We’ll let you slide by with it.  After they’ve cooked a couple of minutes, add 1T cup each of your favorite fresh herbs (basil, rosemary, etc.) and a generous pinch of crushed red pepper.   Throw in the onion-mushroom mixture, taste and adjust seasoning,  and set aside.  These vegetables should be just barely done…not crunchy like a salad, but not granny-done, either.

5.  Cook your pound of  pasta as directed (10 minutes for dried thin noodles like spaghetti or linguine…just a few minutes for fresh), drain it and add it the vegetables.  Mix well.  I do not believe in the ubiquitious addition of pasta water here.
6.  If desired, a 1/2 cup – 1 cup of very fresh ricotta can be included here, as well as 1/2c-1 c fresh baby greens (pea shoots, baby spinach, watercress…).  Serve warm or at room temperature.  (Good cold, too.)
7.  Pass Parmesan (you’ll need 1-2 cups grated), chopped parsley, cherry tomatoes (heirlooms are tasty), and white pepper at the table.

Alternatively, and much more quickly, you might try this method for ease of preparation:  Bring a 10-12 qt (2/3 full) pot of well-seasoned water to boil; add 1 lb pasta and cook 7-8 minutes.  Throw in peas, chopped asparagus, chopped green beans, etc. and continue cooking 2 more minutes.  Drain well and drizzle with olive oil. Add a handful of mixed fresh herbs (parsley, basil, etc.), 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, and 1/4 c sliced green onions.  If you like ricotta, and have some, stir in 1/2-1 cup.  Season quite liberally with salt and pepper and a pinch of crushed red pepper.  Serve hot and  pass a generous bowl of Parmesan and a grinder for black pepper around the table.  

Nothing like fresh ricotta.

This is a fun meal to make if you like interactive dinners.  Have each guest bring their favorite vegetable, cleaned and chopped.  Someone who doesn’t cook can bring a couple of different rosés.  Let a strong person grate the cheese, a detail-oriented friend supervise the pasta, and definitely get a wino to make sure everyone tastes all the wines.  The ice cream can be put into the freezer (if it’s a small one) when you sit down to dinner.

If you’re a fan of Mark Bittman (NYT), as am I, here’s a link to his recent take (and ideas for variations) on Primavera, which he contends is American.  Who am I to argue with Mark Bittman?  Mr. Bittman also has ideas for pastas that, since they require fewer ingredients (and seldom meat), are pretty inexpensive.  Which is always good.

Well–all that said:

It’s spring.  The flowers are in bloom.  Sit outdoors if it’s not too cold.  Put spring flowers on the table and think loving thoughts. 

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood

The house is still in process, but crystal is in the china cabinet, boxes are out of the living room, and I am walking, gardening, and practicing again.  

I must be home.  The cream soups are here.

House being prepared for paint.

 St. Paul Farmer’s Market Scallions
Made rhubarb pie yesterday…may blog it!  From…

Farmer’s market rhubarb.

Flowers at the market downtown–a fine way to spend Saturday morning.

Our side yard (south)

Front yard tree.

  Our house from the north.

Our driveway garden becoming a jungle.

I’m planting herbs, columbines, tomatoes, impatiens, pansies, alyssum…and looking for more light in the yard!

 Happy Spring as you sing a new song, my friends!
Alyce