MACARONI SALAD: A Summer Side!

mac salad textPicnics and potlucks nearly always have a macaroni salad or two. Often it’s store-bought and kind of a watery mush. People eat it because it’s there.

But I believe if you’re going to eat something, you should really enjoy it. Here’s a flavorful macaroni salad that’s easy to prepare.

MACARONI SALAD – makes about 6½ cups

  • 1 lb small elbow macaroni with ridges (the ridges hold the dressing)mac salad5
  • 1/2 cup shallots, minced
  • 2/3 cup celery (1 good-sized stalk), chopped
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1½ cups mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to full boil. Add in 1 T salt and the pasta. Cook for about 5 minutes – until al dente. Drain and cool by running cold water over it.mac salad3 Pour into a large bowl.

Stir in the shallots, celery, parsley, lemon juice, Dijon, garlic powder, and cayenne. Let sit for 3 minutes to absorb flavors.

Mix in the mayonnaise, cover, and refrigerate until mayo is absorbed. Season with salt and pepper, adjusting as necessary.mac salad1

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CHEESY GRITS: Creamy Goodness! Who Knew?!

Grits9Grits. Just the word has always made me want to rinse out my mouth. I could never understand why anyone would want to eat them…and like them! Until now.

Of course, the key is to cook the cornmeal so it’s not actually gritty.  Add in some cheese and seasoning and YUMMMM! I couldn’t stop eating it!

Note:  I made this recipe using both coarse-grind cornmeal and polenta (the degerminated enriched kind) to compare. It’s really a toss-up – they both worked well.

Additional note: A flat whisk works really well with this dish – it allows you to get into the corners easily. (Photo below)

CHEESY GRITS – makes 6 cups

  • 2 T butter
  • 4 T scallions, white part only (about 4 stalks), sliced thin
  • 3¼ cups + 1/4 cup water, divided
  • 1 cup milk (any kind – I used nonfat)
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce (I used Tabasco)
  • 1/2 tsp black ground pepper
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup degerminated polenta or yellow coarse-grind cornmeal (I’ve used both)
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels (frozen, fresh, or canned)
  • 4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 4 oz jack cheese, shredded

In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add in scallions and sauté to soften – about 4 minutes. grits5Add in the 3¼ cups water, milk, hot sauce, pepper, and salt. Bring to boil.grits6 Whisking continuously, very slowly pour in the polenta (or cornmeal). grits7Decrease heat to maintain a simmer and cook, uncovered, until thickened – about 15 minutes. Stir often, taking care to get into the edges.grits2 In a blender, pureé the corn with the remaining 1/4 cup water for about 5 seconds. grits4Pour into the thickened grits, also adding the cheeses, stirring to blend. Cook another 5 minutes or so to thicken. grits8Top servings with scallion green slices, more shredded cheese, and paprika, if desired.

 

 

 

SPINACH & FETA: A Yummy Way To Eat Your Spinach!

spinach feta textCooked spinach is not a looker.  It wilts down from a giant amount to a small, dark green mound.  On its own it tastes…okay. But doctor it up with some flavor, crunch, and color and now you’ve got something.

If you’ve never cooked fresh spinach, prepare for a surprise.  You’ll bring home a mass of leaves and think, “this is way too much”. It’s not, believe me.

Note: I like to buy bundled spinach and wash it myself. But that can be time-consuming and is often hard to find.  Stores seem to prefer to carry pre-washed spinach in plastic tubs. If you do buy the bundles, make sure you weigh them – some are larger than others.

SPINACH & FETA – makes about 1 cup

  • 8½ oz fresh spinach leaves (about 2 bunches)
  • 1 T + 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 T shallots, chopped (about 1 large)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 T water chestnuts, chopped (I get them canned, in the Asian section)
  • 1 oz Feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • 2 T pistachio nuts, salted, toasted
  • 1 Roma tomato, chopped

Steam spinach over boiling water for 1 minute – set a timer! spinach feta4Place spinach in a towel to absorb excess water. spinach feta5Roughly chop. spinach feta6Heat 1 T oil in a skillet over medium/high. Add in shallots and sauté a few minutes, until browned. spinach feta7Stir in the spinach and salt – sauté over medium/high about 2 minutes to evaporate excess moisture. spinach feta1Reduce heat to low and add in the water chestnuts, feta, 1 tsp olive oil, vinegar, and pistachios. spinach feta2Stir over low heat, just to warm everything. Add in tomatoes and serve.spinach feta8

ROMAN GNOCCHI: A Semolina Sensation!

roman gnocchi textWe’re all familiar with the POTATO GNOCCHI – awhile back I even posted a recipe for POTATO GNOCCHI WITH SAGE BUTTER:gnocchi 2But gnocchi are merely dumplings that are made from various things besides potatoes, such as wheat flour, cheese, breadcrumbs, cornmeal, and semolina flour – the basis for this Roman Gnocchi recipe.

Roman Gnocchi are fast and easy to make and can be formed ahead of time – I love make-ahead recipes! They can be served as a first, side, or main course, depending on how many one eats.

Note:  I store my semolina flour in the freezer since I don’t use it that often.

ROMAN GNOCCHI – makes 12

  • 2½ cups milk (use whatever you have)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • 4 T butter, divided
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup Gruyère cheese, shredded
  • 1/3 tsp dried crushed rosemary (or 1 tsp fresh chopped)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 T Parmesan cheese, grated
  • topping sauce of your choice (marinara, cheese sauce, butter sauce)

In a saucepan over medium heat, bring milk up to simmer. Add in salt and nutmeg. roman gnocchi7Very slowly pour in semolina, stirring constantly to prevent lumps (a whisk is best for this). Once all the semolina in mixed in, decrease heat to low and cook 3-5 minutes, until it becomes very thick and pulls away from the sides of pan. (Don’t undercook or the gnocchi will taste floury.) Let cool 4 minutes. roman gnocchi11Cut 3 T of the butter into pieces and stir them into the dough until all butter is melted and incorporated. roman gnocchi10Mix in the beaten egg, Gruyère, rosemary, and baking powder. roman gnocchi8With the remaining 1 T butter grease an 8″ x 8″ baking pan (or one of equivalent size). Dip a 1/4 cup measuring cup into water to wet it, then fill it with dough. Empty onto the pan, using your fingers to fix the shape, if needed. Dip measuring cup into water each time – this helps release the dough. You should get around 12 gnocchi. roman gnocchi1Chill at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit. roman gnocchi3Sprinkle Parmesan on top of gnocchi and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

 

MASHED POTATOES & PARSNIPS: Add A Little Sweetness!

mashed pot & parsnips textMashed potatoes can get a little boring. True, they’re filling, easy, cheap, and everyone likes them. But, maybe it’s time to add in mashed parsnips…you know, to shake things up a bit.

If you’ve never had a parsnip, it’s really time you did. They have a slight sweetness, kind of like a carrot. In fact, the two are related.

And, just to show you what an adventurous gal I am, I use Yukon gold potatoes in this recipe, rather than the standard russet for mashed potatoes.

MASHED POTATOES & PARSNIPS – makes 3½ cups

  • 4 T butter
  • 8 oz parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/4″ slices (cut fat end into half moons)
  • 1½ lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4″ circles
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup vegetable stock (homemade or purchased)
  • 3/4 cup half & half (or half cream & half milk)
  • 2 T chives, chopped

Melt butter in pot and add parsnips. Over medium/high heat, sauté until browned – about 10 minutes.mashed pot & parsnips2 Place potato slices in strainer and rinse well to remove excess starch. Let drain. mashed pot & parsnips5When parsnips have browned, add potatoes to the pot. Cover, decrease heat to low, and cook about 20 minutes – until potatoes are tender. Uncover pot and let set 2 minutes to allow steam to escape.mashed pot & parsnips3 Mash mixture until smooth. mashed pot & parsnips4Warm the milk and pour 1/2 cup of it into the potatoes. (Use the rest, if needed. Save it for any leftover mash.) Add in chives and fold mixture gently together. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.

 

BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO: Full Of Fall Flavor!

butternut risotto textWinter squash comes in many varieties and colors – very tempting to buy as a Fall decoration. Of course, cooking them may seem a bit daunting… what with the potential for slicing off a finger or two.

Never fear! A quick par-cook in the microwave to the rescue!!! It softens the squash just enough to ensure all body parts remain intact.

This risotto recipe cooks faster than the traditional method because it’s given a jump start of a large amount of liquid at the beginning.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO – makes about 4 cups

  • 1 lb butternut squash – whole, washed & dried
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2½ cups vegetable stock – purchased or homemade (VEGETABLE STOCK)
  • 2 T butter, divided
  • 3/4 cups onions, chopped finely
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 cup Arborio rice, unrinsed
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 oz (1/3 cup) Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 T fresh sage, chopped
  • 1 T lemon juice

Place whole squash in microwave without piercing or slicing it. (It won’t explode.) Zap for 3 minutes only. Turn it over and zap another 30 seconds. This softens the squash enough to slice through it.

Note: Save all the skin, fibers, and seeds to use in broth. 

Cut off top and bottom to give a firm foundation for peeling. With a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, remove the peel down to the deep orange part (just past the yellow part).butternut risotto3 Remove neck (yikes!), slice into rounds, then cut into 1/2″ cubes. Cut the body (this is getting creepy) in half and scrape out seeds and fibers. (Remember to save the seeds, fibers, and skin for the broth!) Slice into 1/2″ thick pieces, then cut those into 1/2″ cubes.butternut risotto10 Measure out 1¾ cup of cubes (put any remaining cubes with the skins and seeds for the broth.) Into a 12″ nonstick skillet heat the olive oil over medium/high until shimmering. Add the 1¾ cup of cubed squash, spreading out into a single layer. butternut risotto11Cook about 5 minutes without stirring, until bottoms are browned. Continue cooking another 4-5 minutes, stirring now and then, trying not to turn them over – you want only one side browned. Remove to a bowl and set aside. butternut risotto12Into the now empty skillet put the seeds and skins, cooking over medium heat about 4 minutes to brown. (Beware of popping seeds as they cook.)butternut risotto13Remove to a small saucepan. Add in the vegetable stock, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook 10-15 minutes.butternut risotto6 Into the empty skillet melt 1½ T butter. Add in the onions, salt, and black pepper. Sauté over medium heat until onions start to brown. butternut risotto7Add in nutmeg, cinnamon, and garlic. Cook another 30 seconds to bloom the spices. Pour the Arborio into the onions and sauté over medium until edges of rice become translucent. butternut risotto4Add the wine to the rice and cook uncovered over medium high until it evaporates.  butternut risotto8As the wine is cooking, strain the broth made with seeds. Discard strained solids and set broth aside.

When wine has evaporated, pour in 1½ cups of the broth and 1/2 of the reserved cooked squash cubes. Cook over medium heat uncovered until most of liquid has been absorbed, stirring now and then. In 1/2 cup increments, continue adding broth to the rice as it’s been absorbed. Add broth (you may need all of it) until the rice is softened. Total cooking time is about 12 minutes. butternut risotto2Stir in Parmesan, sage, remaining 1/2 T butter, and lemon juice. Adjust salt and lemon juice, if needed.

BLEU CHEESE MASHED POTATOES: Jazzing Up A Standard Recipe!

bleu cheese mashed potatoes textGood old mashed potatoes. Straight forward. Easy to prepare. And, most of all, filling. This last one is important if you have picky eater children (I speak from experience).

But, how about if we fancied-up those potatoes to make them company worthy? What would happen if we added bleu cheese, a little thyme, and topped with port infused sautéed onions? A brilliant side dish, that’s what!

BLEU CHEESE MASHED POTATOES – makes about 3 cups

  • 1½ lbs russet potatoes
  • 3/4 tsp vegetable oil
  • 3/4 tsp butter
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 1/4 tsp brown sugar, packed (it’s not much, but aids caramelization)
  • 1/2 lb yellow onions
  • 2½ T ruby port (or any sweet red wine such as Masala)
  • 3 T butter, melted
  • 6 T half & half
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme (or 1/3 tsp dried)
  • 2 oz bleu cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

Place whole potatoes (with skin intact) in a saucepan and cover with 1″ water. mashed pot1Bring to simmer and cook until easily pierced with fork – about 35 minutes.

While potatoes are cooking, prepare the onions. Cut onions into 1/4″ slices. In a nonstick skillet, heat oil and butter over high heat. Add in 1/8 tsp salt, brown sugar, and onions.onions saute1 Sauté 5 minutes – until they start to lose volume and become a little browned. Decrease heat to medium and continue cooking until well browned (about 20 minutes or so).onion saute2 Add in the port and letter simmer for 5 minutes to evaporate the liquid. mashed pot2Set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, warm half & half and thyme just to the simmer point. Cover and set aside.

When potatoes are cooked, remove from water and peel. (They’re very hot so you might want to use a fork to hold them in place, while peeling with a knife.) For best mashing results, use a ricer or food mill.mashed pot3 Gently fold in melted butter. Add in half & half, bleu cheese, remaining salt, and pepper. Very gently blend together. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

To serve, top with onions.