Niçoise Salad

At our house, we try to buy birthday gifts without going hog wild (read: we don’t to spend our life savings on birthday presents, not even for ourselves).  But there are still good things to be had for your birthday.  During birthday week, you get to pick the menu for dinner every night, you get to pick what we watch on tv, etc.  Any small life decisions for the week are yours.  It makes for a week that feels a little bit special and personal.

We started Scott’s birthday week last night with my first attempt at Niçoise Salad.  I didn’t quite use a recipe, which is the beauty of this salad.  There’s a traditional list of ingredients, but it’s pretty darn simple: hard-boiled eggs, green beans, tomatoes, small potatoes, and tuna with capers and olives sprinkled on top and a nice, strong viniagrette dressing (my favorite kind of dressing–heavy on the vinegar).

So you could read about what I did, but I like this post from Food52 a whole lot.  It’s what I used as a guide.  It gives you a bit of history about the dish, tells you what traditionally goes into it, and lets you figure out the details.

Asparagus looked better than green beans at our store, so that was the only real substitution I made.  And I guess I roasted the taters instead of boiling them.  I just really like roasted potatoes.

Here’s the official version from Food52:

1272a0d5-e253-4b5e-b2c9-918f9385f833-2016-0816_how-to-make-a-nicoise-salad_linda-xiao_352

photo taken by Linda Xiao for Food52

Here’s what mine looked like the next day in Tupperware (because this is real life):

img_4622

The scary dark spots are either nice roasty parts of the potato or salad dressing.  I promise.

This salad is legit, guys.  It tastes awesome, it’s as good cold as warm (we ate it with potatoes right out of the oven last night, but everything else was room temperature), and it’s healthy.  I mean, you aren’t going to get all worried about those five tiny potatoes, are you?  Everything else is really super duper healthy.  There are so many good flavors.  Yum!  Oh, and don’t be intimidated by the suggestion that you could throw some anchovies on top.  I had some anchovy paste that I mixed into the dressing, but I could have left that out.

The super awesome thing about this?  The “composing” of the stripes makes it feel fancy.  And while the ingredients aren’t all kid-friendly, you could easily turn it into something kids would love.  Who doesn’t want striped dinner?  You could also do lots of these things ahead of time and then just put it together at the last minute.  Last but not least, I’m honestly kind of excited that I’ve found a way to use canned tuna that feels fresh and fancy.

Birthday week is off to a good start.

In unrelated news, at the ripe old age of 10 months, our kiddo likes kalamata olives, feta cheese, and roasted butternut squash.  I’m A) proud of him for his fancy preferences and B) concerned that I’m raising a child who will one day say something like, “I don’t think I can eat those mustard greens unless they’re locally sourced and organic.”  I hope I’m wrong.  I’m hoping I’ll raise a kid who loves good old peanut butter and jelly AND roasted butternut squash.  And maybe once in a while enjoys some locally sourced organic mustard green.

Weekend Food Edition: Taco Salad, Corn Puddin’, and Strawberry Granola Pancakes

You know what all of these summer fruits and veggies could really use?  Some dairy and grain.  Yum.

No really.

We had some family visiting this weekend, so I got to whip out my recipes again.  There were some definite keepers in there, and I would hate to forget them in my sporadic blogging.  I’ve forgotten a lot of good recipes in the past few months.  Sigh.

So in the order in which they were consumed, I give you the winners from Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday morning.

The Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Taco Salad

photo by Ree Drummond

photo by Ree Drummond

I needed to feed the fam quickly and wanted to include some fresh veggies in the mix, so this was the answer.  I’ll admit, I was skeptical about the ranch dressing/salsa/cilantro combo, but it works.  It really really works.  I should have known better than to doubt The Pioneer Woman.  She almost never lets me down.  You can find the salad recipe right here.  Oh, and it helps if you have a whole team of helpful family members chopping ingredients for you.  Turns out you can cut down on prep time if you have three people cooking.  Who knew?

Ina Garten’s Sagaponack Corn Pudding

not sure where this photo is from, but it's on the interwebs, and it looks roughly like my corn pudding looked

not sure where this photo is from, but it’s on the interwebs, and it looks roughly like my corn pudding looked

It’s delicious, it’s cheesy and creamy and not at all soggy.  The basil is also a really wonderful addition to the more traditional corn pudding flavors.  It might not quite fit Scott’s ideal of “Southern” corn pudding, but it has my vote for tasty corn pudding.  It also used lots of fresh corn, which is a big bonus when you have an overflowing corn supply in your garden.  You can find the recipe here.

Pioneer Woman’s Strawberry Granola Pancakes

photo by Ree Drummond

photo by Ree Drummond

These pancakes were supposed to bring glee to the hearts of our niece and nephew, but time got away from me on Sunday morning.  I barely had time to throw some cereal into a bowl before I left for church, much less make a nice breakfast of homemade pancakes.

Fast forward to this morning (my day off!), and you’ll find the pancakes bringing glee to my heart instead.  I did share with Scott, but I was selfishly happy that I was only doing the sharing with one person.  Next time, I think I would slice up a few extra strawberries for the batter.  Other than that, this was just about perfect.  There was crunch, there were wonderful pockets of fresh berries, there was good, old-fashioned pancake batter mixed in.  I humbly recommend these any time you have an extra half hour for breakfast.  You’ll be glad you did (oh, and the recipe lives here).

P.S.  My grandmother passed away this weekend, and that deserves much more than a footnote on a random blog post about food.  She was a remarkable woman.  She was one of the best-read people I know, and she loved to travel and spend time with friends.  She wrote a really good thank you note (and loved getting them, too).  She was flawed, but she was still my grandmother.  She was also one of this blog’s most faithful commenters, even if I’m not quite sure she ever understood that those comments were public.  I love you, Grandma.

Fried Green Tomato BLT (a.k.a. Summer Love)

Sadly for me, there’s still no spare time in my life to write.  Happily for me, there’s still time in my life to cook.  Yay!

Sometime last week, we tried a new-to-us recipe for Fried Green Tomato BLT sandwiches.  Or actually, Scott tried the recipe while I was at work.  And it was a hit.  So much so that we made them again the next day.  There was only one adjustment between day one and day two–adding an egg wash to the cornmeal/tomato/frying process.  It made the cornmeal crust much more satisfyingly crunchy, or so I heard.

This really is the perfect summer lunch or quick dinner.  The fried green tomatoes taste fresh and happy, the bacon is… well, it’s bacon.  The end result is comforting and fresh at the same time.

photo by Lee Harrelson

photo by Lee Harrelson

Here’s the magic how-to (originally from Cooking Light Through the Seasons with very minor changes):

Fried Green Tomato BLT

Ingredients

8 slices bacon
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
12 (1/4-inch-thick) slices green tomato (about 2 tomatoes)
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
Cooking spray
1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
8 (1-ounce) slices bread (recipe called for white country bread, we prefer whole wheat), toasted
8 red leaf lettuce leaves

Preparation

Cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving 2 teaspoons drippings. Set bacon and drippings aside.

Combine cornmeal, cheese, and pepper in a shallow dish. Crack egg into a separate shallow dish.  Dredge tomato slices in cornmeal mixture first, followed by egg wash, followed by a final dip in the cornmeal mixture. Heat 1 teaspoon reserved drippings and 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Cook 6 tomato slices 2 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 teaspoon bacon drippings, remaining 1 teaspoon oil, and 6 tomato slices.

Spread 1 tablespoon mayonnaise over each of 4 bread slices. Top each slice with 2 lettuce leaves, 3 tomato slices, and 2 bacon slices. Top with remaining 4 bread slices. Serve immediately.

Ode to the Can Opener

Oh, OXO.  You make such a lovely can opener.  ‘Tis a thing of beauty.  Because, as advertised, it opens a can.  No muss, no fuss, just food and fingers intact.

can opener

Why the big deal about the can opener?  Well, we had a lousy can opener for the last few years.  It was the 99-cent special from the grocery store, and it was the most frustrating thing to use in our entire kitchen. No doubt about it.  We also had a few major hand wounds thanks to that particular tool.

You might read that paragraph and think I’m just complaining about a slightly less than stellar can opener, but it was worse than that.  It sometimes took four or five really solid attempts to open a can.  Even then, you’d often have to pry the lid open.  Hence the injuries.

A month or so, we broke down and replaced the lousy can opener with the lovely can opener above.  It changed opening cans into something I actually kind of enjoy.  Weird, I know.  But it did teach me that if you have something that horrible in your kitchen (and it can be replaced with something awesome for less than $10), you should replace it.  Soon.

Tonight’s dinner of Kale, Sausage, and Bean Stew a la Dinner: a love story was made possible in party by our good can opener.  For a wonderful 30-minute recipe and a good can opener, I’m grateful.

(Oh, and you can get to the recipe by clicking on the picture above.  Standard ol’ links aren’t working today.  Sigh.)

Beef with Veggies–Plenty o’ Options

This week has been a week of trying new versions of things we already love.  First there was ravioli.  Then last night, there was The Pioneer Woman’s Beef with Broccoli.  Yum!

photo-13The “original” that I fell in love with was beef with snow peas.  It’s a good thing.  It takes less than 20 minutes from start to finish, and it’s delicious.  You can find the recipe here.

Why did I want to branch out?  Well, in a word, veggies.  The snow peas are delightful, but they can be expensive, and 8 ounces of veggie just isn’t enough for me in that entire recipe.  If I doubled the snow peas, it would be twice as problematic on the expense side.  So I thought I’d go with the broccoli option this time.

The only other real difference is the addition of oyster sauce and beef broth in the new-to-me recipe.  It creates a pretty powerfully tasty sauce, so no complaints on that change.

So… if your dinner goals include plenty of flavor, meat, and veggies in no time flat, these two recipes are both winners.  If you want all of that at a lower price, the broccoli option is your new best friend.

Also, we cheated and used venison this time around.  It was surprisingly wonderful and tender and perfect.  Beef and broccoli?  Venison and broccoli?  Keepers both.

Also also, serving this with chow mein noodles is recommended.  Serving it with leftover sushi rice from last week is just fine.

Standard Life: February Edition

You know, sometimes life doesn’t seem bloggable.  Sometimes it’s just dinner and dishes and TV and work.  Plenty of work.

I don’t mind when life gets into normal ruts, but it does make it more challenging to present interesting material to you.  Sigh.

So today?  Today we’ll go through the quick and dirty of what’s going on.

  1. We had a Super Bowl party on Sunday (the best time for Super Bowl parties, really… during the Super Bowl).  I don’t know about anyone else, but Scott and Peanut and I had a very good time.  Among the many tasty food items, there was The Pioneer Woman’s Queso Fundido.  It’s officially my favorite football food.

    photo from ThePioneerWoman.com (by Ree Drummond)

    photo from ThePioneerWoman.com (by Ree Drummond)

  2. Reading is still fun.  I hope you’re not surprised by that.  I recently finished The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton and Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.  Big Little Lies isn’t my typical reading fare, but it was still a very enjoyable read.  It’s doing well on bestseller lists, and there’s a parental riot in the first chapter.  I couldn’t very well read about a parental riot (at a school night for parents) and then not find out who got killed.  Good hook, Liane Moriarty.  The Secret Keeper was a bit more standard for me–historical fiction mixed with some mystery.
  3. Life is going along pretty normally.  Peanut is adorable.  We’re cooking.  The weather is drab and wintry.

And with that, I leave you to this fine, par-for-the-course Tuesday.

Chicken Marsala for a Drizzly Sunday Night

Drumroll, please.  It’s time for Tyler Florence’s Chicken Marasala.

But before you make your own Chicken Marsala, I have a confession to make about this recipe.  It sounded good when I started making it, but somewhere between pounding the chicken flat (which Peanut hated) and causing our fire alarms to go off a half-dozen times (which Peanut also hated), I lost my enthusiasm for it.  Sigh.

Why am I posting the recipe if I wasn’t all that excited about it last night?

Well, then I had leftovers of it for lunch today, and it was splendiforous, and I realized why this recipe has so many positive reviews.  It really is lovely.  The chicken is nice and moist, the sauce is perfect to warm you up in the winter, which makes this an all-around comforting meal.  The flavor is rich without being too heavy, which is always good.  As long as the smoke alarm isn’t going off.

Here’s my suggestion so that you can avoid the smoke alarm issues: use an oil with a higher smoke point than olive oil.  The recipe tells you to use olive oil, but just ignore that.  Sure, Tyler Florence is famous for his recipes, but at my house, olive oil didn’t work out so well.  Try some nice, old-fashioned vegetable oil, and you should be well out of smoke alarm range.  If you want to be super sure you’re out of smoke range, try some safflower oil.

IMG_3387Ta da!