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:

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photo taken by Linda Xiao for Food52

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

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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.

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!

Summer Mystery Squash

Do you remember our mystery squash?  It looked kind of like an overgrown something or other for a while (zucchini?), then it rounded out to green pumpkin status, and it was clearly not the spaghetti squash that the seed packet said it would be.  When we roasted it, the innards were somewhat spaghetti-like though.  Hmm.  Color me perplexed.  Our best guess is a “kabocha” or Japanese pumpkin.

 This is what it looked like when it came out of the garden:

IMG_20140701_085242_148This is what it looked like cut in half during our beach week evacuation:

???????????????????????????????????????????????????This is the recipe we used from Alton Brown: recipe!  The recipe is in fact intended for butternut squash, which we feel certain this is not.  We do, however, feel certain that it’s part of the squash family.  Alton’s squash soup was a huge hit with Scott and with me, regardless of the squash we used.  I think it would be even more flavorful with butternut squash. 

I was kind of scared about using a relatively large amount of honey in the soup (since honey isn’t my favorite flavor in the world), but it was delicious and savory and just right.  Best of all, when it was added to a summery salad, it made a much more appropriate hot-weather dinner than you might guess.  (Soup in the summer?  Sure, why not?!)

Someday I’ll get around to the actual beach week and evacuation and all of that fun stuff.  But for today, it’s squash soup. 

Emeril’s Stuffed Bell Peppers (with Hannah’s Tomatillas)

I’ve made stuffed bell peppers before, and I liked them.  It’s something a little bit out of the ordinary, and who doesn’t like dinner that looks like a present?  

But these stuffed bell peppers were the best I’ve ever made.  I mean it.  They were delicious, and they got an A+ from the husband.  Peanut even eyed them greedily, although he only managed to get his paws on a tiny piece of sausage.  

The recipe is from Emeril’s cookbook, Farm to Fork.  

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One of these is not like the other.

 

The red pepper among all of the green peppers is a special addition from our garden.  That one lone pepper started growing in a pot in Norfolk, was moved to our apartment in Lynchburg, and then got planted in the ground at our new house.  It was more like “Postage stamp yard to patio to farm to fork.”  Even though the recipe calls for green peppers, and we’re too cheap to buy red or yellow peppers, that one stuffed red pepper was even better than the green ones.  I could really taste the difference.  If you’re feeling rich at the grocery store, go for it.

The only other changes I made to the recipe were more or less accidental.  The recipe calls for 12 ounces of Italian sausage.  The container at the store had 16 ounces, and if there’s one thing I know about Scott, it’s that he thinks more meat equals better food.  I used all 16 ounces.  

Also, sometime between picking the recipe last week and making it last night, I forgot that it calls for tomatoes, and I made a delicious tomato and goat cheese salad the other day instead of saving them for this recipe.  So I scrambled around to find what we had that could possibly work.  Salsa didn’t quite make the cut, but I remembered that we randomly had canned tomatillas.  Problem solved!  

Tomatillas are definitely a switch from tomatoes.  They added a flavor in the stuffing that almost tasted a tiny bit lime-ish.  And you know what?  I think it worked.  The stuffed peppers ended up with so much flavor and perfectly browned, crispy sausage mixed with the typical pepper, onion, garlic, rice stuffing.  I honestly think that the tomatillas made the difference between pretty darn good and pretty darn great.  I should probably try the recipe the way it was written before I give myself that much credit, however.  

One other practical perk of this recipe is that the 35 minutes of baking time at the end gave me a chance to clean up the kitchen a bit before I got distracted by the business of eating.  Thanks, Emeril.

Epic Ravioli

Scott was a pro at picking the best local food throughout our honeymoon. I picked whatever my carb-loving heart desired, but he consistently ordered the local specialty everywhere we went. Good job, husband!

Well, we decided to recreate one of those awesome local specialties–the Bologna pumpkin ravioli, to be exact. And I believe our collective thought process went like this: “It’s pasta. Fancy, pasta, but still. How hard can it be to make it from scratch?”

So the goal was pumpkin ravioli with pancetta mixed into the innards and a balsamic reduction on top. We started off without any real problems. Scott made the ravioli guts with just a little moment of kerfuffle that involved cooking while on the phone with a friend and realizing that two ingredients hadn’t been grated/chopped/added yet. No big deal.

I made the pasta dough with relative ease, then our friends/neighbors/cooking buddies arrived with cauliflower soup to eat with us. Nothing was assembled yet, so Theresa helped get the dough in the fridge for a half hour of resting, and we enjoyed soup. It was delicious, and the night was still bright and shiny.

Then things got interesting. All of a sudden, Theresa was rolling out dough like her life depended on it. (We don’t have a pasta maker, which would press the dough into sheets you can see through, but Theresa totally fixed that problem.)

I was giving the cut up pieces of dough an egg wash so they would stick together later, trying not to get them stuck together too early in the game. Scott stuffed ravioli guts like a boss, and Weber made sure the ravioli was closed securely enough to make it through some boiling action.

I know it sounds like we had a system, and we did. It felt a lot more chaotic in real life than it sounds in blog entry, however.

Oh, and there was balsamic vinegar with a bay leaf and some fresh rosemary reducing on the stove top. It smelled so so good (until it didn’t smell good at all). There was a moment in which the reduction turned from gooey goodness to charred sugary mess. Oops. We ended up remaking the mixture and using it in heated, not reduced form. It worked anyway.

Whoo. All of that to say that we made a delicious dinner on Monday. And on this non-Thanksgiving day, I’m grateful for a husband who likes to cook adventurous things and for friends who help us avoid insanity while cooking.

In case you want to try the complicated dish that is homemade pumpkin ravioli, here are the recipes we used:

  1. Emeril’s Pumpkin Ravioli Hats (we did make some changes on this one)
  2. Tyler Florence’s Pasta Dough for Ravioli
  3. Lidia’s Reduced Balsamic Vinegar