Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pasta Salad

Tomorrow is the first day of June.  I find this hard to believe.  I'm pretty sure it was just yesterday that I was posting about soup and how much I love soup and how one winter we ate soup almost every day for a month because it's so wonderful and amazing and delicious.

Now Memorial Day is over and we've hit 90-plus degrees and I want nothing to do with soup.  (Yeah, so I'm fickle.  You know you don't want soup either.)  Now I want salads.  Giant pasta salads.  Salads bursting with fresh vegetables out of the garden and tasty stuff like couscous and quinoa and lentils and barley.  When it got too hot to cook (yes, that does happen in Michigan), my mom always used to make a giant vat of pasta salad, and we'd eat it on the pool deck with fruit and popsicles and other munchies that didn't require the use of an oven.  You don't need a pool to enjoy pasta salad, though.  In fact, it doesn't even have to be summer yet.  I've made two big batches already, and they were just as delicious as I remember.  And much better than soup.

This recipe is great because you can change it based on what's in your refrigerator or garden.  I've listed the typical ingredients that I use, but feel free to add whatever you like.  In addition to veggies like cucumber or avocado, consider adding chopped pepperoni or grated mozzarella.  Be creative!  For the dressing, I usually use regular or "zesty" Italian dressing from a bottle.  Don't use any of the creamy versions.  I've also tried using Good Seasons Italian dressing from a packet; it worked, but the flavor wasn't quite as strong as I like.  Set any remaining dressing out on the table so people can add a bit more if they like.

Another trick I use is adding the broccoli and carrots to the boiling pasta water for a few seconds.  Blanching these crunchier vegetables makes them a little less, well, crunchy.  Just be sure not to overcook them; the last thing you want is a bunch of soggy, nasty broccoli mixed into your beautiful salad.  About 60 seconds for the carrots and 30 seconds for the broccoli is plenty.

Pasta Salad
Time:  30 minutes
Serves:  8+

1 package (12-16 oz.) tri-color rotini (my favorite) or another bite-size pasta (like farfalle or small shells)
3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium head broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces (I peel the "trunk" and cut it up too)
1-2 bell peppers, diced (any color)
1 large tomato, diced (or 3/4 to 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved)
1/2 cup black olives (about half a can)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup (8 oz.) bottled Italian dressing, plus more to taste

Boil pasta in a large pot according to package directions.  One minute before pasta is done, add carrots to pot.  Thirty seconds later, add broccoli.  (Vegetables should be just barely tender-crisp and very bright in color--don't overcook!)  Drain immediately; toss with a few ice cubes to cool.  Add remaining ingredients;  refrigerate until chilled.  Toss before serving.

Tip:  If making salad in advance, add tomatoes just before serving, as they tend to lose their freshness more quickly than the other vegetables.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Garden Fresh Couscous Salad

This morning as I was browsing Pinterest, trying my hardest to ignore the mountains of laundry and dirty dishes piling up around me (okay, not quite, but I was definitely avoiding packing for this weekend's camping trip), I ran across a "recipe" for bacon-wrapped corn on the cob.  Then (okay, maybe there were a few dirty dishes waiting for me) I found one for deep-fried corn.  I started searching for the most ridiculous corn recipes I could find (who needs clean laundry, anyway?).  Chocolate fans will be disappointed to learn that my search for "chocolate-covered corn" did not result in tips for dipping whole ears in chocolate, but I did find chocolate-covered caramel corn and chocolate-covered corn dogs.

Seriously, people?  Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should.  Bacon is delicious.  Chocolate is delicious.  Deep-fat frying is fattening and, well, delicious.  But why ruin a perfectly good ear of corn with that stuff when you can turn it into this wonderfully fresh and flavorful couscous salad?

This is one of my favorite summer salads, and it's perfect for a picnic or Memorial Day cookout (you can even pair it with your bacon-wrapped bacon).  The fresh corn (please don't use canned or frozen unless you absolutely must) is my favorite part, but the feta, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and couscous certainly don't hurt, either.  Toss it with a light vinaigrette, and you can almost eat this stuff as a meal in itself (and sometimes I do).

The best part is that almost all of the ingredients are frequently available in the co-op.  Corn is only $0.16 an ear this week at Meijer--the best price I've seen yet this season.  I have used both regular and whole-wheat couscous with equally delicious results.  If you can't find it in the co-op, it's okay to buy the less expensive couscous mixes--just leave out the seasoning packet.  I usually buy my feta from Aldi, but next time I'd like to get it from George's International Market (on the corner of Broadway and Taylor).  I can't remember the exact price, but I saw it there once for something like $2/lb. for a large block.  Fresh parsley is under $1 for a bunch at Meijer or Kroger, and it keeps for quite a while in the fridge (put it in an unsealed zip-top bag along with a damp paper towel).  Don't bother with dried parsley; it's not worth it.

Garden Fresh Couscous Salad (original recipe found here)
Time:  30-40 minutes
Serves:  8-9 (this makes a big batch, and it's best to eat it within 2-3 days)

3 medium ears sweet corn, husks removed
1 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 cup uncooked couscous
1 medium cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced
1-1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (or bigger tomatoes, diced)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped red onion
3 T. minced fresh parsley
3 T. olive oil
3 T. lemon juice
1 tsp. dried oregano
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Wrap ears of corn in a single layer of plastic wrap; microwave on high for about 5 minutes.  Remove from microwave (wear oven mitts!) and slit plastic open; allow to cool.  (You can also boil the corn, but I find microwaving is the easiest and fastest cooking method.)

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring broth to a boil. Stir in couscous. Remove from heat; cover and let stand for 5-10 minutes or until water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the cucumber, tomatoes, cheese, onion and parsley. Cut corn kernels from the cobs (if they are still too hot to handle, run cold water over them; pat dry). Add to cucumber mixture. Stir in couscous.

In a small bowl, whisk together oil, lemon juice, and seasonings. Pour over couscous mixture; toss to coat. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


My brother came down for a visit this weekend.  He came even though I warned him that he would have to spend all his time with me, since my husband is working on a 20-page paper and doing a billion other things besides.  He came even though I'm a wee bit jealous of his fancy camera and make him take all sorts of food pictures for my blog.  I figure it makes up for all the guacamole he devours when he comes to visit.

Anyway, while my husband slaved away, my brother and I took a trip to the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory in downtown Fort Wayne.  He took some cool pictures of the Butterflies of Malaysia exhibit that's there right now:

And some others of the various growing things around the conservatory:

I also dragged him along with me to Meijer, where we found an entire cart of clearance avocados.  Tomatoes were on sale, too.  Coincidence?  I think not.  In payment for his photography efforts (or maybe just to keep him from devouring all my food), I made two huge bowls of guacamole over the weekend.  And then made him take some pictures of it.

This is my own guacamole recipe.  (That's right--for once I'm not stealing it from someone else!)  It makes a pretty small batch, but it can easily be multiplied based on the number of avocados.  I usually increase the other ingredients by a smaller amount; for example, a triple recipe would use three avocados but only two tomatoes, two tablespoons lime juice, etc.  I try not to spend more than $.75 per avocado.  Aldi frequently has them on sale for $.49, and you can sometimes find them on clearance at Meijer (I paid $2 for three).  Cilantro is usually $.89/bunch at Meijer and $.50 at Kroger.  Fresh jalapenos cost next to nothing if you buy just one or two in bulk.  The other ingredients are usually available at the co-op.  My favorite tortilla chips are the multigrain ones at Aldi; they're just $1.69 (other Aldi varieties are cheaper still).

Yield:  1 cup
Time:  30 minutes

1 large avocado
1 T. fresh lime juice
1 roma tomato, finely diced
1 T. onion, finely minced (OR 1 T. green onion, thinly sliced)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small fresh jalapeno, seeds removed and finely chopped (don't forget the gloves)
1 heaping T. minced cilantro
2 tsp. Frank's Red Hot sauce (or your favorite red pepper sauce)

Cut and peel the avocado (for tips go here).  Scoop out the flesh with a spoon; place it in a bowl and gently mash with a fork.  Add lime juice; combine well.  Add remaining ingredients; serve with tortilla chips.

~ For smoother guacamole, puree the finished mixture in a food processor.
~ For chunkier guacamole, peel the halved and seeded avocado (the skin should peel right off unless it is underripe), then dice the flesh (overripe avocados will not work as well).
~ The lime juice helps prevent the guacamole from turning brown.  When making a large batch of guacamole, add the juice to the bowl first, then toss it with each avocado that you add.
~ Reserve one of the avocado seeds and add it to the finished guacamole; this will help prevent browning as well.  Guacamole should be eaten immediately, if possible, but covering it with plastic wrap (right on the surface of the mixture) can help prevent discoloration (do this with leftovers too).

Friday, May 18, 2012

Spicy Sausage Wraps with Onions and Spinach

I posted this recipe on Facebook before my blog even got started.  I've added some pictures (after digging up my old, not-so-wonderful camera) and made a few changes.  My husband claims this is one of his favorite recipes.  They're yummy.  They're easy.  Make them.

I saw this tasty, inexpensive recipe in the local newspaper while on vicarage.  The original recipe calls for spicy turkey sausage meat, but you can use any variety of turkey or pork bulk sausage.  Of the co-op varieties, I've used both the Italian and the Amish-style pork sausages.  To keep the spicy flavor, I usually add 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes or cayenne powder at the end.  I buy my tortillas at Aldi; a 10-ct. package is $.99.  (Unfortunately, the Aldi brand doesn't seem to freeze as well as others.)  Aldi also has fairly reasonable prices on chunk cheese (about $2 for 8 oz.) if you can't find it at the co-op or on sale elsewhere.  I also use the Aldi Parmesan/romano cheese blend ($2.39)--admittedly not as good as fresh Parmesan, but it's my favorite "brand" of the pre-grated stuff.

Spicy Sausage Wraps with Onions and Spinach
Time:  30-45 minutes
Serves: 4-6

1 lb. bulk sausage (turkey or pork, spicy if possible)
1 Tb. olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
8 cups chopped fresh spinach (I just use the whole 10-oz. bag)
1 Tb. minced garlic
8 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes OR 1/4 tsp. cayenne powder, optional
six 8-inch flour tortillas

In a large skillet over medium-high, cook sausage meat until no longer pink, about 6 minutes.  Drain; transfer sausage to a paper towel-lined dish and set aside.

Return skillet to the stove over medium heat.  Add oil and onions, then saute until golden and softened, about 9 minutes.  Stir in the garlic; cook 1 minute.  Add spinach; cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are tender, 4 to 6 minutes.  Stir in the reserved sausage until mixture is well combined.  Gently stir in the mozzarella and Parmesan.  Add red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper, if desired.  Season with pepper.

Divide filling among the tortillas.  Roll up, placing the wrap seam-side down on a microwave-safe plate.  Microwave until heated through, about 1 to 2 minutes.  (Alternatively, heat wraps in a 350 F oven for 5-7 minutes.)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Chicken with Curried Mango Sauce

I'm not really into dishes that combine fruit with meat.  I love meat.  I love fruit.  But apples with pork chops just aren't my thing.  Sometimes, though, I feel adventurous and try out a recipe that I normally wouldn't, just to make sure my taste buds aren't missing out.  Tonight I made these Pecan Crusted Chicken Wraps with Strawberry Honey Mustard.  They were pretty tasty, if you ask me.  My husband (who shares my fruit+meat opinions) thought they were too sweet.  I probably won't make them again, but they were a nice change of pace.

We both agree, however, that this mango chicken is basically awesome.  Since my [husband's] camera died this week, and since I don't make any major changes to the recipe, you'll just have to go here to make it.  You can substitute green or yellow bell pepper for the red.  I think the basmati rice is delicious with the tropical-ish flavors, but plain white or brown rice will work as well.  Just remember to start cooking it before you begin the chicken.  Butterflying the chicken breasts--or cutting them in half horizontally--will help them cook faster.  I also find that 1 tsp. oil is not nearly enough to keep the chicken from sticking to the pan, especially if it's been butterflied, so start with 1 T. oil, then add a little water later if the meat is still sticking.  Enjoy!

P.S.  Fresh chicken breasts are on sale at Kroger this week (through Thursday) for $1.88/lb.

P.P.S.  Aldi has some great deals on produce this week (through Wednesday), including 3-pack cucumbers for $0.69, 1-pound baby carrots for $0.69, 8-ounce mushrooms for $0.69, 10-ounce grape tomatoes for (you guessed it) $0.69, and 3-pack bell peppers for $1.29.  I love Aldi.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa

You're right.  This isn't exactly a co-op recipe.  Not because the main ingredient is nowhere to be found at the co-op (that never stopped me from posting fresh chicken recipes), but because it's so annoyingly expensive.  In fact, the only reason I have quinoa on hand is because my mother-in-law bought a giant bag of it at Sam's Club and generously bestowed half of it on me.  (Yes!)  I had never even heard of quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) at that point, much less tasted it, and after some very, um, interesting experiments with quinoa muffins and other weird recipes, I found this one on Epicurious.  And this is the one.  If you have a sad and lonely bag of quinoa hiding in the back of your pantry, get it out and celebrate, because this tasty little salad is the best thing since... whatever I posted last time.  And if you don't have millions saved to buy quinoa at Meijer, convince a rich friend with a Costco membership to split a bag with you.  It'll be worth it.

Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa (based on this recipe)
Serves 6 as a side dish
Time:  45 minutes

2 tsp. grated lime zest
2 T. fresh lime juice
2 T. butter, melted and cooled
1 T. vegetable oil
1 tsp. sugar
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup quinoa
1 (14- to 15-oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 medium tomatoes, diced

Whisk together first five ingredients, plus 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper, in a large bowl.  Set aside.

Rinse quinoa in three changes of cold water (you can do this in a bowl and drain in a sieve, or just put it in a sieve and toss with one hand under the water).  Transfer quinoa to a 2-qt. saucepan; add 2 cups water.  Cover; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat; cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rest 5 minutes.

Add quinoa to dressing and toss until dressing is absorbed, then stir in remaining ingredients and salt and pepper to taste.

Notes:  This salad can be eaten warm or cold--my husband and I both prefer it chilled.  If making ahead, leave the tomatoes out until just before serving.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Peanut Butter Cookies

My friend pointed out the other day that I haven't posted many dessert recipes on this blog.  It's true.  But don't think for a second that it's because I'm some kind of dessert-hating freak.  In fact, I have a terrible sweet tooth.  I would much rather eat chocolate and pie than oranges and brussels sprouts.  I'm also lazy when it comes to sweets.  Why would I spend half the night rolling dough into balls the size of small walnuts when I can dig into a carton of cookies 'n cream in two minutes?

Anyway, since I don't want my teeth to rot out of my head before I'm thirty, and because I don't want to end up with the figure of a sumo wrestler, and since I have more fun cooking with real food, my dessert-making enterprises are pretty minimal.

These cookies, though, are worth the effort.  I've been making them since I was a kid with the recipe in my mom's well-worn copy of the 1950s Betty Crocker cookbook.  You don't stuff them with cream cheese, or add Nutella to the dough, or roll them in extra peanut butter, or deep fry them.  They're just plain old classic peanut butter cookies, and they're great.  (And gone already.  Oops.)

Peanut Butter Cookies (Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book)
Yield:  3 dozen
Time:  1 hour +

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter (creamy or crunchy)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Combine first five ingredients (through egg) in a large bowl (I just use a sturdy mixing spoon, but a hand mixer also works).  In a separate bowl, sift or whisk together remaining ingredients.  Gradually add dry ingredients to wet.  Chill dough (ten minutes in the refrigerator is usually enough; I like to chill the baking sheets too).

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Roll dough into balls the size of small walnuts (about 1" diameter).  Place 2 to 3 inches apart on lightly greased baking sheet.  Flatten in a crisscross pattern with a fork dipped in flour.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes (less for darker pans), until lightly browned on bottom.  Let rest on pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a baking rack.