Green Beans with Toasted Pecans and Blue Cheese

Green Beans with Toasted Pecans and Blue Cheese
I’m on a quest to serve up vegetables in a different way each week.  It’s not a New Year’s resolution or anything like that, but just a general promise to be more dedicated to making vegetables enticing.  So often I just rummage through my fridge or freezer and half heartedly throw a vegetable alongside whatever we’re having for dinner.  And I cook them the same way every time.  So every trip I make to the grocery store, now, I grab a would-be-boring vegetable and resolve to make it more interesting than my standard roast-everything method.

Last week I did this with green beans.  I usually boil them in salted water until they are tender (not squeaky!) and then brown a little butter and toss them.  It’s fine.  It’s just what I always do!  So this time, I boiled my green beans, set them aside and then tossed in some toasted pecans and blue cheese crumbles and a few dried cranberries and got everything all nice and warm and it was totally delicious. In fact, it was more exciting than the main course!  The best part – it was quick and easy and shocked us out of the same ol’ routine.  Not bad for a green bean.

Green Beans with Blue Cheese and Toasted Pecans

Green Beans with Pecans and Blue Cheese

  • Servings: 4-6 as a side
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  • 1 lb fresh green beans
  • 1 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup blue cheese crumbles
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot of adequately salted (that’s about 1/8 cup salt per stock pot.  Or more.  Tastes like the ocean, at least) boil green beans until tender.  Your teeth should not squeak when you chew them! Strain the green beans and set aside.  In a large skillet, toast the pecans until fragrant, and then toss in the green beans, blue cheese, cranberries and a dash of salt and pepper. Add a splash of olive oil if they seem too dry, but depending on your blue cheese, you may get enough oil from it to coat the beans nicely.  Don’t let your cheese burn!

Perini Ranch Poblano Hominy

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Back in 2011, we went with two of our best friends on a BBQ Tour of Texas.  It was just as awesome and delicious as it sounds.  Our very first stop was at Perini Ranch in Abilene, TX.  We got some amazing barbecue but this little side dish was a favorite at the table.  Hominy baked with bacon, poblano peppers, jalapenos and cheddar – how can you go wrong?  It’s savory and hearty and a perfect side dish to most anything.  It’s very filling and easy to whip up, serves a whole lotta people and I have the recipe for you!  Aren’t you lucky?!  🙂 We only slightly altered the original recipe – it’s pretty perfect how it is!

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Perini Ranch Poblano Hominy*
serves 10 to 12 as a side dish

1 cup chopped onion
4 (15 ounce) cans white hominy (drain and reserve liquid)
1/2 cup hominy liquid
1 tablespoon juice from pickled jalapenos
1/2 pound Cheddar cheese, grated
8 slices thick cut bacon, fried crisp and chopped (reserve drippings)
1 cup fresh seeded and chopped poblano pepper
1 or 2 pickled jalapenos, seeded and chopped (optional) 

Saute the onions in a little of the bacon drippings and set aside. Heat the hominy in a separate pan, stirring often. When heated thoroughly, add the hominy liquid and jalapeno juice, bring back to high temperature and add 3/4 of the cheese. When the cheese melts, add half the peppers and bacon and all the onion. Pour into a large baking pan (a 9×13″ works) and sprinkle with the remaining cheese, bacon and peppers. Bake at 325 degrees F until cheese on top melts, about 15 minutes.

*adapted from this copycat recipe

Superbowl Food – Nacho Grits!

nacho grits

 

Super Bowl?  Super bowl!  Super good idea in a bowl.  Nacho grits? Not yo grits!  I’m done.

You take all the things you love about nachos and you cook a big pot of grits (which are just liquid corn chips if you think about it) and you put out bowls and let people top their grits with whatever combination they love the most!  Provide chips, too, because what jerk makes people crave nachos and then doesn’t have that as an option?  Not this gal.  After making all the toppings, I REALLY wanted super-cheesy nachos!  But the nacho grits was an awesome idea, so we had to create it.  And it was tremendously filling and amazing.

For my bowl, I went with chorizo, black olive, scallion, shredded asadero cheese, Ro-tel, cilantro and Mexican crema.  I incorporated cheese and garlic into the grits, so they already had that “nacho cheese” flavor.  Really quite delicious!  I’d recommend very small bowls for this magical side dish at the big game because it will fill your guests up very quickly!

nacho grit spread

 

Click here to see my recipe for grits and let your imagination run wild with all your favorite nacho toppings!

Curried Potato Pockets with Lemon Dill Cream

curry potato puffs with dill cream

This was an incredibly flavorful dinner for us last Tuesday night.  It was one of those meals that came from a lack of motivation to go to the store.  I had two large potatoes, an onion and some puff pastry and I knew – there’s a meal there, somewhere.  With just a little prep, I had a meal on the table in about an hour.  I made these with left-over pie crust, as well, but everyone, including Olive, preferred the ones with puff pastry.  Buttery and flaky with that smoky curry spice went exceptionally well with the tang of the yogurt and dill.

This meal included one of those moments where I wasn’t giving Olive any sort of chance and declared that she wouldn’t like the yogurt sauce and so I didn’t offer her any.  After we had eaten a few bites, she said, “I want the sauce?!” and so I put some on her plate and she ate it all!  Yet another lesson in giving your kids a chance to prove you wrong. You never know when they’ll surprise you!

curried potato puffs

Curry Potato Pockets with Lemon Dill Cream
makes 9 puff pockets with plenty of filling to spare

2 medium russet potatoes, cleaned, skinned and diced small
1 large yellow onion, diced small
4 tbs butter
1 tbs curry powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed and cut into 9 squares
2 tbs cream for brushing the pastry
1/2 cup plain, full fat yogurt
squeeze of one lemon
2 tbs chopped fresh dill
salt to taste

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and once it starts to froth, add in the onion and potato.  Stir around until the potato begins to soften and then cover with a lid and cook for about 10 minutes.  Remove the lid and add in the curry, cumin and salt and pepper.  Continue cooking over low heat until the potatoes are completely soft.  Remove mixture from stove and set aside.

Set your oven at 400F.  Mash the potato/onion mixture in a bowl until mostly smooth and adjust the seasoning as desired.

Cut the puff pastry into 9 squares and put a heaping tablespoon of filling in the middle of each square.  Dip your finger in the cream and dab along the edges and pinch/fold them together into little letters – really, however you pinch and fold is up to you, as long as they have a fighting chance of staying closed while baking! Place on a greased cookie sheet and repeat until all the squares are filled.  Brush the tops with the remaining cream and bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

For the yogurt dipping sauce: simply chop the dill and squeeze the lemon into the yogurt and stir till combined.  Adjust with a little salt and serve along side the pastries.  Personally, I don’t like this sauce on its own, but with the curry pockets, it’s just an amazing balance of flavors.

Enjoy!

Sweet Pea Salad with Leek and Bacon

Pea and Leek Salad
This is just a fantastic side dish for any meal, any night of the week!  It’s fast, it’s adaptable to what you have on hand, and it’s tasty warm or cold!  So it’s perfect as a lunch box addition, or great warmed as a side for a hearty meal like pot roast, which is what I served this with yesterday at lunch (yay, leftovers!)

With just a touch of mayo to add richness, this isn’t a heavy dish at all.  I added leek because I think leeks improve just about any dish.  Brightness from rice wine vinegar cut what could have been a bland dish.  I’m happy with how it turned out, the girl seemed to enjoy it (as peas are a wonderfully natural finger-food for little hands) and it made a great side multiple days in a row.  Can’t ask more out of frozen peas than that!
Leek and Pea Salad

Sweet Pea Salad with Leek and Bacon

3 cups frozen green peas
1 leek, split in two and chopped fine and washed well (they’re dirty suckers)
4 slices of bacon, cut into 1/2″ strips
2 tablespoons mayo
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and boil the peas until tender but still firm, about 10 minutes.  Rinse them under cold water in a colander and set aside.

Crisp the bacon in a pan and remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels to drain.  Remove all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease from the pan and saute the leeks until tender.

Put the peas, bacon and leeks in a large mixing bowl and add the mayo and vinegar and toss well to evenly coat everything.  Taste and season with salt and pepper, and maybe even more vinegar if you feel it still needs some brightness and serve at room temp or cold!  Or warm!  It’s all good 🙂

 

Cheesy Cauliflower and Rice Bake

Cheesy Cauliflower & Rice Bake
I always look for interesting sides to put with lunch and dinner every day.  It has been a challenge for me as the typical American cook to think of vegetables as a main component to meals.  For most of us, vegetables are exactly as we call them – a side dish (a side thought!) and we obligingly scrounge a bag of vegetables from the freezer to make our meals “complete” when we very rarely enjoy those components and most of them, if we are honest, get put in a leftover container and saved until we no longer have guilt about throwing them away.

Maybe this is just me.  I’ve wanted and tried this year to think of vegetables as the main component and meats and carbs as a side dish.  To balance the plate in the opposite direction.  This. Is. Hard.  I will be the first to admit that I know how to cook meats, starches and carbs MUCH better than I know how to cook a vegetable.  But I’m trying!  And I’ve looked to cuisines that tend to focus on vegetables as main dishes for inspiration.  Indian cuisine is wonderful for this approach, but even I tire of the cumin/cardamom/curry combination of flavors pretty quick.  There needs to be a balance to the approach of getting more vegetables on your dinner plate, and so for me, I’m taking winter as a wonderful excuse to make some slightly more indulgent and comforting vegetable dishes to get me in the habit of seeing them as the star of the show, instead of a side act.

Speaking of winter: I am in love with a new cookbook.  Well, I suppose it isn’t exactly new, but it’s new to me, and it’s called Homemade Winter by Yvette Van Boven.  I absolutely love when a cookbook has recipes listed by seasonal availability.  This cookbook is ALL about winter – sure, winter in Holland, but STILL!  Most winter vegetables in this hemisphere are available and relatively fresh no matter where you reside, and so this cookbook has introduced me to a season of cooking that has previously been nothing but soups and stews and squash.  Goodness, how many times can I eat squash?!

Enter: cauliflower and rice baked with swiss into a creamy but not-too-heavy dish.  I made this yesterday for our lunch and it was the main component.  In her cookbook, Yvette calls it a risotto, but I didn’t have arborio rice and so I made it with what I had – plain ol’ white, short-grain rice – and it worked beautifully.  I love a recipe that is accessible and works, no matter what you have on hand.  A lot of home cooks don’t have arborio in the pantry, yet most people have regular white rice!  The only splurge for this dish was some good Comte cheese, but I believe it could be just as flavorful with nearly any cheese you have in the fridge.

We loved it – it was warm, filling and satisfying as a main dish and perfect for a freezing day like today.  In fact, I turned the leftovers into cauliflower rice fritters today for lunch and served them along side a white bean soup I will blog about very soon, and it was an awesome lunch!  Hope you all stay warm, today and have an extra cup of coffee with me!

Cauliflower & Rice Bake

Cheesy Cauliflower Rice Bake
serves 6-8 as a side or 4-6 as a main

1 small head cauliflower
1 TBS olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup shredded cheese such as Comte, Emmentaler or Gruyere – would work with any hard cheese, though
1 cup of white, short-grain rice
2 3/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup panko or plain bread crumbs
drizzle of olive oil

Boil the cauliflower for 10 minutes until tender.  Drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat the oil in a large skillet (12″ at least). Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute more, then add the rice and stir to combine.  Saute all this for another 2 minutes or so.  Add the broth and bring to a boil.  Stir in the cauliflower and cheese and cover the skillet with a lid and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until all liquid has absorbed.

Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before uncovering.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs and drizzle the top with olive oil and bake until the breadcrumbs are toasted, or just stick it under the broiler for 5 minutes.

Serve in bowls with lots of cracked pepper!

Parsnip Puree with Coriander Brown Butter

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I remember the months of making Olive’s baby food with great fondness and happy farewells.  While it was fun to show her new foods, I was all too glad to stop blending and pureeing things like chicken pot pie or beef stroganoff.  Because while certain foods look nice pureed, others look like…gray.  And gray just isn’t an appealing color in the food world.

Whenever I see recipes for purees, I instantly think, “That’s baby food” because it was to me.  I never followed the rules of how to feed your baby what at what age, except for the standard “biggies” like honey, peanut butter and strawberries.  I just always blended up whatever we were having and it always worked out great.  Her first foods weren’t bland cereals, but full flavored vegetables.  Olive ate and enjoyed nearly everything my trusty immersion blender wanted to create and I think, because of that, she isn’t very averse to strong flavors, spices and seasonings.  I always seasoned her baby food.  I’d hold back on the salt more than what my palette would prefer, but I felt that her food should taste good and that if we enjoyed it, she’d enjoy it!

Today’s recipe fits a lot of current trends.  Substitutions for those evil, fear-inducing potatoes?  Check.  Browned Butter?  Check.  Calling baby food a puree and feeling fancy while serving it for dinner?  Check.  I made this dish last night as a side to lamb chops and roasted broccoli.  (Olive gnawing on the lamb chop ranks up there with Greatest Moments Ever.)  We all enjoyed it and I think it will make an appearance again during the fall season.  Those crusty bits that Olive called bacon?  Yeah, that’s roasted garlic.  Totally awesome.  If I could do anything, I’d make parsnips not so sweet.  And then, by George, they’d actually taste like mashed potatoes!  🙂

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Parsnip Puree with Coriander Brown Butter*
serves 4-6 as a side

2 lbs parsnips, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
5 TBS unsalted butter
2-4 TBS milk
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1/4 tsp ground coriander
2 cloves chopped garlic

Boil the chopped parsnips in salted water until tender.  Transfer to a food processor, or to a large bowl if using an immersion blender.  Add two tablespoons of butter, the milk and salt and pepper and blend until smooth and creamy and no chunks remain.  Add a dash more milk if you want.  Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

In a stainless steel skillet over medium heat, add the remaining three tablespoons of butter, coriander and chopped garlic.  Swirl the butter around until bubbling and starting to brown.  Keep the garlic moving around so it doesn’t burn.  Remove from heat and pour over the parsnip puree to serve!

*recipe from Real Simple magazine this month, in which they gave us four entire weeks of dinner planning.  I’m not going to squander that work done for me, so we’re eating through Week 1 and enjoying it very much.  Especially the lack of effort part.

Beautiful Beets and Second Chances

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This is a perfect Monday post because no one really reads my Monday posts so I can be as nerdy as I want.  Here it comes…

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I took a lot of pictures of beets the other today.  They’re beautiful.  Why aren’t they more popular in this country?  A PINK food?  Come on! Kids should be all over these.  They stain worse than food coloring.  They roast up sweet and savory.  I think a lot of people in this country have been scarred by canned or pickled beets.  That’s the taste they have in their minds.  I can understand why that wouldn’t be the most appealing taste memory.  But think about this – what if someone decided a long time ago that the best way to eat a potato would be to brine it?  Everyone would say, “Eww, potatoes.”  THINK ABOUT THAT!  So, my determination is to try previously unappealing foods in different ways than they are known for.  Roasting is almost always the best way to cook a root vegetable.  It works with just about anything from asparagus to parsnips to turnips.  It’s good to give foods with a bad reputation a  second chance. You never know if you’re one recipe away from your new favorite food.

This post is really just for showing the pics I took of beets.  And if you are curious, peel them, chop them into cubes, coat them in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast them for 30 minutes at 400F until tender.  No brainer.

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Ready for roasting

My family looking at me as if I’d gone crazy while I took pictures of beets for 30 minutes.
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