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!

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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!

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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