Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

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31-Recipe Challenge: Day 4–Butternut Squash and Kale Salad

I kept it simple on Monday. Coming off my marathon-cooking weekend and a late night thanks to the Super Bowl, I hadn’t done any extra shopping and was feeling pretty low-key. Luckily, I had planned ahead on my last shopping trip and picked up extra kale, butternut squash and almonds for the week ahead. All I needed was some cheese and I had everything on hand to recreate Northern Spy’s Kale Salad (recipe courtesy of Food52).

Kale and squash salad 1

I sent my wonderful and adoring boyfriend out for some cheese to complete this meal, and although he could not find the Cabot Clothbound cheddar that Kristen of Food52 so vehemently praised, he did come back with some Kerry Gold two-year aged Irish “distinctively sharp” cheddar. And I wasn’t complaining. That’s some knock-your-socks-off good cheese. If it’s possible for a cheddar to taste like a Parmesan, this does. Kevin, you hit this one out of the park. Good work.

This recipe calls for oven-roasted butternut squash, and, unlike Sunday’s undercooked squash disaster, this time it roasted up nice and sweet and soft. Mix into chopped kale and almonds, add the cheddar and shaved pecorino, dress with lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper and dig in. It’s crunchy-chewy, salty-sweet, oily-acidic. It’s perfect. This was one of the best kale salads I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some good kale salads. I get why Northern Spy keeps it on their menu. Serve with anything, or on its own. We ate it with leftovers from the weekend.

And although the squash takes about 30-40 minutes to roast, this is otherwise a super-speedy lunch or dinner, and simple. Chopping and roasting the squash is the brunt of the prep work.

This one’s a clear winner in my book, and a nice break after a day of heavy eats. Also goes to show sometimes simple is best. Thank goodness I needed to leave to walk the dog, or poor Kevin may not have gotten any of this salad. I couldn’t stop eating it. I wasn’t even hungry anymore and I still found myself digging in.

Seriously, I’m still thinking about this salad. And drooling. Over SALAD. Yeah, that happened.

Kale and squash salad 2

31-Recipe Challenge: Day 2 — Veggie Style!

Something pretty amazing happened on Saturday, aka Day 2 of my 31-recipe challenge: I got the carnivore (well, omnivore) to go herbivore and LIKE IT!

That’s right, I got my meat-loving man to eat a vegetarian meal and admit that not only did he like it, but he would eat it again! *cue happy dance #2 for the weekend*

Only two days into this thing, and I’m already seeing some pretty amazing things happen.

Sweet potato taco 1

I’m sure you’re wondering what the magic recipe was that turned this T-Rex into a Brontosaurus. Well, it was two! It was these Asian-fusion sweet potato tacos from Love and Lemons and this winter kale salad from A Tasty Love Story.

The sweet potato tacos with avocado involved several steps, but none were terribly complicated. If anything, I became more a victim of my apartment-sized kitchen’s lack of prep space more than anything else. Basically: make glaze, chop veggies, glaze veggies, roast veggies, prep toppings, eat. Said toppings include goodies like sliced avocado, cilantro, sprouts, toasted pepitas and scallions.

However, this dish almost wasn’t quite the same due to my own trepidations. As I stood in Wegmans on Friday staring at the refrigerator shelf that housed those few sad containers of miso paste, I, well, freaked out. Thirteen ounces?? Seven dollars?? I only need two tablespoons! What am I going to do with 13 ounces? Seven dollars is WAY too much for something I’m only going to use a tiny bit of! Once! Alas, then Kevin said (via text) those magical three words that somehow made such a seemingly outlandish purchase alright: “We’ll make soup.” Ah, ok, we’ll make soup. Yes, we’ll make soup.

And so there you have it. I bought miso paste, a very key ingredient for what ended up being a fairly brilliant miso-maple glaze, and sometime in the near-ish future (i.e., after February), I will make miso soup. A lot of miso soup. And probably more sweet potatoes.

Sweet potato taco 2

Oh! P.S. sidenote…fresh toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) smell pretty darn good. But not as good as toasted balsamic-honey almonds. (I’ll get to that in a moment, stick around.) Also, can we take a moment to appreciate and applaud my lovely hand model? (The aforementioned T-Rex.)

Extra sidenote…the recipe includes a fresh, bright, somehow summery coconut-cilantro sauce to top the tacos (yum!) You can optionally add Sriracha and sugar to this sauce; I added neither. It didn’t need it. (And as I admitted on Day 1, I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to bringing the heat.) But really, if you know me at all or have read my blog even a little, you probably know by now that anything that combines avocado, lime and cilantro is A-OK in my book.

But that was not all! Oh no! There was that beautiful winter salad of pomegranate, kale and apple to attend to.

Somehow, despite the fact that the five pomegranates left in the produce section seemed truly sad, and I settled for the least bad of them, I ended up with some really lovely, delicious pomegranate jewels. Seriously, I should’ve taken a picture of them, because they looked semi-precious.

This salad is fun and fast, and plays with flavors in an interesting way. It also calls for shredded kale, rather than big leaves, so I stuffed torn leaves into my Magic Bullet (in small batches), and whizzed it with the chopping blade for a hot second. It was like kale confetti. (I don’t want that coming out of my pinata, though.)

The most involved part of the salad were the aforementioned balsamic-glazed almonds. Basically, toast raw almonds, add balsamic vinegar and honey, and stir to coat over the stovetop. Then they harden up and get deliciously glossy and sticky. And I have leftovers sitting in a bag at home. I call it the base to the world’s best trail mix. (Oh yes, they are that good. Seriously, go home and make these! They take, like, five minutes and it’s like a way more sophisticated version of those yummy-smelling glazed nuts stands at the mall.)

Pomegranate, apple, kale salad

Toss kale, pomegranate arils, thinly sliced apples and glazed almonds with a quick homemade vinaigrette and enjoy! Just don’t make too much dressing and then hand it off to someone else and let them finish the salad. They won’t realize you’ve made more dressing than necessary and they WILL just dump it all on. Then it will taste like balsamic with a little salad. Not that that happened, of course. (Totally happened.)

Still, it was clear these flavors were meant to be. And boy was it pretty! It was like a winter season fashion show–jewel tones everywhere!

And after sitting down with a heaping sweet potato taco and a big, colorful bowl of kale salad, Kevin declared the meal a winner and even admitted he’d eat it for a meal again (without meat.) Of course, even after three tacos and the majority of the salad, he still finished off a bag of popcorn at the movies that night, so *maybe* I should take that with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, I declare it a victory.

Of course, my cooking for the weekend was hardly done. After all, Kevin hosted a Super Bowl party on Sunday, and yours truly was, effectively, the caterer. Cue the marathon cooking day that was my Sunday (more to come…)

Presto Pesto!

I hate myself for writing that title. Yet I can’t bring myself to delete it. Such is life…

Anyway…I’ve wanted to make my own homemade pesto for some time now. I’ve been waiting until I had access to a food processor (which I do not own), until I realized that I could probably attempt this in my bullet blender. And while the final product isn’t perfect–there are some chunks and unground nuts here and there–it’s still pretty darn good!

The other key component for homemade pesto was, obviously, basil. It’s hard to get my hands on fresh basil for some reason. They don’t sell it in regular bunches at the grocery store like they do parsley, cilantro and mint. It comes either as a big bunch with roots on the end in a package, which says to me that I’m meant to replant this. And since I have the gardening skills of a doorknob, I’ve always steered clear.

But recently I discovered a much more user-friendly version: already potted basil! Yup, I just have to take it out of the package, plop it in a larger pot or on a dish (something to catch the dirt and water) and water it from time to time. And then tada! A never-ending supply of homegrown basil.

I bought this wonderful creation yesterday, though it’s still sitting on my kitchen table because I’ve yet to transfer it to the big pot in my front yard.

Well, now that my major two pieces of this puzzle came together, it seemed like there was nothing left to do but make pesto!

This is a pretty traditional pesto, but not completely authentic. For one thing: I added parsley in with the basil to add a fresh, crisp brightness. There are also no pine nuts. (SAY WHAT?) Really. Pine nuts are expensive, and I’ve never exactly sat down with a bowl of pine nuts for a snack, so they’d really become quite a one-trick pony. So I substituted nuts I had sitting in my pantry: almonds. That’s the great thing about a sauce like pesto–you can tweak and customize to your tastes, dietary needs or pantry supplies!

Also, like this is a surprise, I didn’t measure. I grabbed things and tossed them into the blender cup. And it was tasty. It was different each time too, but that’s the beauty of experimenting. Make this to your tastes.

Basil-parsley pesto

Several large handfuls of whole, fresh basil leaves
Small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Large handful of grated Parmesan cheese
1 small garlic clove, peeled but whole
Handful of slivered or whole almonds (I had slivered on hand so I used them to cut down on the chopping once in the blender)
Generous pour of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

-Add everything to the cup of a bullet blender or jar of a regular blender. If using a food processor, add everything but the oil. Blend well, shaking and scraping down the sides as needed, until well incorporated and evenly chopped or puree to smooth, depending on personal preference.
-Add more oil as needed, or, if using a food processor, drizzle in oil and the dry ingredients mix. Continue to blend to desired consistency. Finish with salt and pepper.

*(Just a note if you’re using a bullet blender like I did–I used the flat chopping blade, not the regular blade that sticks up. I use that one to puree and make smoothies.)

I made my pesto pretty thick, almost paste-like, to be more versatile. I can add olive oil to it to thin it out for use as a sauce or keep it thick to use as a sandwich spread.

So what did I make first with my homemade pesto? Pasta pesto, of course!

Cook pasta (I had elbow macaroni on hand), mix with olive oil and pesto, top with more grated Parmesan and enjoy!

And for lunch the next day, I mixed a tablespoon or so of pesto into plain hummus to make pesto hummus! I used store-bought Sabra hummus, but this would be even better with homemade!

Yesterday, I made a bigger batch of pesto and used it to make a pesto pasta salad for my Memorial Day picnic! But more on that tomorrow…

Has anyone made their own pesto before? Do you go for the traditional recipe, or do you add your own tricks and tweaks? I’m seriously contemplating a cilantro pesto, since I have a cilantro obsession. What’s your favorite spin on pesto?

The Great Leftover Challenge: Take Two

OK, so my first attempt at The Great Leftover Challenge resulted in something that looked only slightly better than dog food. That wasn’t going to get me anywhere (or whet anyone’s appetites, for that matter), so it was time for take two!

By this time I was really running out of food. I still am. (Seriously, I’ve been awful about going to the grocery store.) But I had some fruits and veggies that had been sitting around for a little while and I wanted to use them up before they went bad. I also wanted something light, a departure from the heavy, meatloaf-laced semi-disaster that was my first attempt.

So, for my second try at the leftover challenge, I made “pantry” salad lettuce cups with homemade dressing. I’ve never made my own dressing before, but it’s so, so simple!

The dressing and the salad came only from things I’ve already opened/used, so it was truly a leftovers meal. I opened nothing new to make anything.

The dressing is super-quick and easy and takes about a minute to make. I thought, honestly, though, that it was a bit too acidic, so I’ve adjusted the recipe to what I think would make it work better:

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce (I always use the low-sodium kind)
1 1/2-2 tbsp oil (I used extra virgin olive oil, but a lighter oil would work better. I also only used 1 tbsp, but some extra may be necessary to cut down on the acidity.)
1 tsp lime juice (I used 1 1/2 but, like I said, it ended up too acidic.)
1 1/4 tsp whole grain mustard
Drizzle of agave nectar or honey

Whisk the vinegar, soy sauce and lime juice together in a bowl. Add the mustard and whisk in. Drizzle in the oil while whisking into the dressing to incorporate. Add some agave or honey to sweeten to taste.

Dressing

I poured this dressing over my “pantry” salad cups, which sounds like what it is: a salad made up of whatever I found in my fridge and pantry. This can be anything you want to add or have sitting around: fruit, vegetables, cheese, nuts, dried fruit, etc. My salad had the following:

Bibb lettuce cups
Shredded carrots
Diced Macintosh apple
Golden raisins
Craisins
Sliced almonds

Or, as a regular salad!

This is probably not the most creative thing that will come through the leftover challenge, but I was, admittedly, a bit creatively challenged this time–mainly just hungry. But if nothing else, it is still a good way to use up produce on the verge of going bad. Also, making my own dressing is so quick and easy that I’m going to start doing this more often. I love knowing exactly what’s going into my food, unlike a lot of the bottled dressings that are riddled with sugar and chemicals.

Danny’s Kitchen is hosting the Great Leftover Challenge and there are still two days left to participate! If you are creative with leftovers, check out his blog to enter the challenge!

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