Category Archives: Side Dishes

Eggplant Caponata

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Anyone familiar with the Wall Street Journal weekend paper has probably seen the “Slow Food Fast” column.  It’s one of my favorite features.  Just as it sounds, the article features a chef who shares a recipe that includes seasonal food that can be prepared relatively fast.

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Love the concept:  local and fast.  What could be better?  I frequently clip these recipes and on occasion actually make one.  I had clipped out a recipe for Eggplant Caponata by Chef Dave Pasternack, who has two restaurants in New York City.

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This eggplant recipe I’ve made a few times because it is so easy and really dresses up a meal.  Eggplants were on sale this week and I was inspired to make this dish which I put on top of grilled flank steak.

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According to the article, caponata is akin to Sicilian ketchup – apparently, a condiment the Italians like to slather on everything.  While I can imagine slathering caponata on everything, saying this flavorful dish is similar to ketchup is a bit of a put down.

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Caponata is sweet and sour, with a touch of saltiness from the olives. Delish and definitely something worth adding to your repertoire.

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*Note that I have included pine nuts in the recipe since it is typically included in caponata.  I always omit the nuts because my husband has a nut allergy but I am sure it is fabulous with the pine nuts.

Eggplant Caponata

  • Difficulty: easy
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1 medium size eggplant, cut into 1/2″ cubes
course salt and ground pepper
1/3 C olive oil
1 clove of garlic, diced
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
18 black olives, pitted and chopped
1 T raisins
1 T pine nuts*

In large sauté pan, heat about 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat.  In batches, add eggplant in single layer and sauté until brown and tender.  Set aside eggplant, add about 1 tablespoon of oil to pan and turn heat down to medium and add garlic and onions.  Cook until onion is translucent and garlic is brown.  Return eggplant to pan and stir in olives, raisins, pine nuts, balsamic vinegar and bay leaf.  Turn heat up to medium-high and sauté until vinegar cooks off and caponata is almost dry.  Season with salt and pepper.

Serve on top of grilled steak, meat of your choice or as a side dish.

 

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Kale Salad

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I’m a little slow to the kale band wagon.  Frankly, I think people can be a little fanatical about it, but recently I’ve been enjoying some really delicious kale salads.  An abundance of cheap, local organic curly kale has been an inspiration.

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I’ve always been more of a spinach salad girl, but I’ve found the real value of kale salad is that it holds up under dressing.

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Typically, I wait to dress the salad until minutes before we eat.  Dress your salad too soon and everything wilts.

imageNot so with kale!  Kale leaves are just so thick and hardy, that putting the dressing on before cooking the main dish acts as a tenderizer if you will and makes the salad much more tasty.

imageThe other day I made a kale salad using some left over corn.  We get fabulous corn in the Chicago area and leftover ears make a great addition to almost any salad.

imageI don’t add the typical salad ingredients – tomatoes, peppers or cucumbers – to kale salad but keep it very simple.  If I have a fresh lemon I’ll use that as the acid to my dressing, otherwise a nice balsamic works well.

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A coating of parmesan cheese also makes the salad much tastier!

Kale Salad

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

5-6 stems curly green kale
1 ear cooked corn
1 T lemon juice or balsamic vinegar
3 T olive oil
3-4 T parmesan cheese, grated
course salt
ground pepper

Rinse kale leaves and dry.  Remove stems and rip leaves into bite size pieces.  Slice corn off of ear.  Mix corn and kale together in large bowl.  In small bowl, add lemon juice or vinegar.  Slowly pour olive oil into bowl and whisk.  Pour dressing over greens and toss.  Grate parmesan cheese over salad and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Birthday Veggies

My younger daughter turned nine this past week and it’s our tradition for the birthday girl to choose her birthday meal made by yours truly.  She warmed my heart this year by her choices:  kale chips and a wedge salad.

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I wasn’t complete surprised, this coming from a girl who famously pounded her highchair demanding more broccoli and salad.

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Actually, she wanted to go completely vegetarian and have roasted brussel sprouts as her main course, but in an effort to maintain the family peace (my older daughter is a complete carnivore) I suggested we should have steak as our main.

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What could be more classic than a wedge salad followed by steak?

Both kale chips and wedge salad are so simple that the freshest ingredients make all of the difference.  Our grocery stores are well stocked with local organic kale these days and so finding really fresh green kale was a cinch.

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After perusing numerous blog posts on making kale chips, and having a few mishaps of my own, I’ve realized that the key to success is to insure that the kale is dry, lightly tossed with oil (don’t drown the leaves) and roasted low and slow.

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Don’t be deterred by kale’s distinct aroma as it cooks – I think the bitterness is actually cooked out of the kale. The result is a crisp, sweet-ish (I mean it is kale) taste.

As for the wedge salad, I always go for a homemade blue cheese dressing and sometimes I also top it off with crumbled bacon.

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This being her birthday dinner I decided to really go for it and add the bacon which I cooked in a skillet until it was nice and crispy.

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I chose the best quality blue cheese I could find – this was an imported Danish blue cheese.  Buy the best blue cheese you can but I definitely advise against those pre-crumbled packages since the cheese tends to be very dry and bland.

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Overall this birthday meal was quite a success.  The kale chips were eaten as an appetizer, and then we moved on to a first course of wedge salad.  The meal was completed with steak (sorry no pictures) and chocolate cupcakes.

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Happy Birthday Maggie!

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Kale Chips

1 bunch of green kale
1 t olive oil
course salt
ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Rinse kale leaves in water and completely dry.  Rip kale leaves into bite size pieces, removing the stems.  Put in a bowl and toss with olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Spread out evenly on large baking sheet, being careful not crowd them on the sheet.  Bake ten minutes.  Rotate the sheet and gently toss the kale leaves.  Bake and additional 8-10 minutes, allowing the kale leaves to become crisp but not brown.  Cool before eating.

Wedge Salad, serves 4

3/4 C mayonnaise
2 T white wine vinegar
1 t worcestershire sauce
1/2 C crumbled blue cheese
course salt
ground pepper
buttermilk, optional*
1/2 head of iceberg lettuce
3 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled

Whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar and worcestershire sauce in a small bowl.  Add most of blue cheese, leaving some to top salad.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Slice iceberg lettuce into four wedges.  Dollop dressing onto lettuce and top with blue cheese and bacon.

* Note that if you prefer your blue cheese dressing to be thinner, add buttermilk one tablespoon at a time until preferred consistency is reached.

Irish Potato Casserole

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This potato recipe is my go-to holiday recipe. The ingredients alone make it apparent why it is for special occasions and not standard fare. Sour cream, butter and cream cheese? The only thing missing on that list of decadence is heavy whipping cream.IMG_1672IMG_1673

 

 

 

 

 

I know what you’re thinking; that this recipe is beyond decadence and pushing into pure gluttony. Am I trying to kill my dinner guests? You’ll soon be converted (and rest assured the guests will die satisfied).

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The potatoes are so light and creamy, you will never want to serve plain mashed potatoes to your guests again. And your friends will beg you for the recipe.

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I know because this recipe was shared by my mother, who received it in turn from a friend who lives in Rockport, Maine. Let me just say there are many people in Camden-Rockport who enjoyed this casserole on Easter weekend. This recipe travels.

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What makes Irish potato casserole perfect for holiday meals is that it is prepared the day before and left overnight in the fridge. Never again will you sweat over the stove as you mash your potatoes at the last minute while making the gravy.

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Just remember to err on the side of over-cooking the potatoes – since they will be pureed anyway and you want them to be really smooth.

Irish Potato Casserole

8-10 medium potatoes, pealed and quartered
8 oz cream cheese, cut into cubes
8 oz sour cream
1/2 C butter
1/4 C chives, chopped*
1 T, plus 1 t salt

Place potatoes in large pot and cover with water. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down to medium-high and cook about 20 minutes or until potatoes are very soft. Drain, leaving the potatoes in the pot. Add cream cheese, sour cream, butter and salt to the cooked potatoes. Mix ingredients with a wooden spoon. Using a hand mixer, puree ingredients in the same pot until potatoes are completely smooth and all ingredients are incorporated. Mix in chives. Lightly butter 2 quart casserole dish and spoon potato mixture into dish. Using back of spoon, smooth over the mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Remove from refrigerator about 40 minutes before baking. Uncover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Serves 8-10.

*I like to use kitchen scissors to chop up my chives.

Bakin’ Bacon

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Considering that bacon is such a popular food these days, I am surprised that so many people are unfamiliar with the best way to cook it.  For years I fried bacon in a cast-iron skillet on the stove top.  I suffered. Hot grease would splatter everywhere; all over the stove, the counter – even at times it would burn my hands.

Is it worth it?  Absolutely not. But there’s a better way.  Bake it in the oven.

Simply preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Lay out the bacon on a rimmed cookie sheet (or jelly roll pan) to prevent the grease from spilling and pop it in the oven to cook for about 20 minutes.

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Now the time is all yours.  Take a break, read the paper, have a cup of coffee.  If you are feeling particularly industrious, make some pancakes.

Check on the bacon after 20 minutes.  It should be pretty well cooked.  Using tongs turn over each piece.  Return the bacon to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes – the exact time depends on how crispy you like your bacon (we prefer very crispy in this household) and the heating qualities of your oven.

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You’ll find that your bacon will be cooked to perfection. And as a bonus, it will be nice and flat, nothing like that curled up bacon you get in a frying pan.

Immediately remove the hot bacon from the pan and place it on a paper-towel-covered plate to blot the excess grease.  For ease in cleaning the pan, allow the grease to cool; then, while it is still liquid, pour it into a can for disposal.

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So that’s it — bacon baked in the oven.  So very easy!

Leftovers

When I was a kid I hated leftovers. We’d have a smorgasbord of food set out on the table:  a typical meal might be a little bit of chicken and rice, a serving of lasagna, one taco, maybe a dab of mashed potatoes. Frankly, these foods should not be eaten together, but that’s what my mother served. Inevitably my brother and sister and I would fight over the single taco.

Now that I’m the primary cook in my family, I’ve come around to leftovers for dinner. I can now see the point my mother made: Leftovers are always useful in a pinch. I’ll sometimes even double a recipe so I can store the extra portion in the freezer for another meal at a later date.

Using up what’s in my freezer makes me feel virtuous. An added benefit is that many meals taste better the second time around. Consider last night’s meal: Italian-style short ribs with salad and a side dish of polenta.

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I originally made the ribs last month for my husband’s birthday. As there were more than we could eat in one sitting, I dumped the leftovers in a container and tossed them in the freezer to be consumed at a later date. That later date came last night, because my daughter and I had an appointment right after school and we didn’t get home until the time when we would normally be eating dinner.

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I had planned ahead, however. I had removed the leftover short ribs from the freezer that morning. When we got home I immediately heated up the ribs and made some creamy polenta and a salad to go with them.

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This leftovers meal did double duty: It took only a few minutes to prepare, and it helped convince my family that polenta makes a delicious side dish when served with the proper main ingredient. Once I mated polenta with short ribs, which has a rich, meaty sauce, they were hooked.

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Polenta (serves 4)

1 cup coarse yellow corn meal

2 cups water

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons butter

Bring the water to a boil.  Add corn meal slowly and whisk continuously.  Turn down the heat to medium.  The cornmeal will thicken within about 8-10 minutes.  Add butter and grated cheese.  Enjoy!