Orzo Pasta Salad with Asparagus, Feta, Artichoke Hearts, and Sun-dried Tomatoes

D&D_1854So we had an abundance of feta cheese at the office – it is a long story, but I decided to make something of it. For Easter I thought a pasta salad would be good, but something light and fresh. So here is what I did. Another non-recipe recipe, but there it is.

8 ozs Orzo, al dente
1/2 pound asparagus, blanched until bright green (30 second – 1 minute) and the cooled, cut into 1 inch pieces
16 oz can artichoke hearts, drained and diced, or frozen
1/2 8.5 oz jarred sun-dried tomatoes, julienne cut, drained*
2 Tbs minced chives
Feta crumbles from the office – not sure how much, but just make it look good with the color contrast

Vinaigrette –
juice and zest of one lemon
2 Tbs olive oil
1/4 cup minced chives
salt/pepper to taste**

While the orzo is cooking, mix together vinaigrette ingredients in a decent sized serving bowl.  Once orzo is drained, add the hot pasta to the vinaigrette. Let the orzo soak up all that flavor. All that lemon.

Mix in all the other pasta salad ingredients and serve at room temperature.

What could be easier? I am not entirely sure especially since I had it all on hand – thanks work for the feta. Have to take the perks when you get them.

I feel proud of this – I mixed a lot of things together and it really worked.  Thank you Nigella for the vinaigrette recipe.

*I usually use dried tomatoes that I rehydrate in hot water, but this time oil-packed made more sense to me.

** I hate this expression. Do people not really know to taste things and season them with salt and pepper if necessary. Or maybe add more acid with some lemon or vinegar. Now I am being that food person that everyone says I am. Sigh.

Cous Cous Salad

Yep, I am so back to my vegetarian days with this recipe. I think that making the orange juice, white wine, butter sauce pasta makes me crave this too. So many similar ingredients and flavors. Although it is interesting that I have not sized this recipe down for just me and therefore I eat it for breakfast and/or lunch for about a week. Now, I use local pecans because the are just so sweet. I know I have written about this before but Renfroe’s pecans are … I am at a loss. They are stupidly, amazing, dumbly, good. I guess because I grew up with pecans from Georgia and did not understand how the season worked, nor how to store them in between that I have learned a lot. Since moving to Pensacola, I now know how local pecans work. It is a charmed world to have such amazing fresh pecans.  Once again – spoiled.

D&D_15561 cup orange juice
1/3 cup raisins or sultanas – I prefer sultanas, but will deal with raisins, easily.
1 red onion minced
1/2 cup toasted pecans (or walnuts), salted
3 scallions, diced
1 cup Cous Cous – (not israeli couscous – I have tried, but not my favorite)
Red wine vinegar
1 Tbs Canola oil

Heat orange juice over low heat until bubbly. Add raisins or sultanas and let simmer until raisins are soft. Heat a small saucepan with water to boil. Add red onions and boil for just a minute and a half. Remove from water into a bowl and cover with red wine vinegar to soak until you are finished with everything else.

Add Cous Cous to orange juice with Canola oil. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand until orange juice is absorbed.

Toast pecans in a skillet with some kosher salt until fragrant. Just about a minute on medium heat.  Dice scallions. Drain red onions. Fluff Cous Cous with a fork and add red onions, pecans, and scallions.

I think next time some blanched asparagus would be a great addition. Or maybe some thawed frozen artichoke hearts – just make it a bit more substantial.

I think this is my goal – to take the things I make over and over again and develop them further, to add another dimension to them. I already have a few ideas for this – may be great – may be an random failure, but it is worth a shot. At least to me.

Maybe some salty cheese. Will have to think about that.

Red Creamer Potato Salad

The right time of year for really small red creamer potatoes is longer than it used to be since most of the farmers’ markets that carry them get them from our local farms in the area. This is great for me because I love these tiny potatoes. When you roast them they almost become candy-like. And I mean that in the best possible way.

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Roasted Creamer Potato Salad

To me potato salad is an elusive thing. That makes it sound exotic, like an Indian tiger, but that is not really what I mean. But it is elusive. It is one of those things you have in your head, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to execute.

Again, this is a no-recipe, recipe. If that makes any sense at all – likely not. But sometimes you really do just have to wing it in the kitchen. Trust your gut and your taste buds.

So I love these potatoes roasted and as soon as they came out of the oven, I doused them with rice wine vinegar. I think it is important to do when they are hot – they just soak it up. I did not want a traditional mayonnaise-based potato salad. I had tried that the week before and loved it, but wanted to go in a different direction. So vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, Dijon mustard and Italian parsley. I really liked it. It is not your traditional Southern potato salad, but it was really good. Again, just trust your palate. And remember that when you taste hot potatoes, they are going to be different when they are cold. Err on the side of more vinegar while the potatoes are hot. I kid you not. It really works.

Recipes – making them my own

I like trying recipes and finding favorites that I make over and over again. And I almost always make some adjustments. I cannot help myself. I guess the only recipes I do not change too much are my mom’s recipes and a few other family recipes.

Some recipes I change so much that I claim them as mine. I think that is fair, in the grand scheme of thing.

I think now it is time to start making my own recipes. So I am going to start with a few things that I remember from childhood that I have not been able to quite get there. So research. Which was always my favorite part of my uni education. Research, at least to me, is fun. What do you expect from a historian? Research. Yep. I’m a total nerd that way, but it was always my favorite part, at least until I learned how to really write. A public school education, at least in my day, did not really teach you how to write. It was sad really. The one thing I learned working for my master’s degree was that I needed to learn how to write and understand the English language much better than a public school education had taught me. To bad it cost a crap-load of money to do that.

I am still a word nerd, but I do not think that is a bad thing. It is kind of funny, I think if I had to do it over again, I would be (a Secret Service agent – no … really!) or a linguist (much more likely).

So research it will be for the following things:

Peanut Butter Fudge – can not quite help myself.

My mom’s meatloaf – especially a meatloaf sandwich.

Chicken and Rice – really simple, but slightly amazing.

Cheese Crackers – did the Cracker Challenge a few years ago, but I feel like the only person that makes cheese crackers – is that possible?

Potato Salad – been struggling with this all summer – and not to my satisfaction.

Peach Cobbler – wow – this one is charged. I love my mom’s recipe, but I don’t really like the biscuits on top. How to fix that?

 

 

Couscous Salad

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Couscous Salad

Me and Mr. Peabody are in the WABAC machine for this recipe – if it can be called a recipe at all. This is another in a long line of things I made while in my vegetarian phase – if you can call a decade a phase, but that I continue to make because it is just so damn good. I have been thinking of making this for a while now. It uses things that I don’t tend to have on hand, red onion and orange juice.  It is a mix of a lot of strange things, and I could not tell you, have no idea, where the original recipe came from. But somehow all these weird things come together and if I am honest, which I can occasionally be, it is the red onion and orange juice that totally make this for me. Worth that trip to the grocery store – yep. Every time.

1 cup orange juice
1/3 cup raisins or sultanas
1/2 medium red onion, diced
1/3 cup toasted nuts, coarsely chopped
1 scallion, sliced thinly
1 cup couscous
Handful of minced flat-leafed parsley – not totally required really – but pretty much.

Heat orange juice in a saucepan until simmering gently. Add raisins. And let the raisins enjoy themselves.

Toast the nuts in a small pan, stirring often until just fragrant. Coarsely chop.

Place diced red onion in a heat proof glass dish with just enough water to cover. Heat in microwave for about two minutes. Let sit for a few minutes, then drain. Add a splash of vinegar, which ever kind you prefer to the onions.

Turn up heat to a nice simmer on the orange juice, add the couscous with a tablespoon of olive oil. Mix, cover and let sit off heat to steam. Fluff with a fork. Add scallions, red onion, nuts, and parsley and mix to combine.

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Couscous Salad – or something like it …

Notes: I like regular small couscous. I tried it this time with “pearl” couscous, which I think is just a bit too big, too toothy – if that makes any sense, so I went back for the tiny couscous and made it again. Yep – that is what I remember – fluffy couscous with all sorts of weird flavors that really work together. Let it sit over night and it gets even better – no joke. Amazing, flavorful, and really great for breakfast – but I am the girl that likes cold Pad Thai for breakfast too. There it is.

Yukon Gold Potato Salad

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Yukon Gold Potato Salad

We like to stop by Bailey’s Farmers’ Market to see what’s going on almost every weekend. It is right up the road from our house, and the hours are great (read: long). It is a fun experience and I have no plan when I go in – just buy what seems a good price – usually local – and then I get home and do the “what the hell am I going to do with this”  part of the equation.  But honestly, that is the fun part of the deal. I keep waiting for nectarine prices to drop (hello, cobbler), but a week ago the Yukon gold potatoes were excellent and beyond cheap (does that mean I’m cheap – probably), so I went for it and got a pound. That’s more than enough for me and the MotH since the Boy moved out. Sad, but inevitable – still make food for him though and that does ease it a bit for me.

1 pound yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite-sized pieces

3 hard boiled eggs, chopped

Vinegar, the kind you like best

1/3 cup sweet relish

1 rib of celery, peeled and small diced

Duke’s mayo

yellow mustard

1 scallion, sliced

2 Tbs flat-leaf parsley, minced

This is a no-recipe recipe. There is some methodology to it, but really you just taste and adjust as you go along.

Boil the potatoes in very salted water until they are easily pierced by a paring knife and then drain. The most important part is dousing the hot potatoes with vinegar and perhaps some relish juice – they soak it up like crazy. Then let them cool.

I tried this idea with Dijon mustard, but you need something more substantial – plain old yellow (hot dog) mustard. I think it is the extra vinegar factor and vinegar is a must with this non-recipe recipe.

Then just mix everything else in. And add chives, if you have them. Maybe a shallot or even grated onion, but I did not. I do not think the scallion was enough. This was a perfect Southern potato salad – at least to me it was.

Roasted Red Potatoes

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Roasted New Red Potatoes

We get these really great creamer potatoes this time of year. They are these small red potatoes and they are so great for roasting – like candy.   Local, from the farmers’ market, and short lived, but wonderfully addictive. But I never realized how good those roasted potatoes could be for potato salad.  I have been on the search for really good potato salad – for years. Now I have some ideas. Will be hitting Bailey’s Market this weekend and if that fails – the By-Pass Market in Milton.

And how to I do this amazing roasting – it’s dead simple. Cut potatoes in half – they are small, like golf ball sized, and put in a large bowl. Add olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Line a baking sheet w/foil and dump potatoes out and turn cut side down. Roast at 350 until a paring knife pierces the potato easily – about 15 – 20 minutes or so. That’s it. Not rocket science, but damn good potatoes.

So what makes a good potato salad?* To be honest, it is not something I grew up with and I’m not entirely sure why, but it may be that we were a rice family – not a potato family. And to this day mashed potatoes – ugh. I do love a good baked potato, but I think that’s because I can put cheese (cheddar) and sour cream and chives, if I’m growing them, on top. It’s really about the toppings, not the vehicle.

Gingras Apple Cider Vinegar

Gingras Apple Cider Vinegar

Okay, back to what makes a good potato salad – potatoes cooked well, to me, is a key thing. Also, seasoning them while they are warm and will soak up whatever flavor you add. A friend taught me a little trick – she used juice from a jar of pickles while the potatoes were still warm – it is a wonderful thing. I prefer sweet pickles, but if you like dill it will work too. I’m not a huge fan of potato salad w/lots of mayo. There needs to be restraint, and a good bit of acid – either vinegar or lemon juice. I tend to favor vinegar either from the pickle juice or just a little jolt of cider vinegar – esp. the good stuff – Gingras ExtraOld Apple Cider Vinegar – beyond amazing and used for special occasions. I really think I could just drink it, but I won’t.

Aside: I want to make a good pasta salad too – but what are the particulars? Again, I’ve tried and made some advancements on that front, but I’m still not really happy.

 

*German Potato Salad is another story entirely but it involves vinegar and bacon. And is another challenge.