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.

Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Bars

So when I buy buttermilk to bake something I try to find other things to make with what is left. I know, I know, you can freeze leftover buttermilk, but I never seem to do it.

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Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

 

It is funny I do not remember my mom making anything with buttermilk – really nothing. Not even biscuits and that is strange for a Southern woman. I do not have it on hand all the time, but most of the time.

Most recently, I have used buttermilk in Savory Herb Muffins and in Basil Sun-Dried Tomato Mozzarella Bread, and of course, Lemon Buttermilk Cake with Lemon Glaze which was the original intent of the buttermilk purchase. And now another recipe with just a bit of buttermilk in it.

In the grand scheme of things, it is kind of a test. What can you do with it, and make it different. Not just cake or biscuits or whatever – try to make a variety of things. I am sure the next time I have buttermilk (like now) homemade ranch dressing will be in my future as is often the case in the spring. And that always means spinach and mushroom quiche. One of my favorite things ever and a recipe I have had since before the boy was born – way before.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
8 Tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs canola oil
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup roughly chopped pecans (Renfroe’s, of course)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 9 x 13 inch baking pan*, spray with baking spray and line with parchment and spray again.

Over a piece of waxed paper, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. In a bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and both sugars. In a small bowl, crack egg, add canola oil, vanilla, and buttermilk. Add flour a little at a time. Stir in chocolate and pecans.

Spread dough, it will be thick, into pan making sure to get dough all the way into the corners. Bake 30 – 35 minutes until center is set and the edges are golden. Cool bars in pan and the cut into bite-sized pieces with a plastic knife because you do not want to jack up the pan with a metal knife.

Source: Baking Bites – one of my favorite baking sites. Must, at some point, figure out how many recipes that I have used from this site. I think there will be several.

* Love William-Sonoma Gold Touch Pans – they really are the best. Thank you America’s Test Kitchen for showing me how amazing these pans are. They really live up to all the hype.

Basil Sun-Dried Tomato Mozzarella Bread

Do you ever find a recipe that you just have to try as soon as you see it? Well I happened upon this recipe after deciding to make the savory herb muffins that involve home-made pesto, so I thought this was the ticket. I always have sun-dried tomatoes in the fridge, and had buttermilk for a buttermilk cake, so I really just needed to pick up mozzarella pearls – tiny little pieces of mozzarella. D&D_1324

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp salt
4 ozs mozzarella pearls or chopped mozzarella into pieces
2 Tbs fresh chopped basil
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 large eggs
2 1/2 Tbs canola oil
1 1/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan with non-stick spray. Next time I’ll use a 9 x 5 inch pan just because it works better. Always line the pan with parchment and spray again. Just to be on the safe side.

Over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the basil, mozzarella, and sun-dried tomatoes to the flour and mix them like you do blueberries for muffins – so they do not all sink to the bottom as can happen.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together eggs, canola oil, and buttermilk. Pour liquid mixture into flour mixture until just combined.

Place in prepared pan and smooth it down just a bit. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

Source: Will Cook for Smiles with modifications.

I did not have bread flour at the time, but this worked well with just all-purpose flour. It is really is tasty, but the next time I try it, I’ll slice the bread and put it under the broiler with some kind of cheese on top. Or toast and then add some spreadable cheese on top. I’m thinking of Boursin. That would be so good. And maybe homemade pesto would not be a miss here, swirled into the bread in the pan. There are just so many variations that I think might work.

January – March 2016 – Food “Holidays” Recap

Super Bowl – February 7

Spiced Pecans * Roast Beef Horseradish Sandwich * Bacon-wrapped Fruit Bites * Buffalo Rolls * Proscuitto Fontina Pinwheels * Sun-dried Tomato Pesto Torte *

Mardi Gras Pot Luck – February 9

Mardi Gras Sugar Cookies *  Sun-dried Tomato Pesto Torte *

Margarita Day – February 22

Leap Day – February 29

Apple Carrot Cupcakes *

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Apple Carrot Muffins – slightly amazing. And, no. I’m not bragging.

Pi Day – March 14

Apple Walnut Pie *

Butter Pie Crust *

St Patrick’s Day – March 17

Guinness Brownies *

Easter – March 27

Not sure yet, but I have a few days to sort it out. Yikes.


Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Torte

Another recipe that isn’t really a recipe. I’ve been making this for ages. I can’t even remember where it came from, but it is very simple but amazingly satisfying  – if you like the ingredients that is.

When we have a pot luck at work, I usually just say – “somebody tell me what you want me to make” and this comes up again and again. I think that is a double-edged sword; it is good that so many people like it, but it also does not challenge me much. This time I agreed to it because it was a Mardi Gras pot luck which fell two days after the Super Bowl – hello real food holidays lining up – ugh. This, normally, would not be a big deal, but this year, after my Super Bowl prep – on Saturday night, I fell up the stairs – yes, up. And split my knee open in rather a dramatic fashion, so I needed something for the pot luck that I could make ahead and let sit and this sun-dried tomato pesto torte always does make-ahead really well. I was sort of pleased with how it turned out and as ever, it was popular.

It is so kind of dead simple that it makes me feel a little bit silly, but it is, well, awesome. The Boy loves it. My friend T at work likes and has asked me to make a few for a party or two of hers. This may not have been my prettiest version, but standing on a jacked up knee was not easy either. That said, it still tasted great. Like it always does.

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So you do have to scale it to fit the vessel you are using for a mold. I usually use my white ramekins – small ones if it’s for a small family event and the larger for bigger groups – like pot lucks at work with our students.

Cream cheese, softened, usually 8 oz block, but more if you want more layers
bunch of basil, washed, stems removed, and dried very well (wrapped in a tea towel)
3/4 cup walnuts, or something like that (or fresh pecans) – not a fan of pine nuts
2 good sized cloves of garlic or more if that is your preference
a really good pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed), softened with warm water, and then drained
olive oil – I use olive oil from our local Greek Market – Shoreline – which is imported from Chiana on the Island of Crete – cool, right?

Line a ramekin with  plastic wrap, leaving a good bit of it to hang over the edges of ramekin.

In the bowl of a food processor, whir up garlic, walnuts, and salt.  Then add sun-dried tomatoes and basil. Slowly add in olive oil until a paste forms, but do not add too much olive oil (you can do that later with the leftovers to make pasta sauce).  I know – it’s a non-recipe. Sometimes you just have to wing it.

Spread the bottom of a ramekin with a layer of cream cheese, about a 1/2 inch. Then carefully add a layer of pesto covering the cream cheese. Add the last layer of cream cheese being careful not to mix things up too much. Cover with plastic wrap.  If you are making a large version of this, add a bit of a weight to it.  Let chill overnight, at minimum, but this can be done at least three days ahead.

To plate, let sit at room temperature for about a half an hour and unwrap ramekin and tup it out onto a plate. Surround by crackers and baguette slices (or if your really feeling like a hedonist, Hawaiian Sweet Rolls).

When I have leftovers of this, which is not often, I use it to make either A) a sandwich – which is pretty amazing (if you like garlic), or B) a pasta sauce, for just some rotini, you might need to add a little olive oil and will certainly need to add grated Parmesan to the finished product, but hello – stupid good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomato Soup with spinach and mozzarella 

It is finally getting soup weather around here, after a very warm Christmas. This is a new recipe to me, but I love tomato bisque. And to me this qualifies – because you blend everything up with an immersion blender. One of my favorite tools that I got for like $15 at an Ace Hardware in Chapel Hill — how strange is that? Yep kind of strange for sure, but I do get a good bit of use out of it.D&D_1140

1 – 28 ozs can whole San Marzano tomatoes
3 cups vegetable stock
2 Tbs olive oil
8 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
2 ribs of celery, peeled and diced
1 large shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bay leaf, from Turkey if possible, just saying
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Balsamic vinegar

In a stock pot (or just a big pot), heat olive oil, add the chopped shallots and celery, sauté until translucent. Add sun-dried tomatoes and bay leaf and sauté for 3 – 4 minutes. With the pan moderately hot add just a bit of water, a Tbs or so, and steam the vegetables with the lid on the pot for a minute or two. Then add garlic and sauté until soft – do not let garlic get too far past barely golden. Add the salt, pepper, thyme, and oregano, and sauté a minute more. Maybe a smidgen of tomato paste here would not go amiss. Just let it get some caramelization. Always a good thing.

Add the tomatoes, and crush with spoon or spatula. Cook down for a few minutes on medium.  Add vegetable stock and cook for a few minutes more. Reduce to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or more if you have more time – which you will have if you are simultaneous baking cookies. Remove bay leaf – key point. Purée with an immersion blender. Add 2 – 3 tsp balsamic vinegar, stir in and adjust salt and pepper, if necessary. At this point you can refrigerate the soup for later. For me, tomato soup is like spaghetti sauce, it is always better after a couple of days. Make it on a Sunday, eat it on a Tuesday – yeah – not having to cook after work – woo hoo!

Toppings, etc

3 cups fresh spinach, washed, and dried
1 small shallot, minced
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar*
Fresh mozzarella cut into small pieces

Sauté shallots and garlic in a Tbs of olive oil. Add spinach and toss to wilt. Season with salt and pepper. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar.  Add the spinach mix and mozzarella to the soup.

There will be a next time for my modified version of this recipe because for the soup, this is all pantry food – one of my favorite things – make dinner out of something I have just sitting around. My previous favorite tomato soup was good, but I had to get tomato juice – which I NEVER have on hand. This seems to fix that issue.

* I think next time I will make a balsamic vinegar syrup. I have had this on soups in one of my favorite restaurants (yes, that’s you Jaco’s) and I’ve seen that is dead simple to make. But in this case I think it will lend a depth to the soup.

I won’t rant about Jaco’s too much, but if your restaurant can make excellent soup – which Jaco’s does – and that means you’ve gotten certain things right. I do need to tell you all more about this place. It is excellent.
Original source: yes-more please.com/2014/03/caprese-tomato-spinach-soup/ – Although I did make  a few modifications – that seems to be a recurring theme.

Sun-dried tomato pesto palmier

Palmier – Also called palm leaves, this crispy delicacy is puff pastry dough that is sprinkled with granulated sugar, folded and rolled several times, then cut into thin strips. After baking, these golden brown, caramelized pastries are served with coffee or tea or as a dessert accompaniment. Food Lover’s Companion, p. 437.

Well, this is not a sweet palmier, not by any stretch of the imagination, although I would like to make a sweet version one day. I saw Ina Garten make a version of this and decided I would use my sun-dried tomato pesto in her methodology.

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Sun-dried Tomato Pesto Palmiers

1/4 cup walnuts, pulverized in the food processor
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, not oil packed, but hydrated it some hot water
1 bunch basil, washed, dried, and torn roughly
about 1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed in the fridge*
1 egg, mixed with a Tbs of water for egg wash

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Whir up walnuts in food processor. You could use pine nuts, but walnuts make an excellent pesto, in my opinion.  Add sun-dried tomatoes and garlic and pulse a few times. Add basil and Parmesan and pulse to combine all ingredients. Add the olive oil until the paste is smooth. Set aside. Or refrigerate until ready to bake, just remove in time to make sure this will be room temperature before spreading on pastry.

Unfold puff pastry sheet on a slightly floured surface. Using a rolling pin to roll the pastry 13 x 13 inch square. Using a small offset spatula, spread the pesto to the edges. Fold the sides of the dough on two side to half way to the center, the fold again so both sides meet in the middle. Finally, fold one half over the other. But don’t press them together too much.

Slice the dough into 3/8 inch and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash. Bake for 6 minutes, then turn the palmier over and rotate the baking sheet and bake 5 more minutes. Rest on a paper towel and serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes: After doing this the first time, I don’t think I will roll the puff pastry quite that thin. I think a 12 x 12 inch square will work. I also think the pesto really needs to be much thiner so the rolls have more space to puff up. Maybe I was a bit gun-shy about adding too much olive oil. Probably.

Of course, I love my sun-dried tomato pesto, but I always do. I cannot believe I have yet to post my sun-dried tomato pesto torte  – it is highly requested and I often make them for friends just to have at home for dinner – yes, dinner, and that works for me. Put it on the list.

These tasted pretty good, but I was not happy with the puff pastry. Need to figure out what I should do differently. That said, there was left over pesto that I plan to put on pasta with lots of olive oil.

*I left the puff pastry in the fridge for a couple of days, and to be honest, it was the easiest time I have ever had with puff pastry (Not sure why, but wow – it made me feel like pro for some reason), though I did put it back in the fridge after rolling it out and before putting the pesto on.