Category Archives: Side Dishes

Orzo with Summer Squash, Zucchini, and Almonds

My favorite part of having a successful summer garden a few years ago was the prolific summer squash plant. I eat summer squash like there is no tomorrow, every summer. I made this light-ish dinner this weekend to get through the heat (it’s great served cold). I also realized that my new apartment does not have a microwave, so I had to eat cold anyway 🙂

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A deep, seasoned cast-iron worked well for this recipe. Mine is about 12″ across and it fit everything, though I did halve the recipe. Start the orzo water and preheat the oven for the almonds before you start prepping the squash/zucchini. If the orzo is done way before the rest, that’s okay; be sure to cook it al dente so it doesn’t get too soft once you add it to the rest of the food. Toast the almonds then turn off the oven, since you won’t need it again.

Orzo with Summer Squash, Zucchini, and Almonds
Adapted from Orzo with Summer Squash and Toasted Hazelnuts on Epicurious. I’ll try hazelnuts next time. Also note the dice size of the zucchini and summer squash–smaller than you might expect, but it makes for better cooking time.

3/4 cup orzo
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/3-inch dice
1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/3-inch dice
~ 1/2 teaspoon salt
~ 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped
~1 tsp dried parsley
~1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
~2 teaspoons lemon juice (lemon zest would definitely be better)

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Cook orzo in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain orzo in a colander. While orzo is cooking, toast almonds (6-8 minutes).

While orzo and almonds are cooking, heat butter and oil in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sauté onion, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini, yellow squash, salt, and pepper and sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are just tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in nuts, parsley, basil, and lemon juice.

Add cooked orzo to skillet and stir gently. If mixture seems dry, moisten with some reserved pasta water. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*I ate my leftovers with chopped up cold chicken breast and it was great together!

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Healthy Granola Bars

Frisbee tournaments are my favorite part about summer weather in Boston. The heat and humidity–not so much! But one thing I’ve discovered this year is that they’re a great opportunity to debut some experimental “power” foods that will get us through the 8-hour long days of running (and pantsing each other, of course).

Homemade Healthy Granola Bars

There are a few traditional sideline foods–pickles, PBR, Cheez-Its, Pretzels, candy, the occasional Butterfinger bar to give to a player who drops a disc on a really key play…hehehe. I usually prefer to bring food with more protein, though, because the all-carbs thing makes me crash by the early afternoon. Mike invented some “energy bites” which I’ll probably make again soon and post, but last weekend I decided to try my hand at granola bars.

I don’t usually LOVE granola bars, but they are a great way to deliver a mix of nutrients with some great texture and taste. These came out really crunchy–very similar to the Nature Valley brand granola bars–but they softened (and improved, I think) after sitting in the sun in the Ziploc bag for a little while. They definitely helped power me through the day in small bits, though, and they’re made of (mostly) super-healthy, wholesome ingredients. No fake stuff here!

Healthy Cranberry Almond Granola Bars
Adapted from Epicurious’ recipe for Raisin and Cardamom Granola Bars.

4 cups instant oats, toasted first for about 10 minutes
1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1.5 cups toasted raw almonds, chopped roughly
1 tsp cinnamon
6 Tbsp butter (3/4 stick)
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
4 Tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line your granola sheet (I used half of an 11×17 pan with thick bars as a result) with aluminum foil that hangs over the edges by at least an inch. Butter the foil. If your oats and almonds need to be toasted, do that first (oats for 10 minutes, almonds for about 6-8, or until they smell like popcorn).

In a large bowl, mix together the oats, cranberries, almonds, and cinnamon. Over medium heat, combine the butter, brown sugar, and honey. Once the butter melts, remove from heat and add vanilla. Combine all ingredients and stir until well coated. If it doesn’t stick together yet, add more honey and continue stirring.

Pour the granola mixture onto the foil. With another piece of aluminum foil, press down the granola so that it sticks together in an even layer. Remove that piece of foil and set it aside. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven, let cool for a few minutes, then press down again with the foil. CAREFUL–it will be hot! I used a towel around my hand when pressing down with the foil.

After completely cool, lift from pan using foil overhang. Cut into pieces with a sharp knife.

Broccoli Slaw with Cashews and Cranberries

What amazing weather we’ve had here in Boston this week! Torrential downpour for three days last weekend, then summer-like sunny, clear days for the last three. Today–March 20, let me remind you–it reached 75. NUTS. Speaking of nuts, I bought some cashews yesterday and I’m super excited.

In the spirit of spring (I hear today is the first day?), I’ve been kicking into high-gear with my green-vegetable cooking. Last night I made Kale Chips for the first time and ate them so fast that I didn’t take pictures…so I’ll wait until my next post to share those 🙂

Today I made broccoli slaw to eat on my porch while sitting in the sun. Behold.

Broccoli Slaw with Cranberries and Cashews

I adapted Peanut Butter and Jargon’s recipe, which was adapted from The Kitchn’s. The modifications were largely out of convenience: I peeled my broccoli stalks and then chopped them roughly, since I just broke the food processor 2 weeks ago; I roasted/salted my raw cashew pieces while I was prepping everything, since I buy them raw; I accidentally used twice as many cashews as I was supposed to (from the original), and I only used half of the mayo/yogurt sauce since I don’t really need much at all (compared to original). NO MATTER: this was tasty. The recipe below reflects the amounts I actually used.

This would make a tasty side dish for some kind of chicken–I’m thinking grilled on a kebab. It also might work well for a picnic, though it would definitely need to be kept cool, since it has mayo in it (so maybe a backyard picnic instead of a hiking picnic). It’s a great example of experimenting with different combinations and just going with it. Just my kind of recipe these days….

Broccoli Slaw with Cashews and Cranberries
Makes about 6 cups

Adapted from Peanut Butter and Jargon’s recipe for Broccoli Slaw and The Kitchn’s recipe for Broccoli Slaw, which PB&J adapted from. To roast your own nuts, lightly coat in olive oil (I used 1 tsp for 1 cup cashew pieces), then salt, and put in a 350 F oven for about 10 minutes.

2 stalks of broccoli, stalks peeled, chopped roughly
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 dried cranberries
1 cup cashews, roasted and salted, chopped (use less if you’re not really into the nut thing)
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
3 Tbsp plain yogurt
1.5 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 Tbsp sugar (omit if you prefer savory–I think I will next time)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp ground mustard

In a large bowl, mix together the broccoli, onions, cranberries, and cashews. In a separate small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, yogurt, lemon juice, sugar (if using), salt, pepper, and mustard. Pour the dressing over the broccoli mix and stir well. Let rest on the counter for 30 minutes or in the fridge for an hour before serving. I discovered 2 days later that this doesn’t keep particularly well–the nuts get soggy–so it’s best eaten the day it’s made. Enjoy!

Roasted Stuffed Baby Portobello Mushrooms

I was hoping to post about my foray into ciabatta bread-making tonight. Unfortunately, my adventure turned into a dead end when the yeast just refused to cooperate after kneading the dough. I think I know what went wrong and hopefully soon I’ll be able to add to the chorus of praises for King Arthur Flour’s recipe for ciabatta.

It’s no great loss, though! Last night Mike threw together an impromptu dinner combining crap we had lying around in the fridge (well, not crap, but you know what I mean…) and some things we’d just picked up at the mecca of local grocery stores, Market Basket. Usually, Market Basket is nothing short of a madhouse on Sunday afternoons–no parking spots, packed aisles, many children and older people, and my favorite feature, sawdust on the floor. I think the snowstorm that lasted from Friday night until yesterday held some regulars back, though, because I wasn’t as exhausted after our trip as I normally am.

Working on the pork he’d picked out, Mike assigned me the stuffed portobello mushroom project.

Roasted Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

(Side note: Writing “portobello” feels funny to me. I’ve always preferred “portabello.” And then there’s “portobella.” Apparently, they are all correct, but portobello is by far more common in a Google search, so…I’ll trust the wisdom of the crowds and go with that one. Sheesh.)

He grabbed a handful of baby spinach that was hanging out in the fridge, a few cloves of peeled garlic we buy in bulk, and sliced a piece of the Tuscan loaf we’d just bought. A piece of pecorino cheese from a few weeks ago was starting to get moldy, so we sliced off the edges and chopped it up. Mike also pulled out the block of cheddar we’d just thawed (apparently it can be frozen!).

I did the extra-tough task of throwing it all in the food processor and adding enough olive oil to get it to blend smoothly. I performed my salt-and-pepper-adding magic and DELICIOUS. Try not to eat it all before stuffing the mushrooms.

We bought baby portobello caps, so they only needed to be relieved of the woody interior (what’s left of the stem). When I used a spoon, I tore open a cap. Try using your finger instead…I had much better results. Practice makes perfect, I found, as I was much better at it by the last mushroom.

These took about 30 minutes overall, with about 15 minutes of that being oven time. They would be difficult to make in concert with another complicated dish, but I think if I had been cooking alone I would have managed to flip the meat when necessary so that everything finished at the same time. Luckily, with two cooks in the kitchen, it was a breeze.

Roasted Stuffed Baby Portobello Mushrooms
1 1-inch thick slice of crusty white bread, like a rustic loaf, sourdough, or baguette (use 2 slices for baguette)
Handful of fresh baby spinach (1/8-1/4 cup of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry, might work)
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 oz. Pecorino, or any hard, waxy cheese (like Parmesan or Fontina), cut into pieces
2 oz. cheddar, cut into pieces
2-4 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
6 baby portobello mushroom caps

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Tear the bread into smaller pieces and add to food processor. Pulse until broken up into coarse crumbs. Add spinach, garlic, cheeses, and about 2 Tbsp of olive oil in food processor and pulse to combine with bread. Add more olive oil if necessary for easier chopping. Add salt and pepper, pulse, taste, and repeat until it tastes excellent.

Remove woody center of each mushroom cap and discard. Gently but firmly spoon filling into each cap so that the mushroom is full but not overflowing. Once each is filled, distribute the rest of the stuffing so that there are small mounds (giving it that “stuffed” look). This way you won’t run out before actually filling each.

Place mushrooms, stuffing side up, on a baking sheet. Roast for 12-15 minutes, checking after 10 minutes for doneness. When ready, they will feel “spongy” if gently squeezed–similar to the texture of a hard-boiled egg (a bit softer).

Fall Overload! Butternut Squash-Apple Cider Soup

I feel like I start a lot of entries explaining that I’ve decided to make a dish because x ingredient was on sale this week at the grocery store. And you know what? I’m proud of that! Part of my goal in starting this blog was to give myself a reason to experiment and to learn to “cook by feel” instead of following recipes (or asking Mike).

Tonight’s dinner was a great example of having an idea and then adapting the ideas I found online to fit the ingredients in my pantry, inventing something completely my own in the process.

Based on a recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and one for Butternut Squash Green Apple Soup, I made up some shallot-butternut squash-apple cider-ginger soup. And oh man, I loved it. That’s saying something, because I don’t usually like soup!

**ALTHOUGH, I must include this aside. I was at River Gods in Central Square last week and I think it was the first time I’ve ever actually ordered a soup at a restaurant. Not counting clam chowder, of course. It was a white bean (cannelini, I think) creamy soup with brie and grapes. Oh my god. It was basically a dessert soup…but there was no. friggin. guilt. I definitely recommend trying it if you happen to be there anytime soon!

I actually had soup yesterday at school, too (garbanzo, kale, and ham), and it was pretty satisfying. I’m learning that a hot soup can be just the ticket when you need something light but warm and filling.

ANYWAY. Tonight’s soup reminded me of one Becca suggested for a dinner party we had last winter, although I think we had cream or yogurt then and it was pretty great. I need to find out from Becca if she still has that recipe…

If you don’t have shallots, any sweet onion will do (Vidalia, ideally). But look at how pretty the purple and green shallots are! And so delicate!

The flavors of this soup are pretty subtle, but the color is bold and refreshing and everything just feels wonderful while you’re eating it. Trust me. Try it. Do it. Maybe add some mint if you’re feeling adventurous (only a few sprigs, though).

Butternut Squash-Apple Cider Soup
Makes a lot of servings! Maybe 6-8 appetizer, 3-4 dinner

Olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
2 big shallots, sliced (or 1 Vidalia onion, diced)
1/2 cup apple cider
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups water
1 cup white wine (I used cooking wine, but regular would be better. You could also use chicken or vegetable broth for a different kind of soup)
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
Salt
Pepper
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch cinnamon

In a large pot, heat oil and butter together, then add shallots and throw on a pinch of salt. Let them cook for a couple of minutes, then add apple cider and let it all reduce and pretend-caramelize for about 5 minutes. Add squash, water, wine, and ginger. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon (be judicious with the last two). Bring to a boil, then simmer for at least 10 minutes, until squash is soft. Puree in a blender or with an immersion blender, sprinkle some pepper on top, and voila! Doneskies.

Note: If your squash isn’t soft after 10 minutes or so, you can cover the pot for a few minutes. It helped me a lot!

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Flatbreads

Birthdays in middle school were so much easier than they are now. I invited 10 or so girls to my house for pizza, cake, presents, a movie, a sleepover, and breakfast from my mom the next morning before everyone headed home. Now it seems so much more complicated! This year, I finally decided to have a party that would allow me to cook a bunch of delicious food I wouldn’t normally make and then…write about it!

I ordered Martha Stewart’s Entertaining last week. Opening it up made me feel like there were endless possibilities for cooking for my friends, and that suddenly I couldn’t have ENOUGH dinner parties. And so my ideas for the weekend’s food came in a flood.

I decided (after many iterations) on a relatively simple menu of 3 savory appetizers and 4 desserts, balanced to feed vegetarians and non-vegetarians, warm and cold, crunchy and soft, salty and sweet, traditional and non-traditional, picky and adventurous. I’ll be posting those recipes throughout the week.

The first is one of the simplest yet most delicious and impressive-looking. Courtesy of Mike, as always, come these Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Flatbreads. I was originally planning to make roasted tomato and goat cheese tarts on puff pastry, like O Pistachio’s Bite-Size Tomato Tarts, but flatbreads are a particular inside-joke with my friend Steph.

Steph’s from Portland, ME, and on a recent trip to the city for a frisbee tournament, she brought me and Mike to the Flatbread Company, a restaurant specializing in flatbreads. She told us it would be like nothing else we’d ever had before. It WAS delicious, but we teased her to no end for framing the flatbreads as the exotic cuisine of Portland. So now, at any opportunity, I like to make these “Portland specialties.” Somehow it never stops being hilarious!

We used pre-made pizza dough from the grocery store to save time, since we were making so many other dishes for the party. It’s so cheap, too–$2 for enough dough for 2 whole pizzas! My only complaint is that it’s difficult to find whole wheat pizza dough, and if I were to make my own I’d definitely make it with WW flour. We bought way too much dough, but extra flatbreads make great sandwiches the next day!

Caramelizing onions is a long process, usually about an hour or so, but it’s really easy if you’re patient, and so worth it. The pictures below show a couple of the steps to caramelization. They cook down to a soft, brown, super-savory treat that matches perfectly with the taste of goat cheese.

For this party, we made 4 flatbreads and cut each into eighths to serve 32 appetizers. You could also serve each flatbread as 1 dinner serving.

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Flatbreads
Serves 4-32, depending on how you cut them!

Olive oil
3 large red onions, cut into spears (see photo)
Salt and pepper
1/2 bag pre-made pizza dough (usually 1 pound)
8 oz goat cheese, cold
Dried (or fresh) parsley

Heat about 1 Tbsp olive oil in your pan, enough to coat the bottom. Add onions and a few pinches of salt. Let the onions caramelize, stirring only occasionally, for about an hour, or until they’re brown and very soft.

To make flatbreads, divide pizza dough into quarters (you’ll get eighths from the whole bag, but we used only half for this particular appetizer). Stretch dough until it is evenly thin and about the size of your grill pan. Lightly brush oil onto the dough and place in a grill pan. Let cook for about 5 minutes, then flip and cook for another 5 minutes. Don’t move the dough once it’s in the pan or you won’t get the grill marks.

Once all of your flatbreads are finished, spread caramelized onions on each. Crumble about 2 oz of goat cheese on each flatbread, then sprinkle parsley over the top. Cut into appropriate portions and serve.

Squash and Zucchini Marinara

When I planned my kitchen garden this year, I greatly underestimated the amount of sunlight my little corner of the yard would get over the course of the summer. As a result it’s flush with pole beans, mustard greens, beets, spinach and chard (although the last two never grew, argh!), instead of tomatoes, cukes, and summer squash.

Sometime in July I noticed some suspicious “weeds” in the soil, but since I’d been away for a week I actually noticed that their leaves looked a lot like those characteristic of squash (and zucchini, and pumpkins, and everything else in the Cucurbita family). HALLELUJAH!

They haven’t actually developed fruit yet, probably because of the incredibly rainy first half of the summer, but it put me in the mood for summer squash. This dish is one of my favorite ways to do several things: use summer squash, eat warm vegetables, and pretend to eat lots and lots of guilt-free pasta.

The trick is to slice the squash and zucchini with a vegetable peeler, then leave the inner seed-y cores for another meal. It takes a couple of minutes per squash to make the “pasta.”

Kiki loved this part of our meal last week and I should have posted this a while ago so she could make it at home. Props go to Mike for the recipe, of course, who came up with this last winter (or at least shared it with me then).

Squash and Zucchini Marinara
Serves 4-6

~2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 red onion, diced
1 shallot, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz can petite diced tomatoes, juice reserved
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 Tbsp dried basil (Italian seasoning mix would work, too)
Capful of vermouth or vodka
Salt and pepper, to taste
1-2 oz. shaved Parmesan

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in the bottom of a 2-quart saucepan until shimmering, then saute onion and shallot with a few pinches of salt and pepper for 3-4 minutes, until soft. Add garlic and saute for about 30 seconds. Add diced tomatoes and saute for about 2 minutes, then add reserved juice, crushed tomatoes, dried basil, vermouth, and a few more pinches of salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes.

While simmering sauce, create squash and zucchini pasta by slicing thin with a vegetable peeler. Reserve the seed-y cores for another meal.

When sauce is almost done, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a saute pan. Add squash and zucchini and saute for 3-4 minutes. Add sauce to pan and toss to coat. Cook for about 2 minutes, then serve with shaved Parmesan.

Adding salt, pepper, and other seasonings is best when done in “layers.” In other words, add flavor every time you add a “set” of ingredients.