Cheesy Kale and Orzo

May 22, 2012

At nearly the age of four, our daughter sat in disbelief  in front of a bowl of mac and cheese served by a friend of ours.  “But it’s not green?”  She couldn’t fit the bowl of creamy goodness into her limited epicurean understanding of the world, mostly because her mother had apparently spent her ultra-formative years fooling her into thinking that all mac and cheese had pureed spinach or kale as an integral part.  But before you jump to conclusions and label me a crazy mom who withholds hard-earned icons of American childhood (probably no hot dogs or Oreos either!), consider that the addition of these rich greens actually makes the dish taste better (and triples the nutritional value of course)!  And not just to adults either, our kids prefer this as well.  Just look at the happy girl then and now! (But you are right about the Oreos, we have held back on those.  Perhaps you know of a fantastic recipe to make them at home and would like to share a link below!)

Cheesy Kale and Orzo is the next generation of mac and cheese at our dinner table.  It satisfies our kids’ desire for cheesy pasta, yet holds its own as a more sophisticated side for grilled salmon (our protein of choice these days).  The orzo cooks in the fashion of a risotto, so it has a chance to soak up the white wine and rich chicken broth.  Kale, steamed and blended fine, mixes in and colors the dish a deep green. Fresh cut chives and Parmesan add a bit more flavor and creaminess at the end.

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One trip to the Farmers’ Market is enough to know that spring is truly here.  Mounds of fava beans, pea shoots, and strawberries compete for space with kale, beets, and last season’s  potatoes.  My kids and I headed over last weekend to pick up some fresh foods and the obligatory honey sticks.  When we returned home, our house was unpleasantly warm thanks to unseasonably sultry weather.  It may have been too hot to cook, but it was the perfect temperature to put together some quick refrigerator pickles.

Pickled Spring Vegetables are an Asian-inspired quick pickle.   Quick pickles are a fantastic use for all sorts of vegetables and do not require time or canning equipment.   I used Easter egg radishes, fresh nantes carrots, and leeks from our trip to the market, though you could also use cucumbers, onions, daikon radishes, or just about any other vegetable you want to pickle.  The brine is based on rice wine vinegar and lime juice that tempers the sweetness.  These pickles have hints of flavor from slices of ginger, garlic and cilantro.  Slice up the veggies and pour over the brine.  The pickles will be ready to eat in under an hour.  Letting them sit overnight will intensify the flavor, if they last that long.

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Spring is officially here.  Time for fresh potatoes, crisp peas, and tender greens.  This dish celebrates them all.  With no resemblance to its more traditional mayo-based cousin, this potato salad is fresh and crisp with a delicate balance between marinated potatoes, plump peas, crunchy toasted walnuts, and peppery arugula.  The whole lot is tossed in a simple mustard vinaigrette to make an uncomplicated, appetizing side dish for any spring meal.

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Pickled Beets with Cumin

March 22, 2012

Pickled Beets with Cumin.  Who would have thought that such a short list of ingredients could produce a condiment with so much flavor, texture, and interest?  After making these for the first time, I have been determined to keep the refrigerator stocked with them ever since.  A huge thanks to Linda Ziedrich to introducing me to this recipe via The Joy of Pickling.

To prepare, roast the beets until just tender.  Peel and dice them into small chunks, then drown them in red wine vinegar infused with peppercorns, salt, and of course cumin.  Cap them off and keep them in the refrigerator.  Letting them sit at least a few days will allow the flavors to meld.  They will keep up to 3 weeks.

These tasty chunks of beet are fantastic on their own, but pair them with feta and you have a very tasty snack.  Toss a few in the salad along with the vinegar and finish up with a drizzle of olive oil for an easy salad dressing.  There are probably a million more ways to eat these, but the beets never stick around long enough for me to dream up new ideas.  How will you eat them?

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The first time I ate this rice was at a park potluck picnic.  A number of families gathered with our very small children trying to eek out some semblance of a dinner party  while our children ran wild over, under, and around the play structure.  It truly is the perfect potluck dish- full of interesting flavors and textures, stays well at room temperature, and is quite easy to whip up in advance.  Since that night, this dish has become my secret weapon.  It starred at not one, but three baby showers that I threw over the last few years, pairing beautifully with an Asian chicken salad.  It has also been a hit at multiple potlucks.

Curried Mango Rice with Cashews could not be easier to make.  Cook up some brown rice and let it cool.  Mix together a dressing with curry paste and lime juice.  Then toss it all together with diced mango, toasted cashews, and crunchy pepitas (pumpkin seeds).  Since the dressing is not cooked, it is important to use curry paste, instead of dry curry.  The paste has been cooked a bit in oil in advance.  Regarding the mango, this time of year it is easy to find fresh mangos in the market, but to save time or make this out of season, look for mango chunks in the freezer section.  We buy them at Trader Joe’s to make in this rice and add to smoothies or oatmeal.

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