Saturday, April 30, 2011

Kale Chips

  My daughter wanted me to post this recipe for Kale chips since she has been craving them and bought a bunch of kale to make them. We have come to love Kale in the last couple of years. Kale is a powerhouse of nutrition! It is a great source of near –perfect protein, having the score of 92 out of 100, meaning it has almost all the essential amino acids. It is an incredible source of Vitamin K at 684%  and Vitamin A at 206% of the RDA.  It is an excellent source of Vitamin C, B6, manganese, and calcium and a good source of many other B vitamins, copper, potassium with some iron and magnesium. It is high in phytonutrients which fight cancer.  Kale has more calcium per calorie than dairy products and may be better absorbed.
Okay, now for making a tasty snack from this nutritional powerhouse. These chips are incredibly light, crunchy and have a hearty flavor. They remind me a bit of Nori paper but crispier. People really love these, even those who don’t normally eat kale. These have been compared to potato chips but the flavor is unique.
You really do need to try these!

Baked Kale Chips Or Kale Crisps for my British friends :-)
One big bunch kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Some people added ½ a tsp of chili powder or other spice or even 1 tsp vinegar although this may affect color
Preheat oven to 320°F. Rinse and dry the kale, (salad spinner is optimal- get them dry!) Use a knife to cut out and remove the stems and tough center ribs.
Cut into large pieces ( be sure it is uniform), toss with olive oil in a bowl, ziplock bag or container with lid- be sure every piece gets some oil. I like to massage each leaf, good for leaf and good for my hands J
Then sprinkle with salt, sea salt or kosher. Arrange leaves in a Single layer on a large baking sheet. If the overlap at all, use two baking sheets. They will not crisp up if they are not in a single layer.
Bake for 16-22 minutes or until crisp, may turn with spatula. Begin checking  at 14 minutes and check often.  They should be crispy but not brown. If some are getting done, gently remove them and finish off the rest.  Place baking sheet on a rack to cool.

Do not cover before they are completely cooled. I think they are best served right away. If they do lose their crisp, you can heat them a bit on a baking sheet.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lime sherbet punch

A few of you have asked for the punch recipe from the baby shower. I am new to blogging and not sure if this is the right way to do this so help me out if this is not cool to do but I got the recipe from foodnetwork. It is Paula Deen's recipe. I am not sure if I am allowed to copy it so how about I tell you that I made it pretty much as directed except I did not add cherries. I also mixed the pinapple juice and ginger ale together and then added the sherbet and topped with lemon & lime slices. Here is the link for Lime sherbet punch:

In case the link every does not work, here is the lime punch recipe as I modified it. Lime Sherbet Punch Recipe Paula Deen  Ingredients 2 quarts lime sherbet ( However, I used one Quart per large bowl) 2 liters ginger ale ( I used between 1-1 /12 Liter) 1 large can pineapple juice, Lemon and Lime slices ( I added a little lime juice to give it a bit of tart) As I said, I mixed the ginger ale and pinapple juice together with some lime juice. Then I poured the juice mix into the bowl and added dollops of well frozen lime sherbet. Then I topped liberally with sliced limes and lemons. Yield:18 to 20 servings

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Awards and such

 I should post the two sets of awards my blogging friends have sent my way.

My first came from Giulietta at . She has a wonderful blog from Italy and she translates many of her recipes so English speakers can enjoy them, too! I love seeing some authentic italian recipes to try!It makes me hugry just to look at the pictures. Thank you much to Giulietta for sharing some kind praise.

I also received a nice bunch of awards from Parsley sage over at . Her blog is a fun and delicious blend of wonderful recipes, restaurant reviews, travel food stories and a slice of life in the Cayman Islands. I love the way she writes and can't wait to try some of her recipes. Thanks, Parsley sage!

One thing that I am supposed to do with this the 7 facts award is to share 7 facts about me. Hmmm.

1. I live at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and I REALLY love it but I grew up on the coast of California and I do miss the ocean.

2. I have a  fun, kind, generous husband and two kids who have been such a joy to me! They are source of wonder and amazement. My son is a musician and my daughter is an artist so my home is always full of song, art and lively conversation.

3. I love to travel and try to do so without spending too much. I have been to Japan, Thailand, England, Scotland, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Mexico, Israel and all over the western and eastern United States.

4. I love music and I am so glad my town has a good local music scene so I can go to lots of concerts. I like many different kinds of music.

5. I have been a caterer and cooking instructor even though I am not formally trained as a chef. I love to cook but I still have a lot to learn! I really started learning to cook when I was in college and read Joy of cooking cover to cover. Now it is mostly intuitive experimentation.

6. I think life is meant to be an adventure and I always want to be experiencing and learning new things.

7. I really love people- meeting new friends and hanging out with all kinds of people. I think having a really good conversation is one of my favorite things ever!

Well, I am going to pass these on but I will update later. I am babysitting two preschoolers and need to go visit an imaginary house in our backyard.

Some other visitors who join us for lunch

American Gold Finch

Okay, so people are not the only ones who come by for a meal here. I had to show you some of my little feathered friends who drop by for a snack. I hope you don't mind :-)

  Oh and let me show you a little of why I love spring in Colorado

Okay, next post will be of things edible :-)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Glazed roasted vegetables

This photo doesn't do these glazed veggies justice
I just wanted to pop in and post the dish I made tonight because it was so good. I know roasted vegetables may seem like a fall dish but here in Colorado we still get some cool rainy or snowy days even in spring so this dish fits well with the weather. But really, I make roasted vegetables year round. Tonight, I added a bit more sweetness and it was declared to be "scrumptious" and "so wonderful" by the family. Try it at your house :-)

Glazed roasted vegetables

Four large servings

1 very large sweet potato
3 parsnips
3 carrots
1 red onion
Could add a rutabaga if desired

8 or so dried figs, quartered
½ cup or so walnuts, chopped
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut vegetables up in small bite sized chunks. Mix in a bowl with 1 TBSP olive oil and 1 tsp balsamic vinegar.
Use a large baking sheet (about 13x18 ish). You may cover in foil for easy clean up. Oil pan with 1 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil. Place vegetables on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper and crushed red pepper. Do not cover. Place in 400 oven for about 20 minutes minutes, turning a once during cooking with a spatula.
Remove from oven and add quartered figs and walnuts
Mix 1 ½ TBSP molasses
1 TBSP honey
2 Tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp mustard
2 tsp olive oil
Drizzle over veggies and turn to coat.
Return to oven and bake another 10 -20 minutes

Check for doneness after it has been in about 30 minutes. It is done when vegetables are soft with a nice crispy crust. 
This can be served with grilled meat or chicken but the last few times I have served it along side pasta with goat cheese, parmesan, pesto, and broccoli. The contrast of sweet and salty was delicious. 

Recipe by Denise Birdsall 2011. All rights reserved

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Insalata Caprese with infused Olive Oil

        I like to make this simple fresh tasting salad of tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil often in summer months when I have an abundance of tomatoes and basil but it can be made year around. The real classic Italian version, according to what I have heard,  just layers those three and drizzles with olive oil. I like to make it with marinated mozzarella and then use infused oil on the salad. There are a couple ways to layer it but let me share the one I use when I am not looking to use up a huge amount of basil but instead just have a bit.
          First I make up a flavorful olive oil. This last time for the baby shower, I infused the oil with Basil, Thyme and Marjoram. Infusing oils can be a bit tricky in this- once you add plant materials, especially those full of moisture like basil, garlic, or lemon zest, you MUST use the oil quickly for fear of spoilage or even botulism. The time you can keep the oil will increase if you infuse with heat, but for this recipe, I am making enough to be used in just a few days so I cold infuse it and store it in the refrigerator.  Don’t be afraid of this, just remember to use it within 3 days or so. If you want to make ahead, use dried herbs. Once the moisture is dried out of the leaves, you could store the infused oil for much longer. I just add a fresh sprig or two when serving.
          Of course- you do not need to make the oil.  Buy olive oil already infused or even use a high quality store bought Italian or balsamic vinaigrette, although vinegar is not in traditional caprese. You can use a nice quality olive oil without any herbs at all.  The infused oil tastes really good but it is fine to have this salad with other options!
Use fresh mozzarella not the aged kind. Fresh is soft, tender and very mild.
Alright, on to the recipe...
Insalata Caprese with infused Olive Oil
12-16 oz fresh mozerella, log shaped is best for slicing in ¼” or so slices
Olive Oil infused with Basil, Thyme and Marjoram (recipe below)
4 or so large ripe roma or other tomato, in about ¼ inch slices
¼ -1/3 cup fresh basil leaves,

Make the infused oil if you are using it. After it has had a chance to meld for between 2-12 hours, slice the mozzarella. It is easier to slice if it is very cold. Place in bag or container with ½ of the infused oil (or salad dressing or olive oil) and put in the refrigerator for another 1-4 hours. (If you need to do this before work for dinner party, you could wait up to 8 but 2-4 is best. ) Again, you could skip this step and use plain mozzarella.
Find a large round glass dish like a large pie or quiche pan, Slice tomatoes and remove mozzarella from marinade, reserving marinade. Pour a small puddle of oil used in marinade in bottom of pan. Then, starting in the center, layer mozzarella and tomato in a circular pattern. (If you have a huge crop of basil you could layer with basil too)
Once the circle is complete, cut the basil in a chiffonade. By that I mean- take about 8 leaves of basil, stack them on top of one another, roll them up like a cigar and make small slices. You can also make larger slices for this salad. (Or just chop the basil any way you desire)Generously sprinkle basil on top. Drizzle with some more of the infused olive oil and then place some of the oil in a pretty carafe and leave next to salad to be added as desired.
Serve with bread or crackers for an appetizer or as a salad.
Store left over oil in the refrigerate and use within 3-4 days or discard. Do not use after four days if you used basil or fresh herbs to infuse!

Olive Oil infused with Basil, Thyme and Marjoram
¼ c Basil                                                                     
Fresh herbs-6 sprigs or 3 tsp dried herbs
½ tsp garlic powder and ½ tsp lemon pepper
1 cup good tasting fresh olive oil
Have a pan of boiling water and about ¼ cup basil leaves. Blanch them for a minute or two then remove with slotted spoon or strainer. Pat dry. In same water, add 6 sprigs of fresh herbs---thyme and/or marjoram and/or rosemary—whatever you have on hand. (If you don’t have fresh herbs, dried is great but skip the blanching for dried herbs.) Blanch 1 minute and remove and pat dry.
In food processor or blender, blend up basil and a half cup of olive oil till smooth with very fine bits left. Let this sit in food processor for about 20 minutes then strain through a very fine sieve into large salad dressing container or mini pitcher or covered bowl.  Add another ½ cup of oil and the sprigs or dried herbs. Add garlic powder and perhaps some lemon pepper.
Put this into the refrigerator to meld for 2 -12 hours.  If it is too thick to pour, let it set our for afew minutes or heat a bit. After that, use ½  to marinate mozzarella and save the rest to serve with the salad. Use up left over oil within 3-4 days-- Do NOT use after four days if you used basil or fresh herbs to infuse! If you used only dried herbs it can keep for much longer, store in the refrigerator to be safe.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cream Cheese Mints

This recipe for Cream Cheese Mints comes from my new blogging friend, Cassie. She is getting married in a couple of weeks and made these for her wedding. The mints she made look so classy and elegant with white  sugar and fancy molds!! Check them out and take a look at her wonderful blog- Bake your Day! Thanks Cassie and best wishes for your wedding!
Since I was making these for a Baby shower, I picked up some bright colored sugars and nonpareils at Target, of all places, in the dollar section  J but you can find colored sugars in the cake section of the market or a craft store. I was going with a theme of yellow and green because I had those colors but ran out and threw a few purple ones in too. I had some peppermint candy on hand…okay, they were candy canes and yes I know it is April but I love using crushed candy canes so I buy extra at Christmas and I had a handful left. I crushed them up and threw them in the mix. They have a nice flavor. I love vanilla along with the peppermint extract but you could skip it if you prefer only mint.
Even though I have trouble making things look good, these turned out quite pretty and they are tasty but very rich and sweet! I think a smaller mold would be nice, but I only had a large heart mold and so that is what I used. These would be nice for things like weddings, showers, parties and teas. I am storing extras in the freezer for another big gathering like that, which if you know me, means maybe next week or so J

Cream Cheese Mints

It is best if you have candy molds for this, like small hearts or whatever you want. Get them at craft stores. You could use small cookie cutters and roll it out but molds seem optimal.
8 ounces cream cheese
2 pounds powdered sugar (I used less, about a cup or cup and a half or so less than 2 lb bag)
1 – 1 ½ tsp peppermint extract (more or less to taste)
½ tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup finely crushed peppermint candies such as candy canes or starburst mints, optional  
Granulated sugar for rolling and dusting molds OR if you would like, use colored sugar or nonpareils or sprinkles.

 In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip cream cheese. Add about a tsp of peppermint extract and a ½ tsp vanilla
Slowly add powdered sugar, small amounts at a time mixing until incorporated.
Crush peppermint candy by placing the candy in a zip-lock bag and crushing with a mallet or heavy can. Or you could use a food processor to crush.
Add the crushed candy.

Taste and add more peppermint extract, a little at a time, if it needs more,
Place a couple tablespoons of colored sugar (or whatever you want to use) into a small round bowl.
Roll Cream cheese mixture into small balls and place into bowl to roll around in sugar. I used a small scoop or two teaspoons to do that. If the mixture is too sticky, you could refrigerate a bit.

Press into molds of your choosing, allow to them to set for a few minutes. I put them in the freezer for a few minutes then popped them out into a plastic container. I kept them in the freezer until just before the shower so they would keep well. I think they would be fine refrigerated for a bit or placed in freezer for longer storage.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Busy week of Baby showers and other fun cooking adventures

Cream cheese mints
Hello friends in the bloggoshere. I have been a bit remiss getting a post out. It has been a busy, busy week with a fun filled weekend with a baby shower, two meals with friends, and a little party. There was much cooking just not much time on the computer.But let me give you a taste of some of the things I made for the baby shower that I may want to share here.

Cream cheese mints colored for the baby shower

Some of the fun things I made this weekend.

Green tea and almond short bread cookies, which were a bit too green but fun and tasty nonetheless.

The extra green cookies :-) did look nice with the Lemon Squares


 Caprese Salad with herb infused basil oil


Brie baked in Phyllo cups with raspberry preserves

Retro punch with Lime sherbet


          I also made hot cheesy artichoke dip, fruit with cream cheese dip, vegetables with hummus and ranch dip.

It was a fun Party!

    Perhaps this was not technically "Dinner" so I am not sure if the recipes belong here, but would anyone like to see a recipe for any of these? Let me know.




Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spicy, Sweet & Smoky Yams

         My blog has been up and running for ONE month! I didn’t realize how fun and addicting it is to write a food blog! I am so grateful for each person reading this and hope you have all found something to further your cooking creativity and enjoyment! I have appreciated the patience of all my friends who have been wanting to have a cook book and while that idea is still alive, I hope this blog is giving you some fun new recipes to try! I am very pleased to have “met” so many new friends, from all over, who come here to see what's for dinner :-)
      Today, my post is another simple side dish. I suppose I should have something spectacular to share but while this dish is simple it is delicious.
      I had the delightful opportunity to have a young family join us for dinner last weekend. We decided on a menu of something down home and kid friendly and since spring was in the air, I cooked burgers outside on the grill. A nice accompaniment to grilled meats is roasted sweet potatoes. 

     Last year, I wanted to try something different for our roasted sweet potatoes. I asked my family what they would like, spicy, sweet or smoky -one said spicy and another said sweet. I wanted smoky. So, I started looking around for a way to combine these flavors. Although it was not all I was looking for in my quest for spicy, sweet and smoky, I really liked the recipe for spicy sweet potato wedges on adapted from Gourmet, January 2002
    That one gave me some inspiration for a different combo of spicy flavors including fennel seed. For sweet, I added some brown sugar and I have tried it with extra bit of maple syrup or molasses- both have worked well. The smoky tones came from a favorite spice combo- smoky paprika and chipotle.

        Now I realize all these flavors can be complex and might not be what everyone is looking for so do adapt it. If you don’t want too much spicy heat, skip red pepper and chipotle. You could skip the brown sugar and maple, but realize they add a lot of caramelization and give this dish its crispy, chewy texture so you will lose that along with the sweetness. If you are not a fan of smoky, use regular paprika and ground red chili.If you like smoky but can’t find smoked paprika, see if you can find a smoked salt or a hickory spice mix to add in ( but use less, maybe 1 tsp)
 Make this your own, but this combo of flavors is a nice surprise when people are expecting something like thanksgiving yams J
A hint on ground coriander: These are the seeds of the cilantro plant. If you happen to grow cilantro in the summer, let some of it go to seed towards the end and you can get some coriander seeds to use in many recipes. By the way, coriander and cilantro do not taste anything like each other. Coriander is a nice addition to this but if you don’t have any on your spice shelf…well, you should get some, but if you don’t just skip it.
I probably don’t need to tell you but sweet potatoes have excellent nutritional value. One gives one fourth of daily fiber. It is a good source of Vitamin B6 and Potassium, a great  source of Vitamin C and Manganese and a ridiculously great source of vitamin A at 796% RDA!
You can use any fresh sweet potato, which are also called yams in the USA. I like the Beauregard yams but use what you find. They should not be too stringy or fibrous. You could also try this with butternut squash.
Enough already- here is my recipe for Spicy, Sweet and Smoky Yams

Spicy, Sweet & Smoky Yams

1 tsp fennel seeds, whole
¾ teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano, leaf not powder
¼ teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, more or less to taste
2 teaspoons coriander
2 teaspoon smoked paprika, or more
1 teaspoon onion powder
½- ¾ teaspoon chipotle chili powder, or more
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar, or more
1 ½ tablespoon real maple syrup (or more brown sugar with maybe a bit of molasses )
1 ½ teaspoon kosher  or smoked salt and a few grinds of black pepper
2 ½-3 pounds medium sweet potatoes (about 5-6 Beauregard yams)
3-4  tablespoons light olive oil or canola oil

Preheat oven to 425. 
You could grind spices with a mortar and pestle or  grinder or use my method : I simple place fennel seeds, marjoram, red pepper on a dry cutting board before cutting up the sweet potatoes. Use a big knife to chop them up. The fennel will jump around so use a big board. Place chopped spice with other spices, sugar, dry seasoning in bowl.
Peel and chop sweet potato into large 1-  1 ½ ” chunks and toss them with the spice mixture.  I like to do this an hour or two before cooking so that I can let it set for an hour or more in a zip-lock bag or bowl.
Add syrup, 3 TBSP olive oil to yams and mix thoroughly. (Zip-lock bag is great for this). Brush a little oil on heavy cooking sheet or roasting pan. It is best to use a heavy pan for this. You could line it with heavy foil if desired to make clean up easier. Lay out yams in single layer.
Pop it into the oven for 15-20 minutes, uncovered, then take it out and flip them all over with a wide spatula. Bake in the oven for 10-15 more minutes. Remove from oven. If not serving immediately you can leave on the counter for a little bit then put back in hot oven for a few minutes just before serving but do not cover them tightly at any time or you will lose the nice crunchy texture.
Makes 7 – 10 servings.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lemony Risotto

Risotto is a dish that takes a little loving care but is really quite easy to make well. I am going to give you all the instructions you need to make a delicious risotto with a lemony twist that will compliment the blackened salmon recipe I gave you a few days ago but is also quite able to take a starring role as a light main dish. You always have options with my recipes so note the optional vegetables at the end that you can add. Fennel is awesome in this risotto but can be a bit pricy and not everyone likes fennel. Asparagus is a great option for spring. However, this risotto is wonderful without any extras, too.

Risotto, for those who may not have experienced it, is a creamy, flavorful rice that does not use lots of cheese or any cream. Instead, the creaminess comes from the rice itself and the way it is prepared. You could even skip the cheese/butter altogether if lactose is an issue!

A note on the rice for risotto: the only rice I can recommend for this is Arborio rice. I have not used anything else. It is now widely available in American markets. When I first started making risotto, around 12 years ago, Arborio rice was very hard to find and I had to go to specialty stores to get it.

The risotto I will share today is kissed with a bit of lemony goodness that compliments fish, chicken or can be a main dish.  Remember, my recipes are guidelines that can be varied or altered to fit the tastes of your dinner guests! As I said, you could skip the butter and cheese, although I would not unless I am serving this to vegan or lactose intolerant friends.  If you don’t have parsley or almonds, that would be fine, too. As you can see from my photo, I did not garnish much this time.  Just play with this. I will post a mushroom risotto soon!

Lemony Risotto

  1 1/2  TBSP Butter
  1 1/2    TBSP Olive Oil, -- Extra Virgin
 1 Small Onion, diced, about  1/2 -3/4 Cup 
  2 Garlic Cloves – crushed or minced
  2  1/4   Cups  Arborio Rice
  4-6 Cups Broth, See note
1-2 cups water
1 large lemon, whole. Use more lemon if you prefer!
1 tsp. lemon pepper
1 tsp. herb mix such as Herbs de Provence or Italian
 1 Cup White Wine
½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 to 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese,
Salt, to taste (about a tsp.)
1/3-1/2 cup or so sliced almonds, optional

Note:  Broth for risotto can be homemade or canned/boxed and, of course, homemade is best but I honestly use a box most of the time. For lemon risotto, I would use chicken or vegetable if there will be vegetarians at table. The stock gives the risotto its flavor so do use a good one. When you begin, place broth on stove to simmer during the whole cooking process. It should stay as hot as the risotto pan.  I normally use 4-5 cups and add a cup of water into the simmering pot. If you run low on broth, add more water to the pot and keep it simmering. If you prefer to omit the white wine, you may substitute an extra cup of broth but this is not recommended.

Using a wide saucepan, oversized skillet or dutch oven, heat on medium low and add butter and olive oil. Sauté onion for a couple minutes.
While this is cooking, wash lemon. You may use one large, or two small lemons or even add a bit of bottled lemon juice to make this more flavorful. Next zest the lemon, using a zester or a grater. Your goal is to get the “zest” which is the yellow part of the skin but not the white bitter layer. Once it is zested/grated, chop the zest very, very fine. Juice the lemon, removing seeds. Half of the lemon juice will go into broth along with half of the zest. Also, throw the lemon rinds in the broth (and leave them in broth pan, don’t place in with rice J )
Now add the garlic to the onion in the big pan and sauté for a minute. Add Arborio rice and stir for a couple minutes with a wooden spoon over medium-low heat.  Add lemon pepper and herbs along with white wine and stir until most of the wine is absorbed.
A note on stirring risotto, you will need to stir almost constantly to get the nice creamy texture. This is a good job for one of your guests that want to help. Stir gently in a figure 8 pattern for optimum results. Do not batter the rice grains and try to stir every part of the pot.
Once most of the wine is absorbed and the track of the spoon remains in the rice, add a ladle or two of hot broth. Stirring, repeat this process as each cup of stock is absorbed. 
Begin checking for doneness after about 15 minutes. It is done when the rice is al dente, tender on the outside with a bit of chewiness on the inside.
You should be keeping an eye on the level of broth and save about a 1/3-1/2 cup of stock to add just before rice is done. If you are getting low, add a bit of water, or more broth if you have it handy.
Once rice is a 2-4 minutes from done, add the rest of the lemon zest and lemon juice. About 1 minute from done, add the last ladle of broth and lower heat. Once the rice is the perfect al dente texture,toss in ¼ c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and gently mix.  Just before serving, add the chopped parsley, reserving a bit to garnish the top on the plate. Once your guests are seated, plate up the risotto and garnish with a bit more of the cheese, parsley and slice almonds if desired.
This makes 4 or so servings as a side dish.
Vegetable options- If you would like you could add in one of these optional vegetables -
1 small fennel bulb, Or 1 sm. bunch asparagus
With Fennel- If using Fennel I thinly slice the bulb and add to onions with the garlic.  I put the upper stalks in with the broth to flavor it but I do not add them to the risotto. I save a few fronds to garnish at the end.
With Asparagus – After removing tough woody bit at the bottom, I cut it into bite-sized pieces. Add the lower parts to the broth about 5 minutes before risotto is done (12-15 minutes into cooking) and add the tender tops right at the end, about 1-2 minute before the last ladle.

Recipe by Denise Birdsall. All rights reserved 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pasta salad with vinaigrette

Today's recipe is simple yet quite tasty and colorful.  I like to have a few good salad recipes that I can whip up easily for a quick addition to spring and summer meals. This pasta salad has long been a family favorite with grilled foods, picnics or sandwiches. Tonight I wanted to make it for a meal I was taking over to a friend’s house. Several friends were coming to help her move. Pasta salad is quick to make and easy to take with me so it worked well and tasted great!
This salad is very adaptable. Choose any of the listed ingredients to include or come up with your own unique additions!  
Pasta salad with vinaigrette
12 oz or so tri –color rotini spiral pasta (or plain if you can’t find the multi-colored)
1/2 -3/4  cup  vinaigrette * or Italian dressing

Choose all or most of these to add:           
1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts
½ or more of one large can black olives 
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 red or sweet onion, thinly sliced or diced
1 cucumber – peeled, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed or crushed
tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. each salt, garlic powder, onion, powder

Some other optional add-ins:
5 oz. or so grape tomatoes or 1 large plum tomato, diced
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced               
1/3 cup  mild pickled peppers, chopped
2 carrots, thinly sliced or grated
 4-6 oz. pepperoni slices (turkey pepperoni is good for less fat. Cut each slice in half)
 ½- 1 cup mozzarella, cut In 1/2 Inch Cubes
 2  Tbsp grated parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to box instructions and drain. You may choose to rinse briefly in cold water OR place it un-rinsed in a large bowl. Immediately pour vinaigrette over pasta. You may refrigerate at this point and then add vegetables and other items a couple hours before serving. Next, prep whatever veggies you choose to add, chopping into bite sized pieces. Add at least five items for best results. Wait for pasta to cool before adding cheese or pepperoni. Once you have added everything you wish to include, place salad in refrigerator until serving.
*To make a vinaigrette
1-2  TBSN. wine vinegar or rice vinegar
1 TBSN balsamic vinegar
 1 clove pressed garlic,
Italian Herbs, salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar or honey, optional
1 tsp. mustard, optional

Shake or whisk well.

Add 3-4 Tbsp. light olive oil, while whisking and/or shake very well.

If you need to you can use bottled Italian dressing: Good seasonings Italian or Newman's Own dressing are good choices.

Recipe By Denise Birdsall

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Blackened Salmon

It is starting to look like spring has really arrived! The skies have been a brilliant robin’s egg blue with white puffy clouds, the trees are budding, the birds abound and the grass is greening up. I live in a seriously beautiful place at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Northern Colorado. When it is so beautiful outside, I want to enjoy long walks and don’t get back home to cook quite as early as I did in the winter. I still want to have something wonderful to serve my family and friends, but I want it to be something I can get on the table quickly. My blackened salmon and lemony risotto fit the bill perfectly. So today I will post the Salmon recipe.
Salmon- you have heard multiple times how good it is for you. Seriously, we should eat salmon a couple times a month or more. Some say every week but that can be difficult. A decade or so ago, I kept hearing about the health benefits of salmon and I determined to cook it more. However, I had eaten it a few times and didn’t really think I liked it. Fish has been a slowly acquired taste for me. So I looked for a way to cook it that I would like and settled on blackened. I found out I that I enjoyed salmon cooked this way!
“Blackened” means that it has a nice crust of spicy goodness that gets dark and intense. It does not mean to char the fish black. I have made this for many years, mixing up the spice concoction by taste and mood of the day. It always varies. But, in order to share this recipe I have been endeavoring to come up with a basic mix of spice and herbs. The one here is not too spicy and can be adapted. For kids or those who dislike heat in spice, skip the red pepper and cumin. If you want to make this a little different, skip the dill and thyme, add more cumin and a tsp of cinnamon for a Moroccan like flair. For a lemon-spice salmon, lower the pepper and cumin and add some lemon juice before the spice mixture and at the end to finish the dish off. You should experiment to find out what you like but first try it this way and see what you think.
To skin or not to skin…Some people prefer to leave the skin on salmon to serve but I remove the skin. If you like the skin, skip those steps and leave it on.  Just put the spice on the skinless side and cook it up. Another preference I have is to cook the salmon a little longer than some folks do. We like it that way but if you prefer, reduce the cooking a bit. Recipes are not rules; they are guidelines to be individualized!
As you can see in the photo, I like to serve this with a risotto or rice dish. I will post my Lemony risotto recipe next for a nice company meal. I add a steamed vegetable or roasted asparagus and perhaps a salad with lemon vinaigrette with a light dessert for the menu. If I am low on time, I serve this salmon with plain basmati rice and it is still a wonderful meal and perhaps more kid friendly.
How to make Blackened Salmon

Select a nice piece of salmon, about 1/3 lb per person. Any wild caught salmon can be a good choice. I like it much better than farm raised and so I usually find it worth the price. I like to use wild sock-eye salmon but I get whatever is a good deal and looks the best for the money. I have no problem using frozen salmon; it still tastes great.
Fillets should have firm texture, not separating or feathering. It should not smell fishy or feel slimy. I like thick pieces of fish if available but choose quality over thickness. Color varies with the type of salmon so don’t use color as a guide. Cook salmon as soon as possible, one or two days is best. If you are keeping it longer, salmon does freeze well. Do not let salmon sit out, in your car or on your counter. Fish spoils quickly and is very bad indeed!
To cook I rinse the fillet and pat dry. Using tweezers I keep in the kitchen for this purpose, I pull out any bones I find. If fillet is too big for the pan, cut it up.
This is a step you can include or skip, but if I have time, I like to start by roasting my spices a bit. I like to take a heavy pan, heat it and toss in about 2ish Tablespoons of the blackening spices(recipe below). Cook for a minute or two, stirring. You will notice it getting fragrant but don’t directly inhale it, it can be strong.  BEFORE it starts smoking, pour it onto a plate.
OR just start by pouring  a Tablespoon or two of spice mix (recipe below) on a plate.
In the same heavy pan, heat a few tsp of oil. You can skip the oil if you have a nice thick skin on the salmon and a non-stick pan. Press the skinless side of salmon into spice. Shake off excess. Lay salmon skin side down in pan. Let it heat in hot pan until the skin is getting a bit crispy and pulls away. Pick up with spatula and flip. Using spatula and tongs or whatever works, pull skin off fillet. Discard. Press a bit of spice on this side now. After a couple minutes, carefully turn over with spatula, trying not to lose the spicy crust. Cook a minute or so and see if it is done how you like it. I like salmon somewhat well done that is firm and pale pink throughout just beginning to be flaky but not too dry. Or cook until there is just a translucent shiny bit in the middle. Some people like it rarer than that. It is a personal thing.
I like to time this to be ready to serve when it is done. If you must, cover and keep warm for a few minutes.

Blackening spice basics
Make up the spice blend that may be used for 4-6 lb or so salmon or other fish or chicken. Once you make it store in a cool, dry place and use as needed. When using this to make fish, take out just what you need and throw away any that is left on the plate.
Vary the flavor by changing up the mix to suit your taste.
4 tsp, paprika
3 Tsp. old bay spice or other seafood mix ( if you don’t have this, use more  paprika, red pepper, onion, garlic  and maybe cumin or ginger)
3 tsp. Thyme
1 ½-2 tsp. garlic powder
1 ½-2 tsp. onion powder
1 ½-2 tsp, Dill or better yet Dill blend (such as Deliciously Dill with lemon, ginger)
2  tsp. salt
2 tsp. lemon pepper
1-2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp ground red pepper
½-1 tsp cumin
½ tsp ginger

Mix these together and if not using right away, store in airtight container.

Thanks to Zac and Kaitlyn for the nice photos!  Thanks for the suggestion Katie!

Recipe by DeniseBirdall 2011. All rights reserved