Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Orzo & Rice Salad

This delicious salad comes to me by way of a Middle Eastern friend of my daughter. It has become one of my favorite side dishes to make, and is chock full of a wonderful blend of textures and flavors. I especially like it for summertime barbeques or potluck gatherings as it is tasty either cold or at room temperature, and can be made a day in advance.  

The base of the dish is a mixture of orzo pasta and wild rice. The orzo serves as the dish's main ingredient, and is a great base to soak up the flavors of the vegetables and the balsamic vinegar/lemon juice/olive oil vinaigrette dressing.  The wild rice lends a nice, nutty, chewy texture to the mixture.

The vegetables can be varied to suit your taste, but some, like the green onions, parsley and red  pepper, in my opinion, are must-haves to either boost flavor or add wonderful color to the dish. Other essentials include the raisins and walnuts, raisins for their sweetness and walnuts for the crunch.

The salad is easy to prepare and is best after a few hours when the flavors have had a chance to blend and fully penetrate the rice and pasta. As you can see from the photos, it has a wonderful mix of colors and goes well with any grilled, broiled or roasted meat.

Orzo & Wild Rice Salad

1 cup dry orzo pasta, cooked according to package directions
1/3 c. wild rice, cooked separately according to package directions
1/3 c. sweet red pepper, chopped
1/3 c. green pepper, chopped
1/3 c. red onion, chopped
3 green onions, chopped (white & green parts)
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/3 c. raisins
1/3 c. walnuts, roughly chopped
Vinaigrette dressing:
2-3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 T. lemon juice
1-2 T. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Mix cooked and well drained orzo pasta and wild rice. Add all the chopped vegetables, the raisins, and walnuts and mix well together.

To season and dress the salad, add 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. black pepper. Add 2 T. of the olive oil, 2 T. of the lemon juice and 1 T. of the balsamic vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning and dressing ingredients accordingly. 

Let the salad rest for at least an hour either in or out of the refrigerator to allow the flavors to blend together. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cod in Tomato Sauce w/ Linguini

During the lenten season, as Catholics, my husband and I abstain from eating meat on Fridays. Since my husband gets quite ill from shellfish, we keep our fish eating quite simple and ordinary. Salmon, tilapia, tuna and cod are about it for us. So, on Fridays we either go vegetarian or we stick to our simple fish options.  

One we are particularly fond of, is this dish of cod that is simmered in a flavorful tomato sauce. Served over spaghetti, or in this case, linguini, it makes a delicious seafood meal that is quite good anytime of year. 

What I like about this dish is that it can be whipped up in a flash. Not one to plan dinner too far ahead of time, if I have to thaw anything, cod fillets thaw pretty quickly and are ready to use within a half hour. With a can of good tomatoes and a few basic vegetables and herbs, dinner can be made within an hour's time. 

Since cod is, for all practical purposes, a rather bland or tasteless fish, the quality of the sauce is really important to the overall dish's appeal.  While any tomato sauce can be used to make this simple dish, for a truly delicious one, I like a sauce that is a bit more rustic and bursts with flavor. I get that by using hand crushed plum tomatoes to give it a chunky, brothy texture; a sizable amount of chopped onions and sweet peppers (red and yellow are great here); and, a good handful of chopped parsley and fresh basil. Simmer the sauce mixture for about 20 minutes to let the flavors blend and the tomatoes to breakdown.  Add the raw fish that has been cut into large chunks, and simmer them in the sauce for another 10-15 minutes, while the pasta cooks. 

This is a rather sweet and very chunky sauce. I like to serve peas with it, as I think peas just taste great with any tomato sauce.  I also don't add any grated cheese to the dish, not with any fish dish that is, which according to my daughter who has spend some time living in Italy, declares is a no no. Another cautionary note, is to not overcook the fish. If you do, it will be too rubbery and secondly, is will simply break into bits. I prefer the fish pieces to remain whole. 

Cod in Tomato Sauce with Linguini
Dinner for 2 
1 lb. fresh cod fillets
1 28oz. can plum tomatoes in thick sauce
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1/2 red sweet pepper, roughly chopped
1/2 yellow or orange pepper, roughly chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced 
pinch pepper flakes
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
1 small handful fresh basil, chopped
olive oil for sauteing
6 oz. linguini or spaghetti

In a large saute pan heat about 1/4 c. of olive oil. When hot add the onions and peppers and saute till they begin to soften. 

Add the garlic and pepper flakes and saute until the garlic barely begins to lightly brown.  

Add the tomatoes, which have been crushed and broken up into small pieces by hand, along with the packing juice. 

Season with some salt. Add the basil and simmer for 20 minutes. The sauce will begin to get thick. Add a small amount of water if it becomes too thick. 

Cook the linguini according to package directions.

When you add the dry linguini to the boiling water, add the parsley to the tomato sauce and mix together. 

Add the cod. Cover the pan and simmer the cod until the linguini is cooked, which is about 12 minutes. 

Gently remove the cod pieces to a dish. Spoon the sauce over the linguini. Mix together and top the dish with the cod pieces, and serve.



Friday, March 2, 2012

Basil Spaetzle with Corn & Spinach

My husband and I spent last weekend at our house on the lake. For some reason I have a hard time sleeping there. So, when I can't sleep I often go to the loft to watch TV. Though the house is quite modern, we don't have cable service. And, since it is located in a rather rural part of town, our TVs capture only a few, and mostly bad or local, channels.

Therefore, I'm stuck watching either cartoons, this home shopping channel selling hunting knives, or a lifestyle station that features a fairly entertaining cooking show. The cooking show, called Bringing it Home, features both notable celebrity chefs and head chefs from fine restaurants in the locales featured in their episodes. On this particular episode, the chef, whose name I didn't catch, made this wonderful side dish of basil flavored spaetzle sauteed with fresh corn and baby spinach. Of course, as a trained chef, he whipped this delicious looking dish (even at 4:30 in the morning) up in no time flat, and made the process look super easy.  I figured it was worth a try and would make a great side dish for any simply grilled, sauteed or broiled meat or fish.

All in all, making the batter is indeed a cinch. What I liked about the spaetzle featured on the show was that the basil, when added to the batter, made beautiful, brightly colored green spaetzle dumplings. Next to the corn and spinach, it made a visually appealing side dish. But, as you can see from the picture above, mine weren't so bright green, more tinged green than fully green. I concluded my basil, though very finely chopped, really needed to be  pureed as it must have been on the episode, but I missed that part of the show. To further complicate matters, the recipe for the dish featured on the Bringing it Home website, was terribly written. The steps to preparing the dish were clearly incorrect, and more importantly, didn't even include the procedure for preparing or adding the basil to the batter. I'd like to think, had the recipe been better written, my results would have been better, as well. 

I've never made spaetzle before, but with some research on the internet, it's clearly not rocket science. Though I didn't have a spaetzle making device, most recipes recommend using either a colander with big holes, the large holes of a box grater, or even a large slotted spoon. The chef on the episode I watched, used a colander, similar to one I had, so it did indeed seem simple enough.  Not so.

When I added the batter to the colander and pushed it through the holes, the little pieces of batter wouldn't drop into the hot boiling water as it was supposed to. They just stuck to the bottom of the colander and had to be scraped into the hot pot below. So I moved to the box grater method, but that was a bust as well. In the end, I filled a small plastic freezer bag with the batter, snipped off a corner and as the batter squeezed through the hole, using a small knife, I cut the batter into small pieces as it dropped into the hot boiling water. That process actually worked fine, not as efficient or fast, but it got the job done. Whew! I don't know why I didn't just thin the batter a bit.

All in all, this a great side dish, with an incredible amount of flavor and great color (had the spaetzle been the right color).  I used fresh corn, instead of frozen, to ensure a robust corn flavor, and so glad I did. My next purchase is a spaetzle maker as it is quite versatile, and can be used in place of rice or orzo in so many dishes.

Basil Spaetzle with Corn & Spinach Saute

1 cup all purpose flour
2 eggs
1/4 c. milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 c. fresh basil

2 small ears of corn, kernels removed
2-3 large handfuls of fresh baby spinach, cleaned and well drained
2-3 T. butter
salt and pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor, puree the basil with a tablespoon or two of water. You want a fine puree. 

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. 

In a small bowl, beat the eggs and milk together until well combined -- an electric mixer works great here. 

Now add the egg mixture and the basil puree to the dry ingredients, and beat together until it turns into a thick batter. Let the batter rest for 10-15 minutes.

While the batter is resting, bring a pot of water, with a generous amount of salt added to it, to a rolling boil.  

Using a colander or spaetzle maker, drop the spaetzle batter into the pot. When the droplets float to the surface and are firm to the touch, remove to a clean colander.  Rinse quickly with cold water to stop the cooking process, drain well and set aside.

In a heated skillet or saute pan, melt the butter. Add the fresh corn (or thawed frozen corn) and saute a minute or two until the corn is tender. Add the spaetzle and spinach. Saute, mixing frequently, until the spinach is fully wilted and cooked. Season with salt and pepper as needed, and serve. Enough for 4 generous side portions.