We like to think of cauliflower as a versatile, guilt-free cravings-buster. It works well as a substitute for pasta in “mac-n-cheese.” We’ve seen recipes for cauliflower “fried rice” that look good enough to try sometime when we feel like Chinese food, but don’t want all the calories. One of our vegan cookbooks even has a recipe for cauliflower “meatballs.” (A little skeptical about that one). I’m not about to tell you that cauliflower will satisfy a craving for a juicy ribeye or tender filet mignon, but these cauliflower steaks are a hearty and delicious option for a vegetarian dinner. As much as we love our roasted potatoes, this recipe for garlic-roasted cauliflower is a great alternative with less calories and carbs but similar roast-y flavor and texture. Even better, the cauliflower cooks in about half the time as the potatoes and does not require parboiling. Win, win! Now if only someone could please come up with a way to make cauliflower taste like fried chicken, we would be forever grateful.
It probably seems pretentious to use the Italian translation in the title of this post, especially considering that we don’t speak Italian. “Vino bianco” or “vino rosso” (depending on the time of day and/or season), is about as bilingual as we get. But the title of this post is the name of a beautiful salad that we found at one of our favorite local Italian restaurants. So let’s just say we’re being “authentic” rather than pretentious. Speaking of authentic, one of the things we love about this Italian place is how they pride themselves on their authenticity. They even incorporate this aspect into their name, “Trattoria D.O.C.” According to their website, “D.O.C. is an acronym for ‘Denominazione di origine controllata,’ a wine appellation which requires that a product be produced following strict guidelines to ensure quality standards. Our attention to detail and time honored recipes, along with our dedication for fresh ingredients, is the reason we call ourselves ‘D.O.C.'” (“Appellation” refers to a legally defined and protected geographical indication used to identify where grapes for wine—or other foods—are grown. Yes, I had to look it up. Who’s pretentious now?) We love Trattoria D.O.C. so much that we once ate both lunch and dinner there in the same day: blinded by an intense pizza craving (SUCH good pizza there) during a bike ride break one afternoon, we completely forgot we had dinner reservations with friends there in just a few hours, but we kept the reservations and enjoyed some delicious pasta that night. They have amazing, authentic Italian food there, is what I’m saying. The Sedano e Mela salad is my go-to (in addition and as a precursor to pretty much any of their pizzas), so much so that it became necessary to recreate it at home. Aside from the taste, the best thing about this salad is how easy it is to make—so easy that it doesn’t even warrant an actual recipe. Celery, apple, radicchio, pecorino cheese, olive oil, lemon juice and salt & pepper. That’s it. An authentic, simple, fresh—and decidedly unpretentious—flavor explosion. Buon appetito!
You know that moment when you try a dish at a restaurant and realize that you will henceforth be compelled to return to that restaurant simply to eat that menu item, and that you will order it every single time you dine there? The kale salad from Found Kitchen and Social House is that dish for us. It’s somehow light yet also hearty, with the perfect balance of flavors and textures from the kale, swiss chard, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and (a recent addition) blueberries, all dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. Every time we order it, Dan wonders (out loud, usually to our server): “How do they make KALE taste so good?” Although our homemade version of Found’s kale salad can never be as delicious as the original, we discovered a trick to making kale taste good, for a salad that comes pretty darn close to restaurant-quality. The key is massaging the kale with a little olive oil, salt and lemon juice. I discovered the secret while looking for vegan recipes in the book “My Beef with Meat” by former firefighter Rip Esselstyn, who explains why massaging kale softens its texture and improves its flavor: “Massaging [kale] salad drives the lemon juice and salt into the cell membrane of the kale and lightly ‘cooks’ it, making it much more tame and less ‘angry.'” (He had recently read a reference to kale as “angry lettuce,” which makes a lot of sense if you’ve ever taken a bite of plain, raw kale.) We will still crave Found’s kale salad (and order it whenever we go there), but it’s also nice to be able to satisfy our craving with a quick and easy homemade version, and to know we have a backup plan if they’re ever crazy enough to take it off their menu!
Okay Chicagoland, we get it now. Afternoon trips to the beach, Saturday morning shopping for fruits and veggies at the farmer’s market, neighborhood art festivals nearly every weekend, dinners on patios with a sweater in case it gets chilly when the sun sets—summertime is why people live here. And we are enjoying every single second of ours. One of our favorite summer activities is finding new ways to cook the vegetables we pick up from the farmer’s market each week. This recipe from Martha Stewart has become one of our go-to side dishes of the season because it’s easy to make, it complements a variety of main courses, and the char flavor from the grill makes it taste like summer.
Broccolini is one of our (few) go-to vegetables. For me and my (child-like) palate, the beautiful thing about broccolini is that it does not have an overpowering vegetable flavor, unlike regular broccoli and other vegetables prepared in certain ways (looking at you, sauteed spinach). We have a quick and easy sauteed version of broccolini that we love so much and make so often that even I don’t need to consult the recipe anymore when cooking it. But they say that variety is the spice of life, so the time eventually came to try a new broccolini recipe. Trying new things can be difficult (says this Texas girl living outside her home state for the first time in more than 30 years), so we went with a broccolini recipe that not only incorporates several of our other favorite ingredients: mushrooms, wine and Parmesan, but also calls for the simple preparation method of roasting the broccolini. The rich flavor of the mushrooms and Parmesan pairs well but doesn’t overwhelm the fresh, light flavor of the more delicate broccolini. Sometimes change is good, and we appreciate putting an elevated, more fancy spin on an old favorite.
Has anyone in the history of cooking ever used up an entire bunch of celery before it spoils? Even considering how long it lasts (weeks!), we almost always end up with a sad, wilted collection of stalks that we throw away and replace with a fresh bunch every month or so. Celery is an under-used vegetable, is what I’m saying. Yet it’s one that we pretty much always have in the fridge — to flavor a soup or a stew, to make stock, or to chop up for a garden salad. Aside from this recipe that we love so much we always serve it at our Thanksgiving dinner (as well as other times throughout the year), we rarely come across a dish where celery gets to shine as the main ingredient. It’s a shame, since celery has many health benefits, including antioxidants and nutrients with anti-inflammatory effects. So we were pleased to see Lidia Bastianich’s take on caprese salad — with a celery twist — in her latest book, “Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking.” We never would have thought of replacing the tomatoes in traditional caprese salad with celery, but it works and it’s genius; especially during the winter, when high-quality tomatoes can be hard to find, but good ole celery is as plentiful as always.
For the sake of variety, we generally try to branch out with our vegetable side dishes; yet for the sake of convenience, the regular old green salad appears on our weekly menu at least a couple of times per month. Lately I can almost always count on Dan to ask “Is this your dressing?” every time we have salad, no matter what combination of salad veggies and leafy greens we happen to be eating. By “your dressing” he means — in the most complimentary way — the homemade balsamic vinaigrette I make that we both love. I take his question as a compliment because I’m generally more of a recipe follower than creator and can count on one hand the number of recipes I feel like I created (and even then, they are based on researching and tweaking other people’s recipes for the same thing.) The vinaigrette is simple — honey, lemon juice, Dijon, garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt & pepper — but goes really well with pretty much any green salad we’ve ever dressed with it, even as it tends to taste a bit different each time, depending on what’s in the salad. Basic and easy, yet consistently praise-worthy and versatile is my kind of recipe. Now it can be yours too.
For us, one of the best parts of Greek food is the tzatziki. Take the gyro — equal parts sandwich and vehicle for consuming creamy, cucumber-y, dill-spiced tzatziki sauce. At home, we love serving tzatziki alongside simple, olive oil and herb-marinated grilled lamb. Tzatziki is also really good as a dip with pita bread, which is how we served it as an appetizer when we recently had friends over for a Mediterranean-inspired dinner with a different sort of lamb (Guinness-Glazed) as the main course. Our tzatziki recipe has been a bit of a work-in-progress as we tested and adapted other recipes, trying to come up with the easiest and most tasty version. Ours might not be the most authentic tzatziki out there, but it’s quick and easy to make (no draining the yogurt!) with fresh, bright and tangy flavors that are addicting.
If you’re not familiar with edamame, the name refers to young (as in still-green) soybeans commonly served as an appetizer (boiled and salted in their pods) in sushi restaurants. You can also find bags of shelled, frozen edamame in most grocery stores these days. Although the health benefits of soybeans are not without controversy (similar to many other foods, about which “experts” offer vastly different opposing opinions), we’re in the pro-soy camp and think edamame makes a great addition to salads. According to WebMD, a half cup of shelled edamame has as much fiber as four slices of whole wheat bread, as much iron as a four-ounce chicken breast and nearly as much protein as two eggs (each of these foods have, of course, been criticized nutritionally as well. Can’t we all just get along?) We’ve made edamame salad before, and appreciate how its mild, slightly nutty flavor pairs well with contrasting flavors from other salad components. When we found this recipe, we knew the edamame would complement the bitter radish and buttery avocado and figured the bright flavors of the ginger/garlic/lime dressing would bring all the salad ingredients together. We adapted the recipe by adding sesame oil and chili garlic sauce for more Asian flavor and red pepper flakes for extra spice. The second time we made this salad, we happened to have spinach and arugula on hand, so we chopped up the greens and added them for yet another taste layer and additional texture. We liked the addition of the greens so much that we will include them when we make this salad in the future. And we’ll definitely make it again, despite what the soybean critics say (we’re culinary rebels like that.)
We’re always on the hunt for interesting new side dishes. Of course, we’d usually rather have fries, roasted potatoes, mac-n-cheese or some other deliciously starchy carbs, but maybe an occasional, more healthy side can be delicious too. We were intrigued by the article and recipes in the most recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated’s magazine discussing “Really Good Brown Rice Salads,” not only because of the versatility of the salads, but also with the suggested method of boiling the rice in an abundance of water, in order to get a more evenly cooked end result. The first rice salad we tried was indeed “really good:” brown rice with jalapenos, tomatoes, green onions, cilantro and avocado, lightly tossed in a dressing made with olive oil, honey, garlic, lime zest and juice, cumin and salt & pepper. After trying (and loving) this Tex-Mex(ish) version of brown rice salad, we’ve successfully experimented with several other flavor combinations, including a Greek/Mediterranean style, and what we call an “Island” version that paired really well with grilled jerk chicken. We look forward to trying the other recipes suggested by Cook’s Illustrated (one with asparagus, goat cheese and lemon, and the other with fennel, mushrooms and walnuts), as well as coming up with other flavor variations. Plain old brown rice suddenly got a lot more interesting.