Ninety-nine percent of the recipes that I look up are for main dishes, and I get each meal's vegetables in by steaming or stir frying up some frozen broccoli or green beans. I've been trying to put together a personalized cookbook on a really neat website, and realize that I have very few recipes for a few categories, mainly "vegetables" and "fish and seafood." I'm not a big fish lover so I'm not too concerned with that, but vegetables? How could someone who eats a spinach salad 5 days a week not have enough vegetable recipes?
Earlier this week, I decided to bake a pre-marinated pork loin that I'd purchased. It required zero work beyond greasing the pan and physically putting it in the stove.
So, what should my side dishes be? Well, first of all, I have been on a rice kick and wanted some rice to soak up the juice from my leftover fajitas mixture from the other night, so I got my wonderful rice cooker up and running.
Okay, moving on. If you'll remember the Grated Carrot Incident, I had a LOT of carrots that needed to be used soon. A recipes search online for "grated carrots" and only ingredients that I had in my kitchen yielded a Carrot Salad recipe that called for grated carrots and an apple.
I didn't shred the apple, as called for, because my food processor was dirty from the night before, but I was fine using a knife.
But how much does "4 carrots, grated" yield? I was almost afraid to guess, but I started with a cup and later added another 1/4-1/2 cup.
Mix those together in a bowl with some lemon juice, honey, and sliced almonds (I used whatever was left from my salad almonds), plus salt and pepper. I also added a handful of dried cranberries, just because some reviewers suggested adding either those or raisins, and cranberries > raisins, in my opinion. Here's what the whole thing looked like:
Okay, next up was my "Brilliant Sauteed Broccoli" from allrecipes.com.
I had a nice fresh head of broccoli all ready to go. This recipe included instructions for how to "shock" the broccoli, which is basically boiling it briefly, but then immediately submerging it in ice water to stop the cooking process and keep it restaurant-quality green.
Here's my raw broccoli:
Cooked broccoli getting an ice bath in the sink:
And my brilliantly green, tender-yet-crisp cooked broccoli:
I threw it in a large pan with some olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper.
Next, I whipped up a mixture of Parmesan cheese and brown sugar. Sounds weird, I know, but stay with me...
Threw it on top, and this is what it looked like:
Dinner was supposed to be done at this point, but turns out the directions on the pork were wrong and it took twice as long as it was supposed to. I was hungry so I went ahead and had my sides first:
I loved the broccoli. It was spicy and subtly sweet at the same time. The texture and taste was a lot like the broccoli we get at our favorite family-style Italian restaurant around the corner, except that in addition to the red pepper flakes, they add about 10,000 cloves of garlic instead of the cheese/ sugar combination. This was definitely different, but I enjoyed it.
The carrot salad was just okay. Personally, I like savory foods better than sweet, and with the apple and honey, it was just too sweet for me, even though the taste was good. But I had ideas for changes. I'll come back to this in a minute.
Pork was finally ready. It was tender and juicy, albeit a strange color that I'll chalk up to the unknown marinade ingredients...
Okay, back to the carrots. I decided to take the advice of some of the reviewers and try the salad again a few days later. I was out of almonds, so this time I used pecans:
I started with the same ingredients as before, with the exception of a missing apple (I had no more left) and the almond/ pecan switch, but I liked it less than the other day. Without the apple to balance the flavors, it just tasted like lemon juice and honey mixed, both too tart AND too sweet. I added a little ginger, based on a recommendation, but it didn't do a whole lot. My original intention was to add a little mayonnaise to add creaminess, but at this point, a conversation from the other morning came floating back to me:
Andy (while preparing a sandwich): "I wonder if mayo ever expires."
Me: "I don't know. Is there a date on that jar?"
Andy (looking at jar): "Hmmm. March of 2010."
Me: "Uh oh."
Andy: "I've been making sandwiches with this all week!" [tosses the jar in the garbage]
Needless to say, we didn't have any mayo. I thought about possible substitutions. Yogurt? None left, but it wouldn't have been plain if there was. Sour cream? Ate the last of that with enchiladas last week. Hmmmm.
[Looks to fridge for inspiration]
Actually, that helped. It mellowed out both the lemon juice and the honey, and it added a deeper taste that I was looking for.
Before you judge me, cream cheese has been my secret ingredient to a bunch of foods, and it is amazing. When I added it to a pasta sauce, Andy took the leftovers to work and had them for lunch (clear indication of a culinary success!). So I figured, "Why not?" And it helped, too!
So this is what I had at the end:
Definitely different, but definitely improved. And it's super easy to make, and good for surprise dinner guests. Again, though, it was good but not fantastic. But I think I will make it again, with my substitutions. I think it would be really good at a summer barbecue.
Oh, and eating expired mayo didn't make Andy sick, if anyone was wondering!
For anyone who is interested:
Brilliant Sauteed Broccoli
1 pound broccoli florets
3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil. Fill a large bowl or pot with half ice and half water. When the water comes to a boil, add the broccoli florets using a strainer with a handle if possible. Allow the broccoli to cook for 1 to 2 minutes until just tender. Immediately remove from the boiling water, using the strainer or draining, and transfer to bowl of ice to stop the cooking process. Immerse the broccoli completely in the ice water for a minute or two. Remove and place in a dish that has been lined with paper towels. This part can be done up to two days in advance.
2. In a cup or small bowl, mix together the Parmesan cheese and brown sugar; set aside.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Throw in the broccoli and season with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir to coat the broccoli, then cook and stir for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and dust with the Parmesan cheese mixture.
4 carrots, shredded
1 apple - peeled, cored and shredded
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
salt and pepper to taste
In a bowl, combine the carrots, apple, lemon juice, honey, almonds, salt and pepper. Toss and chill before serving.
My alterations: add dried cranberries, dash of ginger, dijon mustard, and cream cheese. Others suggest adding grapes, yogurt or mayo, and walnuts instead of almonds.