22 May 2009

Quick and easy salads for Memorial Day picnics

A long weekend and the weather is beautiful! I am off to MD/PA to visit some friends and a new baby. Memorial Day weekend is prime time for picnics, drinks, friends, family, and fun. As I've mentioned, I don't have much BBQ advice for you, but I can help with creating some fresh and tasty salads. BYO drinks, friends, family, and fun.

Both the salads I've shared with you below are super easy, quick to throw together, and flexible. You can use whatever veggies, nuts, or cheeses you have on hand. I've noted a few different options, but I urge you to be creative and have fun. Happy picnicking!

Couscous salad

1 cup couscous (I used whole wheat, it's just a bit heartier)
1 cup water
1 tbsp olive oil
4-6 radishes, thinly sliced (or any combination of vegetables that you have)
~2 cups grape tomatoes, chopped in half
1 English cucumber, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1.5 cups chickpeas (or black beans, or cannellini beans)
1/2 cup toasted pistachios (or pine nuts)
1/2 log goat cheese, crumbled by hand (or feta cheese)
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

To make couscous, add water and 1 tbsp olive oil to a small saucepan and heat to boiling. Take off heat, stir in couscous and cover right away. Allow couscous to steam for 5-10 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork, and transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, chop the vegetables and prepare the other ingredients. Add the vegetables, herbs, chickpeas and pistachios to the bowl and stir to incorporate with the couscous. Sprinkle goat cheese on top, and dress the salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Gently toss salad again. You can store the salad in the refrigerator, but it's best served at room temperature.

Spinach salad with strawberries, grapes, and bleu cheese

3-4 cups baby spinach, washed and picked over (or mixed greens, or baby arugula)
~2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
~1 cup red seedless grapes, sliced in half
~1/4 cup bleu cheese, crumbled by hand (or feta, or goat cheese, or Parmesan)
1/2 cup toasted pistachios (or walnuts, or pecans)
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Add spinach and fruit to a large bowl and toss. Sprinkle bleu cheese and pistachios over vegetables. Dress the salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss gently and serve immediately (note: you can make this salad ahead of time, just wait to dress the salad right before serving).

21 May 2009

Pork tenderloin with spicy carrot fries

There's been too much sweet stuff on this blog lately. I don't want to give you the wrong idea -- I like cooking much better than baking. So today it's back to the savory business.

I adapted this recipe from one I saw in Bon Appetit magazine; the original recipe called for baby carrots and jalapeno, neither of which I had. Instead, I used regular old carrots, skipped the jalapeno, and added some cayenne pepper. I also changed up the rub for the meat based on what I had available. The recipe included reflects what I actually did.

The meat was tender and flavorful and the carrots, which ended up a lot like oven-baked 'spicy fries,' were really good. I think these carrot fries would make a great side dish for a bleu cheese burger....YUM!

Pork tenderloin with spicy carrot fries
(adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2009)

Carrot fries:
2 lbs carrots, peeled and chopped like fries
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt

~2 lbs pork tenderloin
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil

Arrange carrots in a single layer on a baking sheet. Whisk together the water and remaining ingredients, then add to carrots, tossing to coat. Cover with foil and roast carrots until almost tender in a 400 degree oven (~20 minutes).

While the carrots are roasting, prepare pork by combining the spices and rubbing all over the tenderloin. Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet, and brown the meat on all sides. Once browned, remove the foil from the carrots and nestle the meat among the carrots. Roast the pork and carrots uncovered ~ 2o minutes (or the meat reaches 140 degrees). Remove from oven and let rest 5-1o minutes before slicing.

20 May 2009

Baby shower favors

Edible party favors are easy and cheap to make. For this baby shower, I made some sugar cookies topped with cinnamon and sugar (just like a brown bear, but much safer) and wrapped them up in plastic bags tied with a ribbon. That's it!

The worst part for me was cutting and tying the ribbon. I don't like scissors. Luckily, bf helped with that part.

Looking for a no-fail, simple sugar cookie recipe? I used the one from Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My to Yours.

19 May 2009

Baby shower cake

I've been holding on to this recipe for a couple of months, waiting for a baby to be born. I didn't want to jinx anything. Normally, I don't believe in that kind of thing, but you never know. I don't like to take chances when it comes to other people's babies.

Anyway, the baby finally made its grand appearance last week, and baby and mama are healthy and happy. The time has come to blog about this cake.

Volunteering to make the baby shower cake was a fun little project; volunteering to make the cake, 3 different kinds of sliders, and the edible party favor was a crazy idea. Good thing I'm crazy.

The cake turned out great and people really seemed to love it. It was fruity and light and nicely contrasted by the tangy cream cheese frosting. Personally, I didn't love it, but then again, I don't believe in desserts that don't contain at least some chocolate.

I made the cake over two days, first baking the cake layers and freezing them to make the cutting, layering, and frosting much easier.

At the time, I was worried about using pink trim since nobody knew the sex of the baby. Lucky for me, she's a girl.

The sliders were also a big hit, but in the midst of the craziness I forgot to take pictures of them. I prepped the sliders at home and cooked them at the host's house. Cooking in another person's kitchen is stressful. You'll just have to take my word that they were tasty.

Sadly, the cake didn't look so pretty by the time I got the party. (Note to self: if you're going to volunteer to make cakes for special events, invest in a cake box.)

I'll tell you about the edible party favors tomorrow.

In the meantime, you can find the recipe for this pink lady cake here.