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Archive for the ‘side dishes’ Category

I love a good cold Asian noodle dish – peanut noodles, sesame noodles, cold soba noodle salad. They are perfect as the weather heats up; cool, refreshing, filling and easy to make without heating up the kitchen. But I’ve never quite gotten the recipe right on my own. The flavor is always slightly off, the mixture sticky and gloppy. I made them but I never really enjoyed them. About this time last year, I posted a Vietnamese steak and peanut noodle salad that I loved, thought I had finally nailed it. But then I tasted these noodles and realized this version is better. Dang it.

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I love an old school, red sauce Italian joint. The menu is full old favorites: lasagne, stuffed shells, meatballs, ravioli and various things given the parmesan treatment – veal, chicken, eggplant. The fanciest thing on the menu, and probably the last update, is penne alla vodka. Salads are usually of the iceberg variety composed of crunchy lettuce with meats, cheeses and pickled pepper things served with an Italian dressing, tangy from red wine vinegar. If you’re fortunate, you’ll find my beloved 5-Finger Cavatelli on the menu too. And your meal always comes with garlic bread. Always.

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I picked up this recipe from Chef Carrie Nahabedian, from a class I took years ago. I was attempting to “organize” my office recently to no avail and came across a thick stack of papers, recipes from classes I’d taken pre-culinary school. Most held little interest now but this one stuck out … as I recall, they were quite good. Crispy thin layers of phyllo filled with creamy, slightly salty cheese. No spinach, no vegetables just that gorgeously salty cheese with a little parsley for a bit of color. She called them Phyllo Cheese Triangles but being of Armenian descent, I suspect she calls them boeregs at home. Many Mediterranean cultures have something similar; the Greeks call them tiropitakia. Salty cheese wrapped in layers of crispy pastry have universal appeal.

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I’ve been on a mission lately, looking at the contents of my refrigerator in new and different ways. For the last two posts, in a series I’ve come to call Why Would You Do That?, I’ve taken vegetables one wouldn’t necessarily think of cooking and done just that. I sautéed radishes. What? I braised cucumbers? What what? Much to my surprise, they were both delightful. Surprise surprise. You can learn all kinds of interesting things by turning your regular way of doing things on its ear.

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Earlier this week in my first installment of “Why would you do that?”, I sautéed radishes. Radishes are crisp and fresh. Why would you cook them? Why indeed. They were unexpectedly delicious and I started thinking of other recipes I’ve seen over the years that left me perplexed. Like cooked cucumbers. Can you, and why in the world would you, cook a cucumber?

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I am frequently overcome with waves of guilt for the amount of food I throw away. I recipe test; it’s an ever present reality. Not every recipe turns out the first, second or even third time so these are often destined for the trash. Other days, it’s things I’ve forgotten about, found again in a sorry state in the back of the refrigerator or a crisper drawer – often vegetables bought with good intentions but crazy schedules. And other times it’s parts of vegetables – greens, tops, slightly wilted bits – that I cut off and throw away wishing the city had a composting program or that I kept city chickens. I know I need to do better and sometimes I do. Last year I made a sort of meatless meatball with carrot tops that were good in an earthy, grassy kind of way and I genuinely love sautéed beet greens, enough that I frequently come home with free bunches from the farmstand. People tear these things off and toss them. Can you believe that?

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The outdoor farmer’s market season started here two weeks ago. This is a big deal for some of us. We Chicagoans view the start of the outdoor market season as a beacon of hope that better, warmer, sunnier weather is coming. Though this past winter wasn’t too bad, we cling desperately to every little sign possible. It’s been a tough start; the first week was chilly and I was caught in a deluge, arriving at my car soaking wet. The second week was downright cold and I received several warnings not to plant the basil plants I had just purchased until it inched up over 55°F. Oh I know, I replied, I’ve been bitten in the ass by that before. We laughed knowingly as only those who have had to yank out frostbitten tender seedlings can. Looking around, I saw the usual suspects of a new market season: asparagus and rhubarb. Harbingers of spring and predictable or not, into my bag they went.

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