Monday, August 4, 2014

Tomato & Basil Pasta Toss

This is another recipe from my mother's collection. It's quick and flavorful and easily adaptable depending on the season. Right now, use the ripe tomatoes and fresh basil from your garden. In winter, go with canned tomatoes and dried basil if you like it. You can always pick up a bunch at the supermarket if you don't

This can be a great quick dish to whip up in the next couple of weeks when school activities start up again.

Tomato & Basil Pasta Toss (6 servings)

3 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped (and peeled if you prefer) OR 1 (14-1/2 oz) can diced tomatoes in juice
1/3 C thinly sliced fresh basil OR 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
8 oz rotini (or whatever pasta you prefer; even spaghetti would work easily here)
2 oz Parmesan cheese to grate over OR about 1/2 cup of pre-grated Parmesan
Cook pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and saute gently until browned but not burnt. Add tomatoes and basil and heat through.

After you've drained the pasta, toss it with the tomato mixture and grate (or shake) Parmesan cheese over it at the table.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Just for Fun Fridays

I thought I might start a semi-regular feature here on Friday and post some of the more unusual or fun recipes that I've run across. I have quite an extensive cookbook collections, and I have more than a few old ones that include recipes for things most Americans aren't eating on a regular basis these days.

This week's recipe is from a cookbook published in 1959 called Farm Journal's Country Cookbook. The 50's were an interesting time in culinary history. There was the advent of the TV dinner, something the busy housewife could heat easily in the oven so the family could sit in the living room and watch television together, something that's hung on in many households to this day.

Also mainstream fast food began with both Burger King and McDonald's staring business within a year of each other in the mid 50's. Now you could send junior down to the local fast food restaurant to grab a bag of burgers for dinner, again something that many households still do today.

But at the same time all the convenience was changing American dining habits, gourmet cooking was coming into vogue as Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck opened a cooking school in Paris called L'Ecole des Trois Gourmandes.. They began teaching American women how to cook fine Parisian food. Child translated French recipes into English in an engaging manner, and would eventually become a world-wide sensation in the 60's.

In 1955, James Beard, an American pioneer foodie, established the James Beard Cooking School in New York City. Beard had appeared in his own segment on America's first cooking show in 1946, wrote many articles for food magazines and did consulting. And, of course, he ran his own restaurant during that time. His love of American food, quality ingredients, and brilliance in the kitchen helped lay the groundwork for today's modern American culinary heritage.

But for all the wonderful things that happened food-wise in the 50's, there were some not-so-wonderful recipes as well. Today's fun recipe is called Garden Salad Loaf (also known as Molded Garden Salad in the photo caption - I don't know which sounds worse).

Don't let that puppy slip off that tray!

Garden Salad Loaf (Makes 10 to 12 servings.)
Cool and beautiful--shimmering gelatin holds fresh garden vegetables

2 green peppers, cut in small strips
4 chopped green onions (include tops)
20 radishes, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
4 small tomatoes, cut in thin wedges
3/4 cup French dressing
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2-2/3 cups very hot water
1/2 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups shredded chicory or lettuce
1 cup coarsely torn spinach or shredded cabbage
1/4 cup minced parsley

  • Combine first 5 vegetables and marinate in French dressing (15 minutes or more).
  • Combine gelatin, sugar and salt; add hot water and stir to dissolve ingredients. Add vinegar and lemon juice. Chill until gelatin thickens.
  • Drain vegetables well. Fold marinated vegetables and crisp greens into gelatin mixture. (Chicory, spinach and parsley do no wilt easily, but you may use lettuce or shredded cabbage, to.) Pour into oiled loaf pan, about 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 x 3"; chill until firm.
  • Unmold on platter.
Fancy Touches: For a design of vegetables on top of mold when you turn it out, pour about 1/2 cup dissolved gelatin mixture into laf pan and let set. On this arrange an interesting pattern with radish slices, green pepper and tomato strips. Spoon a little of gelatin mixture over vegetables to "anchor" them; let set before adding vegetable-gelatin mixture. A border of tomato wedges may be arranged around outer edge of mold for color.

Variations: Omit unflavored gelatin and sugar; substitute 2 (3 oz.) packages lemon flavor gelatin and 3-1/2 cups very hot water. Follow same procedure.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Refrigerator Dilly Beans

Have you ever had so many green beans you didn't know what to do with them all? You can only cook beans for dinner so many times before it gets too repetitive. This is a good way to use up a few extra beans, make something that goes great with a sandwich, and also makes a nice small gift to give to your friends and neighbors.

Though dilly beans are technically pickles, there's no need for a canner or any other special supplies. You don't even have to use canning jars. Any clean glass jar with a lid will do as long as your beans fit inside. I'm going to use an old peanut butter jar for mine.

Refrigerated Dilly Beans (1 jar. Double or triple the ingredients to get a bigger yield.)

2 cups of green beans, trimmed (I know it's hard to measure whole green beans in cup form. Just eyeball it, and I'm sure it'll be fine. Trim the stem ends off, but leave the other end, unless your beans are too long to fit comfortably in your jar. You want the brine to cover them completely.)
1 cup vinegar (white or apple cider)
1 cup water
2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar (or you can use Splenda if you like)
2 cloves of garlic, minced (or to taste)
1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt (Kosher salt contains no additives like table salt has. You don't want your dilly beans to have a cloudy brine or turn dark. Substitute plain or canning salt in a pinch.)
1/2 of a medium onion, thinly sliced (the thinner the better)
2 sprigs of fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dill seed
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/4 to 1 teaspoon of red chili flakes, depending on how hot you like your pickles
Start by making the brine. Combine vinegar, water, sugar, minced garlic and salt to a saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat off and set the brine aside to cool to room temperature.

Start a large pot of water on to boil. When it reaches a full rolling boil, throw your beans in and boil them for 30 seconds.

Drain in a colander then plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop them from cooking any further. This is called blanching. You want the beans to be bright green but still crisp. Drain and set aside for now.

Add onion, dill, peppercorns and chili flakes to your jar. Then add the beans, standing upright if possible, but it's not a big deal if they don't, as long as you can fit them in!

Once the brine is room temperature, pour it into the jar to 1/2 inch below the rim and screw on the lid. Place the jar in the refrigerator, and leave them for at least 2 days before you sample them. (No cheating!) They should keep for 6 months if you don't eat them all right away.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lowfat Italian Pasta Salad

This is the last of the pasta salad recipes, and this is the simplest of them all. It uses all fresh produce that is in season now, so take advantage of summer's bounty and make this today! (Technically this recipe is fat free, but the title on the card says "lowfat." It's entirely up to you what dressing you use and whether it comes out fat free, low fat, or full fat.)

Look for some more seasonal recipes later in the week.

Lowfat Italian Pasta Salad (6 1-cup servings)

2 cups pasta of your choice, cooked and drained
1 cup sliced cucumbers
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 cup green pepper strips
3/4 cup fat-free Italian dressing
Mix ingredients in a large bowl. Chill.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Classic Italian Pasta Salad

Number three of four in our pasta salad collection. Enjoy!

Classic Italian Pasta Salad (8 side-dish servings)

8 oz uncooked rotelle or rotini
2 1/2 cups chopped assorted fresh vegetables (broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, onion; go crazy)
1/2 cup cubed cheddar or mozzarella cheese (or whatever you like)
1/3 cup sliced, pitted ripe olives
1 cup Italian dressing (homemade or store-bought)
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain; toss in large bowl with Italian dressing and refrigerate until cool.

Add remainder of ingredients. Toss well. Serve chilled.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

White Bean and Pasta Salad

Today's pasta salad makes a nice, light, vegetarian main-dish salad, perfect for hot days.

White Bean & Pasta Salad (4 servings)

1 (14-16 oz) can white beans, drained and rinsed (I assume navy, white or even cannellini would be acceptable.)
1 cup cooked small pasta (whatever you like, but the original recipe states elbow macaroni or ditalini, which is another tube-shaped pasta)
1/3 C minced celery
1/3 C chopped sweet pepper (bell pepper)
1/3 C chopped green onion
Vinegar (probably white originally; apple cider vinegar is always a good choice, but use what you have)
Oil (probably a light vegetable oil originally; I would go with olive oil.)
1/2 t dried thyme or a few chopped fresh thyme leaves to taste
Combine beans, pasta, celery, pepper and green onions in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk vinegar, oil and thyme. Pour dressing over bean mixture and toss. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill until serving time.

Note: As there were no measurements listed for the oil and vinegar, it's accepted that a 3:1 ratio is best when making a salad dressing, that is: 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. But you should adjust it for your own taste.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Anatomy of a Pasta Salad

It's hot. I don't mean just hot. It's HOT. We have a heat index of 108°F today, which is doubly difficult to bear because we just came out of some of the most unbelievably pleasant July weather I can remember (highs in the 70's, lows in the 50's).

Anyway, it's awful to even think about cooking with the oppressive heat. That's where the pasta salad comes in. Yes, you have to boil water, but most pasta shapes take less than 10 minutes to cook. And most pasta salad recipes make a lot of servings, so it'll last at least a couple of meals depending on the size of your family. If the recipe is for only four servings or less, it's easy to double or even triple most times, so if you're looking for a potluck dish, pasta salad is the ticket. It's great if you just need something easy and economical to put on the table next to that rotisserie chicken you bought on the way home from work.

So let's look at what goes into a great pasta salad.

1. Pasta. (You knew I'd say that.) There are a zillion different shapes out there, but the most common ones I use are rotini, bow tie (farfalle),  ziti, and shell macaroni. But you can go with any shape you like as long as it's smallish. Whole-wheat varieties are great, too, as are any of the flavored pastas. The important thing to remember here is: do not rinse your pasta! If you do, you'll wash away all that lovely starch that helps the dressing coat it. If you're strapped for time, you may rinse it in cold water to cool it quicker, but it just won't be the same.

2. Vegetables. Fresh or frozen, vegetables add the color and texture to a pasta salad. Use what you have on hand or what's in season. As long as you like it, it's good, but it's nice to mix up colors and flavors to make it more interesting.

3. Add-ins. These can be anything you like. If you want a main-dish pasta salad, throw in a protein, like chicken or beans. If you just want more texture, add some cheese cubes or crumbles or some sliced pepperoncini or even pickles to the mixture.

4. Dressing. I could go on about dressings all day and not cover the variety that exists. Generally they fall into 2 categories: vinaigrettes and creamy-type dressings. Remember, the dressing is the addition that ties everything together and makes it super delicious, so make sure it's a good one!

I have 4 different pasta salads to share with you that I found in the index cards I received from my mom last week. OK, here is the first of the recipes:

Bow Tie Pasta Salad (8 side-dish servings)

16 oz uncooked bow tie pasta, rotini, ziti or other shaped pasta or your choice
16 oz frozen vegetable mixture (I like broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, sometimes called California medley)
1 cup light Italian dressing. (This can be your favorite store-bought variety to save time or homemade. If you don't like light, use regular.)
1 bunch of green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup pitted black olives, halved (optional) (I really like olives so I add them. Use whatever variety you like.)
Cook pasta and vegetables according to package directions; drain. (Be sure to salt the water for the pasta; it makes a big difference in taste.)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Ideally, this is better made a day ahead so it has time to cool down for dinner. I've never tried it, but I imagine a "hot" pasta salad might be good as a quick one-pot meal, maybe sprinkled with some Parmesan cheese.

I'll post another of these pasta salad recipes tomorrow!