Salute to sides

Minted pea mash

Perhaps the green plate wasn't the best choice for photographing peas.

Perhaps the green plate wasn’t the best choice for photographing peas.

Apple-parsnip mash

This photo was taken in our living room while watching the Olympics.  USA!

This photo was taken in our living room while watching the Olympics. USA!

I feel like a latecomer to side dishes.  I always kind of thought of them as something for a special occasion.  Perhaps not necessarily Thanksgiving, but probably at least dinner with company.  When I cook for just me and D, it’s usually just an entree.  Oftentimes, we’ll eat the kind of entrees that kind of have a built in side dish like something served on noodles.  But side dishes in the sense of a supporting player for an entree really aren’t part of my regular repertoire.  If the most difficult thing about this project is getting the writing done on time, then the second most difficult thing has to be making all of the sides.  So this project has forced me to consider side dishes as a part of a normal meal.  Sometimes I wish I hadn’t bothered.  These are two side dishes where I was glad that I bothered.  They added a lot to the meal.  They also showed me how side dishes can add more veggies to an otherwise carb and/or protein heavy meal.  This probably should have been obvious.  I’m learning, OK!!

The minted pea mash tastes lovely and couldn’t be easier.  You thaw some frozen peas, sautee them with butter, buzz them in the food processor with some mint leaves.  Hey, if you’re looking for a side for your Easter lamb, this has got to be it.  The recipe said it was good with roasted chicken, and we took that very literally.  D and I made a dish that has been a classic of our relationship since before we were married: Jamie Oliver’s Perfect Roast Chicken.  I cannot find an officially sanctioned recipe online, but some Epicurious user put this out there.  It’s an excellent recipe.  I will add that you can substitute a teaspoon of dried thyme for the fresh thyme and bacon for the prosciutto.  The minted pea mash was a nice burst of green and freshness on a plate that was otherwise full of chicken fat and potatoes.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The apple-parsnip mash played a similar supporting role.  I needed to make side from the January/February issue, but was all out of entrees in that issue.  That happens to us…a lot.  I made the Mexican Cod and Potato Stew from the April 2006 issue of Everyday Food.  Yes, even when faced with the possibility to make anything I like, I still make something from Everyday Food.  That was pretty tasty.  It had a good amount of spice to it.  So the apple-parsnip mash served to settle all that down.  It did a good job of that.  The stew already had potatoes in it, so maybe it was a bit of a starch fest, but I enjoyed it.  The mash itself is interesting.  It is almost eerily balanced between apples and parsnips.  Just when you’re getting ready to say “this just tastes like apples!” the parsnip flavor sneaks in.  It’s quite tasty.  I recommend it as a good side dish for when the entree is bold and doesn’t need anything that will compete.

Side dishes are good on the side.  Who knew?!

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“Ain’t nothin like the real thing, baby”

Slow-cooker chicken mole

Rice pilaf with peas and almonds

None of the effort, some of the taste

None of the effort, some of the taste

I was conflicted as to whether I even wanted to like this mole recipe.  Here’s the thing: my big culinary triumph is/was making mole from scratch one time in 2011.  I used this recipe.  The 2 hour cooking time on that recipe is a prank.  It took me and, eventually, D, 6 plus hours of intense, hands-on cooking.  Here’s a picture of all of the ingredients that went into the mole:

I think I still have that Mexican chocolate...excuse me for a minute

I think I still have that Mexican chocolate…excuse me for a minute

Well, not the dish soap.  Anyway, I had planned to take pictures at every major step.  Then I spilled hot chicken broth all over my brand new phone and convinced myself to focus on cooking.  The end result?

My friend Katie contributed homemade tortillas and was paid in mole.  It was a good trade.

My friend Katie contributed homemade tortillas and was paid in mole. It was a good trade.

Man, was that good.  It was such a hassle to fry and blend and cook and wait and fry and worry and wait some more, but oh my was it good.

Which is why I was so conflicted about this recipe.  On one hand, if it’s just as good, then I’ve found a way to short-circuit 6 hours of madness using the slow cooker.  On the other hand, if it’s just as good, then my great culinary triumph was roughly on par with making a pot roast.

Thus, I am equally disappointed and relieved to tell you, dear readers, that this is in no way as good as real mole.  What it was missing was the depth of flavor.  This recipe is like a cheap bottle of wine: the flavor is pretty much there, but it’s not as deep, not as complicated.  Which is not to say that this isn’t good.  It is.  This is a fine recipe for what I’m forced to call imitation mole.  And it’s exceedingly easy.

The pilaf?  Um, it’s rice with peas and almonds.  It tastes like….rice with peas and almonds.  I think we can leave it at that.

Clean it out and cook it up

Big-batch vegetable soup

D ran a marathon.  Go D!  :)

D ran a marathon. Go D! 🙂

This recipe is spectacular for a few reasons.  It’s a freeze it, so right away you know I’m excited.  It’s soup.  Soup’s a good thing (cite: David Sedaris…does WordPress do footnotes?  What’s the HTML tag for footnotes?  Please don’t tell me).  Here’s why this recipe is great, and it’s not something that jumped right out at me.  Take a look at the last ingredient:

8 cups mixed fresh or frozen vegetables, such as carrots, corn, green beans, lima beans, peas, potatoes, and zucchini

8 cups of whatevs.  How great is that?  Random half bags of frozen veggies in the freezer staring you in the face?  Toss em in!  Recipe last night only used one of two potatoes now you’re stuck with one potato?  Toss it in!  I had leftover calabcita from September’s squash substitutions.  I had a bunch of lima beans from making a succotash for J.  I had a ton of frozen corn because Everyday Food recipes use a surprising amount of corn.  It all went in there.  I think I actually used 6 or 7 different vegetables.  I think this makes this a great recipe for times when your freezer or fridge has an odd glut of vegetables.  Or for when lots of things look good at a farmers’ market and you can’t think of what else to do with it.  No matter the reason, this is a tasty soup.  I look forward to having it some night when I’m too lazy to cook and too guilty/cheap to order in.

It’s a potato

Baked Potato Bar

G here, kicking off the potato post.  The post-tato!

Peer and Pedro Potato or Sven and Salvador Spud

Peer and Pedro Potato or Sven and Salvador Spud

I took the Scandinavian toppings and the Tex Mex toppings.  The Scandinavian one had smoked salmon, sour cream, and chopped green onion.  It was great.  Smoked salmon is delicious and sour cream is a natural choice for a baked potato.  The Tex Mex one has black beans (which are dry), goat cheese (which is pretty dry), and salsa.  The salsa isn’t juicy enough to make up for the rest of it.  It was quite dry.  I wound up scraping all of the stuff off of it, adding butter and sour cream, and adding the toppings back.  There’s really not much to report here.  If I was going to have smoked salmon, I’d want it on a bagel.

G out.

B here.

I don’t have fancy names for my spuds, but if I did, this one would be Giovanni.

Not my best photo here...

Not my best photo here…

This one consisted of ricotta, spinach and pepperoni.  Instead of using frozen spinach as called for, I sautéed up some fresh baby spinach with garlic, because obviously any kind of spud that can call itself Italian needs some garlic.  I also chose to mix my spinach in with my ricotta like you would for a lasagna filling.  And I used turkey pepperoni, which may have been a mistake.  It was fine really, but I think it would have been tastier with the real thing.  I also think a small amount of marinara would have gone a long way here.  Like G’s Mexican potato, it was a bit dry.  Overall, the flavor was pretty enjoyable, but maybe not to the point I would think to make it again.

And what the heck, I may as well follow through with this naming thing to the end of the post. So here is Jake Spud, the All-American Quarterback potato.

IMG_0690

This one was really classic!  Melted cheddar, peas and cubes of a really delicious ham I had made earlier in the week.  This is the one that reminded me of dinner as a kid.  The melted cheese sort of helped keep the peas in place, but not enough so you didn’t still have to chase a few around the plate.  The obvious solution: MORE CHEESE! I think I am far more likely to make this one again  than the Italian one.  I could see it being a really satisfying dinner on a night when the Bear I live with is at a work function (this happens a lot).

Marsala Chicken with Sage and Cremini Mushrooms Served with Peas and Carrot Ribbons

www.marthastewart.com/338177/marsala-chicken-with-sage-and-cremini-mu

www.marthastewart.com/313330/peas-and-carrot-ribbons

September 2007, pg. 107 & pg. 134

image

When I first started dating the bear I live with, his favorite meal was chicken marsala.  So, I have some experience making a much fussier version of this meal.  This recipe was much less time consuming – no need to pound out chicken breasts and just a very light flour dredge – and didn’t lose any of the flavor from the more complex version.

I went a little rogue and used thyme instead of sage a) because I had it and b) because I have very little use for sage on a regular basis, but can find ways to use thyme frequently.  I think thyme and mushrooms are best friends.  They taste so great together and I think it worked wonderfully in this dish.

I also thought the peas with carrot ribbons went really nicely with somewhat sweet marsala sauce.  The peas and carrots were really buttery and the thin slices of carrot made them really silky.  My only complaint was the prep required to make the carrot ribbons.  They were ultimately delicious, but a huge pain to make in the first place.  It seems much to fancy for an everyday sort of meal, but might be really beautiful on a holiday table – think Easter.

My next adventure: Apple-Cinnamon Upside-Down Cake!!