Creamy Dill Pasta Salad

August 8, 2009

C brought home some really good pasta salad from Whole Foods a couple nights ago. I loved it! Bowtie pasta, chunks of feta, halved cherry tomatoes, and artichoke hearts all wrapped in a creamy dill dressing.

I was looking around for a recipe, and couldn’t find one anywhere. So today I’m trying my best to recreate it.

1 pound of Bowtie (Farfalle) pasta
7 ounces of plain greek yogurt
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
juice of one lemon
6 ounces cherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved
14 ounces extra-small artichoke hearts (10-12 count per can), drained, rinsed, and quartered
2 ounces of feta cheese, crumbled
1-2 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped (dried can also be used), to taste

Prepare pasta according to directions. Drain and rinse until cool, then let drain almost completely. Mix yogurt, mayonnaise, lemon juice. Add salt, pepper, and dill to taste.  Add pasta, tomatoes, feta, and artichoke to a large bowl. Toss gently with dressing to coat. Can be served room temperature or chilled.

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THE potato salad, by sharon

April 19, 2009

Finally, after many people asking me over the years, “How did you MAKE that?” after tasting my potato salad, I am putting the recipe up.  This is slightly adapted from my father’s recipe, who got it from his friend Janice.  It is legendary, both in my household growing up and to anyone who has ever tried it.

One of the reasons it’s so good, I think, is that it gets rid of the things that most people don’t like about potato salad.  The most common complaints I’ve heard (and given) about standard potato salad is texture (too runny); flavor (too sweet); and the sometimes not appreciated addition of onion or relish.

Well, this recipe gets rid of all those problems and I guarantee that if potato salad isn’t usually your thing, this might change your mind.  Now, this isn’t an exact recipe because I’ve never bothered to measure things.  I know how it should be and I make it so.

For a decent party-sized batch (or enough to keep around for a few days), start with 5-6 baking potatoes.  Red potatoes would also work well.  Peel the potatoes (unless they’re red potatoes) and chop them into large cubes.  Rinse and boil with salt, a healthy dash of Tony Chacheres, and a tiny splash of crab boil (if you have any).  Boil the potatoes until they can be pierced with a fork, but no longer.  You want them to keep their shape, not turn into mashed potatoes.

Boil a dozen eggs and peel them.  Cut all the eggs in half and place the yolks into a separate bowl.  Chop the whites roughly and set aside.

While all this is going on, fry up some bacon (about a half pound).  Since it’s all going to be crumbled anyway, I cut the bacon into pieces with some kitchen shears (easier than chopping) and throw it into a pan to cook.  This is easier than standing over a hot stove flipping bacon.  Just stir it around until it’s evenly browned, then remove with a slotted spoon to some paper towels to drain.

Mash the egg yolks with a fork and add 1/2 – 3/4 cups mayonnaise, 1/4 – 1/2 cups sour cream (or plain yogurt), 1-2 tablespoons yellow mustard, and 1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard.  Mix well.  This incorporates the egg yolks evenly throughout the potato salad and makes for a better tasting dressing.  Season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  You want this to taste a little strong, since it has to cover the potatoes and eggs (which are, for the most part, unseasoned).

I like to mix this up in batches, ensuring even distribution of ingredients without squashing the potatoes to all hell.  Pour a third of the potatoes, egg whites and bacon into your serving bowl, add a third of the dressing, and mix.  Continue to do this until you’ve used all the ingredients.  If you find you want more dressing, just mix more mayonnaise, sour cream, and mustard together with the seasonings and fold that into the salad.

This is good warm or cold, and of course just gets better the next day.  I made this today to serve with my Crock Pot Pulled Pork (another good dish) and it was a total success.


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A cookie update, by sharon

April 18, 2009

My friend, A, once pointed out that most people are either bakers or cooks—very seldom are they both.  And I think she’s right.  I think I’m a pretty good cook, but I have absolutely no instinct when it comes to baking.  That might completely change if I ever have a kitchen big enough to allow me to work with dough, but until then, thinking about the intricacies of baking is still scary to me.

More experimentation today, this time with the chocolate-orange cookies.  I’m trying to make a healthier version: less fat, less sugar, lower glycemic index kind of a deal.  My thinking is using something other than butter (Smart Balance for today’s trial), baking Splenda, brown sugar Splenda, and half oat flour.

So when I decided to tweak my cookie recipe, I didn’t know what to think! Would the oat flour change the rise of the cookie, does using less brown sugar (because the Splenda blend is much sweeter) change the way it creams with the butter?  What if what if?  And I don’t have enough experience to answer these questions.  A week ago, I tried a version of this cookie using agave nectar instead of sugar, rolled oats, only 2 tablespoons of butter, and some olive oil.

They were tasty, sure, and other people liked them.  But I don’t like chewy cookies, and all that extra liquid made them really chewy and soft.  Glad it wasn’t a total throwaway, but I wanted my favorite cookie, all crisp and dunkable. Hence today’s recipe:

1 1/2 sticks of Smart Balance butter substitute
1/3 cup baking Splenda
1/4 – 1/2 cup brown sugar Splenda blend
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cups oat flour*
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
the zest of 1-2 medium oranges, to taste
1 bag of dark chocolate chips (60% cocoa)
1/4 cup chopped pecans

*oat flour can be made at home by putting rolled oats into a food processor and grinding until it is fine and flour-like in consistency.  Since I am currently without a food processor, I buy Bob’s Red Mill, a brand that offers a lot of different gluten-free alternatives to traditional flour.

Cream butter and sugars together.  Add vanilla and egg and mix thoroughly.  Add orange zest, mix, and let the batter sit for a few minutes so the orange oils really permeate the other ingredients.  Add the baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  Gradually add in the flour, then stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded teaspoon onto a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for approximately 10-14 minutes, until golden brown.  Allow to cool briefly, then remove cookies to a cooling rack.  Cool completely before storing.

And the verdict?  These aren’t bad! They’re more crumbly than my original recipe, but crumbly the way shortbread or peanut butter cookies are.  Still quite tasty and more to my liking than the last time I tried it.  Success!!

Dad’s Roast Beef, by sharon

March 22, 2009

I called my father yesterday for this recipe because 1) I love it and 2) it’s another thing that freezes really well. So here it is:

Dad’s Roast Beef

a roast
2 packs of brown gravy mix
Italian dressing (optional)

Again, I realize I’m being vague with the ingredients. Dad told me to get sirloin tip roast with the cap off, but then he said that because of the cooking method it wouldn’t really matter. So I got 2 small rump roasts. It’s way cheaper and I just tasted it, it’s perfectly fine.


If you want, marinate the meat in the Italian dressing overnight. You can do this right in the roasting pan. I did not use the Italian dressing method this time for a couple of reasons. One, I didn’t make it to the store until this morning. Two, it gives the meat a tangy flavor. While I LOVE love this flavor when this recipe is used for sandwiches, I prefer not using it if I’m doing this as a main dish. It’s up to you.

Get one of those big roasting pans with a lid. The kind they sell at WalMart for $12, you know, they’re usually blue with white speckles on them. Put the meat in there. Slap a little salt and pepper all over the meat if you didn’t marinate it. Roast the meat, lid on, at 220 degress for 7-8 hours. And that’s it. I swear. Don’t mess with it, don’t turn it over. Just leave it in there as your house starts smelling good and random dogs start howling.

When it’s done, remove the meat to a plate and let it cool. I poured the drippings into a bowl, stirred in some ice cubes, and let the juice sit in the freezer for about 30 minutes. That allowed the fat to rise to the top so I could skim it off and throw it into the garbage can. Not the sink. I know I gave this warning in the recipe for Chicken and Dumplings, but it bears repeating. Do not put fat down the sink. It will harden and clog your pipes. Okay, I’m done.

Once you’ve skimmed the fat, pour the juice into a large pot. I had a lot of meat, so I made a lot of gravy. I added about 1 1/2 cups of water, a dash of Kitchen Bouquet, and then whisked in the gravy mix. Then I brought the gravy to a boil. It wasn’t getting thick enough, so I made a slurry of cornstarch and water and whisked that in while the gravy was boiling. Then I cut up the meat and added it to the gravy. Okay, I sliced some of the meat and then the rest started falling apart because it’s VERY tender so I just went with it and let it do its thing.

I’m serving this with rice (because I LOVE rice and gravy, especially left over the next day) and peas. And I’m freezing half of the meat and gravy to use in a week or so. This is my new thing — freezing food for future dinners. And I would like to point out my lovely alliteration in the previous sentence.

And here is a picture of the complete meal:

Pot Roast

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Cold-brewed coffee, by sharon

February 24, 2009

After seeing a post on smitten kitchen, I realized yeah! Why am I paying so much for iced coffee all the time?  She’s completely right about the delicious difference between cold brewing and using hot coffee gone cold.  Also, I used to pay quite a bit of money (once it added up) on Cool Brew or N.O. Brew coffee concentrate.  Times are tight and, as our subtitle on this site says, “cook it your damn self.”

Her recipe makes enough for 2 drinks.  But I am impatient and in love with coffee and never do things in a small way.  What if I suddenly want an iced coffee, but there isn’t any cold brewed available?  I’m supposed to wait 12 hours before I can drink it? Pshaw.

The basic recipe is 1/3 cup of coarse-ground coffee mixed with 1 1/2 cups cold water.  Let sit for 12 hours, strain, and refrigerate.

Naturally, I quadrupled that.  I let it sit in a giant mixing bowl all day and that night strained it (paper towel in a fine-mesh sieve) into a big ole pitcher that is now happily living in my fridge.  And let me tell you, it makes a divine iced coffee.  Between my various seasonings and syrups, I can have almost any kind I want.

Life is good.

Coffee Cubes, by sharon

January 16, 2009

C and I keep making huge pots of coffee each morning that I don’t always partake in.  Which leaves us with a pot to throw out at the end of the day.  Now, we are spoiled, picky people and I feel bad throwing out what is essentially black liquid money.  So I dug up my ice trays and started freezing the leftover coffee into ice cubes.

So far, it is a great success.  I remember that a coffee shop in my hometown used to use these for iced and frozen drinks.  No watering down, just brilliant yum all the way through.  I grabbed about 6 of them today and poured milk, a dash of cream, and some dark chocolate syrup over them.  As the cubes melt, the coffee flavor gets stronger in your drink.  And I am always a fan of your drink getting stronger as time goes on, no matter what it is.

Braised short ribs, by sharon

January 13, 2009

Molly and I haven’t cooked together in a long while, so I sent her this recipe and she came over yesterday so we could try it.  It was pretty good.  We both agree that either there was a tad too much thyme or it could have used more tomato paste, but it was still quite tasty.  The smell while it was cooking was amazing, and I knew it would be hard to sit around and deal with that for three hours, so I made some deviled eggs to munch on in the meantime.  We also had a green salad with a vinaigrette I made with white wine vinegar, the juice of half a lemon, and olive oil.  Good dinner!!