Mushroom Arugula Pasta Salad

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Even though I was born in the U.S. I wasn’t raised on a traditional American diet. As a result, I’m not fond of many popular foods. Velveeta, although not really a food, comes to mind. As does Miracle Whip.

A few salads I also find unpalatable. Like the over-mayonnaised macaroni salad, salads with poppyseed dressing, and any salad with jello.

Pasta salads should be lovely, flavorful, not drowning in any kind of dressing, and definitely not sugary.

One day this pasta recipe caught my attention. If you’ve never discovered the blog The Vintage Mixer, you need to hop over there. Becky is a beautiful young woman, cook, traveler, adventurer, living in Utah.

She has even written a cookbook.

Her pasta salad contains roasted mushrooms, a definite improvement over raw mushrooms! The pasta in this salad if pesto-filled tortellini, and who doesn’t love tortellini?!! Also included are fresh arugula leaves, plus a simple lemon dressing. Simple but brilliant.

Because it is wintertime, I served this salad warm, with the warm tortellini and roasted mushrooms, and the arugula slightly wilted from the dressing.

Mushroom Arugula Pasta Salad

12 ounces fresh assorted mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
16 ounces pesto-filled tortellini
5 ounces arugula
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

Dressing:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss mushrooms in olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and fresh thyme. Spread out onto a baking sheet in a single layer and roast for 15 minutes.


While mushrooms are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add the tortellini and cook according to package directions.

Whisk together all of the ingredients for the lemon dressing and set aside.

Once mushrooms are done remove from oven and set aside.

Drain tortellini and toss with a little oil.

Once tortellini has cooled slightly, toss with the arugula and lemon dressing.

Let the arugula warm and “wilt” for a few minutes, then stir in the mushrooms and Parmesan gently.

Top with shaved Parmesan and serve.

As you can tell, I also sprinkled on some pomegranate seeds and microgreens over the salad for the sake of festivity!

note: After visiting 4 stores, I had to finally settle on cheese tortellini. Maybe I have to go to Utah for Becky’s pesto-filled tortellini!

Pork Amarillo

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“IF THERE WERE A CHILE TO TASTE LIKE SUNSHINE, THIS WOULD BE IT.”

How can you pass up a description like that?!!

Back when I discovered the chile pepper paste Gochujang, I spied another international paste called Aji Amarillo. It’s a bright yellow paste, from Peru, made from aji amarillo chile peppers.

From Serious Eats, “Aji amarillo is a bright-orange, thick-fleshed chile with a medium to hot heat level. It’s ubiquitous in Peruvian cuisine, working its way into soups and sauces, which are used in pretty much everything.”

Below are fresh aji amarillo chile peppers on the left, and the dried peppers on the right.

I wanted to use and taste this paste in its purest form, so I did what I often do with pastes and pestos, and that was to slather it on meat – in this case, pork tenderloin.

This is what it looks like – sunshine!

The options for using this paste, similar to paprika creme or an ancho chile paste, are endless. Rice or risottos, soups and stews, salad dressings, and so forth.

Pork with Aji Amarillo

2 pork tenderloins, trimmed, at room temperature
Salt
Pepper (I used Mignonette)
1 jar Aji Amarillo, about 7.5 ounces

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Typically I roast pork tenderloin, but I didn’t want the chile pepper paste too browned.

Place the tenderloins in an oiled baking dish and coat all sides with the oil. Tuck under the thin ends. Sprinkle lightly with salt and generously with pepper.

I discovered Mignonette pepper a while back, sold at Penzey’s. It’s a French-Canadian mixture of white and black pepper.


After the pork tenderloins are seasoned, slather them with the Aji Amarillo.

Place in the oven and bake, using an oven thermometer preferably. I take pork out when the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees.

Let the pork rest in the pan for about 15 minutes, then remove them to a cutting board.

Slice the pork in 3/8″ slices; it gets a bit messy with the paste.

Serve immediately. I had some roasted zucchini that I served with the pork.

Isn’t that color spectacular?!!

And don’t let the description of its fruitiness fool you. This is a chile pepper paste after all!

Lamb Burger

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Recently I re-read the cookbook, “How to Roast a Lamb, by Michael Psilakis. I read it originally when I first bought it, in 2009 according to Amazon.

My modus operandi is to read a new cookbook, then put on the shelf. When I have more time, I re-read it, with my little sticky notes on hand to mark recipes, even if 8 years have passed. I might own too many cookbooks when I can “lose” a cookbook that easily.

What I hadn’t remembered about “How to Roast a Lamb,” is that it is one of the best written cookbooks ever, in my humble opinion. Not the recipes; they’re kind of a mess.

Michael Psilakis is Greek-American, who although born in the United States, didn’t speak English until entering first grade. Just like the family in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” his was large and sometimes loud, but there was love, and there was food.

In the introduction, Michael tells the fascinating story of how his rise to chef and restaurant owner began, with fateful events allowing major opportunities in his life.

In spite of some rebellious years during his teens, Michael always made it home for dinner.

“It was clear to me that missing one night of family dinner would not make my mother angry, but, far worse, it would wound her in a way that would cause her pain in the depths of her soul. To miss one of those dinners would signify to her that whoever else I was doing was more important than she was, more important than my family, and more important than her singular wish to keep us together.”

Michael Psilakis’s stories that precede each chapter beautifully describe the love and respect he had for his family growing up, and his mother’s passion for food and cooking that he inherited.

Lamb Burger
Bifteki Arniou
Makes 2 burgers (I doubled the recipe)

2 – 1/4″ thick slices sweet onion
Olive oil
Salt, pepper
7 ounces ground lamb
3 ounces ground pork
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill (I omitted dill)
1 scallion, green part only, finely chopped (I used chives)
1 tablespoon garlic purée (I used 1/2 roasted head of garlic)
About 2 ounces pork caul fat
2 slices onion, grilled, to top the burgers
2 kaiser rolls

Brush the onion slices with a little oil and season with salt and pepper. On a hot grill pan, grill until tender. Separate the onion into rings and chop fine.

In a bowl, combine the chopped grilled onion, lamb, pork, mustard, coriander, parsley, dill, scallion, and garlic purée.

Season liberally with salt and pepper. With clean hands, combine the mixture evenly and divide in half. (I made four burgers.)

Place a 4-5″ ring mold on a clean work surface. Lay a piece of caul fat over the top with a few inches overhanging all around. Place half the lamb mixture in the center and press down to form a thick, flattened disk.

I simply did the same thing without using a ring mold.

Wrap the overhanging caul fat up and over the top, overlapping a bit but trimming off extra bits and pieces. Smooth the caul fat so that it is flat to the surface. Repeat to make the second burger, and place them on a piece of parchment. (Remember I made four burgers!)

Preheat a cast-iron skillet until hot. Brush the burgers lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the side with the caul fat down first, grill, and turn over untl firm and char-marked on both sides, to your desired doneness.

My burgers were cooked to medium-rare, although you can’t tell from this photo, but of course they can be cooked longer.

And being an American, I had ketchup on hand.

Don’t roll your eyes, I actually ate the burger with only a little Dijon mustard. It was way too good to smother with ketchup of course!

These lamb burgers were really incredible. I can’t imagine them tasting any more delicious. The roasted garlic addition was probably not too far off of the chef’s garlic purée, which is a purée of garlic confit.

There was one mistake, where cumin and fennel are supposed to be included in the lamb mixture, I’m assuming, because they were listed in the ingredient list, but omitted in the directions.

If you’re wondering how I got my hands on pork fat caul, it is because of a website I’d recently discovered, called Heritage Foods USA. It’s also where I got my ground lamb; my local store’s situation with lamb is hit-and-miss, but mostly miss.

It is a unique experience working with the lacy caul. It looks so delicate but don’t let its dainty looks fool you!

Warm Mediterranean Salad

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There is a nice shopping mall about 2 hours away that I visit when I have to go to a mall. Well, truth be told, I probably only shop at Williams-Sonoma there, unless I’m Christmas shopping. Then I’m a bit more adventurous.

The mall has a nice restaurant that I go to because of the convenience. But it’s good! You’ll all probably be shocked that it’s a chain restaurant, called Pepperoni Grill.

The menu is nice, the restaurant is always clean, and the service great. Surprisingly great.

Oddly enough, I’ve always ordered the same thing, which is a warm Mediterranean Tortellini and Vegetable salad, served with a creamy balsamic vinaigrette.

I say this is odd, because typically, I would order something new on the menu. But, after 20+ years, I keep ordering this salad. It’s so good, so well prepared, and so satisfying.

Then I had the brilliant idea to replicate the salad at home. It doesn’t look exactly the same because the restaurant uses tricolor tortellini, but mine tasted just as good! Being that it’s not springtime, I opted for green beans instead of asparagus.

Warm Mediterranean Salad
inspired by Pepperoni Grill’s salad
Serves 12

Vinaigrette:
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons yogurt
1 tablespoon agave syrup
2 teaspoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt

Salad:
2 pounds small, red-skinned potatoes, quartered
1 pound trimmed green Beans
1 pound yellow squash, coarsely chopped
32 ounces cheese tortellini
10 uncles spring lettuces
Sliced sun-dried tomatoes, the kind stored in oil
Kalamata olives, drained, halved
Grated Parmesan

To prepare the vinaigrette, place all of the ingredients in a small blender jar. Blend until smooth. Taste for salt. Can be made a day ahead, but bring the vinaigrette to room temperature before making the salad.


The vegetables must be prepared separately for the salad, in order to have them all at the proper cook. It’s also best for all of the vegetables and the tortellini to be warm when served, so one must move quickly!

In a steamer basket, cook the potatoes just until tender. Place in a large bowl, toss with a few tablespoons of vinaigrette, and set aside. If you don’t like a lot of dressing, use some olive oil instead.


Cook the green beans in the steamer basket and add them to the potatoes. Toss together gently, adding a little more vinaigrette to keep the vegetables moist.

Do the same with the yellow squash, making sure not to overcook. Add to the potatoes and beans.

Cook the cheese tortellini according to package directions. Drain and let cool slightly.

Add the still warm tortellini to the vegetables. Add the desired amount of vinaigrette and and toss gently.

Add the sun-dried tomatoes and olives to taste.

Then sprinkle on a generous amount of Parmesan. No mixing necessary.

Serve warm.

I like a lot of vinaigrette on my salads, but I’m aware that not everyone does. So when I suggest to add the desired amount of vinaigrette, that’s exactly what I mean!

My mother’s secret to a good potato salad was to always add some olive oil to the warm, just-cooked potatoes. So that’s what I did in this salad, using the vinaigrette instead of just olive oil, as well as adding some vinaigrette to the cooked tortellini. This keeps them moist and prevents sticking.

In anticipation of making this salad, I googled it to see if I was making something fairly unique or not. Turns out, there are tortellini/pasta salads, and there are potato salads. This salad really combines the two – a pasta salad with a significant amount of veggies.

The vegetables are along the lines of “primavera” vegetables, and can definitely be changed depending on what’s in season. Zucchini, broccoli, baby carrots, asparagus… all would be good. They could be grilled as well.

And of course this salad would be wonderful with grilled meat, but I prefer it the way it is.

So would I visit Pepperoni Grill for a special night out? No. But the fact that I can expect quality with what I’m ordering and enjoy a leisurely lunch, with a decent glass of wine, during a day of shopping, is really nice.

Korean Coleslaw

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Often when I’m browsing online for recipes, I print one I like, save it, and keep the stack of recipes in my kitchen.

Which is silly, because I have boxes of recipes glued on cards stemming from my childhood, and even folders for saved recipes that are organized by the season and, of course, my cookbooks. I guess one can never have too many recipes.

So I was browsing through my recipe “stack,” and I saw the words “gochujang” and “coleslaw” together. What? There it was – a coleslaw, with a dressing containing Gochujang!!

I only recently discovered the Korean barbecue paste, and used it on pork tenderloin. What a wonderful flavor this paste imparts.

Turns out that the coleslaw recipe is from Abbe’s blog “This is How I Cook.” Not only does she have a great blog, she has the cutest dog, Geordie.

I made a few adjustments, mostly adding more gochujang to the coleslaw dressing.

Korean Coleslaw

1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons gochujang
1-2 tablespoons Sriracha
1 tablespoon agave

4 cups shredded cabbage, purple and white
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 cup grated carrots
8 green onions, sliced
1 bunch cilantro, cleaned, chopped
Black sesame seeds, optional
Peanuts, optional

First prepare the gochujang dressing in a small blender jar and set aside.


Place the purple and white cabbages, red bell pepper, and carrots in a large bowl. Mix well.

Add the dressing and stir. Let sit for 1-2 hours to soften the cabbage slightly. Taste before continuing with the recipe.

Add the green onions and cilantro and mix together.

To serve, sprinkle the coleslaw with sesame seeds.

If I’d only used purple cabbage, I would have also used white sesame seeds.

Then add some peanuts.


If you want it spicier, add more Sriracha sauce and stir well, but you don’t want it to overpower the gochujang.

And for heaven’s sake, slice your own cabbage. Don’t buy those terrible bags of coleslaw!

It’s fresher and it’s cheaper!

This coleslaw was fantastic! It would be great with salmon or chicken on top as well. Thanks Abbe!

Herby Octopus Salad with Blueberries

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You’ve all put up with me lamenting about the fact that, living in the middle of the United States, with no nearby coastline, I can’t buy fresh seafood. And it’s pretty much my favorite thing to eat, well over beef and chicken.

I make up for it when on vacation, especially when it comes to squid and octopus. I eat them until tentacles are practically coming out my ears.

Besides being delicious, they’re fascinating creatures.

Instead of whining, I decided it was time to just order some frozen baby octopus. I actually see it frozen occasionally in recipes, so I’m not the only person who can’t always buy it fresh, or wants it out of season.

The company I ordered from is La Tienda, a Spanish website that I’ve used for years. Just about any Spanish product you desire, they sell.

It was a fluke that I found frozen octopus; I didn’t expect La Tienda to have it. I also bought some frozen cuttlefish at the same time – something I’d never tried before – at least not knowingly.

When I received the pound of baby octopus, there were only two, so about 8 ounces each, shown above. I expected baby octopuses to look like ones I’ve had on salads or seen at markets.

But it gave me the opportunity to learn how to break down an octopus. It’s a very straight-forward procedure, and takes minutes.

Herby Octopus Salad with Blueberries
Cause it’s still summer here….

1 pound frozen baby octopus, thawed
Olive oil
Greens of choice
Chopped basil, parsley, and cilantro, about 1/2 cup total
Fresh blueberries, about 1/2 cup
Lemon juice (I used 1 lemon for 1 pound of octopus)
Olive juice, to taste
Salt
Aleppo pepper, optional

Rinse the octopus well and lay on a cutting board. Admire it, because it’s a beautiful sea creature!

Slice just below the eyes, and just above the eyes and discard this middle piece.


Then get rid of the beak in the middle of the tentacles.


Turn the head, or hood, inside out. Pull out everything from inside, and discard.

Turn the hood back to outside-in. There is a thin skin covering the hood that can be removed by pulling firmly.

Cut the tentacles off at the very top.

Trim the base of the hood, then slice the remaining hood into 1/4″ thick slices.

With the remaining center “upper thighs”, if you will, cut them each into 8 pie pieces.

From the left, the legs, the hood, and the upper thighs.

The below photo shows the legs at the top, the hood rings in the middle, and the thighs at the bottom.

Rinse the octopus parts, if necessary, then dry them well.

Heat some olive oil in a skillet. Over high heat and with your vent on, and perhaps a few open doors and windows, sear some of the octopus, without crowding it in the skillet, until browned. I cooked the legs, rings, and thighs separately, just because of the various thicknesses.

Remove to a plate and continue in batches; set aside.

Meanwhile, place the greens on a platter or plate.


In a small bowl, toss together the herbs and top the salad with the herbs.


Add the octopus parts, still warm, and the blueberries to the salad.


Drizzle on some fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Sprinkle on a little salt.

If desired, add some Aleppo pepper for some zing!

And that’s it! The octopus was superb. All it takes is a little searing.

A simple combination of lemon juice and olive was wonderful. And the blueberries added fruitiness. The salad would also be good with warmed lentils.

I was very happy about the quality of the frozen octopus. It wasn’t old or water-logged.

At least I know now that I don’t need to turn up my nose at frozen octopus in the future. I will indeed be ordering it again.

I just have to find someone else to share it with…

And anyone who assumes that octopus is tough and rubbery, hasn’t tried it. (husband)

Cuttlefish with Raspberries

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French Bistro is not your typical cookbook. In fact, it’s more of an homage to traditional bistros, with references to real people and actual Parisian establishments.

The book would be a smart read prior to a Paris visit!

Instead of typical chapters, they are organized by ten bistro “essentials”: The Owner, The Chef, The Chalkboard Menu, The Wine, The Servers, The Table, The Decor, The Clients, The Ambiance, and The Aromas.

The authors are Bertrand Auboyneau and Francois Simon, and it was published in 2012.

If you have a love for bistros in general, especially with those quintessential French elements like vintage tiles, carved wood elements, the lamps, the windows, and so forth, you will love the photographs in the book, as I did.

There are recipes in the book, and they’re all exciting to me. But alas, if I were to make food that involved sweetbreads, sardines, liver and tongue, I’d be eating it all by myself.

I decided on a cuttlefish recipe. My husband won’t eat those, either, but I only ordered one pound’s worth in order to make this recipe.

After much searching, because I was not familiar with cuttlefish were, I discovered that they are short stubby squid, called Sepia in Italian. I knew I would like them, because I have a love affair with all creatures tentacled!

Following is the actual recipe from French Bistro, somewhat modified because my cuttlefish, about 4 ounces each, were much larger than the ones pictured in the book.

Cuttlefish Sautéed with Raspberries, Verjus-Style

1 pound cuttlefish, or 3 – 4 ounce cuttlefish
4 ounces raspberries
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon Vincotto
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
Chopped parsley, optional

Rinse the cuttlefish well in water before using.

Heat up a pot of water that they will fit in to a strong simmer. Poach the cuttlefish for 5 minutes.

Remove them to paper towels and dry well. Pop out the beak in the middle of the tentacles. It will just pop out.

Mash the raspberries with a fork and set aside.

Add about half of the olive oil to a skillet and heat over high heat. Add the cuttlefish and brown just slightly. It should take about 2 minutes.

Remove them to a plate, turn down the heat a bit, and add the raspberries and remaining olive oil.

I also added about a teaspoon of vincotto for some sweetness.

To serve, place some lettuce leaves on a plate (this is completely optional) and place the cuttlefish over them.

Add the raspberry-olive oil mixture, and season with salt and pepper.

I also added a little chopped parsley.

Enjoy warm.

These were so wonderful it’s hard to describe them. And with the raspberry mixture the whole meal was just divine.

Not only was this a great dish for warm weather, it would be good with strawberries as well in the spring. I love cuttlefish!