Category Archives: Vegetable Dishes

Baked Couscous with Spinach and Pine Nuts – A Potluck Standby

Tonight, I’m heading to a pre-Thanksgiving potluck. I offered to cook whatever was needed, except for providing the meat dishes, as those are not that easy to transport. Vegetable dishes were, what I was told, most in demand. So, I decided to pull an old favorite out of my recipe card file – Baked Couscous with Spinach and Pine Nuts – which came to me from a clipping in The Washington Post, but is from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin. (This year, in addition to reworking the recipes in my mother’s card file, I also thought it would be good to tackle my own.)

My usual M.O. has generally been to opt for bringing dessert to these gatherings, as I have a no-fail, crowd-pleaser one that I save for the holidays (See last year’s Thanksgiving post). I’m a little bit sad that I’m not making that this year, but I might save that pie for our family holiday get-together. One year, when I was working overseas and participated in an enormous potluck Turkey Day meal/party, a friend and I joined forces and made about fourpies (two of the ones I made last year and two apple, if I remember correctly), and I managed to pull off preparing this same vegetarian dish as well.

This recipe isn’t just for the holidays, it is easy enough to make and goes far enough that it would be a good, tasty weeknight dinner option as well. I’ve paired it with grilled lemon-garlic-olive oil marinaded chicken to round it out and also served it at a dinner party, starting off with Middle Eastern dips and pitas. It is even flexible enough to be prepared as a vegan dish – just substitute your favorite non-dairy cheese alternative. I just used some leftover parmesan and pecorino that I had in the fridge, which worked just fine.

On top of everything else, the colors in this dish are bright and vibrant, and it will stand out at any potluck table. Oh, and did I mention that the leftovers are great to bring to work as well, if there are any, that is? Almost every time I’ve made it, there’s nothing but a few crumbles of couscous left at the bottom of the tray!

Buon appetito!

Spinach Salad

Before you turn up your nose or click away from this post, I ask you to at least consider trying a freshly-made spinach salad. This is still from the series of recipes from the family card file that I’m testing once again. Like usual, I’ve made some minor tweaks to it but really nothing drastic.

Like you, I was turned off from this vitamin-packed leafy green as a child. Poorly cooked, drained of all flavor, and lifeless, it was really not one of my favorite vegetables. I’m not sure that you could have paid me to eat this when I was growing up, and I remember it appearing only a couple of times at the dinner table. Now I realize that crisp, bright green, seasonal leaves make all the difference in this salad.

The Greenmarket did not fail to deliver when I was shopping there today, looking for something wonderful to pair with my leftover flank steak. Just see how amazingly fresh and full of life these leaves look. A few strips of meat alongside the lightly dressed spinach topped with toasted walnut pieces and a glass of red wine and I’m in iron-packed, anti-oxident heaven!

Spinach Salad*

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Servings: 4-5 adults

4 cups loosely-packed and thoroughly cleaned spinach leaves (baby are best)
1/2 cup walnut pieces, dry toasted and cooled
2 Tbsp good white wine vinegar
1 medium garlic clove, crushed
1 Tbsp dijon mustard (not grainy mustard)
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place walnuts in a non-stick pan on low heat or on a baking tray in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven. Let roast for about 5-10 minutes until lightly browned but not burned.

While the walnuts are roasting, prep the spinach leaves. Rinse completely, possibly several times, to remove all traces of dirt and grit. Trim off the woody ends (if using larger leaves). Run through a salad spinner or pat dry with paper towels and put into a serving bowl. Check the walnuts to see if they are done. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool.

Stir together the white wine vinegar, garlic, and mustard. Whisk in the olive oil in a thin stream until the dressing is fully combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the salad. Top with the walnuts, and toss everything together until it is fully incorporated.

*There are two things to add to this recipe. One is that my mother makes a version that omits the walnuts and, instead, takes sliced mushrooms, adds them to the dressing, lets them sit for about 30 minutes or so, and then pours everything over the spinach leaves. Why she didn’t then also add bacon to it is one of life’s culinary mysteries. This would make a good steakhouse type salad.

The other addition is an attribution. My mother thinks that this recipe actually came from one of Julia Child’s newspaper columns. She’s going to do some research for me on this, as I couldn’t come up with anything online by way of substantiation. Aside from the tweaks I made about toasting the walnuts, which I think bring a heartier flavor to the salad, I am not going to claim that this is my own creation, rather it is something that found its way into our family card file, and I’ve decided needs to be kept in mine as well.

Buon appetito!

How to Make Hollandaise Sauce

Hollandaise Sauce, like Bearnaise and Mayonnaise, is part of the emulsion family of sauces that really should be taught in high school chemistry for their amazing combining effects and delicate nature. Even though my attempts at Mayonnaise failed a couple of years ago, and I’ve never tried to do it again, Hollandaise is one of those things that I was able to make on the first go. Don’t ask me why, as the principles are basically the same.

This velvety, slightly tangy sauce is perfect over vegetables, like now-in-season asparagus, and lovely over poached eggs for an indulgent Sunday brunch (New York Times optional). Below, I’ve listed several tips that can help lead you to success in preparing this sauce. It’s not fool-proof, but once you’ve made this from scratch, you’ll never use pre-made versions again. Once you understand the tricks to it, it goes very quickly and you can adjust to avoid culinary disaster and scrambled mess (much the same as with making a custard sauce).

Before you try this recipe, make sure someone is watching the kids, turn off the TV and radio, and make sure that you can concentrate fully for 15 minutes on making this sauce. You cannot afford to be distracted, not even for an instant. That’s my word of warning. This is very easy to make and even easier to make a hash of in seconds. So, how is that for scaring you off of making it before you’ve even started?

Tip 1: Get everything together and laid out (mis en place) before starting the recipe. Allow the butter to have cooled for just a bit before starting.

Tip 2: Put the burner on the lowest possible heat, even if it doesn’t seem very high just by looking at it. If cooking with a gas fire, the residual heat from melting the butter will be enough to warm the mixture.

Tip 3: Don’t be afraid to take mixture off of the heat, if it seems as though it is starting to curdle. Whisk vigorously to recombine ingredients if it looks like this is happening. You have mere moments to avoid the sauce collapsing once it has started.

Hollandaise Sauce

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Serving size: makes about 1 cup sauce


2 egg yolks at room temperature
2-3 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. water
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. cold unsalted butter
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted


In heavy saucepan over lowest heat setting on stove, beat together egg yolks, lemon juice, water, salt, and pepper until thoroughly combined for about 2 minutes. Add cold butter and whisk in until completely incorporated, about another 2 minutes. Be careful not to let the sauce start to break up or look like scrambled eggs.

The mixture will start to get thicker, like heavy cream, as you whisk it continuously. At the point where you start to see the bottom of the pan between strokes, start adding the melted butter 1/2 tsp at a time. Incorporate each addition of butter thoroughly before adding the next portion and stir constantly to keep the sauce from breaking apart.

You can take the pan on and off the heat, whisking all the while, to keep it stable during this process (which I sometimes do). When all the butter has been added, remove from the heat and taste for seasoning. The mixture should look like a thick golden custard. Serve immediately while still warm.

Here’s a serving suggestion, or at least one of my favorite ways to eat asparagus.

Steamed Asparagus with home-made Hollandaise Sauce 

Buon appetito!

Truffled Potato Galettes

This year is a special one. The United Nations has dubbed 2008 the International Year of the Potato. En français, c’est l’Année Internationale de la Pomme de Terre. Sounds a bit more fancy that way, doesn’t it? The idea is to draw attention to a food that is nutritious, flexible and integral to many cultures.

In an attempt to interact more with other food sites in the blogsphere, this year I had decided to participate more in blog roundups hosted by Is My Blog Burning. Eating Leeds is hosting one this month related to aforementioned tuber. The great thing about the recipe I chose for this, is that it let me take something that I hadn’t made in a while and rework it completely into something a bit more elegant and suitable for a nice dinner à deux.

I did use the typical (for the U.S.) Yukon Gold potato as my base, which I really love for cooking. I know that Eating Leeds had wanted us to try to use a variety with which we normally don’t cook, but that would make it probably too difficult for most of you to try. Having to locate truffle oil for this dish might be enough of a challenge. I had bought a bottle during my trip to Italy last year and was just looking for a good excuse to tap into my supply.

It also gave me the chance to dig something out of the back of my cupboard which worked perfectly for this recipe. I’d done a big kitchen clear-out last year of all kinds of extraneous utensils and fussy cooking things that I don’t really use on a regular basis. For some reason, though, I’d hung on to these mini springform cheesecake pans. Not that I make cheesecakes at all, but I think in the back of my mind, I knew that they might have another purpose. They were perfect for this dish. Before you run out and buy these, though, you can achieve a similar result by making rings with aluminum foil and cooking these on a greased baking sheet.

Truffled Potato Galettes

Prep time: about an hour
Serving size: 2 galettes

2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 tsp parsley, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
3-4 tsp olive oil and truffle oil

Peel potatoes, cut into cubes, and cook in boiling water. Drain water and thoroughly mash potatoes with a fork or a ricer until there are no lumps. Do this with the pan on turned-off burner to cook out the last of the moisture.

Start by pouring into potatoes 1 tsp truffle oil and 1 tsp olive oil, putting in additional oil as necessary (both types as preferred, to taste), and whip until a completely smooth purée is formed. Stir in garlic, thyme, and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two mini cheesecake pans, about 4 inches in diameter, with a drizzle of olive oil and divide the potato mixture between them. Leave about half an inch room at the top to allow for potatoes to rise while baking. Bake in the center of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown on top.

Remove from oven. Release clasp. Galette will be golden brown on top and sides. Slide a knife underneath the bottom to release and put on a plate. Serve warm. If you happen to have any fresh truffles at hand, garnish with slivers of that.

Serving suggestions:
Eggs are often just considered to be breakfast fare, but they are also good for dinner. Consider serving this with a poached egg and mesclun dressed with vinaigrette. I decided to add a little leftover smoked salmon to mine.

Buon appetito!

Chicken and Broccoli aka Chicken Divan

Although referred to as “Chicken and Broccoli” on the recipe from my mother’s card file, it really is “Chicken Divan.” If you do a search on the internet for this recipe, you’ll come up with many different versions, but they basically all have chicken, broccoli, cream sauce, and cheese as main ingredients. It originated at a now-closed New York City restaurant (see Wiki) and is the type of casserole-based dish that seems of a era of heavy sauce-based baked main courses.

Growing up in my family, the children generally ate our meals separately from our parents, partially because there were so many of us. This meant that they could have food that was more sophisticated than what we were usually fed on a daily basis. Thus, the repertoire for our dinners was somewhat limited.

Our vegetables at dinner usually followed a cycle of peas, green beans and corn, depending upon the main dish. All of these were canned; we weren’t a frozen vegetable family. Occasionally, we had “salad.” This was usually iceberg lettuce, perhaps with sliced carrots, tomatoes, and celery, all covered in bottled Italian or blue cheese dressing. Mesclun, lightly sprinkled with olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, was nowhere near this picture, not in 1970s suburban Washington, DC. The first time cucumbers and scallions made an appearance in our household, I thought those were exotic additions to our meals.

As I got older, my parents experimented with feeding us broccoli or asparagus with our meals. These were usually dressed with sauce and had previously been canned. They bore no relation to fresh, bright green veggies that I now prefer, being the same olive-grey color as the canned peas and green beans we also ate. Is it any wonder that I avoided this food category? (School lunches were no help either in this regard. I think I’ve blocked out most memories of being served anything remotely associated with vegetables during that time.)

Then, I got older and discovered that properly prepared and carefully cooked, these foods could actually taste good. I now actually enjoy eating them in season and fresh, not canned or frozen (with the rare except of petits pois). In my quest to see if I should include any of the recipes from my childhood in my new binder, I decided to revisit this one. Guessing from the handwriting, this looks to be a recipe I copied down when I was heading to college.

In reproducing this, I made some alterations by using fresh broccoli, instead of the frozen kind listed on the card. I also used chicken breast filets and cut the amount of sauce in half. We never served this with a starch, but, as I discovered when I packed the leftovers to take for lunch this week, rice goes well with this dish. I definitely think that this amended version of a family-favorite is going to find a place in my new recipe binder.

Chicken and Broccoli / Chicken Divan

Serving size: about 4
Prep Time: 1 hour

1 package chicken filets (about 5-6 pieces)
1 bunch broccoli
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. bread crumbs

Cut broccoli into 2-inch pieces, using florets and stems. Cook in steamer until just tender but not mushy. Take out of steamer, stop cooking process by running cold water over broccoli and set it aside.

Put saucepan with one-inch of water on the stove and heat until barely simmering. Add chicken and cook through. Remove chicken and set aside. Boil down the water until it is about 1 tablespoon. Turn off water and reserve for making the sauce.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Centigrade / Gas Mark 3). Mix together the soup, mayonnaise, curry powder, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese until smooth and creamy. Add in reserved water from poaching the chicken.

In small casserole dish (I used an 8”x8” Pyrex® one), first layer the broccoli, then the chicken, and then cover with the sauce. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese on top and bake in center of oven for 30 minutes. Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Buon appetito!

Butternut Squash Soup

After taking a break to digest Thanksgiving dinner, it’s time to launch into the last few posts for 2007 and look forward to this blog’s second anniversary. I would lie and say that I was doing something wildly impressive last weekend, which is why I didn’t post, but the truth is far simpler and less interesting.

In disconnecting the cable/internet service from a neighboring apartment, the cable folks accidentally tripped mine either instead of or in addition to. Needless to say, I was really unhappy to find out on my day off that I had neither cable (which meant that I couldn’t really watch any tv at all) or computer connections. It’s amazing as to how isolated that made me feel. Fortunately, the tech who was sent out on my service call knew before he even came to my apartment what the problem was and resolved it right away. I felt like I could breath again.

One of the things that I did do on my blog break was to attempt another recipe from the Cook’s Illustrated issue that I’d highlighted a couple of posts back when I made the Goat’s Cheese Salad. This time, on the recommendation of the friend who’d pointed me this way to begin with, I made the Butternut Squash Soup. This is such a classic and comforting winter warmer and I’m always on the lookout for the version of this recipe that will live in my files forever.

I definitely think that this recipe might be THE ONE to keep in my files. I always find it interesting to read about the process that the Cook’s folks go through in addition to trying their end result. For me, it sort of helps to define the rationale for some of the quirkier steps that might be in the recipe. It also makes me realize that many of us have the same issues in trying to replicate those flavors that we love and have eaten previously, usually in nicer restaurants.

So, I highly recommend that you give this recipe a whirl, as my friend did to me. She did warn me, however, that it is really “squashy” for lack of a better adjective. It tastes like eating perfectly creamy smooth squash. If you don’t like that, don’t try this. What she didn’t say is that it is very orange. It is really, really orange, as you can see from the photos below.

Kitchen Witch Tips

For those of you who haven’t yet acquired a hand-held blender, I’ll plead with you once again to consider putting it on your holiday gift list or to treat yourself while you are shopping for other people. This is definitely the utensil that keeps on giving. With this, you can skip over that whole messy part of the recipe that calls for transferring hot or warm liquid to a blender, pureeing it and then return it to the pan to reheat.

Simply puree the cooled-down liquid in the same pot as the squash was cooked, using the hand-held blender and then reheat the same, never having to transport the soup from one vessel to another with all that slopping about. The blender is a snap to clean and far less messy to deal with than having to take apart a standard blender or processor with all the blades and other bits. You need this utensil in your kitchen.