Sammiches and Salad

If someone came up and tried to sell me the moon, I’d laugh in their face.

If they slapped a “Going out of business” sign on it, I’d ask him if he took American Express.

For somebody who’s normally pretty level-headed and even suspicious with their money, I just can not say no to a going out of business sale.  When my neighborhood Rite-Aid had their closing sale, I spent the GDP of Liechtenstein there. 

Why I bought an America Greatest Hits CD, I’ll never know.  And I’ll have enough sunscreen to last until the actual sun flickers out.

You may have heard that the gourmet/organic grocery store, Earth Fare will be closing at the end of the month.  And because I raised my child right, the other night, The Kid and I made a visit to the location near our house.

The grocery items, the stuff with a long shelf life, was only 10% off so far.  But the perishable meat, produce and dairy was 30%.

They had these adorable little sweet Italian sausage patties.  I bought six of them, and decided we’d have sliders.  Over in the bakery department, I found six slider-sized pretzel buns.

Then I had to decide how to dress them.  Because they’re made with pork that looks pretty fatty, I didn’t want to add to the richness with cheese or mayo. 

The Kid and I discussed it and came up with a plan.

This is my chow chow of choice. I picked up the last jar from Big Lots.

We’d toast the pretzel buns, then give them a light schmear of roasted garlic mustard.  Then, on top a small dollop of chow chow.  Chow chow is a sweet/sour relish with cabbage, green tomatoes, vinegar, and sugar.  It’s the perfect foil to the rich, fatty sausage, and robust enough to stand up to the mustard.

For a side, we decided on my mom’s pasta salad.  It’s made with old-fashioned ranch dressing and brightly colored broccoli and immensely delicious Cherub baby tomatoes (honest, really try to use these, Harris Teeter, Food Lion, and BJ’s all carry them).

The grocery item prices at Earth Fare will be descending.  And, I’ll go back.  I’ve got my eye on about six different jellies, and thirty-five candy bars…

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at dm@bullcity.mom.

Roasted Garlic Mustard

1 cup spicy brown mustard

1 head roasted garlic (recipe below)

1 teaspoon molasses

1 teaspoon malt vinegar

Salt and pepper

Directions:

Prepare garlic-Preheat oven to 350°.

Cut a head of garlic in half horizontally.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a pinch of dry thyme.

Wrap very well with foil and bake for 1 hour.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.  Scrape or squeeze meat from the peel.

Place into a small bowl and mash into a paste.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir until completely mixed through.  Cover and refrigerate for up to seven days.

Gramma’s Broccoli Pasta Salad

1 packet Original Hidden Valley Ranch (the buttermilk recipe) Dressing Mix

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup fat-free buttermilk

1 pound rotelle pasta, cooked according to directions, drained and cooled

1 head broccoli, steamed until tender-crisp and cooled

2 cups Cherub baby tomatoes, sliced in half length-wise

½ cup thinly sliced green onions or Chinese chives

Salt & pepper

Directions:

Make dressing 2-3 hours in advance and refrigerate to let flavors develop.

To prepare: put all the ingredients except dressing into large bowl and season.

Stir in dressing a little at a time until everything’s fully coated and just a little moister than you’d like the finished product (the pasta will absorb dressing, and the tomatoes will release some of their liquid).

Let sit at room temp for about 30 minutes before service.

Serves 6-8.

For Everything, there was a (Southern) Season

In November of last year, it was announced that Southern Season, a Chapel Hill institution since 1975, and friend to generations of lovers of food would be closing.  It’s been a long slow demise which began with the 2011 sale of the titan to TC Capital Fund.

But in its heyday, it was a fairyland for anyone fascinated by all things.  It was a juggernaut; almost a culinary amusement park.

When The Kid was in elementary school, I worked at the Waldenbooks at University Mall for a few months.  Whenever I could, I’d run down to Southern Season, at the far end, and pick up lunch.

In the salad bar was a pasta salad that I loved, I bugged the chef, and he finally told me the secret was water, it becomes a dressing that somehow lightly coats the pasta with flavor.

Artichokes…nooooooooo!

When The Kid was in high school, and Petey worked weekend nights at Duke, we would make a Saturday supper pasta that contained many ingredients that the absent Petey loathed, or were his personal kryptonite.

When we had our infrequent E-ticket adventures at University Mall, we always stocked up with plenty of pappardelle for our feast at Southern Season.

Thanks for the memories, old friend, and thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at dm@bullcity.mom.

Walden Books Pasta Salad

1 pound pasta rotelle, bow tie, or cavatapi, cooked according to directions, then drained and cooled—do not rinse)

2 cups frozen peas, thawed

Salt & pepper

Dressing

1 ½ cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons malt vinegar

Hottest tap water (have a ½ cup ready, but you won’t need it all)

1 cup Cherubs tomatoes sliced in half

1 bunch green onions, sliced thin

Salt & pepper

Whisk together mayo and vinegar.

A teaspoon at a time, whisk in water until the dressing is just a little thicker than bottled creamy salad dressing.  Stir in tomatoes and green onions.  Refrigerate for at least an hour, but no more than two.

Assembly

30 minutes before service: In large bowl, stir together pasta, peas, and dressing.  Start with a little dressing and continue adding until it is just a little too wet, it will tighten up, and as it does, coat the pasta.

*Salad pictured is a variation on the recipe.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and sit in a cool corner of the kitchen for 30 minutes before service.

Southern Season Krypto-night

1-approximately 16-ounce package of parpappardelle pasta

3 tablespoons salt

3 thick slices of pancetta

1-pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced uniformly

½ teaspoon dry thyme

1 bag or box frozen artichokes, thawed and halved

Many cloves of garlic, at least 8

1 cup chicken stock

½ cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for service

1 large lemon, zested and juiced

Salt & pepper

Pasta water

Put a large pot of water on for the pasta.

In a large skillet, cook pancetta or bacon until it is completely rendered and crispy, remove from pan and set aside on paper towels.

Put mushrooms and artichokes in 1 tablespoon of the reserved fat.  Lower to medium-low, cover and cook for 5-7 minutes to facilitate the vegetables to release their liquid. 

Uncover and turn up to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, until the veg has lightly browned.

Add garlic and lemon zest, cook just until the garlic starts thinking about browning.

With a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer pasta to skillet, stirring in a spoonful of pasta water at a time until everything’s coated, but not saucy at all.

Take off heat, add lemon juice and stir in peas.  Serve in large shallow bowls with a healthy snow shower of Parm.

Makes 4-6 very hearty servings.   

OMG You Guys! I Love Chili!

old school photogI had a plan.  I was going to get really pretty pictures of this brand-new pasta salad I’d invented.  Petey had shown me a few camera tricks and I was going to wow the world with this gorgeous summer dish.

There was only one problem.

I forgot.amnesiaI’ve had a life-long culinary handicap.  I’ve talked about it many times, and in various ways: baby tongue, delicate palate, wimpy mouth.  No matter the moniker, they all mean the same thing.  I have a very low tolerance for heat/spice.

My upper limit is in the poblano neighborhood.  This pecadillo isn’t a choice, I’d love to be able to order willy-nilly, from any Mexican menu, or eat Thai or Indian food, or order a Chinese dish that has a red pepper symbol on the menu without begging the proprietor to leave off the spice, and worry until I take the first bite that they’ve either ignored me or forgotten.too spicyIt literally causes me pain (and definitely not in a good way), and I can’t eat it.  But, it would be a perfect weight loss strategy—if I didn’t have a problem with wasting any food, fiery or not.

I have discovered that I can eat a pretty intense level of horseradish.  It’s a different type of heat, more nasal and “less mouth scorching-ly why God why?”  Eating it makes me feel like a big girl.

k&k

Can I take your order?

But a couple years ago I discovered chili and lime.  It’s a combination made in flavor heaven.  It’s the savory equivalent of Holmes and Watson, or Kenan and Kell.

The Kid and I love to shop at Trader Joes.  One reason is that they’re constantly coming up with products that are so good they make one wonder, why weren’t these always a thing?  Just in the spice aisle alone, the have an umami seasoning, and a jar of everything bagel sprinkle which my child adores.chili limeBut my new favorite is the chili-lime seasoning.  It’s perfectly balanced and goes great on meat, avocados, and fruit.  The other day I made pasta salad, and got crazy with it.

And that’s the dish that we devoured before I remembered to take a photo.  So, here’s the recipe:

Summer Red & Green Pasta Saladmex pasta salad½ lb. rotelle or other small extruded pasta, like shells or cavatappi, cooked according to directions and drained

 ½ rotisserie chicken, skinned, pulled, and cut into bite-size pieces

1 cup mixed grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1 cup thawed frozen peas

Place all salad components into large bowl and toss.

Dressingmex dressing1 cup mayonnaise

juice from 1 lime

1 teaspoon chili lime seasoning (more or less according to taste)

salt & pepper

1/4 green onions, sliced thinly

smoked salt (optional)

gel from the bottom of the rotisserie container (optional)

Whisk together dressing ingredients and add enough very hot tap water to get it to the consistency of thick pancake batter.

Garnishmex garnishbaby spinach

chopped avocado, seasoned and dressed with a tablespoon of lime juice

Gently fold in enough dressing to make the salad a little wetter than you want the finished product, as some will absorb into the pasta.  Cover and let sit at room temp for thirty minutes.

When ready to serve, lay a pile of spinach, spoon on some salad, and top with avocado.mex saladServes 6-8.

This salad would be perfect for a barbecue.  But, it’s also a terrific cold dinner all by itself.  Or, if you’ve got company, serve it with some crusty bread, and some Mexican street corn, elote (roasted corn on the cob painted with mayo and dusted with chili lime and the crumbly Mexican cheese cotija).

And since I’m a big, grown-up, chili-eating girl, I’m having mine with Sangria.sangriaThanks for your time.

Cool as a frozen pea

A gorgeous opalescent bowl at 75% off.A never-worn pair of Louboutin pumps in size 10 at a consignment store.

A pot of hydrangeas that are a little past their prime; and half price.

A rotisserie chicken from Costco.All items bought in the heat of the moment because they’re pretty and inexpensive.  Then when you get each one home, you think, “What now?”.

Last week I had the ‘what now?’ moment with a rotisserie chicken.  But, there wasn’t any real stress in the question, because it was, in fact, a roasted chicken.  And having a couple zip-top bags of cooked chicken is never a bad thing.

I could make soup.Avgolemono is a Greek chicken soup with a hit of lemon.  Heat up three or four cups of chicken stock, with a quarter cup of orzo in it.  Combine 3 eggs and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.  Whisk in a little hot soup to the eggs to raise the temp, then pour it all back into the stock.  Cook on medium-low until the orzo’s cooked.  To serve; put some shredded chicken in the bottom of the bowl, then add a cup of the soup.    Sprinkle a little fresh parsley on top, and you’ve got soup for four.

But, it’s been too hot for soup lately.

I could make open-faced chicken sandwiches.

Get some chewy sourdough and lay down some chicken meat and put crispy bacon on top.  Cover with hoop cheese.  Then melt the cheese under the broiler.

But I wasn’t in the mood for sandwiches, no matter how tasty they may be.

I could make tacos.Heat up Chubby’s guacatillo and stir in some chicken.  Pick up some fresh tortillas at your local tortilleria (tortilla bakery), and heat them in a dry skillet.  Layer the saucy chicken on tortillas and top with cilantro and white onion.

But it was Tuesday, and my local tortilleria is closed on Tuesday.

I could make chicken Alfredo.

It’s actually very simple.  Just sauté four or five minced cloves of garlic in a tablespoon of butter.  When the whole house is redolent of garlic, add two cups of heavy cream and 1/8 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg.  Bring it to a boil and let it go until it’s cooked down, thick, and creamy.  While the cream reduces, cook some ridged pasta a couple minutes less than it says on the box.  When the sauce is done, stir in a quarter cup of grated Parmesan.  Place the par-cooked pasta in the sauce and let it finish cooking.  Add a couple cups of bite-size chicken and serve with a green salad.But, it’s bathing suit season.

I could make a cool pasta salad.

Which is what I did.Oh, and that bowl, the flowers, and those shoes?Put some water in the bowl and float some hydrangea flowers in it.  They’ll be a beautiful decoration at your cocktail party where you’ll show off your fabulicious shoes.

Thanks for your time.

Pantry chicken & pasta salad

Dressing:pasta dressing1 ½ cups mayonnaise

1 teaspoon horseradish

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons oil from sun dried tomatoes

1 teaspoon olive oil

½ teaspoon honey

Very hot water

Salt & pepper

2 or 3 tablespoons snipped Chinese or regular chives, or scallions,

very thinly sliced on the bias.

At least 2 hours or up to 24 hours before service:

Whisk together first 6 ingredients.  Whisk in hot water until dressing’s about the consistency of pancake batter.

Season, taste, and season again until it’s right.

Stir in chives.

Salad:

chicken pasta salad

8 ounces ridged pasta

1 ½ cup frozen baby peas, thawed

¼ cup sundried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained, rinsed, and chopped

2 or 3 big handfuls of baby spinach

2-3 cups rotisserie chicken, cut into bite-size chunks.

6 slices of bacon, cooked until very crispy

Put cut-up sun dried tomatoes into bottom of colander.  Cook pasta according to directions in very heavily salted water.  When finished, pour into colander over tomatoes.  Let cool.

Into large bowl, place pasta, peas, sundried tomatoes, spinach, and chicken.  Toss with enough dressing to give everything a thin coat.

Plate salad, then top with one slice of crumbled bacon.  Serves 6.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Get your mojo running

For the last few weeks, this space has been heavily Durham-centric.

Well, not this week.

Today our sojourn will be in the sunny climes of the Caribbean, by way of Brier Creek.

In Cuba and Puerto Rico there is a sauce called mojo (pronounced mow-hoe).  It’s a very strongly flavored marinade.  Along with herbs like oregano and culantro (culantro, not cilantro; it’s an entirely different plant), it’s full of garlic, olive oil, and bitter orange juice.

While different places have different varieties, the most common is mojo criollo.  Criollo means Creole, which is a mixture of cultures.  The cultures in this instance are Spanish, African, and indigenous Caribbean.  Traditionally it’s used in amazing pork dishes.

This will look very familiar to barbecue-crazy folks from NC…in Cuba and Puerto Rico it’s called lechon.  And once you’ve had it, you will dream about this crispy, crispy skin.

A few weeks ago I went shopping to help fill fridge and pantry in The Kid’s new apartment.  After Target, but before we hit Lowes Foods, we stopped at the dollar store.  It’s terrific for nonperishables.  I almost always buy egg noodles and canned beans there.  I’ve also gotten amazing cosmetics there too.  The $1.00 eye liner works better than one from Sephora costing $14.00.

As we were walking down one aisle, I spied a bottle of mojo criollo.  It was a smaller size, but even so, $1.00 is a real bargain.  The Kid picked up a bottle and so did I.

That was the first bottle I bought there.  I used it to marinate pork tenderloin and flavor a pot of black rice for dinner one night.  It was delicious.

Then I went back for a second bottle.

This time, I decided to color outside the lines.  I would do something with it that I’d never heard of.  I was going to make mojo pasta salad.

Mojo chicken pasta salad

mojo pasta

1/3 cup + 1/4 cup mojo criollo

1 cup mayonnaise

Pinch of sugar

Water

1/2 pound tubetti, sea shell, cavatapi, or lumaconi pasta

1 cup frozen peas, blanched and shocked

3/4 cup grape tomatoes or similar

1/4 cup diced red onion

3 cups cooked, shredded chicken

Salt and pepper to taste

Make dressing: Whisk together mayo, 1/3 cup mojo, and sugar.  Add enough water to make it the consistency of creamy salad dressing.  Taste and season.  Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Slice tomatoes in half and place in colander.  Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and let sit out for at least 90 minutes.  This will draw out much of the moisture, so the tomato flavors are concentrated and the juice doesn’t dilute the dressing.

Cook pasta in heavily salted, boiling water until tender.  Drain.  While still hot, put into a large bowl and stir in ¼ cup mojo.  Cool completely.

1 hour before service, gently mix together all ingredients.  Stir in dressing.  Make it a bit wetter than you want the final product, as the dressing will absorb into salad and will dry out as it sits.

Let sit at room temp for one hour.  Before serving, toss and check for seasoning.

Serves 4-6 as a main or 8 as a side.

I buy them at the Durham Coop, and almost always have some in the fridge.

I served this with a large handful of pea shoots on top.  They’re exactly what you think; tiny shoots from a pea plant.  Fresh and green, with a mild peppery bite, they’re perfect for sandwiches and on top of dishes that need a hit of something bright.  They’re perfect on scrambled eggs and avocado toast.

We also had some bread with our meal.

While I was at Brier Creek picking up the mojo, I stopped by Earth Fare for one of the best deals in town.  They have freshly baked baguettes for only 98 cents, every day.  Right before we eat I run it under some water, and toss it in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes or so.

This little trick brings bread back to bakery freshness.  I keep rolls and buns in the freezer, and with this method, we have fresh bread on demand (when frozen, they go for 13 minutes).  For yeasty dinner rolls, instead of water, I spread a thin layer of butter over the whole surface.  They come out crispy and buttery.

Plate up some of this pasta salad, pour a glass of rum, and turn on the salsa music.  You’re in Puerto Rico with no plane ticket required.

Thanks for your time.