Stuff and Nonsense: eating the alphabet

Showing posts with label eating the alphabet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label eating the alphabet. Show all posts


Eating A to Z: B is for Bay Boletes & Barley

I've found that Polish import shops are excellent places to pick up an interesting variety of good quality dried mushrooms for much less than regular grocery stores or, godloveaduck, Williams-Sonoma. Unfortunately, as a non-Polish speaker, I'm frequently at a loss as to what kind of mushroom I'm purchasing. This doesn't stop me, of course, and when I get home and run them through Google Translate, I find they're never so weird that I don't know what to do with them.

Most recently I purchased a 20 gram package of dried Bay Bolete. Bay Bolete is found in both North America and Europe and, according to the internets, make a perfectly okay substitute for porcini. They dry very easily and can be used in soups, stews, and sauces.

Mushroom & Barley Soup

Of course, I used mine in soup for February's Eating A to Z Healthy Recipe Challenge hosted by Meal Planning Magic, Sparkles and a Stove and Alida's Kitchen as now is the season for hearty soups that speak comfort and warmth. This is a real ribsticker, so feel free to add extra broth (or vegetable juice!) for a soupier soup.
Bay Bolete Mushroom Barley Soup
Serves 4 as a main dish

¾ oz dried mushrooms [IMBA Suszony Podgrzybek Krajanka aka bay bolete]
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 large carrots, diced small
2 celery ribs, diced small
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend [Whole Spice]
2 8 oz containers fresh crimini mushrooms, cleaned and coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp concentrated beef base [Penzeys Beef Soup Base and Seasoning]
3 Tbsp sherry [Taylor]
1 Tbsp tomato paste
4 oz quick-cooking barley
32 oz low-sodium fat-free chicken broth [Pacific Organic]
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper, to taste

Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl, cover with boiling water, and leave to soak for 25 min.

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch/French oven and add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and seasoning blend. Sauté for 5 mins on a medium heat or until softened. Drain the dried mushrooms, saving the liquid, and finely chop.

Add both mushrooms to pan. Sauté for another 5 mins, then add the concentrated beef base, sherry, tomato paste, barley, broth, bay leaf, and strained mushroom liquid.

Cook for 30 mins or until barley is soft. Remove bay leaf and season to taste with salt and pepper, if desired. Serve with garlic bread or biscuits.

Mushroom & Barley Soup


Eating the Alphabet: The End

Wrapping up the 2013 Eating the Alphabet Challenge! A little sad, because there's still so many things I want to try, but that's okay ... because we're doing it again! Although, I guess it's going to be a little different this year? More of a monthly link party? And the name's changing?

(A or B): Curried Acorn Squash Soup with Apples & Leeks

(C or D): Ensalada de Chayote, Elote, y Tomates (Chayote, Corn, & Tomato Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette)

(E or F): Zesty Fig Spread (fave)

(G or H): The very belated Roasted Green Beans with Garlic & Thyme (fave)

(I or J): Jicama Fruit Salad

(K or L): Southwestern-Style Kale Salad

(M, N, or O): Mango & Mint Quinoa Salad

(P, Q, or R): Whipped Rutabaga & Carrots (fave)

(S or T): Sorrel Sauce & Sorrel-Smashed Potatoes (fave)

(U, V, or W): Vanilla-Scented Chicken Over Greens (meh)

(X, Y, or Z): Lemon-Cheesy Zucchini


(Belated) Eating the Alphabet: G is for Green Beans & Garlic

I never posted during May's Eating the Alphabet Challenge as I never got around to photographing my dish of garlicky roasted green beans before we ate it and then there wasn't enough time to remake it and photograph the redo. Unfortunate, as it was pretty darn delicious. And it's not as if I haven't made it since ... just never get around to photographing it.

But I have now! Et voilà! The belated green beans:


Roasted Green Beans with Garlic & Thyme
Serves 4 as a side dish

12 oz green beans
1 tbsp olive oil
4 small sprigs thyme, chopped
8 garlic cloves, halved if large
salt and pepper, as desired
Additional fresh thyme, for garnish

Preheat oven to 425°F. Cover a jelly roll pan with parchment or foil.

Lay green beans, garlic, thyme on the jelly roll pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat. Spread them out on the span so that they lay flat. Season with salt and pepper and roast for 25 minutes.

Roasting Green Beans

Adjust seasonings, if necessary, and serve garnished with additional thyme.
The garlic gets all nutty and, mmm, is just marvelous with the fresh thyme and tender-crisp beans.


Eating the Alphabet: Z is for Zucchini

So we've come to the end of another Eating the Alphabet challenge. December's ingredients were X, Y, and/or Z. I went with zucchini, because I kept seeing these little packs of adorable baby zucchini in the produce section and I was dying for an excuse to buy them. (I know, I did zucchini last year ... there's just not a lot of XYZ ingredients and I like zucchini a lot).

You can make this dish with regular-sized zucchini, of course. You'll just need to cut them into strips about the same length and thickness of your ring finger.

I did not remove the stems from the baby zucchini as they are perfectly edible. Also, very cute cooked with the stems intact and, sometimes, I just crave cute.

Baby Zucchini
Ahhh! So cute! I must eat you all!
Lemon-Cheesy Zucchini
Serves 2 generously as a side dish

1 Tbsp olive oil
8 oz baby zucchini, halved lengthwise
4 Tbsp grated Parmesan
[4C Homestyle Parmesan Romano]
4 sprigs thyme, chopped
zest 1 lemon
Freshly cracked pepper, as desired

Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet. Add the zucchini, cut side down, and sauté for 3 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan and toss with the Parmesan, zest, thyme, and lots of black pepper. Serve.
Lemon-Cheesy Zucchini

While the dish served two as a side with grilled chicken, it would also make a fine lunch for one zucchini lover if paired with a little crusty bread spread with soft goat cheese and maybe some thyme honey ... drools.

The still-firm zucchini is marvelously nutty and the tart lemon zest helps balance out the salty cheese. If you prefer softer zucchini, just flip the zucchini after three minute cooking time and cook the other side for an additional three minutes.

And that's it! We're done with the 2013 Eating the Alphabet Challenge. Wrap-up post coming in January and then we begin again in February! A is amaranth? B is for bok choy? It's anyone's guess!


Eating the Alphabet: V is for Vanilla Beans

Vanilla beans. November's Eating the Alphabet Challenge letters are U, V, and/or W, and I knew I just had to use vanilla beans. I'd bought a tube of them at Penzeys last Christmas (eek) with the intent of making some kind of bourbon-soaked vanilla bean-enriched cake for my dad, but that never happened and I've been "stuck" with them ever since.

I really wanted to do something simple but savory with the vanilla beans. I found a recipe for "Slow-Cooked Chicken with Sauteed Mushrooms and Vanilla" in an old Country Living and a recipe for vanilla-infused "Savory Pork Tenderloin" on the Nielsen-Massey site so I knew meat and vanilla could go together. I didn't want to make those particular recipes, however, because they served too many. I knew The Husband would turn his nose up at savory vanilla anything and I didn't want to eat pork tenderloin all week for lunch ... especially if it didn't turn out very well!

So I decided to "cheat" and go the easy way. I'd poach two boneless skinless chicken breasts in a vanilla-infused bath and see what that did. If it was good, yay. If not very good, then it could be drowned in curry sauce. And, if it was very bad, the cats would still like it!

Poaching w/ Coconut Milk & Vanilla
Coconut milk, vanilla bean, sea salt, white pepper
As the chicken poached, the vanilla-milk-broth bath became more and more aromatic -- so much so that I began to worry the chicken would come out tasting like a vanilla-scented candle. Well, I needn't have worried as the poached chicken smelled and tasted only vaguely of vanilla. Decidedly chicken, with a faint, sweet note of vanilla. Actually, kind of disappointing. Perhaps I should have used two beans? Or omitted the chicken broth? Or just be thankful it wasn't more strongly vanilla?

The dressing, while definitely stronger tasting than the chicken, was still only mildly vanilla. Very aromatic, mind you, as the whole dining room seemed to smell of it after I dressed the salad. Very tasty, too. Interestingly, the flavor of the dressing was much more pronounced on the greens than on the chicken. I think it might be nice tossed with cantaloupe and blueberries.

Vanilla-Scented Poached Chicken Salad
Needs. Moar. Flavor.
Honestly, this salad is the most disappointing dish I've made for the Eating the Alphabet Challenge. It was certainly edible and the cats did not get any, but as I ate it I kept wishing I knew how to make it better.
Vanilla-Scented Chicken Over Greens

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, well trimmed
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped [Penzeys Madagascar]
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp white pepper
8 oz fat-free low-sodium chicken broth [Pacific Organic]
13.5 oz can coconut milk [Goya -- not recommended]

To a medium-sized pot add chicken broth, coconut milk, vanilla seeds and pod, white pepper, and salt. Give it a stir. Add chicken.

Bring pot, uncovered, to boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 12-14 minutes or until chicken is tender and no longer pink. Drain chicken. Thinly slice. Serve atop salad greens with a drizzle of vanilla balsamic and grind of fresh black pepper.
Vanilla Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 Tbsp flax seed oil [Barlean's]
1 Tbsp white balsamic
1 tsp vanilla [Penzeys Mexican Vanilla]
pinch each white pepper and sea salt

In a small bowl, whisk together balsamic, vanilla, salt and pepper. While still whisking, slowly drizzle in oil until oil and vinegar are well combined.
I used whole fat coconut milk in the poaching liquid, because I prefer the flavor and the chicken wasn't going to absorb much, if any, of the milk, but feel free to use light coconut milk or cow's milk. I do not recommend the Goya coconut milk, however, as it seemed excessively watery. Trader Joe's and Whole Foods' house brands are much better.

Also, olive oil would be fine in the vinaigrette -- I just prefer the lightness and nuttiness of flax seed oil.


Eating the Alphabet: S is for Sorrel

I tend to think of sorrel as a spring green as it usually dies back at the onset of hot weather and does not return again until the following spring. However, this year my sorrel came back with a burst of green in early September and has been going strong ever since.

While sorrel (also known spinach dock) looks a bit like young spinach, it tastes very bright and sharp and green -- the long lost love child of spinach plant and a lemon tree? While sorrel can be eaten raw in salads or just on its on, I prefer it cooked with other ingredients to balance out its distinctive tang.

Unfortunately, cooked sorrel tends to turn a singularly unattractive shade of gray-green. I've no idea how to keep this from happening -- I think lemon juice usually keeps cooked greens from changing color, but sorrel's so tart already that adding lemon seems inadvisable. The color is not such a big deal in a brothy soup where the sorrel is mixed with chunks of potatoes and other vegetables, but it is a bit off-putting by itself.

So making a sorrel sauce for September's Eating the Alphabet Challenge? A delicious idea, certainly, but the results were not aesthetically pleasing.

Tilapia w/ Sorrel Sauce & Sorrel-Smashed Potatoes

Yes, that sauce is baby poop green. But it's yummy -- bright, tart, creamy -- and went surprisingly well with the baked tilapia. I'd half expected the sauce would overwhelm the mild tilapia, but the fish held its own. Still, I think the sauce would be awesome with something like baked salmon. Or with steak, as a substitute for chimichurri sauce!

(Of course, supper might have looked a smidge more attractive if I hadn't left the plates in our warm oven for two hours while a salesman successfully sold us a bridge).
Sorrel Sauce
Serves 2 plus leftovers

4 oz sorrel leaves, stemmed and washed
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp half and half
1 tsp dried thyme, crushed
½ tsp garlic powder
Salt and black pepper to taste

Roll the wet sorrel leaves up like a cigar and slice into thin ribbons (chiffonade).

Chopped Sorrel

Add to a saucepan with olive oil, thyme, and garlic powder.

Chopped Sorrel

Cook, covered on medium, for about 5 minutes or until sorrel is greatly reduced and gone an unattractive baby-gak green.

Wilted Sorrel

Remove from heat, add a splash of half and half, and puree until smooth. Add a little more half and half until desired thickness is reached. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Try not to dwell on the color.

Sorrel Sauce

Serve over fish or meat.

Because I had chopped more sorrel than I needed, I decided to make sorrel-smashed potatoes to go with the fish! The sorrel's flavor was, obviously, much more subtle than in the sauce, but still gave the potatoes a slight lemony tang that was really quite nice.

Sorrel-Smashed Potatoes
Serves 2

12 oz small unpeeled red potatoes
1½ oz sorrel leaves
2 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter, melted
⅓ cup half and half, warmed
Salt and black pepper to taste

Cook your potatoes however you like (I steamed mine whole in the microwave).

Meanwhile, roll the sorrel leaves up like a cigar and slice into thin ribbons (chiffonade, again). Place sorrel in a small saucepan with the oil. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until sorrel is completely wilted.

Add sorrel, butter, and half-and-half to potatoes. Mash until desired texture is reached, adding more half and half if necessary. Season with salt and pepper.
(Another way to do this would be to stir any extra sorrel sauce into your already mashed potatoes).


Eating the Alphabet: R is for Rutabaga

For September's Eating the Alphabet, we're cooking with ingredients starting with the letter P, Q, or R. Since it's really starting to feel like autumn and autumn makes my little heart yearn for root vegetables, I decided to go with rutabaga. Or, as Stop and Shop labeled them, "yellow turnips." Or, as my British mother-in-law calls them, "swedes."

Our Friend, The Rutabaga

While I wanted to make something like the mashed rutabaga my mother serves at Thanksgiving, I also wanted to incorporate some of the monstrously huge carrots still lurking in my vegetable garden. I hoped the carrots would offset the rutabaga's distinctive flavor and make the vegetable more palatable for The Husband. For while I enjoy rutabaga, The Husband does not. Indeed, he seems to view my mother's Thanksgiving mashed rutabaga as some kind of trap, meant to misdirect him from the mashed potatoes.

Whipped Rutabaga & Carrot

While The Husband ate a small scoop of whipped rutabaga and carrots, he pronounced it "not his favorite." I nommed up two big scoops, so clearly I liked it. It's s simple dish with a mild, slightly sweet, flavor -- much milder than my mom's straight-forward mash, but still pretty strongly rutabaga for non-rutabaga lovin' folk.
Whipped Rutabaga & Carrots

2 pounds peeled and chopped carrots
2 pounds peeled and chopped rutabaga
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 oz can fat-free evaporated milk, warmed
Salt-free fat-free chicken broth, as needed
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Dried parsley, as desired.

Put vegetables in a slow cooker and just barely cover with broth. Cook on Low for 6-8 hours or until vegetables are tender. Drain well, reserving broth for a later use (soup). Whip in your stand mixer (or mash by hand) w/ melted butter, salt, pepper, warmed evaporated milk, and parsley.

Whipping the Rutabaga & Carrots

Or place rutabagas, carrots and enough broth to cover in French/Dutch oven. Heat to boiling; reduce heat to low. Cover; simmer 30 to 35 minutes or until tender. Drain and whip as above.
If you want to eliminate the dairy, just mash the vegetables with their broth. I prefer the sweet creaminess dairy brings and, since I'm using fat-free evaporated milk, I'm not worried about the fat the butter adds.


Eating the Alphabet: M is for Mango (& Mint!)

For this August's Eating the Alphabet Challenge we're selecting M, N, and/or O ingredients. I chose mango and mint (with a little bit of spring onion) and made a yummy quinoa salad appropriate for breakfast or a light lunch. It was only after I'd made and eaten the salad that I realized it might be better to save it for September's tricky "Q" and make a different mango and mint dish for August. Trouble is, it's nearly the end of the month and I haven't come up with anything I liked better!

Mango & Mint

Mango is one of my favorite flavors, but it's not a fruit I cook with much. For the Eating the Alphabet Challenge, I wanted to push the envelope a little by trying something more savory, rather than going for a sweet like mango lassi or pudding. I paired the mango with mint simply because I thought it sounded like a great idea and not because I actually knew how the two would work together. I also decided to add spring onions (scallions) to my ingredients list as I reckoned the inclusion of onion would land whatever I made squarely in the land of savory. Also, it's an "O" ingredient and I am nothing if not an overachiever.

Mango, Mint, and Quinoa Salad

I based my salad on BBC Foods' Quinoa Salad With Mint and Mango" recipe, but I changed it up a bit -- adding crushed almonds, increasing the mint, decreasing the spring onions, and cooking the quinoa in orange juice.
Mango and Mint Quinoa Salad

4 oz quinoa, well rinsed
8 oz fresh orange juice
1 mango, peeled, finely chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro leaves (omit stems to avoid soapy flavor)
2 spring onions, including the green parts, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
zest and juice of ½ a lime
4 Tbsp crushed unsalted roasted almonds

Toss mango with mint, cilantro, onions, lime juice and zest, and olive oil. Set aside and allow the flavors to marry.

Meanwhile, cook quinoa in orange juice using your favorite method. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

Toss quinoa with mango mixture. Divide between two plates. Garnish with extra mango and mint and crushed almonds.
This is a fabulously refreshing summery salad well-suited to a humid August morning. The flavors are really clean and bright and the whole thing positively shouts "good health!"

That said, this salad is best eaten within a few hours of making it. You don't want to refrigerate it unless you're going to let it come back up to room temperature before consuming. Trust me, it just doesn't taste very good chilled.

If you want to add meat to this dish and serve it for lunch or supper, I would serve it over a bed of baby greens with a skewer of citrus-grilled shrimp.


Eating the Alphabet: K is for Kale

July's Eating the Alphabet letters are K and/or L. I was leaning toward "L is for lemongrass" when I saw a recipe for kale salad on Whole Foods' website where an avocado was mashed into kale to form a dressing!

It sounded interesting, but I never have avocados on hand. I do, however, quite often have Whole Foods or Wholly guacamole on hand. I wondered why couldn't I mash my kale with guacamole? And then I thought, since I was using guacamole, maybe I'd like to toss in some black beans? Roasted corn? Chopped tomato? A little lime juice? Blackened chicken strips? And, lo, "Southwestern-Style Kale Salad" was born.

Making Kale Salad

Southwestern-Style Kale Salad
Serves 2

Double handful of chopped kale
½ cup drained and rinsed black beans
½ cup thawed frozen roasted corn
6 chopped grape tomatoes
Guacamole, as desired
Lime juice, as desired
1 cup diced cooked chicken

Combine first four ingredients in a large bowl and toss until the kale is evenly coated with the guacamole.

Making Kale Salad

Squeeze a bit of lime juice over it, if desired, and toss again (lime juice is a great "brightener" and, if you are not serving the salad right away, will also help keep the guacamole from discoloring). Portion out into two bowls. Top with chicken. Eat!

Making Kale Salad
How did it taste? Quite fabulous, really, and I felt totes smug eating it since it was packed full of good-for-me ingredients.


Eating the Alphabet: J is for Jicama

I've known for months now that I wanted to use jicama in June's Eating the Alphabet Challenge. My local Price Chopper carries containers of jicama sticks in its prepared produce section and, every time I reach for the snap peas, I'd see them and think "Gonna make something fabulous with you soon!" But when I finally bought them (and a whole unprocessed jicama for kicks) I wondered what I would do with it. Yes, months of looking forward to eating jicama ... zero planning for actually cooking with it.

Jicama 2 Ways
Jicama two ways

So I made a fruit salad. (It's Father's Day Weekend. We're having a picnic. I planned on serving banana cream pie for dessert, but my mother is allergic to bananas. What to serve as secondary dessert? Well, I had lots of berries. And jicama. And mint. And limes ...)

Jicama-Berry Salad

Jicama Fruit Salad
Serves 6

6 oz jicama cubes (thumbnail-sized)
6 oz blackberries
6 oz raspberries
9 oz chopped strawberries
¼ oz fresh mint, sliced into thin ribbons
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
Ground cinnamon, if desired
Honey or sugar, if desired.

Add all ingredients to a medium serving bowl. Stir gently to combine. (If your berries aren't very sweet, you might want to add a little honey or sugar at this point).

Let stand 15 minutes for flavors to blend or refrigerate for a few hours.

Serve dusted with cinnamon, if desired.
What does jicama taste like? A lot like nothing. It's crunchy like an under-ripe pear or water chestnut, but it really doesn't taste like anything. Works brilliantly at picking up surrounding flavors, though -- The Husband picked most of the jicama out of his serving of fruit salad as he said it had "gone all minty!"


Eating the Alphabet: F is for Figgy-Fig-Figs

I used to buy a yummy fig and ginger jam from Stonewall Kitchen, but stopped as I am the only one in my household who likes figs and it takes me so long to get through a 12.5 oz jar that the jam goes green and fuzzy before I see the bottom. I've pondered making my own jam and, since April's Eating the Alphabet challenge is E and/or F ingredients, I thought now would be as good a time as any to find a recipe.

I wanted a simple recipe with a straight-forward ingredient list. A refrigerator jam, of course, since I have no patience for hot-water baths and canning rigs. And obviously not a lot of jam, since it's just me.

While I looked at many recipes (some rather sophisticated with white wine and such), I ended up modifying a simple Weight Watchers recipe ... and a good thing, too, as it made a really yummy spread! Very figgy, but not too sweet and the lemon keeps it bright. Also very thick and sticky so, if you're like me and seriously uncoordinated in the morning, be careful not to smear it all over your eyeglasses.
Zesty Fig Spread
Modified from Weight Watchers' recipe
Makes about 1 cup of spread (2 tablespoons/serving)

7 oz package dried Mission figs, stems removed
1 heaping tsp fresh peeled diced ginger root
2 oz orange juice
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
⅛ tsp table salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated by ¾ the amount, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse on medium-high speed until mixture is well combined and smooth.
What can you do with this spread, you ask? Many delicious things! Put it on crackers with a little blue cheese.

Fig & Blue on Crackers

Make a flatbread pizza with it.

Fig, Ham, Havarti & Arugula Flatbread

Or a yummy quesadilla.

Fig Havarti Ham Quesadilla

Yay for figs! Figgy-fig-figs!


Eating the Alphabet: C is for Chayote

March's Eating the Alphabet Challenge was to use C and/or D ingredients. Last year, I used chickpeas in "Pasta With Chickpeas, Spinach, and Golden Raisins" so I planned on sticking with a "D" ingredient this time 'round. Maybe daikon radishes or dates. But then I espied chayotes at Shoprite and knew I had to give them a try.

Chayotes (also called "mirliton," "cho-cho," and "christophine") are adorable pear-shaped gourd-like fruits. Besides being totes adorabs, chayotes are also a great source of folate, fiber, and vitamins A and C. Raw chayote has a very crisp, dry texture -- a bit like biting into a slice of underripe pear. Flavor-wise, it's very cool and refreshing with a decided cucumber note. And, although technically a winter fruit, thanks to global commerce chayotes are available year-round.

Chayote & Friends
It's making a prune face at me ;)
Chayote & Friends
Just like that!
If you can't find chayotes, most recipe sites I visited suggest zucchini or summer squash as a substitution in a cooked dish, but I think the flavor and texture would be wrong in the raw dish I've made. I would recommend jicima as a substitute or, if you're planning on serving the salad immediately, a well drained salted and seeded cucumber would probably work alright.

The recipe I made, "Ensalada de Chayote, Elote, y Tomates" (Chayote, Corn, and Tomato Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette), comes from Thomas Schnetz and Dona Savitsky's Dona Tomas: Discovering Authentic Mexican Cooking (Ten Speed Press, 2006) and is a compilation of recipes from Dona Tomas restaurant near Berkeley, California. I borrowed the cookbook from my library along with The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook (splendid recipe for "Pulled Buffalo Sandwiches with Chayote Slaw") and Down-Island Caribbean Cookery (many delicious cooked chayote recipes).

While the recipe does not say to peel or seed the chayote (every part of the chayote fruit is edible), I chose to peel mine and remove the large flat pit as my chayote skins were a bit blemished and unsightly. Peeled, there were some rusty brown spots such as you might see on a peeled apple, and I just cut them away.

Peeled Chayote

Halved Chayote

As I planned on taking this salad to work with me over a few days, I did not dress the salad until I was ready to eat it. I stored the vegetable mixture in a large covered bowl and it kept quite well. Like jicama and unlike apples, chayote does not discolor when exposed to air. I stored the vinaigrette in a repurposed mini milk bottle.

Chayote Salad

While I really loved this salad, I didn't think that much of the vinaigrette and stopped using it after the second serving. Instead, I switched over to Newman's Own Lite Honey Mustard Dressing and Lite Lime Vinaigrette. The Lite Lime Vinaigrette was fantastic and made me wish I'd not wasted time (and ingredients) on the recipe's vinaigrette. The last day, I didn't have much of the salad left, so tossed it with some salmon and served it on a bed of chopped romaine and that, too, was fabulous.

Chayote Salad w/ Salmon & Romaine

So glad I tried a new fruit! Looking forward to making many other chayote recipes!


Eating the Alphabet: Z is for Za'atar & Zucchini

With Z we've come to the end of the 2012 Eating the Alphabet Challenge. What can you do with Z, but something with zucchini? Ahhh ... but then I found a spice blend at Penzeys called "zatar" and knew I had to give it a try. According to The New Food Lover's Companion (Barron's Educational Series, 2007), za'atar is "a popular, pungent Middle Eastern spice blend composed of toasted sesame seeds, dried thyme, dried marjoram and sumac. It's mixed with olive oil and salt and is drizzled over hot bread or used as a dip for bread. Za'atar (also spelled zahtar) is also sprinkled over meats and vegetables as a seasoning. It can be found in most Middle Eastern groceries."

Or Penzeys. Or the Teeny Tiny Spice Co. of Vermont, for that matter. And, if you're feeling ambitious and want to make your own za'atar blend, there's a great recipe in The Jewish Slow Cooker (available at many public libraries).

So. I had acquired za'atar. Yay for me, but what was I going to do with it? Well, there was always zucchini ... and then I found a recipe for "Zaatar Chicken with Fattoush" in Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer and had a pretty good idea what I was going to do. I didn't follow Lawson's recipe very well, because I'm all rebellious (Or lazy? Probably lazy) like that.

Zatar Chicken

Za'atar Chicken w/ Zucchini & Potatoes

½ cup olive oil
2 chicken legs (that's thigh and drumstick together)
3 Tbsp za'atar
1 tsp sea salt
1 very ripe satsuma mandarin, juiced

Trim extra skin flaps and fat from chicken legs. Put them in a large food storage bag with za'atar, olive oil, orange juice, and salt. Squish everything around until the chicken is thoroughly coated. Put the bag in your fridge and leave overnight.

Zatar Chicken

¼ olive oil
1 Tbsp za'atar
1 tsp sea salt
10 small potatoes (I used a blend of purple, red, and gold)

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a large jelly roll sheet with foil (for easy clean up). Arrange the chicken at one end of the pan and set aside.

Toss potatoes with za'atar, olive oil, and salt and arrange on other side of pan. Pop the pan into the 450°F for 30 minutes.

Zatar Chicken

¼ olive oil
1 Tbsp za'atar
1 tsp sea salt
1 zucchini (about 8 inches long)

While the chicken cooks, cut zucchini into chunks and toss with za'atar, olive oil, and salt. When the oven timer dings, baste chicken with pan juices and crowd the potatoes up together. Add zucchini to the cleared space and pop everything back in the oven for 15 minutes.

Zatar Chicken

Remove pan from oven. Let chicken rest for 5-10 minutes or until the yummy odor drives you mad and you just can't wait anymore. Eat. Consider going back to Penzeys and buying the biggest jar of za'atar they sell.
The za'atar was very herby -- I could definitely taste the thyme and there was a slight tanginess which I'm presuming came from the sumac -- but it didn't overwhelm the chicken or vegetables. Indeed, they worked really well together. So well, in fact, that I'm considering slathering a za'atar-butter paste all over the chicken I'm roasting for Sunday supper instead of my usual sage blend.

I was a little worried The Husband would be all "What are you trying to feed me now, woman?" but he seemed to enjoy the meal very much. (It probably helped that I swapped his zucchini out for buttery carrots).

So I tried something new and it turned out great! Isn't that what the Eating the Alphabet Challenge is all about? Can't wait for 2013 and a new batch of letters to try (going to do the ones I didn't in 2012, hopefully).

Zatar Chicken

List of all other Eating the Alphabet Challenge posts:
B "Beetroot and Pea Salad" (beets)
C "Pasta With Chickpeas, Spinach, and Golden Raisins" (chickpeas)
E "Edamame Hummus" (edamame & endive)
H "Greek Salad Bowl" (hearts of palm)
J "Jerusalem Artichoke Recipe: Creamy No-Dairy Vegetable Soup"" (Jerusalem artichokes)
K & L "Lush No-Bake Lemon Cheesecake" (kiwi & lemon)
O "Herbed Goat Cheese and Spinach Sandwich" (olives & oregano)
P "Maple Pumpkin Oatmeal" (pumpkin)
S "Beginners Stracciatella" (spinach)
W "Watercress Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes" (watercress & walnuts)
Z This post! (za'atar & zucchini)


Eating the Alphabet: W is for Watercress & Walnuts

November's Eating the Alphabet Challenge was to use U, V, and/or W ingredients. I knew I wanted to use peppery watercress when I saw beautiful green bunches of it piled in with the mint and dill at Shoprite. Not only is watercress delicious, it's full of nutrients like iron, calcium, and Vitamin A and C. I like to eat it in cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, but that's not really exciting and the Alphabet Challenge is all about excitement and pushing boundaries, you know.

So needed a new spin on watercress. Why not salad? Something light and filling and green? I was first tempted by Patti LaBelle's recipe for "Out-of-This-World Watercress Salad," but tomatoes aren't in season, anymore, and I didn't want to ruin what sounded like a perfectly lovely recipe with questionable tomatoes. So I turned to Martha Stewart and she did not disappoint. Her recipe for "Watercress Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes" is delightfully simple and seasonable. If my family was comprised of more adventurous eaters, it's the kind of dish I might start Thanksgiving dinner with. It's very clean-tasting and just looks, to me, like autumn on a plate.

From all this ...
... to this!
Watercress Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Slightly Adapted From Martha Stewart
Serves 4

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch-long sticks
3 Tbsp + ½ tsp olive oil
Sea salt and ground pepper
½ cup walnuts
¼ tsp sriracha
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp honey
12 oz watercress, stems trimmed
4 oz fat free feta crumbles

Preheat oven to 450 °F, with racks on upper and lower thirds. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss sweet potatoes with 1 Tbsp oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast on upper rack, until tender, 20 to 30 minutes, stirring frequently. [Stewart's recipe cooks them longer with less stirring, but mine started to burn so ...]


Remove potatoes from oven and set aside. On another rimmed baking sheet, toss walnuts with sriracha and ½ tsp oil. Bake on lower rack, stirring occasionally, until golden (about 5 minutes).


In a bowl, whisk together lemon juice, honey, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper. [Or put it all in an old jar and shakeshakeshake your dressing]. Toss watercress and dressing together. Serve topped with sweet potatoes, walnuts, and feta. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


This salad best served while the sweet potatoes are still warm -- otherwise they just go kind of cold and chewy and that's not a good thing!

Overall, I really liked this salad.  It was easy, elegant, and completely yum! I'd definitely make it again, but I'll keep a close eye on the oven as some of my sweet potato sticks charred a bit!

If you can't find watercress, I'm sure baby spinach would work fine. Ohhh, baby spinach and blue cheese and sweet potatoes and pecans ...