Last Saturday I was clueless as to what to make for dinner. My husband was at work and had taken the car, so I could only use what I had in my kitchen. Normally that isn’t an issue but since we returned from vacation a few weeks ago, we haven’t done a big grocery excursion. The fridge was pretty sparse a barren wasteland. I had brought home some chicken breasts the day before and that was as far as I had gotten in menu planning.
As dinner time approached, I went on the hunt for a side dish, any side dish, but I kept striking out. No potatoes, no rice, and the only noodles I could find were for lasagna.
Then I remembered the butter beans that I had bought after making this salad a few months ago. I loved the dish so much I immediately added a few cans of the mild and creamy beans to my pantry in case I wanted to make it again. Since I didn’t have any of the ingredients for the original salad (of course), I knew I’d have to utilize what I did have.
A thorough fridge sweep and here’s what I came up with: garlic, celery, 1/8 of an onion (seriously?), green onions (yay!), pickled peppers (double yay!), a tiny wedge of Manchego cheese, a bit of Bibb lettuce and a lemon. Hm, I thought, this might actually work…
When in doubt about what to cook for large family gatherings, I’ve found that anything combining cheese and potatoes is sure to be a hit. My favorite crowd-pleasing side dishes include twice-baked potatoes, garlic mashed potatoes and creamy potatoes au gratin, all made with copious amounts of cheesy goodness.
Keeping that in mind, I decided to make this gorgeous-looking upside down potato onion tart to go with last Sunday’s Easter ham. That decision was a difficult one as I had never made the recipe before and cooking something for a group of people without a trial run is a little unusual for me. I’m a firm believer in trying recipes out before subjecting people to them!
But this recipe looked fairly simple to make and just reading the ingredient list gave me confidence: potatoes, onions, cheese, butter, herbs. With such humble and tasty ingredients, how could it not turn out delicious?
Happily, it was everything I wanted it to be — the potato layers were sandwiched between caramelized onions and sharp pecorino, making this a truly decadent dish. The edges (my favorite part) were crisp and cheesy and the center was creamy and luxurious. Surprisingly though, for all that flavor, the recipe used only a bit of butter and didn’t even call for cream!
Spring Asparagus Panzanella Salad with Radishes, Eggs and Pecorino
Two weeks ago my Easter plans were pretty loose — mainly revolving around the couch, a cat on my lap and maybe some bubbly in my hand. But things can change quickly. My grandfather, who was six months from his 98th birthday, suddenly became very ill and passed away last Thursday. Now I rarely get overly personal in these posts and I certainly don’t intend this one to get weepy, but I will say it’s been a very difficult week.
Luckily, I live close enough to my grandparents that I visited them as often as I could. And so after I heard the news, I packed up a bag and headed north to see my family. Many family members had made the pilgrimage, first to visit with him, and then to help plan the memorial. This was how I ended up cooking Easter dinner for nine last Sunday.
It was actually the perfect way to spend the day. For me cooking is a peaceful endeavor and it was nice not only to have a distraction but also a sense of purpose. And being surrounded by family as everyone traded stories about my grandfather (and discussed how people get famous from YouTube videos) was undoubtedly the best place to be.
Losing people you love is always hard. It was especially devastating for me to say good bye to the man who taught me to play cribbage, made me learn to use the brakes on my bike (long story!) and walked me down the aisle on my wedding day. But we honor these people with stories, recalling their memories to help continue their legacies.
To lighten things up, I’m going to tell you one of the more amusing stories being passed around over the weekend:
I am having a little bit of a love affair with Bon Appetit as of late. I usually rotate between quite a few culinary magazines — everything from Food & Wine to Living to Lucky Peach. But I’ve been in a rut recently and it’s seems like every issue of Bon Appetit is chock full of recipes I want to try out.
The most recent issue was no exception. As soon as I saw the picture for their Warm Cauliflower with Herbed Barley Salad, I knew it was destined to be on my plate very soon. The salad consists of three main components, things I generally would not think to mix all together: cauliflower, butter beans and barley. But it sounded like something I would love, so I made it as a side dish for some seared pork chops early last week.
I lucked out of the first step (cooking the barley) because I happened to have some cooked farro on hand already. This sped up the cooking time considerably so if you already have a cooked grain left over, use it here. I’m sure brown rice, quinoa or wheatberries would all be equally at home.
The next step involves cooking the cauliflower, which I actually found fairly interesting. I adore cauliflower and most often I just eat it raw, though I love it roasted, and occasionally I’ll have it steamed. This preparation was a rather ingenious combination of searing and steaming, which gave the cauliflower the flavor of having been roasted with much less oil (win win!).