Category Archives: Side Dishes

Mango and Avocado Quinoa Salad with Blackened Shrimp

When I was precisely 16 years and 5 months old I went on a trip to Peru. I remember my age exactly because only my 16 year and 5 month old self would get on a plane to one of the most amazing and culturally rich places in the world, kicking and screaming.  It’s quite embarrassing for me to admit it today since I would go absolutely anywhere in a heartbeat, but at the time, I didn’t want to go.

I was the only one left in the house after my older sisters had all moved out and my mom and step-father (a native Peruvian) wanted to bring me along with them to South America.  Being the dramatic teenager I was I thought for sure that my life would end immediately if I missed out on three whole weeks of summer happenings in my tiny Ohio town.  The idea of doing anything other than painting my fingernails and reading teen magazines did not interest me.

The plan for the trip was to first fly into Lima to stay with some family.  After a week of exploring the city we would continue on to a few smaller towns, visit more family, and then eventually end up in Cusco to do a four day hike to Machu Picchu.  Which, by the way, I showed up in the Andes mountains for this half of a week long hike up a mountain, never having hiked before, wearing a pair of Sketchers boots, and a backpack full of Seventeen magazines and nail polish. I vividly remember standing on the top of the mountain next to a group of four Frenchmen, who had been training for this hike for months, as I flipped through and re-read my test scores from the “What kind of boyfriend is he” quiz. 

Lima, Machu Picchu, Cusco…none of those words really meant anything to me at the time because, not only had I never been to Peru, I had never been out of the country before.  I had no idea what it was like to see the world and my expectations were low (how could anything be better than Ohio?).  I was skeptical all the way up to, and even after, getting off that plane and stepping foot into Lima.  I remember how we sifted through taxi after taxi lined up outside to make sure we got in a legit car since they’ve been known to just slap a “Taxi Cab” sticker on the door to make a few bucks.  I remember how I was told that sometimes they’ll even kidnap you and hold you for a ransom to make a few bucks more.  I remember how we got in the taxi with a driver going 720 miles an hour, swerving through traffic while almost hitting a man walking a goat on a leash downtown Lima.   And then I remember thinking, Oh my god.  I’m going to love this place!

It was all so new and exciting and everything about it was intriguing. I especially loved the food. I had never experienced tasting the cuisine and dining cultures of a different group of people before and of all places, Peru seriously does it right.  Foods like quinoa and ceviche are everywhere. Fresh avocado, freshly squeezed oj carts going down the streets, I loved every bite of everything I put in my mouth.  Even some questionable things that I will refrain from sharing with you!

I am so grateful for the experience and it truly helped shape me into the passionate traveler and food lover that I am today.   When I eat foods like quinoa it always makes me nostalgic thinking back to the time when I had it first.  Every bite of the mild and nutty grain is better than the next.  It’s times like this that food…is more than just food.

 Mango and Avocado Quinoa Salad with Blackened Shrimp

Serves 2 large lunch sized portions, or 4 smaller portions

Quinoa

(you can use all water if you prefer, but I think the chicken stock gives it a nice added flavor)

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • salt
  • 1 large mango, pitted and diced
  • 1 large avocado, pitted and diced
  • 2 green onions, diced
  • Cilantro, a large handful chopped (about ½ cup)
  • Freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1-2 tbs olive oil
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • salt
  • pepper

Blackened Shrimp

  • 1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and devained
  • blackening seasoning (or you can buy prepared blackening seasoning)
  • salt
  • 2 tbs olive oil

Begin by rinsing your quinoa under cold water.  Next, add your quinoa, water, chicken stock and pinch of salt to a medium sized pot.  Bring to a boil and then cover with a lid and turn the heat down to a simmer. Continue to simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. 

For the shrimp, place all the shrimp in a large ziplock bag, add your blackening seasoning, a little salt and a drizzle of olive oil and shake to coat completely.  Heat another tbsp olive oil to medium-high heat in a large pan.  Cook the shrimp on each side for just a couple minutes, or until they turn pink.  Shrimp cook very quickly, so be sure not to overcook.

Mix the quinoa with the remaining ingredients, season with salt and pepper and serve with the shrimp and fresh cilantro garnish

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Filed under All Posts, Appetizers and the likes, Fruity Flavors, Healthy Options, Peru, Recipes, Scrumpdidily Salads, Seafood, Seasonal - Spring, Side Dishes

Homemade Herbed Mayonnaise

If there is anything that I could say to convince you to make your own mayonnaise it would be: watch this video.  Although my days of learning to make mayo began long ago in culinary school, after watching Michael Ruhlman’s video I was in the kitchen urgently cracking eggs before it was even half way over.  Not only does he demonstrate how it takes less than 2 minutes to make with ingredients you most likely already have on hand, but he reminds us of the smooth luxurious taste that is incomparable to any type of store-bought kind. 

The video could not have come at a more appropriate time as I had just been informed that my husband was bringing company over in less than an hour.  Because I eat salads frequently I had arugula and cherry tomatoes in the fridge and because bacon is, well bacon, I always have bacon.  I took some leftover baguette from the prior nights dinner, (very) lightly toasted it, covered it with a smooth layer of herbed mayo, and although I secretly wanted to stop there, I topped it with arugula, tomatoes and bacon for a nice little BLT appetizer (and I still had time to snap a few pics!).  

You can use whatever type of herbs you’d like, but I used what I had growing on my window sill.  You can also add a little more lemon and garlic for a tasty dip, serve it with roasted veggies, make deviled eggs, eat it with hot crispy french fries or just pack it in your brown bag for your turkey & cheddar on wheat.  Whatever you decide to do with it, I’m fairly certain you’ll be a homemade mayo fan for life.

Homemade Herbed Mayonnaise

(adapted from Michael Ruhlman)

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp water
  • 1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • freshly chopped tarragon, chives and parsley

The fastest and easiest way to make mayo is by using a handheld blender (as shown in the video), but if you do not have one you can achieve the same results with a whisk.  Just ensure you are whisking vigorously enough to properly emulsify your ingredients.

In a medium bowl combine the yolk, salt, water and lemon juice.  Ensure your bowl will hold steady on the counter while you are whisking by folding a towel or moist paper towel underneath and begin to whisk ingredients together.

Slowly add the oil, in a wire-thin stream, while whisking vigorously.  Once your emulsion starts to become creamy, you can add the oil a little faster. From the beginning the mixture should be thick enough to hold its shape and look luxuriously creamy. Add the oil too quickly and it will break, that is, it will turn soupy.  When all the oil is incorporated add the chopped herbs and adjust the lemon if needed. 

(If the mayonnaise is too thick, it can be thinned by whisking in a little water or

If it breaks, put a teaspoon of water in a clean bowl and start the process over by drizzling in the broken mayonnaise while whisking.

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Balsamic Asparagus with Feta Cheese, Sundried Tomatoes, and Toasted Walnuts

I am seriously in love with asparagus.  In love.  So much, in fact, that I almost have a little Asparagus Envy.  

It is truly everything I strive to be in life — tall, thin, sleek, versatile, luxurious yet balanced, full of life and flavor, wholesome, tall, thin, sleek.  Did I say tall and thin?  But seriously, it is the WHOLE package — inside and out.

 

The possibilities with asparagus really are endless.  A while back I shared an Asian Style Asparagus recipe with shiitake mushrooms and sesame seeds for The Magazine of Yoga that was a terrific combination as well.   This is the type of vegetable that all you need to know is how to cook it and then you can run wild with your imagination.  It really couldn’t be any easier.

For this recipe, I didn’t measure out the ingredients exactly, so it is an approximation — feel free add as much or as little as you’d like of the ingredients.  

  • One bunch Asparagus
  • 3/4 cup of Feta Cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped, marinated Sundried Tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup toasted Walnuts
  • 2-3 tbs good quality Balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Trim the bottoms of your asparagus and then bring a medium pot of water to a boil.   While the water is coming to a boil prepare an ice bath for after the asparagus cooks.  (An ice bath is just a large bowl filled with cold water and ice – this will stop the asparagus from cooking as well as help it to keep the vibrant green color).

Once your water comes to a boil add the asparagus and cook just until the water comes back up to a boil (also known as blanching).  If you want your asparagus a little more on the tender side, leave it in for just a minute or two longer.  Once cooked, drain and place the asparagus immediately in the ice bath.

To finish, remove from water, drizzle with balsamic and other ingredients, season with salt and pepper as desired and serve.

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Spicy Beef Chili n’ Cheddar Cheese Grits

When it comes to grits, you either love them or think you hate them.  Personally, I have a serious soft spot for grits.  I was once among the crowds that thought I hated them, but it wasn’t until I went down south that I realized they are so much more than the bland instant breakfast kind that is often thought of.  

More specifically, stone ground grits. They are so good, that when prepared the right way, they melt in your mouth like buttery mashed potatoes.  And as a bonus: easy to make.

In Charleston, the most irresistibly delicious variations are just about everywhere you go.  Most commonly you’ll see Shrimp & Grits on the menu, which is a low-country staple — so. heavenly. delicious.  Instead of the classic I thought I’d go for a get-through-the-last-few-weeks-of-wintery-blues dish.   Chunky beef chili over creamy cheddar grits. Comfort food at it’s finest!

You can’t find yellow stone ground grits everywhere, but they can be can ordered online at several different places if you live in an area that doesn’t sell them at the local grocery store.

Cheddar Cheese Grits

(Cooking tip: Grits need a lot of salt to help bring out the flavors.  If your grits taste good, but need just a little boost to make them delicious, you probably need to add more salt)

  •  1 ½ cup Yellow Stone Ground Grits
  • 2 cans chicken broth
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 6 tbs butter
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated yourself

Bring the milk and chicken stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Slowly stir in the grits and salt and bring back to a boil.  Cover, turn down the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes (or until grits are tender), stirring occasionally to prevent the grits from burning on the bottom.   Once grits are tender, stir in butter and half & half, season with pepper and salt (a lot of salt!) and then turn off heat and stir in cheese.

Spicy Beef Chili

  • 1 lb beef shoulder or other beef for stew, cubed
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can chicken broth
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbs ancho chili powder
  • ¼ tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • a dash of Worcestershire
  • a dash of hot sauce
  • olive oil
  • salt/pepper

Heat a few spoonfuls of olive oil in a large dutch oven or soup pot, on high heat.  Season beef cubes with salt and pepper on all sides and add to pan.  Sear the beef on add sides until nice and brown.  Remove beef from pan when browned.

Add onions and jalapenos to pot and saute, while scraping up all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan (that is where a lot of your flavor comes from).  Saute until the onions are softened and then add garlic. Cook for a minute more.  Add all of the spices and cook for another minute.  Add brown sugar, tomato paste, Worcestershire, hot sauce and incorporate into the spices.  Last, return the beef back to the pot, add the chicken stock and tomatoes and bring to a boil (ensure the chicken stock covers all of the beef completely — if not, add a little water).  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour.  Add the beans and cook for about 30 minutes to one hour more or until your beef is tender and pulls apart with a fork. 

Serve over grits and with additional cheese if desired.

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Salsa and Avocado Deviled Eggs

I’m a huge egg fan to start, but when I was pregnant with my butterbean I couldn’t get enough.  Specifically the deviled kind.  Something about that creamy, tangy filling hit my ravenous hard-boiled-egg-spot every time.

Because I did try to nourish myself with some healthy choices during my nine-month long egg-a-thon, I incorporated lots of different variations into my diet.  This version is among my favorites and although lighter than the classic mayo mixture, it is still packed with tons of flavor. 

Spicy salsa, creamy avocado and complete with fresh cilantro.  Ahhh, I can’t think of a better combination!

Salsa and Avocado Deviled Eggs

(You can add a diced jalapeño if you like a little heat)

  • 12 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1/2 cup prepared salsa
  • 1/4 cup (light) sour cream
  • 2 green onion, green part sliced
  • Squeeze of fresh lime
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2-3 tbs cilantro
  • 1 avocado, diced

Slice eggs in half lengthwise and scoop out yolks into medium bowl.  Add salsa, sour cream, squeeze of lime juice, green onion, freshly cracked pepper and a generous pinch of salt.  Combine well until the mixture becomes smooth and the egg yolks are creamy.

Spoon out the salsa mixture into the egg whites and top with avocado and cilantro.  Chill, serve, enjoy!

 

 

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Beer Beans

 

It isn’t very often New Jersey gets to see 60 degree days in January.  The uncharacteristically warm temps over the past weekend had me day dreaming of sunny blue skies and long summer days.  When you get an opportunity like this it only makes sense to fire up the grill.  So, we did just that — a little mid-winter barby!

In efforts to avoid breaking our lazy day streak, we quickly threw together some dishes with the ingredients we had on hand.  These beans were among the feast and turned out so succulent and flavorful (think Boston Baked Beans).  These will be making their way into our dinner repertoire, for sure. 

So, grab a beer (and one for the beans!) and head on over to the kitchen…  

Beer Beans 

(If you want to get really fancy, add some diced up weenies!)

  • 2 cans small red beans
  • 5-6 slices smoked bacon
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bottle of beer (of your choice)
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp molasses
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • a couple dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • a few dashes of tabasco sauce (depending on your taste)
  • salt/pepper

In a large dutch oven cook bacon until crisp and brown.  Remove bacon from pot and set aside. 

Add onion to the pot and sweat for a few minutes until onion becomes translucent.

Add 1/2 cup of beer, and then mix in ketchup, Dijon, molasses, vinegar, brown sugar, worcestershire, tabasco, salt/pepper .  Add beans, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring frequently.  Contiue to add the rest of the beer whille cooking  (you may also have to add a little water if the beans begin to dry out).  

Once the sauce cooks and thickens add the bacon back to the pot and serve.

 

 

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Fresh Pesto Orzo Pasta with Spinach, Feta and Grape Tomatoes

If  you’re among the crowds of those who have overflowing basil plants waiting to be used up before the weather takes a turn, making pesto is a great way to use up the leaves and preserve that flavor throughout the winter.  You can easily freeze prepared pesto by omitting the cheese (it doesn’t freeze well) and then adding it back in when it has thawed.

Once you’re ready to use your pesto here’s an idea for a quick and easy weeknight side dish, or add some shrimp or chicken for a flavorful and healthy well-rounded meal!

Orzo Pasta with Spinach, Feta and Grape Tomatoes

  • 1 box orzo pasta
  • 1 package grape tomatoes, sliced in half or quartered
  • 2 cups spinach leaves, chiffinade
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/3 cup pesto (see recipe below) or prepared pesto
  • salt and pepper

Basil Pesto

  • 2 cups packed basil leaves
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • salt and pepper

Combine basil, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor.  Pulse until combined then slowly add olive oil until incorporated and smooth.  Stir in cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and cool.   Toss pasta with basil pesto and add remaining ingredients to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.

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