As I’ve experimented with conjuring up new dishes, I’ve made quite a few that just weren’t that fantastic, and which I don’t deem  recipe sharing-worthy. But some of them were rather pretty or at least were interesting enough that I decided to post them anyhow.

The first dish was in my somewhat recent let’s-caramelize-everything phase. (Ok, I really only caramelized onions and leeks, but I did it a lot!). The idea here was to try to have different contrasting flavors from the five tastes: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami. (Umami is an earthy, savory, fermented taste. Examples of foods with an umami component are miso soup, mushrooms, sauerkraut, and cheese.) The base of the dish was Israeli couscous (a toasted pasta much larger than standard couscous), which I cooked in stock, so that was the salty component. Caramelized onions served as the sweet component, and sun-dried tomatoes and blue cheese were the umami components. At this point, I have to admit that I didn’t realize that sun-dried tomatoes fit in the umami category. I was thinking of them as having a bit of a sour component. So this dish really only had 3 tastes. It wasn’t too bad, but didn’t come together quite the way I hoped.

Caramelized Onions, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Blue Cheese on Israeli Couscous

Caramelized Onions, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Blue Cheese on Israeli Couscous

The second dish was an attempt to drastically transform tomato vodka sauce into something lower-fat. It’s supposed to be made with heavy cream, but at fifty calories and five to six grams of fat per TABLESPOON, there was no way that was going to happen. So I found a few recipes online and kind of mashed them together. I ended up using half and half, in a smaller quantity than the recipes called for. What I ended up with was some perfectly lovely tasting red sauce, but you couldn’t tell that it had a dairy component (very predictably, now that I look back on it). But it did look nice on top of some Pappardelle’s Venetian Calamari Linguine, topped with shaved pecorino romano.

Venetian Calamari Linguine with Ultra Low-Fat 'Tomato Vodka Sauce'

Venetian Calamari Linguine with Ultra Low-Fat 'Tomato Vodka Sauce'

Next was another pasta dish. I normally use grilled shrimp when I make Pappardelle’s  Chipotle Black Bean Tagliatelle, but I had some left over chicken that particular week, and used it instead. So…I kind of have to make something up here, because paging through the scattered notebooks I use to record my ingredient measurements, I can’t find this dish at all. But I like the photo, and seem to be hung up on having four items in this post. So, let’s see… I know I used shredded chicken, yellow bell peppers and garlic, and obviously topped it with cilantro. I’m fairly certain I used chicken stock and reduced it to make a sauce, since I’ve been practicing Reduction Mania in the kitchen for several months now. The best bet is that I added cumin, a bit of red pepper, lime juice, and I think a few squeezes of tomato paste prior to reducing it. If I remember correctly, this one could would have been shareable, but I’ve obviously lost my notes!

Pappardelle's  Chipotle Black Bean Tagliatelle with Cumin-Lime Shredded Chicken

Pappardelle's Chipotle Black Bean Tagliatelle with Cumin-Lime Shredded Chicken

I was really hoping this one would turn out wonderfully, but it was another good-but-not-great result. For the base I used a mixture of black and red quinoa, cooked in stock. On top of that was caramelized leeks, sun-dried tomatoes, and softened goat cheese…which, as I’m writing this up, I realize is pretty much a direct repeat of dish #1 with 3 variations. Quinoa instead of Israeli couscous, leeks instead of onions, and goat cheese instead of blue cheese. Ha! Well, that’s obviously EXACTLY where I got the inspiration for this one.

The important thing was that I had fun making all of these, even if they didn’t quite turn out right. And these ones were close enough that they’re worth a second try, with a few adjustments.

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I went to the Boulder Farmers’ Market yesterday, and couldn’t believe the variety of produce available this early in the year! Last week (opening day), the choices were pretty limited, but this week I came home with 10 different vegetable items. I was delighted to see green garlic showing up, having gotten completely hooked on green garlic and garlic scapes last year. They both have a bright, green garlic taste that makes a perfect addition to lighter spring dishes. I also picked up some arugula, spinach, basil, apple mint, potatoes, hot-house tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, mini-English cucumbers, and green onions.

4/14/12 Boulder Farmers' Market purchases

4/14/12 Boulder Farmers' Market purchases

And this time I made it there early enough to get a 6-pack of Street Fare mini-cupcakes. Pictured below are two each of their lemon lavender, chocolate mint, and red velvet cupcakes – all of which were wonderful tasting. Unfortunately I got there too late for the chocolate salted caramel ones. I pay in cupcakes for sleeping in late on Saturdays.

Street Fare Mini-Cupcakes

Street Fare Mini-Cupcakes

This will be a very short post, but I was so excited that the Boulder Farmers’ Market opened this Saturday, I wanted to post some food pictures. I’ve been looking forward to this week for a month! Of course the produce selection is limited this early in the year, but it was so nice to see all the local farmers again, and to buy some local vegetation. The most prominent items this early are greens, so I bought plenty of those for salads this week. I got some lovely mache, some mixed lettuce and some spinach. It will be great with some nice homemade vinaigrette, which I’ve really gotten into creating lately. (It honestly tastes so much better than the bottled stuff).

Mache

Mache

Mixed Lettuce

Mixed Lettuce

Spinach

Spinach

I couldn’t pass up the gorgeous looking cinnamon cap mushrooms from Hazel Dell, either. They’re just so cute! We have some portobellos left over from the outstanding omelets my husband made this weekend, so I plan to use both types of mushrooms to make some sort of dish with the farro I still have in the pantry.

Hazel Dell Cinnamon Cap Mushrooms

Hazel Dell Cinnamon Cap Mushrooms

I also got some fingerling potatoes, because hey, potatoes! (Yeah, okay, that was weak. But I bought potatoes, the pictures seemed too sparse with just the greens and mushrooms, and I’m lacking in savvy potato prose right now.)

Fingerling Potatoes

Fingerling Potatoes

I also stopped by the Street Fare stand, hoping to pick up a six-pack of mini-cupcakes, but much to my dismay, they had sold out about half an hour earlier! Hopefully the’ll have a larger supply next week, because I’ve had a cupcake craving lately.

I’m definitely looking forward to the market season, and getting more fresh, local, healthy produce into my meals, as well as trying some vegetables I’ve never prepared before. Yum!

The Boulder Farmers’ Market opens tomorrow, and I am so ready for some local food inspiration! I haven’t been that motivated in terms of cooking at home lately, and am really looking forward to some fresh produce. Even if it’s mainly just greens and herbs this early in the season.

I did stumble upon a great tasting tomato cucumber salad a week ago when I was using up some left over tomatoes. For dressing, I used lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and sumac, as I do when I make Fattoush salad. But I also added a bit of Aleppo pepper, which is a moderately spicy, slightly fruity flavored pepper grown in Syria and Turkey. It was completely yummy, and actually kind of addictive.

So this week I set out to make it again to document it. I wasn’t spectacularly thrilled with the photos I took, so I doctored them up a bit with some soft focus (oooooh, special effects in Photobucket…). So that’s what’s with the sort of hokey photos below.

I also kind of majorly overdid the garlic this time. The garlic bulb I bought at the store had the world’s tiniest cloves, and I had used a bunch of them earlier in the week, so I got it into my head that I needed to use a ton of the small things to make up for the 3-6 normal cloves I would normally use, and I think I ended up using about three times the garlic I should have. Now, personally, I’ve pretty much always deemed it impossible to use too much garlic. But I definitely think I found the upper limit. Honestly though, it was kind of funny. I ended up trying to pick out as much of the tiny garlic bits as I could (@#$%, my excellent mincing skills!). I also added some parsley and mint, which helped tone down the garlic. But next time I’m going to make it without the parsley and mint, because I really liked the original version. The recipe below includes a sane amount of garlic.

Be sure to use fresh, ripe tomatoes (in the off-season, I have found that campari tomatoes are pretty good, but you could use roma tomatoes as well). Ideally you would want tomatoes with a bit thicker ‘walls’, but I think taste is more important than the tomato thickness. You also want to be sure to get rid of the seeds in the cucumber and the seeds and juice in the tomatoes, so that the dressing doesn’t get diluted.

Campari Tomatoes

Campari Tomatoes

Cucumber and Garlic Dregs

Cucumber and Garlic Dregs

Aleppo Pepper and Sumac

Aleppo Pepper and Sumac

Middle Eastern (ish) Tomato Cucumber Salad
serves 4-6 as a side

1+1/2 to 2 lbs ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 cucumbers, seeded and chopped
2-5 large cloves garlic, minced (add gradually and taste!)
1+1/2 T lemon juice
1+1/2 T red wine vinegar
1 T olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sumac
1/2 to 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
fresh ground black pepper

Be sure to get rid of the seeds in both the cucumber and the tomatoes when you chop them. Place the tomatoes and cucumbers in a large non-reactive bowl. To make the dressing, combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl or mug, then taste and adjust spices as desired. Now pour the dressing on top of the tomatoes and cucumber, and mix well to distribute. Refrigerate for at least an hour, stirring every 20 minutes or so to redistribute the dressing.

Middle Eastern (ish) Tomato Cucumber Salad

Middle Eastern (ish) Tomato Cucumber Salad

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