I always look forward to trying a new flavor of Pappardelle’s Pasta. I had been eyeing the Spicy Red Hot Thai Curry Orzo for some time, but haven’t made a lot of Thai dishes in the past, so I was somewhat hesitant. I finally decided to get some though, and thought I’d do something with grilled shrimp and stir-fried vegetables to go with it. I had some bell pepper and wax beans from the Farmers’ Market, so I figured those would be perfect for a Thai dish. (Sure, Thai food uses green beans or (green) long beans, but I’ve always thought of wax beans pretty much equivalent to green beans. But they have the added bonus of keeping their color when you cook them, unlike those disappointing purple beans!)

Bell Pepper, Wax Beans and Green Onions

Bell Pepper, Wax Beans and Green Onions

One of the main features of Thai food is its wonderful balance of hot, sweet, salty, and sour tastes. I wanted to try to do something using authentic Thai flavors for the sauce, so I did a bit of internet searching, as well as paging through my newly acquired copy of Culinary Artistry to get some ideas. Culinary Artistry is a great book recommended to me by a woman at Sur la Table in Boulder. It has lists of different herbs and spice combinations, as well as different ingredients used in the cooking of various countries. It also has a lot of great information from many famous chefs. For my Thai sauce I decided on fish sauce, coconut milk, lime juice, soy sauce and brown sugar.

After I mixed together everything for the sauce, it tasted pretty good, but was way too thin, so I added a bit of corn starch so it would thicken once I added it to the vegetables. I enlisted my husband to grill the shrimp, which came off the grill looking absolutely gorgeous. I was really pleased with the overall result – not only was it incredibly tasty, but it was a really beautiful dish!

Spicy Red Hot Thai Curry Orzo with Shrimp, Bell Pepper and Wax Beans
serves 2

4 oz Hot Thai Curry Orzo
10 oz shrimp (fresh or frozen)
1+1/2 bell peppers, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
5 green onions, chopped
1/2 lb wax or green beans, ends trimmed, and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 tsp sesame oil, divided
6 basil leaves, chopped

Sauce
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1+1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp lime juice
3 Tbsp coconut milk
4-6 tsp brown sugar (start with the lower amount, and add more if desired)
2 tsp canola oil
1+1/2 tsp cornstarch

Mix all the ingredients for the sauce (except the cornstarch) together. Taste and adjust as necessary – you might want more coconut milk, lime juice, or sugar, depending on your taste preferences. In a small bowl or mug, add a teaspoon or so of the sauce to the cornstarch, and mix well. Add a couple more teaspoons of sauce, and mix again until the cornstarch is dissolved. Now add the dissolved cornstarch to the sauce, and mix well. Set aside.

Cook orzo as per package directions. It’s okay if it’s done before everything else. Just set it aside and you can add it to everything at the end to heat it up again.

Peel Shrimp if needed. Toss in 1 tsp sesame oil. Grill on high heat (use a grill tray or basket if needed) about 2-3 minutes per side. If you’re lucky and can con someone else into doing this part, have them time it so that it will be ready about the same time as the vegetables.

Heat 1 tsp sesame oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beans and cook for two minutes. Add the pepper, and continue to cook until the beans and pepper are crisp tender (it seemed to take between 8 – 12 minutes – I got different results in my two rounds of this dish). If the beans start to brown before things are tender enough, you can turn the heat down a bit, or add a couple teaspoons of water.

Bell Pepper and Wax Beans

Bell Pepper and Wax Beans

Add the green onion and the sauce (and your pasta if it has cooled completely), turn the heat down to low, and continue to cook until the sauce has thickened.

Add the pasta to the vegetables and sauce if you haven’t done so already, and stir well. Plate (or bowl) the pasta, top with shrimp and basil.

Spicy Red Hot Thai Curry Orzo with Shrimp, Pepper and Wax Beans

Spicy Red Hot Thai Curry Orzo with Shrimp, Pepper and Wax Beans

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A couple weeks ago I bought some of the wonderful purple potatoes that 2 R’s Farm sells at the Boulder Farmers’ Market, but I never got around to using them that week. The following week I had some left over chicken sausage, and that sparked a memory of one of my favorite childhood dishes, Polish (Sausage) Potato Salad. I knew I wanted to make a healthy version, so I elected to use something more akin to tzatziki sauce, since I could do that with non-fat Greek yogurt. I didn’t have any cucumbers, so I just used yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, dill and salt for the sauce. The other main difference in terms of calories and fat is that I used chicken sausage instead of Polish sausage. So that was a big savings.

Initially after I mixed everything up, I was thinking that I should have used less sauce for the amount of potatoes and sausage that I had, but after finishing a plate of it for dinner, and not feeling the least bit overwhelmed by the tzatziki, I decided that it was the appropriate amount. Unfortunately, the way the tzatziki blankets everything, it’s not the most attractive looking salad. But it more than makes up for that with its taste!

(Most of the) Ingredients for Tzatziki Potato Salad

(Most of the) Ingredients for Tzatziki Potato-Sausage Salad

Tzatziki Potato-Sausage Salad
serves 4

1+1/2 lbs new potatoes (I used purple ones)
1 red onion, diced
3 spicy chicken sausages – pre-cooked (I used Andouille)
1 tsp olive oil

(Cucumberless Tzatziki Ingredients)
1 c plain Greek yogurt
1 T olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1 T fresh minced dill
1+1/2 tsp minced garlic

Make the tzatziki sauce first by combining all ingredients from the Greek yogurt to the garlic. Refrigerate.

Cut the new potatoes into about 3/4 inch pieces, and cook in boiling water until tender, either on the stove top or in the microwave. Cut the pre-cooked sausages in half lengthwise, then slice into 1/2 inch thick pieces.

Sauté the onion in the tsp of olive oil over medium heat, until tender. Add the sausage and continue to cook for a few more minutes. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, onion and sausage. Add the tzatziki sauce and mix to distribute all of the sauce. Refrigerate to cool before serving.

Tzatziki Potato Salad

Tzatziki Potato-Sausage Salad

The section on low-sugar desserts in Bon Appétit caught my eye last month, so I decided to make the Cocoa-Date Truffles and see how they measured up. I have long felt somewhat needlessly guilty while eating dates, since it almost feels like eating pure honey. So it made perfect sense to me that truffles made with dates as the sweet component would work. And, dates being extremely sticky, they would serve to bind the dry ingredients together.

I made the recipe twice – the first time was not too bad, but I felt compelled to explain that they were really low-fat and made with dates to anyone I had sample them. I tweaked several things for second batch, and that one required no such disclaimer – they were delicious! Chocolatey, with a nice coconut undertone.

For the first batch, since I’m always striving for low-fat (and because I had no coconut), I went with the oat option instead of the coconut option. The first change for batch two was to procure some reduced fat shredded coconut from Alfalfa’s (made by Let’s Do…Organic, ‘Fat reduction achieved by steam extraction’ — okay by me!). The second change was to swap out Ghiradelli Unsweetened Cocoa, and instead use Dagoba Organic Cocoa Powder. Honestly – they smelled equally inviting when I took a big whiff of both canisters to compare, but the Dagoba has fewer calories, less fat, and more fiber, and the second round tasted better, so that’s what I’m going with!  The third change was to bump up the amount of cocoa and coconut by 1/3. And my last change was to throw in a bit of almond extract.

Ingredients for Cocoa-Date Truffles

Ingredients for Cocoa-Date Truffles

There was also a change on the mechanical front. For the first batch I used my small food processor, and for whatever reason chose to ignore the fact that it was really struggling to churn its little blade around. I kept on pushing the pulse and chop buttons, trying for ultimate smoothness. At some point, the tiny tendril of white smoke curling out of the back of the processor was enough to get me to cease and desist processing. The second time I sagely used the full-sized food processor, which was fortunately fully-qualified for the task.

As a side note, I would be fascinated to know just how they were able to get the truffles evenly, gorgeously coated with large pieces of chopped pistachios for the Bon Appétit photo. Mine ended up lightly coated with pistachio dust, but in order to get any amount of chopped nut meat on the truffles, I pretty much had to hand-apply it.

Cocoa-Date Truffles
adapted from a recipe in the June 2012 issue of Bon Appétit
makes 16 truffles

8 oz pitted dates (I used California dates)
4 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
4 Tbsp reduced-fat shredded coconut (or regular)
1/2 tsp espresso powder
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 to 1 oz crushed pistachios for coating (salted or unsalted – your choice. I ground 1 oz, only 1/2 stuck)
sesame (or peanut) oil to grease your hands to avoid stickage

Put the first 3 ingredients into a food processor, and process until the dates are somewhat chopped up. Then add the espresso powder and the almond extract, and process until the mixture forms into a single moist, unattractive ball thrust to the side of the processor (some literary license taken here for dramatic affect).

Cocoa-Date Truffle Raw Material After Processing

Cocoa-Date Truffle Raw Material After Processing

Take the cocoa-date ball out of the processor, then coat your fingers and palms with a very light layer of sesame oil. Divide the ball into 16 equal pieces, then roll them into balls. Roll in the crushed pistachios to ‘coat’ (see above comment).

Cocoa-Date Truffles

Cocoa-Date Truffles

Nutritional Information
(made with reduced-fat coconut, and 1/2 oz pistachios)

1 truffle: 52 cals, 1 g fat, 1.7 g fiber

Hurrah, Fava!

June 28, 2012

Fava beans made an appearance at the Boulder Farmers’ Market last weekend, so naturally I snagged some from Red Wagon Farm. Last year I made a great fava bean pesto, as well as a dish with favas, couscous, mushrooms, and potatoes. But this year I discovered something even better (and to my surprise, much simpler to make!).

I decided to use the fava beans in some kind of sauce on the Garlic Chive Pappardelle I picked up from Pappardelle’s. I did some searching online to check out what flavors went well with favas and was intrigued by a purée made with cream. Of course there was no way I would be using cream in my recipe (way too much fat), but what about Greek yogurt? A few more searches turned up some hits, plus mentions of pecorino cheese, lemon juice, thyme, rosemary, and Moroccan spices.

I found myself going back and forth on which of the above to use, and not really making much progress, so I figured I would just start by puréeing the favas, and add stuff until it tasted good. So I put my favas in the processor with a bit of yogurt and some chicken stock, and puréed it. I added just a bit of salt and…Oh, My! Wow. It tasted incredible. Really? That was all that was needed? Fantastic! Granted fava beans are a bit laborious to prepare themselves, but for this result they were very well worth it! I sautéed a little chopped green (well, they were purple to be honest) onions and garlic in olive oil, then combined it with the pasta and the purée. Outstanding! (And nearly fat-free – only about 2 grams in a cup of purée!)

Some of the Ingredients for Pasta with Fava Bean Purée

Some of the Ingredients for Pasta with Fava Bean Purée. Why not all of the ingredients, you ask? Well, at this point I really had no idea what I was going to use with the fava beans. But I felt compelled to take a picture of something!

Garlic Chive Pappardelle with Fava Bean Purée
serves 4 (double for more*)

8 oz pasta
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
5-7 green (or small spring) onions, chopped
1 tsp olive oil
about 1+1/4 lbs fava bean pods
2 Tbsp plain Greek yogurt
3 Tbsp chicken (or vegetable) stock
1/4 tsp salt

* I have a small food processor. I’m thinking if you have a larger one, you may want to double this recipe just because the quantity of a single recipe might not be enough for the blade to reach!

First prepare the fava beans: Rinse the pods, and then remove the individual beans from the pods.  Drop the beans in boiling water for about 2 minutes, and then remove them with a slotted spoon, and put them in an ice bath to stop them from cooking.  Once they have cooled, peel off the outer covering of the fava beans (you can usually just rip the end and then squeeze the beans out).  The resulting beans should be a vivid green color at this point. Here are some pictures of the process:

Fava beans in the pod, removed peels, resulting beans

Next, make the purée: In a food processor, purée the fava beans, yogurt, stock, and salt until smooth. Set aside.

Fava Bean Purée

Fava Bean Purée

Start bringing the pasta water to a boil, and then heat the olive oil on medium low in a small sauté pan. (The sequencing here isn’t time-critical, you just want to finish sautéing before the pasta is done.) Once the oil is warm, sauté the onions for 30-60 seconds, then add the garlic, and sauté until fragrant, for just about 15-30 seconds. Remove from heat once done.

Drain the pasta, then return it to the now empty pasta pot, adding the purée and the onions and garlic. Turn the heat to low, and stir, just until the purée is evenly distributed. This should be enough to warm up the purée.

Garlic and Chive Pappardelle with Fava Bean Purée

Garlic and Chive Pappardelle with Fava Bean Purée

Sometimes (usually some amount of time after the fact), disastrous cooking results can be pretty funny. Fortunately most of my less than stellar results are still edible, but there have been a few that well…weren’t.

Crunchily Al Dente Pasta

This one is a simple mistake – anyone could make it early on in their pasta cooking career. All you have to do is undercook the pasta in the attempt to stop before you get to the mushy point. But I have to say, it had a big effect on me. Eating pasta with a tiny bit of a crunch to it was really, really nasty. Almost to the fingernails on the chalkboard point. As a result, when I take pasta off the stove, once in a while I fear I may have not let it go long enough, and I kind of get the heebie jeebies. Fortunately, that hasn’t occurred again, and I’ve happily eaten nicely Al Dente pasta since then.

Seriously Misshapen, Mysteriously Textured Rye Bread

My dad was a big bread baker when I was a kid, and he taught me how to make bread when I was still in grade school. I wasn’t too bad – I had some decent successes with white bread, rolls, and even made some good crackers. My wheat bread was a little more…dense, but still tasty. But then one day, I ventured into dangerous territory, and attempted to make rye bread. Rye flour is quite robust. It’s a seriously heavy flour. I clearly didn’t make enough adjustments to compensate, and the result was so very far from desirable. You know that scene in E.T where the government has captured him, and he’s dreadfully ill, with sort of a nasty grayish-brown pall to his rather strange looking skin? Well, yeah. That’s what my bread looked like. A hard, heavy, grayish-brown tribute loaf to the sick E.T. And it tasted nasty. Hard Tack would have been an improvement.

The Cranberry Bread That Just Wouldn’t Bake

This mishap involved a quick bread instead of a yeast bread. Way (way) back in first grade, during the holiday season, I copied two recipes from a book our teacher read to us onto a sheet of the light brown paper first graders used to write on back in those days, and proudly brought them home. One was for cranberry cookies, and the other was for cranberry bread. My mom made the cranberry bread for years, with wonderful success. Then after I moved to Colorado, I made it a couple of times and it turned out fairly well, perhaps a bit wetter than it did at lower altitude. But one day, my husband and I set about to make some, and for whatever strange reason, it didn’t seem to be baking in the middle. The recipe called for 50-60 minutes in the oven, but even after 70 minutes, a knife was coming out completely covered with moist batter. So I kept adding 10 more minutes and checking it. Over and over. I plead with it to bake. Alas, to no avail. After literally two hours, we finally gave up and took it out of the oven, letting it cool on a rack. The loaf was probably 2/3 the height it should have been, and when we cut it open, it was still partially unbaked. Sort of a cranberry batter inside a crust. We cut it into slices and let it ‘cure’ in the dry Colorado air. Fortunately, it still tasted awesome! But it was a tad more like cranberry bread pudding than we desired. We still weren’t sure what happened, but my guesses would be we left out the baking soda and baking powder or used too much orange juice, or these were the juiciest cranberries ever.

The Great Pureéd Onion Unpleasantness of 2007

Probably the worst cooking disaster I’ve had was when I tried something new while making a simple curry dish I had made dozens of times before. It was an extremely simple recipe with finely chopped onions, tomatoes, chickpeas, plain yogurt, and spices. To save time (this was before my knife skills class when I learned how to quickly chop an onion. Back in the old days it took me forever!), I decided I would chop the onions in the food processor. In past incarnations I probably didn’t cook the onions quite long enough, so they were a bit more toothy than I liked, so while I was using the processor, I decided to REALLY process them. When I opened the processor, there was a nasty, acrid, biting smell. Instead of abandoning at that point (which would have been the sage thing to do), I decided to keep going. And no matter how much curry powder I added, the overwhelming taste of the dish was the nastiness of the now mutant-tasting onions. It was one of those tastes where no matter what you do, you can’t get rid of it. Eating something else, drinking something, even brushing your teeth didn’t quite get rid of it. So now I shy away from ANY recipe that tells me to put onions in the food processor.

What are some cooking disasters that you’ve experienced? I always think the worse it is, the better the story!

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