Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sautéed Fresh Green Beans with Leeks - The Perfect Dinner Companion

I have had a busy summer that flew by so quickly I feel like I'll never catch up! So ... while I work on  a few blog posts about some of the more interesting tidbits I've gathered from my summer visitors and my own travels, I'm serving up something fast and fresh to ease us all back into the weeknight kitchen.

Fresh whole green beans are a snap to prepare and they pair well with herbs, aromatics and other flavor enhancers from the pantry. The recipe is really nothing more than a technique and maybe a little inspiration.

After cleaning and snapping the ends off the beans, sauté -- the technique -- them in a little olive oil over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes. Then add a splash of water or broth to the pan and cover with a lid. The beans will steam -- OK, two techniques -- and cook to a tender crunch in about 3 minutes, or longer if you like them softer.

Remove the lid and toss in some chopped leeks, sprinkle with salt and pepper and continue to sauté until leeks just begin to brown. The beans will still be bright green and, as you can see, make a tempting presentation on the plate. 

To vary the flavors -- here's the inspiration part -- add a tiny bit of soy sauce or wine to the liquid and/or chopped garlic to brown with the leeks. Substitute whatever aromatics you have handy -- onions, shallots, green onions or red bell peppers. 

Finally, add another sprinkle or splash of flavor -- more inspiration -- just before serving, if you like. Maybe some grated orange or lemon zest, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, toasted sesame seeds, chopped nuts, chopped fresh herbs or herb vinaigrette.

Serve these beans any way you like -- hot from the pan, cooled to room temperature or cold from the fridge in a salad, or even as a salad!

Hey, this is more like ten or twenty recipes in one! 

I hesitate to mention that other fresh vegetables can be used in place of green beans -- broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus -- which now brings this up to ten or twenty thousand recipes on one page!

Uh-oh, there goes my million dollar cookbook deal ...

Fresh, bright and dressed to please -- green beans make the perfect dinner companion!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cambodian Lemongrass Curry Chicken, Rice and Artichoke Salad


My friend, Pam, served this yummy salad the other night when our birthday-dinner club met at her house for our first ever game night. After a few rounds of Bananagrams to warm up, we learned how to play Ticket to Ride - Europe. I'm a big word game fan so Bananagrams played to my strengths, but I especially enjoyed the challenge of Ticket to Ride, which involved some strategy to win. Game night was a hit!

The biggest hit, though, was the Curried Chicken, Rice and Artichoke Salad. A few versions of this recipe have been around for years, but this one had such a light curry flavor that I enjoyed it much more than others I've tasted. I think it must have been the Cambodian Lemongrass Curry Powder Pam used. The flavor was subtle at first, but with each bite there were delicate citrus notes blending with all the ingredients in a very pleasing way. Nothing overwhelming, as curry can sometimes be. There was just enough of it to make you say, "mmmm, that really tastes good" without exactly knowing why.

When I got Pam’s recipe, I was not familiar with Cambodian Lemongrass Curry Powder. A quick Google search showed it was available from Savory Spice Shop online and at these retail locations for their herbs and spices. The website listed it as a blend of "mild green chile powder, lemongrass, shallots, salt, garlic, onion, Lampong peppercorns, galangal root, ginger, Kaffir lime leaves, red Thai chilies and citric acid." Aha! Light, mild, citrus and bright flavors indeed! Love it!

Today I made the salad, with the curry powder I had on hand. I served it tonight for dinner with my class reunion committee. It was very good and everyone seemed to enjoy it, but to me it was not as good as Pam's. I need the curry powder she used! Who knew! Guess I'll be ordering my own jar from Savory Spice Store online -- asap! The citrusy curry flavor lingers on my mind and has my taste buds crying out for more.

Funny how one ingredient can change food flavors so distinctly and deliciously. Understandable though, since there are so many well known curry powder blends that define certain food cultures, even within the same countries or regions. It is not fair to say you don't like curry without sampling more than one, and I think I make it a point to become more familiar with the varieties offered at my local International Grocery.

File this one under Taste and Learn!

FYI - I only mention name brands when I feel like it makes a difference in flavor or performance in a recipe. I have no connections with Savory Spice Shop, nor have I received products or compensation from them for what I've written here. Same goes for Bananagrams and Ticket to Ride – Europe, just in case you wondered.

8 chicken breasts, baked, cooled and sliced
2 small boxes of long grain and wild rice mix; cook according to package directions
2 large jars marinated artichoke hearts, sliced - add marinade to salad
1 bunch (6 or 7) green onions, chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup stuffed olives, chopped
2 tsp. (or more!) curry powder*
1/2 c. +/- mayonnaise

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Start with a small amount of mayonnaise; add more as desired, but be sure not to obscure the other ingredients and flavors with a thick coating if it.   

*Notes: Any curry powder you like will work, but I especially like the lighter flavor of Cambodian Lemongrass Curry, available from Savory Spice Shop online. Increase or decrease the amount used to suit your own taste.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Love At First Sight

Seven years ago this summer, we were busy settling into our new home. The minute we first laid eyes on the pictures of this house and property, we knew it was the place we were supposed to be - our forever home - the place that had taken shape in our minds and hearts through years of daydreaming and I-wishing. It was love at first sight and it continues to be for us - even after several years spent maintaining, repairing and making it our own.

Summer 2011, has been all about outdoor improvements at Prairie Wood, sometimes to the exclusion of other things -- like knitting, cooking and blogging.

It all began with the removal of several damaged or dead trees. Don't worry -- there are plenty of trees left -- both healthy and dead, and some in between. MFH was busy for weeks cutting and stacking wood with the chainsaw, and then finishing with the stump grinder. He just loves to make sawdust with power tools and equipment! 

Not long after that, MFH's brother and nephew, Scott and Joey, decided to take the train down from Chicago for a little father-son vacation visit with us over the Fourth of July. I'm not sure it was the vacation they imagined, but they were kind enough to pitch to shovel and shuttle endless loads of ground-up tree stumps and limbs into the woods. And of course, the temps were well into the high 90s by then! They did get in some pool time, dinners out and a few hours of satellite TV. Thanks again guys! Come back anytime ... say ... next summer!

Denise, MFH's sister, has spent enough time working in our gardens for the past few years that she now has her own successful garden business, The Garden Keeper. She and her crew were here again this summer and spent countless hours -- also during some of the hottest days of the summer. She makes sure our gardens look planned and well-tended, rather than the hodgepodge of neglect they would suffer at my two hands alone.
The next step was to install an automatic watering system to replace the flawed human system we've used for six summers. I readily admit that I was the flaw, possessing neither the will nor the patience to drag hoses from sprinkler to sprinkler or stand in the heat to give plants a shower!  After the new hose and automatic sprinkler system was laid, Denise and her crew showed up again to spread mulch over all the irrigation tubing. Now it is such a joy to look out the window from inside my air-conditioned kitchen and watch the watering magically change from one zone to another. There are more areas to be added to the sprinkler system, but we are much closer to maintaining a cool and serene landscape, without having to listen to my whining.

The final stage of summer improvements for this year is almost complete. Several areas of new patio have been poured to connect the pool deck with the fire pit area, extend both sides of the pool house and up to the backdoor. The pros came in to pour the concrete, but only after MFH pulled up every stone of the long, lovely but uncomfortale pathway I found difficult to navigate. 

And last but not least, since many of us have found it almost impossible to make a graceful exit from the pool with nothing to hold onto, we finally added one of those shiny, sturdy handrails. No one knows why one wasn't installed when the pool was built by the previous owner.

The plans for adding onto the pool house are still under discussion, but we do agree the simple addition of patio areas to tie everything together was a huge improvement. I would really, really, really like to add a screened porch on one side. What can I say, the sun doesn't like me, but the bugs sure do! And, of course, we'd like a small, simple outdoor kitchen someday too. I see years and years of more summer work ... and fun to come.

Tomorrow is Labor Day and it always amazes me how the heat and humidity seem to mysteriously disappear with the holiday. We'll close the pool this week, but that's not the end of the season for us. We still look forward to spending more time outside during the pleasant autumn days and nights -- a few campfires, some roasted marshmallows and s'mores, the neighborhood potluck in October and maybe a few brick oven pizzas or artisan breads lay ahead. I'll be back to cooking and knitting before you know it!

Seven summers have flown by, but we still feel like our forever house is really our vacation home and we continue to settle in quite nicely. Prairie Wood was well worth the wait ... especially when the work and upkeep mean more time to enjoy here with family and friends.