Green Beans with Bacon and Shallots

Inspiration: It’s no secret that Brandon and I love food, but something that we don’t mention as much on here is that we also love craft beer. I’m talking in an obsessive way. Luckily, we live in an area with a ton of great breweries around that we frequent often. One of the things that we’ve noticed is that craft breweries tend to care abut where their food comes from/how it’s made, and thus the food at our local breweries is usually pretty fantastic. Hurray for the craft beer scene! Anyway, one of the breweries that we frequent, Blue Tractor, has a menu centered around Southern/BBQ foods. The last time that we went there, I had some roasted green beans with bacon as a side, and they were just fabulous. I immediately went about planning to recreate them at home.

What We Loved: This is a simple dish that packs loads of flavor. There aren’t a lot of things better than fresh, crisp vegetables, and when you toss them in bacon fat and mix them with crisped bacon pieces and caramelized shallots…..well, that pretty much speaks for itself. We both adored the awesome vegetable flavor of these beans paired with the rich, browned bacon flavor.

Tips: I wanted to roast these beans in the oven to get them nice and browned/slightly crispy and blackened (like they were at Blue Tractor), but I just had too many other things going on in the oven at the time. These were great cooked on the stove top, but if you want to roast the beans instead to get that added browned flavor, I know that they would also be awesome that way. We enjoyed these with our Thanksgiving meal, but they would certainly be a wonderful side on Christmas or New Years, too.

Green Beans with Bacon and Shallots
Source: Original Recipe
Serves: About 4

5-6 slices bacon, diced
2 shallots, diced
1 lb green beans (I used a frozen bag of the thin, haricots verts style)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Add the bacon and shallots to a saute pan over medium low heat. Cook until the bacon is crisp and the shallots are browned and caramelized, about 20-30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, cover the green beans with water in a sauce pan and  bring to a boil. Cook for 3-4 minutes and drain.

3. Add the beans to the saute pan with the bacon and shallots. Season well with Kosher salt and fresh black pepper. Toss everything together, coating the beans in the bacon fat. Serve.

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Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Lemon (Cachumber Salad)

Inspiration: We recently had some chicken tikka masala for dinner, and I was searching for a nice and fresh side dish to go along. I ran across the idea for a cachumber salad online as a nice pairing for Indian dishes, and it really seemed like just what I was looking for. I love when I find new ideas or dishes that I’ve never heard of before – there’s something so thrilling to me about trying new recipes, particularly from cuisines different than American.

What We Loved: This certainly was a refreshing salad and was the perfect complement to a spicy curry. The cool flavors of the cucumber and other vegetables really contrasted nicely with the rich heat of the curry. This reminded me a little bit of a Mexican pico de gallo – but with cucumbers and lemon instead of peppers and lime, this was definitely its own dish entirely. I just loved the freshness and how perfect the flavors were for an end-of-summer meal.

Tips: I chopped the vegetables big enough to make this into a salad, but you could also finely mince everything (or throw it all in the food processor for a few whirls) to make this into a salsa. Made that way, I think it would be great to serve right atop a curry, rather than alongside.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Lemon (Cachumber Salad)
Source: Adapted from Poetry of Food
Serves: 2

1/2 small onion, diced
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
1/2 English cucumber, diced
Handful cilantro, minced
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Good pinch Kosher salt

1. Toss everything together in a serving bowl and serve.

Spinach Gratin

Spinach Gratin

Inspiration: As you may be able to tell from some of our previous posts (zucchini, spaghetti squashGuaranteed Car Loans, butternut squash and poblano), we love a good vegetable gratin. Our suppers are always vegetable-heavy in the side dish department, and it’s always nice to mix it up sometimes and make a side that’s a little more interesting (and a little more cheesy, of course) than simply sauteed vegetables, which is what we normally tend to do. 

What we Loved: This is a lovely gratin with a nice Italian flair and plenty of spinach flavor. All of the different cheeses add their own great flavors, with a subtle freshness and creaminess from the ricotta; a nutty sharpness from the Parmesan; and a gooey, slightly browned richness from the havarti. Even with all of these cheeses, though, the vegetable goodness of the spinach really shines through and is the dominant flavor. And we really loved the hint of nutmeg in every bite, too. For whatever reason, nutmeg is just such an awesome complement to gratins and always provides that extra little something that really makes the dish shine.

Tips: Make sure to squeeze out all of the excess water from your spinach before adding it to the mix. There’s a lot of water in there, and leaving it in might cause the gratin to be watery. I dumped the bag into a colander and squeezed the water out with my hands.

Zucchini Gratin
Source: Adapted from Linden Tea

1 small onion, diced
1 16 oz bag frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess water
2 eggs
About 2/3 cup fresh ricotta cheese
About 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Ground nutmeg
About 1/2 cup grated cheese for topping (I used Havarti, but I think additional Parmesan or Gruyere would be great)

1. Heat a pat of butter in a small saute pan. Add the onions, and saute until softened and beginning to brown.

2. Place the sauteed onions, spinach, eggs, ricotta, and Parmesan in a bowl. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and ground nutmeg. Stir well to combine.

3. Place the spinach mixture in a baking dish, and top with the additional grated cheese. Cook at 400 degrees until heated through, about 20 minutes. Turn on the broiler for about 5 minutes at the end to brown the cheese to your liking.

Warm Edamame Salad

Inspiration: Brandon has been bugging me for years to cook more Chinese food. We both love Chinese, but for whatever reason, I just don’t tend to cook much Chinese-inspired food at home. I think part of it is because it requires a lot of condiments and ingredients that I generally don’t keep on hand, and I really hate cluttering up my fridge with all kinds of bottles, etc. I recently caved and bought all kinds of stuff, though, and I promised Brandon that I’d cook a lot more Chinese food in the coming weeks in order to use everything up. I think he’s a happy camper.

What We Loved: I could have eaten the whole pan of this salad as a main course. Soy sauce and sesame oil are a couple of classic ingredients in Chinese-style dishes, and they really coat the vegetables nicely with a rich and salty flavor. Plenty of garlic powder adds its wonderful garlicky goodness, and you really can’t go wrong with so many vegetables all thrown into the same dish. With edamame, three different peppers, onions, and mushrooms all mixed together, this dish is chock-full of nutrients, colors, and flavors. Plus, it’s really a snap to throw together.

Tips: I added pepper, garlic powder, soy sauce, and sesame oil to taste (going heavier on the garlic and the soy sauce). Make sure to add enough of the liquid ingredients to create a sort of sticky coating for the vegetables, but be careful with the soy sauce, as it is very salty (even the reduced sodium version, which I always like to use). I’d recommend being conservative with the soy sauce at first, adding more as necessary until you get enough flavor without too much salt.

Edamame Salad
Source: Original Recipe

Sesame oil
2-3 slices onion, diced
3 small sweet peppers, diced (I used one red, one yellow, and one orange)
8 baby bella or cremini mushrooms, diced
About 1 cup frozen edamame
Black pepper
Garlic powder
Reduced sodium soy sauce
Black and white sesame seeds

1. Heat a good drizzle of sesame oil in a saute pan. Add the onions, peppers, and mushrooms, and saute until the vegetables are softened and beginning to brown.

2. Add the edamame. Season to taste with black pepper, garlic powder, soy sauce, and additional sesame oil. Add enough soy sauce and sesame oil to create a nice coating for the vegetables, but be careful with the soy sauce – too much might be too salty.

3. Stir to combine, and continue cooking for about 8-10 minutes, until the edamame is softened and cooked through. Taste, adding more seasonings if necessary.

4. Serve topped with black and white sesame seeds.

Brussels Sprouts with Mexican Chorizo

Brussels Sprouts with Mexican Chorizo

Inspiration: Well, what’s a Mexican-inspired meal without some chorizo, right? We both adore Mexican chorizo. It’s salty, it’s spicy, it’s rich and fabulous. And seeing how brussels sprouts are such a lovely fall vegetable, it only seemed logical to throw this side dish onto our Mexican Thanksgiving plates. I know that I’m thankful for chorizo, after all :)

What We Loved: One of my favorite parts about this dish was actually the little bits of onion that turned nice and orange from cooking in the fat from the chorizo. Delicious. And as for the main stars of the dish, the brussels sprouts were nice and tender with a light browned flavor, and the chorizo was a perfect, spicy complement. One of the great things about this recipe is that it’s so simple, and that simplicity really allows the main ingredients to really shine. There’s the fresh vegetable flavor of the brussels sprouts, and there’s the much richer and bolder flavor of the chorizo, and the two make a perfect pair.

Tips: Make sure to get the pan nice and hot before adding the brussels sprouts in to brown. My pan wasn’t quite hot enough, so my brussels sprouts didn’t brown as quickly as I needed them to. I ended up taking them off before they were as brown as I wanted them to be, since I didn’t want the rest of my meal getting cold. So I would recommend having the pan nice and hot so that they brown quickly and easily.

Brussels Sprouts with Mexican Chorizo
Source: Adapted from Saveur

1 lb brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
8 oz Mexican chorizo sausage (about two links)
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper

1. Place the brussels sprouts in a sauce pan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and cook until just tender, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer the brussels sprouts to a bowl of ice water, let sit for five minutes, and then drain.

2. Remove the casing from the chorizo, and crumble the chorizo into a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions. Saute until the chorizo is cooked through and the onions are softened and beginning to brown. Add the garlic, and stir to combine. Transfer the chorizo mixture to a bowl.

3. Increase the heat to high. Add the brussels sprouts cut side down into the fat that’s left in the pan from the chorizo, and cook until the brussel sprouts are browned and tender, about 5 minutes.

4. Mix the brussels sprouts into the bowl with the chorizo mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Zucchini Gratin

Zucchini Gratin

Inspiration: What’s your favorite vegetable? I don’t know why, but for some reason, it gives me satisfaction in my head to think of my favorite things. My favorite book is Wuthering Heights. My favorite wines are Cabernet Franc (for red) and chardonnay (for white). My favorite band is Dave Matthews Band. Even though these things may change tomorrow – for right now, at this minute – they make me me. So my favorite vegetable? Today, it’s zucchini. It’s so wonderful when it’s cooked very simply – just sauteed up with some butter and Kosher salt until nice and browned – but it also lends itself well to much more complex dishes. At our place, zucchini is usually on the plate several times a week in one form or another.

What we Loved: I’m always up for a good gratin (who isn’t?), and this gratin doesn’t disappoint. It combines the light and fresh vegetable flavor of zucchini with some lovely ingredients with much stronger flavors – namely, rich sauteed onions and nutty gruyere cheese. How can you go wrong with that combination? What I love about this dish is that it’s a nice and cheesy gratin, yet the cheese and cream in the dish aren’t so extravagant and overpowering that you can’t taste the zucchini. That vegetable flavor that I love is still prominent alongside the other stronger flavors. I served this up alongside our favorite roasted chicken with some sauvignon blanc for a perfect, comforting meal.

Tips: I’m thinking that a pinch of nutmeg would go well in this dish. I always think that nutmeg works really well in gratins, and I think that it just might add that nice little extra something here, too.

Zucchini Gratin

Source: Adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Jamie Samford

2 lbs small zucchini, shredded on the large holes of a box grater
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese

1. Put the shredded zucchini in a colander, and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let stand for at least 5 minutes, then squeeze as much of the liquid out of the zucchini as possible using your hands.

2. Melt the butter in a saute pan. Add the onions, and cook until softened. Add the zucchini, stir, and cook for a few more minutes until the zucchini is just softened. Add the cream, and simmer until thickened.

3. Remove the mixture from the heat, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to a baking dish, and top with the shredded Gruyere.

4. Bake in a 350 degree  oven until the cheese is melted and the everything is heated through.

Zucchini Almond Saute

Inspiration: This recipe was one of my first blog posts back in September of 2008. Since then, I can easily say that I’ve served this more than any other single recipe in the last couple of years. As you can see from all of the photos, it’s our favorite standby side dish that we return to again and again. I think that makes it deserving of an updated post.

What we Loved: This dish is a snap to throw together, and we both just love everything about the bright and simple flavors. It’s a quick one pan saute of olive oil, fresh zucchini, nutty almonds, and plenty of salt and black pepper, topped with rich Parmesan cheese. That’s it! The ingredients marry so well and leave you with a  bright and fresh vegetable side dish that goes so well with any number of main dishes. I make it nearly every time that I serve chicken piccata (maybe the only meal that I rarely vary?), and I’ve served it with countless other main dishes, too – sauteed white fish (which is one of my favorite combinations, especially in summer, as it makes for a really light and refreshing meal), Chicken Parmesan (it goes great with any Italian, tomato sauce-based meal), stuffed mushrooms, crab cakes – basically whenever I need a great vegetable to serve alongside my main dish. And really, I could eat a big bowl just on its own for lunch or a light dinner, too.

Helpful Hints: I always bring the salt to the table, because I like a good bit of salt sprinkled on top. I’m definitely one who loves her salt, but I really do feel that the extra salt sprinkled on top adds a lot of flavor. I’ve also tried shredding my Parmesan for this meal instead of shaving it, but it’s not nearly as good, in my opinion. Those big shavings of Parmesan are just really tasty. And thirdly, I like to use the thinnest zucchinis that I can find. These are generally firmer and have less seeds, and they lend themselves well to bright and crisp zucchini pieces in the final dish.

Zucchini Almond Saute
Source: Kitchenography

Here’s the recipe that I always make for Brandon and me. It makes a whole pan, but then we eat a lot of vegetables with dinner. You may want to use less zucchini if you’re looking for smaller portions.

2-3 thin zucchini, sliced into matchsticks
A handful of almonds, roughly chopped (about 1/4 cup)
Parmesan cheese, shaved into thin slices
Kosher salt and black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

1. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a pan. When hot, add the zucchini and almonds to the pan, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute until the zucchini starts to soften, only a few minutes.

2. Plate the zucchini and almond mixture and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese shavings.