White Bean Salad, Grilled Lamb with Pesto

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Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to side dishes. In the colder weather, a lot of my dinners tend to be soups or stews that don’t require any extras. But now that it’s getting warmer out, it’s hard to resist the simplicity of just throwing something on the grill – which usually means making some sort of side dish to go with it. Baked potatoes and pasta salads are good, but I get tired of them pretty quickly. So I’ve been thinking about other easy-to-make options that will help round out a grilled meal. The white bean salad is exactly the kind of dish that I’ve been looking for. It’s light yet full of flavor, and it only takes a few seconds to throw together. The leftovers are great on a green salad, or they can be pureed and served with toasted baguette pieces for a satisfying hummus-like snack.

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I recently came across a good deal on lamb leg slices, so I stocked up and now have a freezer full of them. Which is great, sine they go perfectly with the Mediterranean flavors of the bean salad. I especially like to prepare them in this updated take on my herb-crusted lamb – rubbed with a mixture of olive oil, sea salt, and rosemary, then grilled and slathered with this delicious pesto that Mezzetta sent me (I’ve since bought another jar). I love how intense the flavor of this pesto is! It doesn’t taste like something out of a jar at all. The only weird thing about it is that it needs to be refrigerated after opening, and the olive oil congeals a little in the cold. But as long as you remember to pull it out a few minutes before you plan to eat it so that it comes up to temperature, you’re good to go!

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Ultimate Veggie Burgers

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While I love a good beefy burger as much as the next person, every once in a while I find myself in the mood for something a little different. A little healthier. I love veggie burgers, but the frozen ones remind me too much of fast-food burgers: overly processed, eerily uniform in size, oddly lacking in color, and much, much too small. I like a burger that I can sink my teeth into. I’ve been toying with the idea of homemade veggie burgers for a while now, but never got around to playing around with recipes. A recent photo featured on The Kitchn has me headed straight for my kitchen though — shredded beets gave the veggie burger a brilliant red, meaty hue that I couldn’t resist.

Don’t be scared off by the beets though. While they provide a ton of color to the burger, I didn’t find that they tasted overly of beets. There’s enough other good stuff — brown rice, black beans, spices — to balance out the flavor. While you wouldn’t mistake these burgers for ones made from beef, they didn’t taste like vegetables either. They just tasted good. Really good. The flavor was amazing, the texture was better than any veggie burger than I’ve ever had, and they looked beautiful. Given the choice, I think 9 times out of 10 I would actually pick this burger over a more traditional meat one. And that’s not even considering the fact that they clock in at 150 calories and boast 7 grams of fiber. Not too shabby!!

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A few notes about making these burgers: First off, the mixture will be fairly wet and it takes a little effort to get it to form patties. Don’t be afraid to really smoosh it — you don’t run the risk of overworking it like you do with beef. Once the patties have been formed, they will be very delicate and won’t hold their own on a grill (they’ll just fall through the grates). I grilled mine in the mesh wok that I usually use for vegetables. Alternately, you could cook them on the stove in a very hot cast iron pan.

The burgers also don’t reheat very well. They dry out. I crumbled a leftover, reheated burger over a salad and it was great, but I don’t think it would have been very god as a burger. So if you don’t plan to eat these all in one night, I’d recommend refrigerating the extra, uncooked patties and cooking them up to order.

When it came to toppings, I felt like these burgers were calling for a nice, spicy mustard. I also added some banana peppers, which I thought were the perfect touch – I liked the little bit of tang that they gave to it. Shawn had his with barbecue sauce and said it was ok, but I think my combination was way better. I’m not normally a mustard-on-burgers kind of girl, but I couldn’t imagine anything being better ion these. So don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone when it comes to dressing these!

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Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Feasting on Flowers

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Spring has sprung and the flowers are in full bloom! What better way to celebrate than with a floral-themed picnic in the park?

In addition to being gorgeous to look at, flowers can be a source of inspiration and flavor in the kitchen. For this month’s 24, 24, 24 event, I created a multi-course picnic dinner inspired by — and including — flowers. On the menu: Orange Blossom Brioche with Pate and Orange-Balsamic Marmalade, Green Salad with Flower Petals and Lemon-Poppy Vinaigrette, Tuna-Strawberry-Rose Maki, and Lavender Creme Brûlée. The biggest hits were definitely the brioche and the creme brûlée — yummy!

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Hunting down flowers to use in my dishes was a little more difficult than I anticipated. It’s still a little early in the season for the farmer’s markets to have any, and even though many common flowers are edible (dandelion, chrysanthemum, pansy, etc), you don’t want to just go and pick them or buy a bouquet because they’ll be full of nasty chemicals. Make sure that any flowers you intend to eat are sold as being edible or grow them yourself without any chemicals or pesticides. ;)

Anyway, I was having trouble finding exactly what I wanted, so I had to make do with using only one type of fresh flower (I’m honestly not even sure what they were, since they weren’t labeled other than “edible flowers” anyone know?) as well as dried rose buds, dried lavender, and a bottle of orange blossom water. Dried flowers have a more concentrated flavor and tend to be more “floral” tasting, so it’s best to use them in applications where the flavor is infused into another ingredient. Fresh flowers have a more subtle flavor that’s less like eating perfume — they’re a little bitter and almost peppery. I like to balance them out with something sweet or rich.

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Want to have a flower picnic of your own? Recipes can be found by following these links.

Would you like a Taste of the Nation?

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Foodbuzz and Share Our Strength have generously given Shawn and I tickets to this year’s Taste of the Nation event in Hartford. And one of you gets to go too! (Well, one of you gets to go for free. Anyone can go if they buy a ticket ;))

You and me, we’re pretty lucky. Sure things don’t always go our way, we’re tired and overworked, and there’s an endless list of things to complain about. But we don’t have it that bad.

You’re here. I’m assuming that means that you, like me, have a computer and access to the internet. Or at least access to a nice public library.

You’re reading a blog about recipes. I’m assuming that means you, like me, have money with which to buy food, a store to buy it in, a kitchen to cook it in, and at least basic knowledge of how to assemble ingredients into a meal.

And maybe you, like me, can even afford a fancy meal out once in a while or have the luxury of throwing out that experiment-gone-bad and ordering a pizza. You are probably fairly confident that when you’re hungry, there will be something around to eat. For us, food is more than merely sustenance. It’s something to be experimented with, considered, and thoroughly enjoyed. It’s something to b celebrated.

Some people aren’t so lucky. And that breaks my heart – especially when those people are children. Right here in the US, there are millions of people who don’t have a fully functioning kitchen, don’t have the tools necessary to create a nourishing meal. Their “neighborhood” grocery store is far away and difficult to get to without a car. When the do get there, the selection is horrible: produce rotting on the shelves, fruit flies buzzing around. Not that they’d know what to do with it anyway, since they don’t know how to cook. So they buy some prepackaged meal full of chemicals and preservatives, lug it home, heat it up, and feed it to their kids for dinner before heading out to their second minimum-wage job.

Enter Share Our Strength.

You’ve probably heard of them. They’re a great organization committed to ending childhood hunger in America. They increase access to programs provide food to children and their families and strength community resources so to connect kids to healthy foods through school breakfast and lunch programs, after school snacks, and summer time meals. AND they teach parents about food budgeting strategies; Teach them how to cook healthy meals with limited resources. They send participants home with a bag of groceries at the end of each class, so they can practice the skills they’ve learned and share it with their family. They aren’t about giving people handouts. They’re about empowering people with the knowledge and skills they need to provide their family with a healthy, nutritious meal.

If you ask me, that’s pretty awesome.

One of SOS’s most talked about fundraiser is the annual Taste of the Nation series. Since 1988, Taste of the Nation has brought together the most creative culinary minds across the nation. Each spring and summer, pioneers of modern American cuisine, national celebrity chefs and mixologists including David Burke, Stephan Pyles, mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim, Bravo’s Top Chef Tom Collichio, Food Network stars Tyler Florence and Emeril Lagasse and thousands more like them donate their time, talent and passion at nearly 40 events across the United States and Canada with one goal in mind: to raise critical funds needed to help end childhood hunger. At the event, you’ll get to sample food and drink for some of the areas leading chef’s as well as participate in live and silent auctions. 100% of the proceeds go to Share Our Strength.

Want to win a ticket to this year’s Hartford event? Just leave me a comment indicating that you will be able to attend the event in Hartford, CT on May 6. That’s all. If you support Share Our Strength, I ask that you put one of their banners on your next blog post or tell a friend about them if you don’t have a blog. But you don’t have to do that to win – just leave a comment.

I’ll pick a winner on Monday, April 26th.

Chocolate Pasta with Light Cream Sauce and Chiles

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Chocolate pasta. Cream sauce. Chile peppers. Sound Good? What if I told you this fabulous meal would set you back a mere 350 calories and a half our in the kitchen?

A few weeks ago I spent some time wandering around Boston, where I stumbled upon Hotel Chocolat.  As the name would imply, this adorable little shop sold delicious (and very expensive) chocolates. I almost made it out empty-handed. Almost. As I was on my way out, I caught something out of the corner of my eye: cocoa pasta. At first I thought it was just chocolate in the shape of pasta, but then I realized it was actually pasta that contained cocoa powder. There was obviously no way I was leaving without some of that!

I almost immediately decided that I wanted to pair the pasta with a cream sauce. If you’re cooking chocolate pasta you go big or go home, right? I was afraid of it being too rich though, so I used a lightened-up version of cream sauce. I added some chile peppers to the sauce for good measure and to help cut through the richness, then tossed it all together with some zucchini ribbons and grilled chicken. The final dish as every bit as delicious as it sounds and is definitely worthy of being on a menu somewhere.

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The flavor of the pasta itself was really interesting. There isn’t any sugar in it, so it isn’t sweet like you might expect it to be – it’s just normal semolina pasta with added cocoa powder. Once it’s cooked it has an intense chocolate aroma, but the flavor isn’t overpowering at all. It’s subtle yet complex, like a good mole sauce might be. The dried pasta can be purchased through the link above, but google also returns a few recipes if you want to make the pasta yourself (this one looks simple enough – avoid any dessert pastas that call for sugar).

Because I replaced much of the cream in the sauce with skim milk, it takes a little longer than normal to thicken. Be patient though – it will get there! The sauce is done when it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and hold a line drawn across it with your finger. [....]

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Sweet and Spicy Crab Hash with a Poached Egg

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Last winter, Restaurants & Institutions Magazine published an article outlining their predictions for the major food trends of 2010. One of their predictions was that eggs would be the new bacon. I thought they were crazy. Who would ever pass up bacon – especially if only to replace it with an egg? Pure silliness.

I should have given them more credit. It pains me to say it, but I’m a bit baconed out. And I’m finding eggs – poached, fried, or baked with their quivering yolks – completely irresistable. Which might explain why as I was thumbing through Michael Symon’s cookbook the other day, the crab tater tots caught my eye. I thought they would go beautifully with a softly poached egg.

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I bought all of the ingredients but as the week wore on, I thought about it more and more and the dish became more about the eggs than the tots. Plus, they seemed like more work than I wanted to invest in them: boil the potatoes, mash the potatoes, fry the tots. So the dish evolved. I used many of the same ingredients and emerge from the kitchen with the recipe reinvented as a quick and easy crab hash. That took a quarter of the time to make and is healthier since its not fried. And that was delicious topped with a poached egg. [...]

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