Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Curry Wheat Berry Salad

I was imagining whole wheat…strawberries? No. Blueberries? Definitely not. Okay, so it’s actually the flower of a wheat plant. How I got a hold of these is one thing; how to cook said “berries” was another. I would liken them to something such as barley: tons of natural fiber, a bit lacking in the flavor department. Like beans, they had to be soaked overnight and then boiled for a good while over the stove to achieve an edible tenderness. Add to the mix a slew of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and a tart dressing and we had ourselves a full bodied salad.

Mind you, I was skeptical. It sounded a bit “crunchy granola” for my tastes, but I figure give everything a go, at least once. I was pleasantly surprised by the unique and healthy salad that resided in my dinner bowl. While it’s no main course dish, it is definitely one to accompany a barbecued, pulled pork sandwich and some buttery corn on the cob. The acidic tones will please the palate when balanced with something savory or sweet. Bold enough to spark conversation at dinner, this nontraditional salad won’t replace mac n’ cheese, but it will speak volumes for your creative abilities.

This recipe was adjusted from the Lower Byrd Farm’s, an organic farm in Virginia.

Curry Wheat Berry Salad


1 ½ c wheat berries

1 apple, peeled and diced

1 cucumber, peeled and diced

½ green bell pepper, diced

1/3 c Craisins

1/3 c almonds, chopped

1/3 c olive oil

¼ c apple cider vinegar – CRUCIAL, don’t use regular vinegar

3 T honey

2 T shallots, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 T lemon juice

1 T curry powder

Salt and pepper


1. Soak wheat berries overnight in water.

2. Bring to boil and simmer for 45 minutes. Drain and chill.

3. Combine wheat berries, apple, pepper, cucumber, almonds and raisins.

4. In a separate bowl olive oil, vinegar, honey, onion, garlic, lemon juice, and curry powder.

5. Pour over wheat berry mixture and stir to combine.

6. Chill and serve.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Make Your Own Rice-A-Roni: Homemade Asparagus Rice-A-Roni

Usually on the same aisle as Hamburger Helper and other highly processed, low budget foods, Rice-A-Roni has been known to find a home in many college kitchens. When I first tried the stuff out of the box I conceded that, for the price, it seemed like a mildly satisfying college meal. Then I took a gander at the nutrition facts. One box contained nearly my entire daily amount of sodium and would set me back over 600 calories! What had come in such a tiny box would take a large toll.
A challenge arose: could I make it myself and cut down on the bad while increasing the good in my own kitchen? Rice-A-Roni has a nice combo going on – rice AND pasta, both common staple foods, make the dish stretch further for cheaper. Rice-A-Roni has the aisle-side appeal of easy, and on sale, but homemade versions will always allow you more control on taste, texture and other additions. In fact, if you want to give your dish some texture diversity then fry your spaghetti in butter until it is golden brown and crisp, then separate and add at the end to your cooked rice for the perfect contrast between crunchy and fluffy. For variations on flavor you can use beef or chicken broth, add other types of veggies, maybe even some nuts.
My rice-a-roni was delicious, buttery and light – a perfect use of the asparagus that went on sale this week. The asparagus was just fork tender so that it still had a little snap when you took a bite. The vegetable broth is the key for depth of flavor in this dish. I made my own, but feel free to pick up your favorite brand of broth on the soup aisle. Overall, it’s an easy, tasty dish that’s a far cry from bland, boring or boxed.
Homemade Asparagus Rice-A-Roni
2 T butter, unsalted
1 oz angel hair, broken into ¼ths
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup rice
1 cup vegetable broth
¼ lb asparagus
1. Melt butter in medium sized saucepan over medium heat.
2. Once butter is hot, add in angel hair and fry until golden brown and crispy.
3. Add in onions, cook for about 3 min. Add garlic, cook for another 2 min.
4. Add in rice, cook for about 5 min. Add in vegetable broth, bring to a boil.
5. Cover, cook for about 15 min until rice is cooked and liquid is absorbed.
6. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, boil about 1 cup of water; steam asparagus for about 3-5 min or fork tender.
7. Add asparagus to rice. Dig in!
Makes about 2 large portions.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Long Time Since I’ve Had Shortcake: Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberries happened to be on sale today. They also happened to be sold in two pound packages. The plan was to enjoy their natural sweet succulence as a tasty snack. It didn’t take long after dinner to decide that dessert was a must. I wasn’t feeling like anything chocolate, amazingly. I wanted something light and summery. Shortcake! Not that artificially sweetened sponge Hostess labeled as ‘shortcake’. True shortcake is a sweet, crumbly biscuit; a ‘scone’ if you are British or just real classy.

This delicious impulse was well worth the two trips I had to make to the grocery [you can’t have strawberry shortcake without whipped cream!]. While making the dough I discovered that it was quite a tasty batter and since there are no raw eggs in it, had my fill before the baking. But nothing beats them fresh out of the oven. Luckily it didn’t take long for them to cook – about 15 minutes to be exact. They were so warm and crumbly, even a bit crispy with the sugar-coated outside. It was summertime bliss in my kitchen. They were definitely good enough to eat on their own – perhaps at breakfast?

Putting the strawberries and whipped cream on top was, figuratively, the ‘icing on the cake’. I sat down on the couch with a heaping bowl of this, enjoying not only the creamy, crumbly taste, but also the lingering scents of baked goods. It’s a natural air freshener, don’t you know? It’s my preferred one.

So if you are back at school already and looking for a great way to entertain others or just enjoy it yourself, strawberry shortcake is waiting.

Strawberry Shortcake


2 cups all-purpose flour

4 tsp baking powder

¾ tsp salt

1/3 cup sugar

4 T butter

¾ cup half and half

Melted butter to brush cakes, sugar to sprinkle on top


Whipped cream


1. Preheat oven to 400˚.

2. Mix together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl.

3. Cut in butter [*meaning cut up the 4 T into smaller pieces and press combine the butter into the flour]

4. Add half and half, mix well. Dough will be shaggy.

5. Make into large balls, drop on cookie sheet.

6. Brush with butter, sprinkle with sugar.

7. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until browned.

8. Best eaten warm, served with strawberries and whipped cream. Nommmm

Makes about 8-12 cakes, depending on size.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cold Noodle and Sesame Chicken Salad

Cold pasta for dinner? It’s like cold pizza, only much more versatile. While I would normally question reverting back to a typical pre-adolescent’s choice meal for dinner, I assure you that this will suit your aged tastes. The bite of rice vinegar and soy sauce is tamed by the sweetness of a few spoonfuls of sugar; then the nuttiness of the sesame pervades your taste buds. This recipe, while so tangy and fresh, is also light and convenient. Convenient in the sense that it can be made ahead, left in the fridge for dinner, easily brought to lunch or work, or enjoyed as a late night snack. Hands down, this is perfect for the unpredictable schedule of a twenty-something-year-old in college.

Beware of strong fragrances when you reopen the container after a few days – if it even lasts that long. I received quite a strong sesame greeting when I opened the container after a few days. With this recipe, tangy is good; more than two day old tanginess – not so much. My bet is on the fresh green onions that got a little too pushy in the smell department. I would suggest keeping those separate, as a garnish. Make sure to include them though once you eat, as it adds a lovely color and flavor balance to the entire dish.

Overall, it’s a great sweet sesame meal – which is a flavor combo winner in my book. For those of you who like to turn up the heat however, I might suggest some Sriracha or another Asian hot sauce. It’s not always about the heat with hot sauce, but the flavor; so Texas Pete or Tabasco might not be the best choices.

Cold Noodle and Sesame Chicken Salad


4 T sesame seeds

6 oz bowtie pasta

¼ cup vegetable oil

1/6 cup soy sauce

1/6 cup rice vinegar

½ t sesame oil

1 ½ T white sugar

¼ t ground ginger

Dash ground pepper

1 ½ cups cooked chicken, chopped

5 carrots, cooked and sliced

¼ cup cilantro, chopped

4 green onions, sliced


1. Heat small skillet over medium high heat. Add sesame seeds, stirring constantly until lightly toasted. Remove from heat.

2. Cook pasta and carrots, rinse with cold water. Put in large plastic container.

3. Meanwhile, make sauce: in a tightly sealable container, mix oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and seeds, sugar, ginger, and pepper. Shake well.

4. Add chicken to pasta and carrots. Pour sauce over all. Chill.

5. Garnish with fresh green onions and cilantro before serving.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Rock the Boat: Braised Rockfish with a Lemon Cream Sauce

Some go through life with the misunderstanding that fish must be dredged in flour, deep fried in a bubble bath of fat, and smothered with tartar sauce. These poor unfortunate souls! Rockfish, an Atlantic Coast gem also known as the striped bass, should not be defiled as such. Don’t get me wrong, the occasional fried fish fillet is fine. Sometimes I am in just the mood for those battered, breaded catfish or cod sandwiches.
Although this bass can be cooked in almost any fashion – fried, grilled, baked, broiled etc. – I indulged in its meaty, yet flakey texture by braising it. The fish was a bit pricier, about $18 a pound, so perhaps store this one for one of those special nights during the long, drawn-out school year. I assure you it is well worth the pocket pinch. [And I know this is such a sharp contrast to my last post about being so broke…well, I had this one when I came back to visit the parents so I got a little financial help.]
Side dish pairings for this dinner escape me; they were fleeting in comparison. I loaded my plate with as much fish as anyone was willing to spare from their own portion. My first experience with rockfish was a delicacy to be favored, as well as savored. The thick buttery cream sauce cut with the acidity of the lemon and punch of white wine was a great compliment to the rockfish; no lingering, pungent fishy taste. Braising the fish was allowed for a crisp outer layer, while leaving the delicate layers of meat to simmer slowly.
I could not have been more pleased with the outcome of this succulent dish. Cooking fish is a sensory art – I have turned a fish into shoe leather before, but this time may have been my most excellent attempt yet. It was perfectly cooked and wonderfully seasoned, without drowning it in an overpowering sauce or spice rub.
I also have fished for striper before, having not yet had a fruitful cast. Knowing what waits on the other end of the line though will make me strive all the more in my future ocean escapades.
Braised Rockfish with a Lemon Cream Sauce
1 lb rockfish, one side with scales
Salt and pepper
Lemon juice
2 T unsalted butter
About ½ cup water
¼ cup dry white wine
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1. Divide fish, season with salt, pepper and a few squirts of lemon juice.
2. In sauté pan with lid, heat butter over high heat.
3. Place fish, scale side down, into pan. Allow fish to sear uncovered until crisp on scale side, turn over, repeat. About 3 min on each side – should see fish turn more solid white color.
4. Reduce heat to medium low, add water – will splatter, allow water to cook down. Add wine and cream.
5. Cover and cook for about 10-15 min. Make sure fish has cooked all the way through but DO NOT overcook. Fish should flake when forked and melt like butter in your mouth. Overcooked it will become rubbery.