Christmas Pasta Salad

Merry Christmas!  There, I said it. I’m not a’feared.  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  True, the unofficial start to holidays begins around Thanksgiving, and the season continues through New Year’s Day, so it is a holiday season, and I do hope you have happy holidays.  By the same token, the unofficial start of summer is Memorial Day and ends at Labor Day, so someone remind me to wish everyone Happy Summer when the time comes!

Now on to the food.

Picture this:  You have been invited to a holiday party (assuming this is for Christmas, so let’s call it a Christmas Party) but you didn’t think you would have a babysitter or your significant other had already said yes to their friend’s party, but those plans fall through, and all of a sudden one of the neighbor’s kids agrees to watch your kids and presto…you can go to your Christmas Party!

But Wait!  (There is always a ‘wait’.) You are supposed to bring a dish to the party and you don’t have much time and are not feeling very inspired.  No Fret!  No Worries!  Here is the answer:  Christmas Pasta Salad!  It’s easy, it involves green stuff and red stuff and white stuff, and provided you have all the ingredients, it only takes about 20-25 minutesChristmas pasta Salald

Tonya came up with this dish last year while trying something new based around the holidays to accompany a Christmas meal and involving traditional Christmas colors.  It was a hit, so much so that we have already had it again this year!  Plus, it’s pasta for your holiday carb intake and even has cheese!!!  (Remember, you are hitting the gym starting January 1, 2016, so take full advantage!)

Christmas Pasta Salad

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 25 mins
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 bunch asparagus, trimmed, blanched and cut into bite-size pieces 

1 box of your favorite pasta (we prefer spiral or cavatappi pasta), cooked al dente, drained and rinsed with cold water

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

8 oz Feta Cheese

 One bottle of your favorite Italian salad dressing

Toss all ingredients together with enough dressing to coat.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate at least one hour before serving.  You made need to add additional dressing before serving.

See?  Easy, tasty, colorful.  It will get everyone in the Christmas spirit in no time!

IMG_3560While I wasn’t drinking a an actual beer when Tonya rolled this recipe out, I would imagine it would go great with the Pale Ale from Good People Brewing based in Birmingham, AL.  Even though I favor browns, porters and stouts, this is one of my choices for pales.  (click on the above paragraph and have Santa and his reindeer take you to Good People website)

 

 

Sweet Potatoes, Greens, Eggs & Ham

Sweet Potatoes, Greens, Eggs & Ham

At a recent trip to our local Farmers market as we were checking out the Fall produce (and home-made donuts), we noticed several booths selling these very large long white and hairy root vegetables.  I know what you are thinking….white, long, hairy…could only be a Daikon radish!!  You are correct.  Daikon radishes are considered a winter radish and quite familiar in Asian cultures where they originated.

We often try and ask the person at the booth whether they have tried their products, how they taste and what is their favorite way to prepare them.  There were various opinions about the Daikon Radish. The first booth we visited said the Daikon’s were spicy, similar to the more common red radish that you usually find in a typical house salad and a lot of people pick them out and set on a napkin.  I don’t mind those radishes in salads but then again I enjoy spicy foods.  (We kind of think this person didn’t know what she was talking about and hadn’t really tried the Daikons.  She and her buddy were busy taking selfies among the veggies.  “..and here is the one of us surrounded by organic veggies in the stall at the market”)050

Another vendor went into more detail and said the Daikon actually is not spicy, in fact is milder than its cousin and sweeter.  When asked about the best way to prepare, he said an Asian friend of his loves the Daikon radish and eats it raw, sliced thin  and dipped in lime juice and salt.  What grabbed our attention was when he described a recipe involving the greens attached to the top of the radish.  His favorite way of preparing the greens is to brown some sausage, add the greens on top of the sausage and cook until they are ‘wilty’ (his words) then add some eggs and scramble them.  Tonya and I immediately said to ourselves:  let’s go home and have this for lunch!  We bought our $2.00 radish, found some local sage pork sausage and pilfered some home grown eggs from the in-laws.

Well, if you know my wife, you know she loves to take ideas 056and create her own dish by adding other ingredients and expanding on the original concept.  This was no exception.  The result was a hearty dinner that exceeded everyone’s expectations and had our daughter going back for another serving!  (Spoiler Alert:  root vegetables made it into the final dish).  Instead of a scrambled egg casserole similar to what the farmer’s market vendor described, this became more of a breakfast skillet with the eggs unbroken and topped with the root vegetable greens and mixed with the Sweet Potatoes, making this a Paleo-friendly recipe.

Sweet Potatoes, Greens, Eggs & Ham

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: about 1 hr
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 lb high quality pork sausage

2 medium sweet potatoes, diced

1 medium onion, diced

1 red pepper, diced

6 eggs

Chopped fresh root vegetable greens or substitute kale

Start by tossing the sweet potatoes with olive oil and bake at 400 for about 25-30 minutes until tender and slightly brown. While the potatoes are cooking sauté the onions and pepper in a skillet or oven-proof pot until tender and then add the sausage. Cook over medium heat until brown, while breaking the sausage into small pieces. 

Remove from heat. Gently stir the cooked sweet potatoes into the sausage mixture, making sure to evenly distribute the sweet potatoes and sausage mixture around the bottom of the pot.  Crack the eggs one at a time, trying not to break the yolks, and space evenly apart on the top of the mixture, then bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.  Take out of the oven and sprinkle the greens over the top and cook an additional 5-7 minutes until the eggs are set.

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Oh yeah, guess you are wondering about the Daikon radish?  Well, we sliced the radish into thin pieces and dipped the pieces in some lime juice and a bit of table salt.  Let me just say it is an acquired taste.  There wasn’t the typical spiciness you associate with a radish and it certainly was milder and sweeter.  One of the great attributes of root vegetables is they can last a long time so we have plenty of time to experiment on that sucker!

Speaking of beer, I had the Bed of Nails Brown from Hi Wire Brewing in Asheville, NC.  Nice brown ale with a malty, caramel and nutty flavor and will definitely have again…well, the rest of the 6 pack for sure! (click on above paragraph to be magically transported to the Hi-Wire Brewing website)

 

Chicken, Italian Sausage and Israeli Couscous Soup

Chicken, Italian Sausage and Israeli Couscous Soup

Cold fall nights invoke the memories of warm soup and cornbread as you watch the late afternoon football game on Sunday and try not to think about Monday.   Soup in itself is just an interesting dish.  There are so many variations and recipes can change every time you make it.  Many times it just depends on what is available in the ‘fridge.  Some leftover meat?  Check.  Carrots, onions and potatoes? Check.  Noodles or rice?  Check.  Now you are ready to go!

Now, I have a thing with soups and stews.  There are certain vegetables that I just am not that fond of. I will just say I am not a big fan of English peas and Lima Beans.  In fact there is a family story that where I was trying to make a point with my eldest daughter that involves finishing your dinner, Lima Beans and my gag-reflex.  Nope, not a fan of the Lima Beans.  I know, it is a childish but I will go out of my way to avoid the peas and Limas in soups or even hidden inside Chicken Pot Pie.

Tonya put together one of the best soups (in my humble opinion) we have had in quite a while.  She was inspired by a dish that was being sampled at a local grocery store and in her ‘Tonya way’ took the basic idea and created a completely new soup by expanding on the ingredients.  In fact, what the store was demonstrating wasn’t even a soup but more like a ‘combination dinner’ using chicken and sausage.

Here are the basics ingredients:  Chicken breasts, ground Italian sausage and…wait for it…toasted Israeli Couscous.  I know. I didn’t know Israelis had their own couscous either!  The Israeli couscous is typically larger than your run-of-the-mill couscous. I guess if Italians can have their own sausage then Israelis can have their own couscous.

The chicken is cooked on the stove in a pot with seasonings and the sausage is browned in a pan.  Now throw it all in a pot and add liquid….Just Kidding!!

Chicken, Italian Sausage and Israeli Couscous Soup

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: about 1 hr
  • Difficulty: easy
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2-3 skinless and boneless chicken breasts, boiled with salt & pepper, cooled, chopped and save broth.040

1 lb Italian sausage, browned and crumbled.

1 small bag toasted Israeli Couscous.

1 small onion, diced.

3-4 cloves garlic, diced.

1 cup of cooked and diced parsnip (optional).

1 bay leaf.

1 Tsp of dried basil.

1 tsp of oregano.

Salt & pepper to taste.

Saute the onions and garlic in a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot until tender.  Pour in at least 4 cups of chicken broth (from when you boiled the chicken, remember?) to the pot containing the garlic and onions. Add the chopped cooked chicken, crumbly Italian sausage and seasonings to the same pot.  (Oh yeah, and guess what else made a surprise appearance in the soup….Parsnips!!!  Seriously, we still had some left from a previous recipe so Tonya added them to the soup.  Good old root veggies, they are popping up everywhere!)

Bring all of this to a boil, then add the Israeli couscous.  Reduce heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until the couscous is done.  That’s about it.  Remove the bay leaf and if the soup is too thick you can always add more chicken broth.  If parsnips are not your thing then try carrots or celery instead.

As for the taste, my youngest daughter said it reminded her of Italian Wedding Soup. I like to crumble some warm cornbread muffins in the soup. The muffins are not necessary but always welcome!  The Italian sausage 016added a tinge of spiciness and the couscous expands so the combination creates a “party in your mouth!”  Quite a delicious and hearty soup savored on a cool autumn afternoon, especially with a Big Muddy Pale Ale out of Murphysboro, IL that is a mixture of spicy and sweet and washes down well!