Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hillary's Pasta Salad

Pasta salad is Morgan's absolute favorite "thing" in my regular repertoire. We usually have it at home as a main course, but it's also our side dish go-to for pot lucks and barbecues.

I love it, too, but it's so easy that I feel a little disappointed when he says it's his favorite. I put so much more effort into other dishes, but I guess the upside is that he's easy to please. I've tweaked this over the years to get it just right and it gets rave reviews. (Didn't have an avocado the day the photo was taken, so that's missing in this shot).

This is a staple in our house and the leftovers are perfect for lunches.

Hillary's Pasta Salad

Salad Ingredients:
1 16 oz. box tri-colored rotini pasta
8 oz. light Italian dry salami, diced
8 oz. pepper jack cheese, cubed to 1/4" (small cubes)
1/2 red onion, finely diced (optional)
1 large cucumber, peeled and diced
1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, diced
1 (2.25 oz.) can sliced black olives, drained
1 12 oz. package whole grape tomatoes (Do NOT cut these up, or they will get slimy and gross and your leftovers will be contaminated with mushy tomatoes.)
3 Tbsp. chives, minced
1 jar (6 oz.) marinated artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped

12 oz. balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing (I like Good Seasons Italian, made with olive oil and balsamic vinegar)

Add the following to the bottle of salad dressing and mix well (the Good Seasons cruet makes this step especially easy, since you can just add and shake):

2 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. white pepper
1 Tbsp. dried basil
1 Tbsp. dried oregano

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 avocado, diced


  • Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.

  • Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain and rinse twice in cold water.

  • While pasta is cooking, whisk together dressing ingredients in separate bowl until well-blended, or shake up your Good Seasons cruet. Set aside.

  • In a large bowl, combine cooked pasta, salami, pepper jack cheese, red onion, cucumber, red bell pepper, olives, whole tomatoes, chives, artichoke hearts and dressing.

  • Toss well to evenly distribute the dressing.

  • Top with diced avocado and Parmesan cheese.

  • Refrigerate at least one hour before serving.
  • Saturday, September 26, 2009

    Summer Leftovers

    I was sorting through our summer photos and came across the main course from my brother’s birthday dinner that I haven’t yet shared with you. Since there will be a few more weeks of warm-ish weather, I figure it’s not too late to give this one last whirl in at attempt to stretch out the last few days of sun.

    Ethan specifically requested something healthy, so I instinctively turned to my summer issue of Eating Well. We enjoyed this dish, but I felt the watermelon made for too “wet” a salsa. It ran all over our plates and was super messy, even with serving it in the butter lettuce leaves. Next time I’ll make it with mango, or a firmer melon, like honeydew. The watermelon lent nice color, but that’s about it. Definitely had to eat the salsa right away, too, as the watermelon turned to mush by the next day and I had to throw it out. And, it made a ton, so I was sad to see it go to waste. I’m guessing Mango would hold up for at least two days.

    So, yes, I recommend this recipe, but with some modifications.

    Grilled Shrimp with Melon & Pineapple Salsa

    4 servings

    Active Time: 45 minutes

    Total Time: 1 1/4 hours (plus marinating time — 4 to 24 hours)

    Four 8- to 10-inch skewers

    1 pound raw shrimp, (16-20 per pound), peeled and deveined (see Note)
    2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
    2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger, divided
    2 teaspoons minced seeded jalapeño, divided
    2 cups finely diced firm ripe melon (note: the print edition of the magazine recommends watermelon — too watery! I think mango or a firmer melon, like honeydew, would work and taste better)
    1 cup finely diced fresh pineapple
    1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
    1/4 cup finely diced green bell pepper
    1/4 cup finely diced red onion
    3 tablespoons rice vinegar
    2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint, plus 4 sprigs for garnish
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    4 large lettuce leaves, such as Boston, romaine or iceberg (I used butter lettuce)
    4 lime wedges

    Combine shrimp, 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon ginger and 1 teaspoon jalapeño in a medium bowl.

    Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or up to 24 hours.

    Combine melon, pineapple, red and green bell pepper, onion, vinegar, chopped mint and salt in a large bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon ginger and 1 teaspoon jalapeño.

    Refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

    About 20 minutes before serving, preheat grill to high.

    Thread the shrimp onto skewers, piercing each twice, once through the tail end and once near the head end.

    Grill the shrimp until pink and just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side. When cool enough to handle, slide the shrimp off the skewers.

    To serve, arrange one large lettuce leaf on each dinner plate. Spoon salsa onto the lettuce and top with shrimp. Garnish each serving with a lime wedge and a mint sprig, if using.

    Tips & Notes

    Make Ahead Tip
    Marinate the shrimp (Step 1) for up to 24 hours. Cover and refrigerate the salsa (Step 2) for up to 4 hours.

    To devein shrimp, use a paring knife to make a slit along the length of the shrimp. Under running water, remove the tract with the knife tip.

    Per serving: 211 calories; 8 g fat (1 g sat, 5 g mono); 168 mg cholesterol; 16 g carbohydrates; 19 g protein; 2 g fiber; 352 mg sodium; 501 mg potassium.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009

    Tour d’Omdal 2009

    We went to Europe for two weeks at the end of August, starting with Morgan’s cousin Helena’s wedding in Sweden (we spent most of our time in Stockholm, but the wedding and reception took place in Vaxholm and Finnhamn); followed by stops in Paris, Brussels and Munich. It could not have been a better vacation and I'm so excited to tell you all about it!

    It was great to see Sweden first-hand and experience some of Morgan’s heritage. I failed to meet one Swede who didn’t speak near-perfect English, which amazed me and made it much easier on my end — props to that socialist education system. Although, I have to say I choked a bit on the 25 percent tax. At least my money is helping contribute to an easy English-speaking tourist experience, though, right? Morgan was able to speak / practice quite a bit of Swedish in restaurants and asking for directions, too, which was nice and the Swedes were all very patient and helpful. One waiter even taught us how to be “cool” and ask for another beer without sounding like we were ordering from a 1960s Swedish grammar manual. Don’t ask me how, because I already forgot. I think maybe we ordered too many.
    Helena and Daniels’s wedding was absolutely gorgeous and the reception was held on an island in the Stockholm archipelago. We took a chartered ferry to the site and spent the night in a large youth hostel. Dinner was held in an old, rustic barn that was decorated so beautifully — like something out of a magazine. We feasted on crayfish, a summer delicacy that as far as I can tell every citizen is required to love, lest they be deported. Now, don’t get me wrong, crayfish are tasty. They are similar to mini lobsters, but man, (and please pardon me in advance for sounding like a gluttonous American), it is a seriously long journey to satiety. You have to work very, very hard to get a full belly on these little guys and slurping on claws so energetically that your eyeballs may pop out just really isn’t my thing. After three, I moved onto the roast beef option, which was delicious and filled me up enough to continue throwing back the obligatory schnapps and attempting to sing traditional Swedish drinking songs in my best Greta Garbo-inspired accent. It. Was. Awesome. (And by “it,” I mean everything.) Paris
    Next up was Paris, which we arrived in the afternoon following the wedding. A little more of a language barrier, but I was able to bust-out enough of my now anciently-learned French to get by. We took a taxi to our hotel from the airport and the sight of the sparkling Eiffel Tower literally brought tears to my eyes when we rounded the corner into the city (it’s rigged with lights that make it shimmer for 10 minutes twice each evening). I can't fully describe the magic, but Paris is every bit as romantic as fabled. We only had three days there, unfortunately, which was way, way too short. I’m already longing to return and immerse myself in food — and by food, I mean wine and cheese — history and ambiance. It’s truly a dreamy place and I think everyone should go there at least once. Brussels
    Paris was followed by Brussels; a quick one-day stop via the Thalys train. Morgan’s cousin Helena and her new husband, Daniel, were gracious enough to let us stay in their flat (they’re currently living in Belgium), since they were still away for the wedding and associated activities. Brussels was filled with eating, drinking, more eating and then a little more drinking. The food here is good, folks. The scenery is just OK and can be done in a day (someone told us the Mannequin Pis, along with the Glockenspiel in Munich, were only famous because of Rick Steves and I now tend to agree), but it was definitely a good thing we didn’t stay longer or none of my pants would have fit for the trip home. Street waffles, chocolate, beer, lambic, more beer … you get the picture. A foodie heaven, for sure. I discovered stoemp served with Belgian beer-beef stew and my quest is to find and master a good recipe this winter.
    Our final stop was in Munich to visit Morgan’s friend, Natalie, who lived with his family in the early 2000s while completing an internship in Redmond, Wash. She has a terrific flat near downtown and was nice enough to put us up for four nights in her bed, while sleeping on the couch. We owe her in a big way and hope she will visit us in Seattle so we can repay the favor. Although Paris was the most “romantic” stop on our trip, Munich wins the most fun award without so much as a challenge. Natalie was a great host and kicked off our time in Munich with an authentic beer garden stop on our first night. The next morning, we went on a really entertaining bike tour — mostly entertaining because my bike didn’t fit during the first half of the ride and I almost crashed into a delivery truck. It is really hard to get started on and skillfully ride a bike when your feet can’t reach the ground. FYI. Thank God, a very kind and generous woman whose bike didn’t have a high cross-bar traded me and the rest of the afternoon was much more successful. The tour also included Morgan jumping into the Isar River (wearing his shorts) with a bunch of naked locals watching from the shore (those Munichians really like to take their clothes off), trying to ride the bikes through traffic after yes, you guessed it, another beer garden stop and making friends with some Americans from Florida over more beer. We also bought some stylish European clothing (I'm in the process of getting my items hemmed since no European women are apparently shorter than 5'9") and finished off the trip with an afternoon at Hofbräuhaus (more beer).

    No self-respecting local will set foot in Hofbräuhaus, so Natalie didn’t join us there. She is very proud of the fact that she has never once visited and didn’t want to break her streak. That’s OK. More beer for us (like we needed any more at this point)! There is a lot of beer in Munich if you haven’t already gathered. They need help drinking it, so we obliged. Don’t judge. When in Rome … or Munich … or Belgium … or Paris … or Stockholm.
    Europe, I ♥ you.