BLT Orzo

blt-orzo

Tonight, with my parents out for the evening and my little brother satisfied after a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, I set out to make dinner for my sister and I. My mom had suggested we make some BLTs, and though that sounded more like lunch than dinner, the idea stuck.

When I saw some orzo pasta in the cupboard, I decided it would be perfect for a warm and hearty reinvention of a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.

I crisped the bacon, then cooked tomatoes and garlic and wilted some arugula in the sauce just before tossing it with the pasta and serving with a little parmesan. To me, it was exactly what I wanted from a dinner adaptation of the lunch classic.

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Roasted Beet and Asparagus Salad with Red Wine Bacon Vinaigrette

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This salad, while hearty and delicious, was especially satisfying to me because of how much thought I put behind it. It might sound silly to some, but I spent two days thinking about just how exactly to use the first fresh beet I ever bought.

I knew I wanted a roasted beet salad. I had some asparagus and fennel in the fridge — either of which would have paired well with beets. I went back and forth between the two, considering a dozen vinaigrettes in the process. Balsamic? Citrus? Red or white wine vinegar? What fresh herbs would I use? What about cheese? Shaved parmesan? Crumbled bleu or goat cheese?

I couldn't decide, so I put off the salad and picked up a grilled sausage sandwich for dinner instead.

The next morning I woke up to rain. Ok, roasted beets and asparagus it is, I thought. As I pondered the cheese question again, it hit me — what about a poached egg instead? People do that with salads or asparagus all the time. Would it work with beets? Why not? Aussies put beets and fried egg on their burgers. I searched recipes online to see if anyone else had done a beet and asparagus salad with poached egg. I didn't see anything exactly like it, but this salad with golden beets and an egg convinced me I was on the right track and inspired my vinaigrette choice. Cook and Eat's red wine-prosciutto vinaigrette made me think of Craig Cyr's warm bacon dressing I'd made and loved before.

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It all came together in my head at that point: I'd start with arugula, a peppery green that is as far as I can go on the bitter scale (frisee, endive and others aren't for me). Then sweet roasted beets and tender asparagus would be drizzled with a warm vinaigrette made with red wine vinegar, pancetta, green onions, chives, honey and olive oil. To top it all off, a poached egg and black pepper.

The result was everything I hoped it would be.

Oh, and fresh roasted beets? Where have you been all my life? Same with poached eggs. I was silly ever to have had aversions to either in the past.

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Butternut Squash Soup with Lime, Chili and Bacon

butternut-squash-soup

Do you know how many variations of butternut squash soup there are? I really was surprised to find so many different recipes for something I had thought was pretty standard.

Do you start with mirepoix (carrots, celery, onion) or just squash? Do you simmer the raw squash in stock or cook it in the oven first? Do you add cream? Flavor it with nutmeg or something else? You probably can’t go wrong. I’ve yet to try a butternut squash soup I didn’t enjoy.

But here’s one more version, and I only share it because in my searching I didn’t see a recipe exactly like it. I’m always trying to do something a little different, and I’m happy because this soup is simple but has a few elements to make it interesting. A quick breakdown:

  • Squash and onions (if you have a flavorful stock, I say don’t bother cutting up anything else)
  • Vegetables are roasted for deeper flavor
  • No cream to weigh it down
  • Lime juice serves as the acid (instead of commonly used apple cider)
  • Crisp bacon or pancetta pieces make each bite better
  • Cayenne or chili powder for kick


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Empanadas with Eggs, Pancetta and Caramelized Onions

When I think fast food in Argentina, I think empanadas. Baked or fried dough filled with various combinations of meat, cheese and vegetables. What’s not to like?

There are endless options for buying traditional empanadas in Buenos Aires, and each one costs less than a dollar. I’d be silly to make my own at home. Instead, I wanted to create a version you can’t find on the streets here.

For some reason I couldn’t get the idea of eggs out of my head. Then when my friend Marissa told me about a frittata recipe with bacon and caramelized onions, I had a burst of inspiration. I would make a filling with similar flavors, and encase it in the wonder that is empanada dough.

I added caramelized onions, pancetta and reggianito (an Argentine cheese similar to Parmigiano) to scrambled eggs, which I cooked until just set, but softer than I normally eat them, knowing they’d keep cooking when I fried the empanadas.

It wasn’t until after I made them that I realized these were a glamourized version of American Hot Pockets. But fresh, no preservatives and a lot more flavor. I don’t even know the last time I ate a Hot Pocket, but I’ll tell you, I’d eat these again anytime.

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Chipotle Apricot Barbecue Sauce

When I was home for spring break, I got a few free issues of Edible Los Angeles, a small magazine I believe in its second year. If you’re not in LA, there are several other Edible cities magazines worth checking out.

I found an amazing-sounding recipe for shrimp and bacon skewers with apricot-ancho barbecue sauce that, you can ask Michael or Kat, I mentioned roughly every time someone said bbq for the next four months.

Though I still haven’t made the skewers, I made a variation of the sauce to marinate and serve with a barbecued pork loin. The spicy apricot glaze was meant to match the flavors of the spice-rubbed spare ribs that were routinely doused in an apricot ale. (I had early trouble with the grill so they came out much too charred, at no fault of the recipe. We’ve had previous success with it, but cooking three big racks of ribs on one temperamental grill was just too much for me.)

The pork loin, though, was able to cook with indirect heat once the ribs were off, so it came out much more succulent. The barbecue sauce was a hit, but of course, there was bacon in it, and let’s be honest, pork on pork is a winning combination.

Although, I imagine it would also be magical on shrimp and chicken, too.

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