Daily Decadence: Rosemary Parsley Dumplings

or surprisingly light bits of savory goodness

The side dish is an oft neglected part of many meals, at least in our house.  First priority is always given to the main dish - be it pasta, beef, pork, chicken, or fish - it always dictates the amount of time and effort that is left over to dedicate to the sides.  But that does not have to be the case, as I am continuing to push my efforts to create more balance in our dinners it is forcing my attention onto this aspect of the meal.  And why not?  Are not some of the best foods served primarily as side dishes?  Potatoes of all fashions are most often sides, and we all know how fond I am of carbs, rice also often finds itself here as do many of our beloved vegetables.  So why not put a little extra love into it?  Not every day mind you, a good steamed vegetable is always welcome on my plate, but once in a while it's nice to give a nod to the unfortunate side kick of the dinner plate - and let it dictate the time allotted for the main dish for a change.  Empower the sides!  Ok, getting a little carried away here...

I will admit that this dish does take a bit more effort then steaming veggies, but trust me it is worth it in the end.  It works best if you have a large stock pot that suspends a colander inside (several inches from the bottom at least) but it can be managed without.  I did attempt this without the assistance and must say that a second pair of hands will be essential when I make it again, the extra hands do not need to be skilled they just need to be able to hold a metal colander while wearing oven-mits (since it does get a bit warm).  Not too much to ask from those intending to dine along side you, is it?  I think not.  Plus it makes the process go so much more quickly, and we all the best part is definitely indulging so why waste time?  Speaking of which, let's get on with this shall we:

1 tsp crushed dried rosemary
½ tsp dried parsley
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup water
2 tbsp butter
Grated Parmesan cheese
Hardware: metal colander fitted stock pot (or metal colander with a large stock pot and an extra set of hands)

1. In the stock pot, fitted with a metal colander if at all possible, bring enough water to a boil to fill the pot with a couple inches space before touching the colander.  

2. Mix the flour, rosemary, parsley, and salt in a medium sized bowl.  In a separate bowl combine the eggs and water, whisking well with a fork.  Then make a “well” in the dry ingredients and pour in the egg mixture.  Whisk until blended into a smooth texture, this is important since these will be precious little dumplings and will have no room for clumps.  

3. Pour the mixture into the metal colander and use a plastic spatula to press the dough through the holes and into the boiling water.  Sweep back and forth in the colander to keep the dough moving through.  
If your colander doesn’t fit to your pot you will probably want to borrow a second pair of hands to hold the colander for you, one of those indulging in the meal with you could easily be enlisted to help, unless of course you have a truly impressive combination of amazing arm muscles and physical coordination which I do not possess.

4. Let the dumplings cook for another minute then strain and spread out in a single layer on a dry cookie sheet.

5. Melt 1 tbsp of butter in a medium sized pan and add in the dumplings. Stir to coat and heat throughout. Add the rest of the butter, stirring until it is melted. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the dumplings start to turn a bit golden on the edges. Sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese, toss to coat, then serve hot.

And there you have it! Delightful little bits of savory goodness. Extras can easily be added to soups before step 5, it would be particularly good with a nice broth soup like chicken and vegetables or the surprisingly good broccoli slaw soup I made last weekend (recipe to come soon). The flavor packed into each bite is really surprising, subtle yet distinctly there, it may not be terribly prominent in that first bite but by the second one it will be well established. It's a playful side dish sure to brighten up any meal, and make just about anyone feel at least a tad decadent when it is placed before them. So why not put a little extra effort into a side dish for a change? Who knows, it just may become the star of the meal!


Aromatic Baked Chard

or how to tame the greens in a delicious every day side dish

Is it Spring yet?  Is it?  Is it?!  Well the calendar may say it is but the frost, ice, and slush around here disagree.    I'm going to side with the calendar on this one, mostly because I can not curb my craving for fresh vegetables and that is most assuredly a sign that Spring is coming - I'm counting the days until our local Farmers' Market opens (36 to be exact).  Since local produce is a rarity in the cold weather I find myself scouring the grocery stores for what at least appears to be the freshest produce that they have, this currently leads me to leafy greens and asparagus.  My love for asparagus is strong, but it's uses are not terribly unique so I thought I'd share with you a recent experiment in Swiss Chard (along with my longing for Spring).

In my entry in January titled "Taking a Step Back" I included a short and simple chard saute that I really enjoy and make on a pretty regular basis in the Summer months.  Unfortunately my husband's passion for chard (if you can call his acceptance of it that) does not match my own so I wanted to find a recipe that would make the sharp, distinctive taste of Swiss Chard a bit milder for the hesitant greens eaters out there.  The benefits of dark leafy greens includes everything from physical to mental health, and certainly helps boost the feelings of freshness that the Summer months bring to our neck of the woods.  I actually made this as a snack one night, and even though my husband was hesitant to dive into a bowl of Swiss Chard at ten o'clock at night he did give it a definite thumbs up so here we are now.  This would be delicious alongside heavier dishes like red meat since its flavor will hold up well, but it could just as easily saddle up alongside some grilled chicken if the grill ever defrosts... Since chard cooks down a lot it makes about 2-4 servings, depending on size, so you may want to double it for a family meal.  Check it out:

½ bunch of Swiss or Rainbow chard
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp pepper
Dash of nutmeg
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp Italian bread crumbs

Hardware: small square baking dish

Preheat oven to 400 F

1. Slice swiss chard lengthwise once down the middle (stem) once and then into 1” strips.  Toss with olive oil, garlic, and spices in a small baking dish.  Bake for 25 min

2. Remove and toss to incorporate again.  Add heavy cream and parmesan cheese and toss to coat.  Top evenly with bread crumbs.  Return to oven for 5 min to heat throughout and slightly brown the top.

So simple, delicious, and fresh. Just what the doctor ordered for Spring fever! The cream doesn't make it very heavy, it sort of acts as a binding force with the cheese and bread crumbs. I suppose it is kind of reminiscent of creamed spinach in concept, but believe me - it is far from the soupy greens you may expect. The flavor is definitely there, which is evident by the aromas filling the house even before your first bite, and the soft textures of the creamy cheese with the crispiness of the bread crumb topped leaves really brings it home. So step into Spring with me and give this delightful green a place on your kitchen table. Enjoy!


Drunken 'Leftover Bread' Pudding

or dessert side dish, take two!

I first openly broke the dessert/side dish barrier last Fall with my Darling Sweet Potato Bites and I have been itching to add another recipe to that repertoire.  I love vegetables as a side dish, and will dive into potatoes any day of the week, but some days you just want something sweet.  And honestly I just don't see why it can't be part of the meal.  So this I bring to you as a side dish though it is just as easily a dessert as well - Drunken 'Leftover Bread' Pudding.

I like this recipe for several reasons:

  • It actually makes me like bread pudding, I've kind of had an aversion to even the idea of it for most of my life.
  • It uses up any leftover bread you have laying around, and I hate to waste good carbs.  I've been on a bread making kick since I received my stand mixer for Christmas and with only two of us in the house the two loaves of bread that each recipe makes does start to build up a bit.
  • It has that feel good, homemade flavor and feel.  Definitely a heartwarming comfort food.

So on that basis, as well as the photographic evidence below, I ask you to open up your kitchen to this dinner time delight.  Check it out...

1/2 loaf of leftover homemade bread or other thick cut bread (going stale)
3 eggs
1 pint heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp vanilla
1/4 cup golden raisins
Amaretto liquor
Cinnamon & nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. Reconstitute the raisins by placing them in a small sauce pan with just enough amaretto liquor to cover.  Heat on a simmer for 2-5 min then drain.  You want them to plump up and soak in some of that liquor they are happily bathing in.

2. In a large mixing bowl combine the eggs, cream, sugar, melted butter, vanilla, and raisins.  You can also add a tablespoon or two of the amaretto liquor at this time if you'd like, not necessary but it can add an extra kick of flavor.  Stir well to incorporate all of the components fully.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the liquid.

3. Cube the bread into bite sized pieces, you can choose to do larger but I like to be able to pull apart the bread and eat wit minimal additional effort so I like the pieces small.  Toss into the liquid mixture and stir to combine.  Let sit for 15 min to soak.

4. Stir again and pour into a 9" square baking dish.  Even out and top with reserved liquid wherever the liquid looks low or the bread looks dry.  Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and nutmeg.  Bake for approximately 30 min or until the custard looks set in the bread.

Serve as a side dish alongside turkey, chicken, pork roast, or the like.  It can also work as a great dessert after any meal when topped with a little whipped cream and cinnamon sugar.  This is excellent for family dinners or when you have company since the single dish easily serves 6-8, more or less depending on serving size.  I have been known to make it for my husband and myself then scoop out servings to take to work with my lunch, it reheats wonderfully for a more unique treat, so don't let the amount it makes deter you.  Give it a try, add your own flavors, and most importantly - enjoy!


Slow and Savory Easy Italian Sausage

or a weeknight crockpot debut for colder then grilling weather

We love our local butcher shop.  And somehow, that may even be an understatement.  Buying our meat from some of the local shops has opened our eyes to how delicious it can be when the time from the butcher to the table is drastically reduced.  We started out with steaks and have moved on to pork, chicken, and sausage as well.  The cost is comparable to the major supermarkets if you find a good neighborhood shop, unfortunately the high end grocers that have their own butcher on staff are definitely more expensive so if you can't find a family style shop it could be pricey.  Lucky for us, we have!  And we have been buying our meat there ever since.  Our most recent purchases have frequently included kielbasa and Italian sausage, I know it isn't grilling weather quite yet but a girl can hope right?  And we have been using the grill pan on the stove or this kielbasa recipe (often modified for brats too) but lately we have burned out on those a bit so we wanted something new.

We all know how much I love my slow cooker, and the combination of the slow cooker and this delicious fresh meat couldn't fail right?  Well, I did some research to make sure.  Turns out if you are cooking sausage over time whether in the slow cooker, on the stove, or in the oven it will become greasy if you don't take precautions.  Most recipes advised broiling, sauteing, or boiling the sausage and since I wanted to preserve the flavor both of the sausage itself and the sauce it seemed that boiling was the best way to keep new flavors from being introduced.  That little bit of extra effort, if it can even be called that tossing some sausages into boiling water while you are getting ready in the morning, was a huge success.  We were still talking about how delicious this dish was two days later.  The sausage was filled with flavor and the texture was surprisingly moist while it broke easily into bites without even needing a knife, the sauce was savory and rich in flavor after cooking all day amidst the sausage.  A wonderfully balanced and flavor infused meal with such little effort was truly a dream to enjoy after work, and what better to greet you when you walk in the door then the savory aroma of Italian spices?  A comfort to the mind and body alike.  So simple, so cheap, and so delicious.  So how do you bring this into your home you may ask?  Well, let me tell you.... it won't take long...

5 Italian sausages, raw in casings
1 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 tsp basil
½ tsp oregano
½ tsp celery salt
½ tsp parsley
1 tsp minced garlic

Hardware: slow cooker/crockpot

1. Boil sausage for 10-15 min on the stove.

2. Dump all of the other ingredients into the slow cooker and mix well.

3. Add the sausage and move around to cover with the sauce, make sure all the pieces get settled down and are mostly submerged.  Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hrs

The sausage will most likely break in half while cooking, don't worry this won't effect the flavor.  Serve alongside mashed potatoes or toss on a sub roll with some sauce for a quick and easy meal.  The leftovers are fantastic reheated for lunch, just make sure to throw in some of the sauce though to keep it moist.  If you would like to serve over pasta I would recommend transferring some of the sauce to a pot and reducing for a few minutes on the stove to thicken, but it really is a personal preference on this point.  However you choose to indulge give it a shot and try it in your own kitchen, you'll be surprised how much flavor can be found in this simple dish.  Enjoy!