Everyone has a few tried and true favorite BBQ dishes they cook up for a party or bring to share. My tortellini salad is one of my Barbecue staples.
Before I share the recipe, I want to discuss pasta salad fails. These are, in my opinion, common pasta salad mistakes:
- Pasta is way too al dente. It’s one thing if it’s being served hot and will cook to perfection once sauce is added. It’s a whole other story to under cook. Hint: Pasta should not be crunchy.
- Pasta is too soft: Pasta shouldn’t be mushy, it should be firm. When boiling pasta remove when it just starts floating to the surface. For a pasta salad, rinse with cold water to stop cooking. It should never bloat to three times its original size.
- Using cheap pasta: I’m a frugal gal, but I also believe we get what we pay for. Cheap pasta yields cheap results. If using tortelli or ravioli take care to buy a premium brand. Fresh pasta is the best.
- Mayonnaise: Mixing pasta with mayonnaise does not a pasta salad make. It’s just fattening, artery clogging, mayonaisy pasta that you’ll have to throw away after an hour of leaving out anyway. Use your imagination and stop mixing stuff with mayo and calling it salad.
So, keeping this in mind, let’s move along to the recipe. Note that I don’t have amounts listed – that’s because it’s a matter of preference. Some folks like more veg and less tortellini and some want subtlety. In any event, it’s in the eye of the beholder.
- Tortellini - For this one I used a mushroom tortellini which added a whole other level of yumminess.
- Cherry tomatoes
- Avocado - Cubed
- Artichoke hearts
- Black Olives
- Chopped garlic
- Mozzarella - If you didn't splurge for the premium mozzarella, then you may as well just use Velveeta. Fresh, homemade is the best.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Cook pasta and toss with EVOO so it doesn't stick together. Add the rest of the good stuff and salt and pepper to taste. Chill, baby, chill.
Will you be trying this recipe? Tell us what you think – especially let us know what kind of modifications you made.
I’m just back from lovely, laid back Asheville, North Carolina. I’m five pounds heavier, but the dieting I’m doing is well worth it because Asheville has some of the best restaurants I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve had plenty of food in New York City, Austin, TX, and Los Angeles, so I know my overpriced fancy food. Except Asheville isn’t overpriced, and depending on where you go, it isn’t over the top fancy.
But it’s good.
So good I’m writing about it and you know how often I post. (Happy, Diana?)
This is my second time in Asheville. I was here last September for the Type A Parent Conference, a blogging conference put on by Asheville resident Kelby Carr. I enjoyed myself so much in the city and at the conference that I made it my mission to come back again.
Asheville, though technically a city, has a small college town feel. With plenty of sidewalks, you can walk everywhere you need to go. On this trip I realized how much I enjoyed walking around at night in the city. I live in a place with no sidewalks, so evening strolls are extremely rare. Or if we do go for a walk after dinner, we have to be back before it gets too dark so cars can see us. But I’m digressing and you really don’t need to know about my walking habits.
I want to talk to you today about the culinary experience that is Asheville, North Carolina. Most of my culinary excursions in Asheville were spent with partners in crime, travel bloggers Andy Hayes and Margo Millure. They travel a lot more they I do and thus have more refined pallets. Or not. The subject of pallets never came up and I’m digressing again.
Upon arriving at Asheville, I dropped off my overpacked suitcase, freshened up and had met Andy and Margo for lunch before heading over to tour the stunning Biltmore Estate. We heard good things about the Tupelo Honey Cafe, and stopped there for a lovely Southern lunch before embarking upon our tour.
And thus comes my dilemma.
Having encountered the airport experience from hell, (which we won’t get into in case it leads to another digression…) and changing and cancelled flights, I didn’t eat anything all day. At 2:00 do I have breakfast or lunch? Andy did a breakfast bowl, but I wasn’t brave enough to try grits, so I opted for a tomato sandwich instead. But we’re not talking about some tomato slices and mayo slapped on a slice of toast. Au Contraire. We’re talking Texas Toast and Harvati cheese.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the best tomato sandwich I’ve ever had. It’s also the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever tasted. And while we’re extolling the virtues of my tomato sandwich, let me just put it on my list of top 5 sandwich experiences ever. It’s that good. But you know what made the biggest impression on me a the Tupelo Honey Cafe?
You know when you go to restaurants and they bring out the free nibbles you receive some lackluster salsa and chips or maybe some greasy fried noodles and duck sauce? Check out what the Tupelo Honey Cafe serves for their free nibble while you wait:
It was with great reluctance that we left our table to accommodate the long line of devoted lunchers, to head to the Biltmore. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Biltmore, it’s a mega-bachelor pad, turned family vacation home, that became a summer playground for the Vanderbilt family and their rich and famous friends.
Nice little vacation cottage, right? So while there, Andy was dying, and I do mean dying, to visit the creamery in the Biltmore Village, a small but wonderful ice cream parlor. I blew my diet for the first time, but not the last, during my trip to Asheville. Check this out:
It tasted just like it looked. Cold, fizzy and like the orange creamsicles I remember from back in the day. The Creamery’s vanilla ice cream is so rich and wonderful, it’s worth a return trip just for that.
This post is getting long and it to describe every where I ate and what it looked like would take more time than you’re willing to invest. So let me just share some of the highlights…but know that I didn’t have a single sucky meal at any of the restaurants during my almost week-long stay in Asheville, NC.
I wasn’t brave enough to try grits, but I we did want to sample another Southern delicasy:
I wish NJ had a signature cuisine beyond pizza…we need brag-worthy dishes like the Fried Green Tomatoes we shared at Mayfel’s. We dined in Mayfel’s courtyard amid twinkle lights and downed more of their lovely spiked Mayfelades than I care to admit. I had a more Southern version of Huevos Rancheros and as it was my last night in Asheville it ended on a lovely note.
Now, I have been waiting all year to go back to Asheville so I could eat at Salsas. I enjoyed the Mexican/Caribbean cuisine there last year and couldn’t wait to return. I brought my boss, BlogWorld‘s Rick Calvert, and Andy and Margo. I don’t think they knew what to expect when they saw the restaurant, but when we dined they agreed the food was awesome.
I have to tell you, the Sweet potato and tofu empinada at Salsa is worth coming back for again and again. I ate this last time, and it called to me for a repeat performance. It couldn’t even tempt me away from the part of the menu that said I should try something new. C
heck out this puppy:
The good news is that I didn’t feel so terribly guilty eating this.
I had other amazing culinary experiences in Asheville.An honorable mentions goes to The Admiral, a restaurant a little off the beaten track that looks like a dive but eats like a five star experience. I had pork belly for the first time…but not the last. The food melted in my mouth and if there weren’t other people around I would have picked up my plate and licked it clean.
Rick and I also enjoy the fried pickles at Pack’s Tavern. The rest of the food was terrific as well, but the fried pickles were a total treat.
So there you have it. Though I was in Asheville on business, there’s never a shortage of pleasure. The town is laid back, with lovely little galleries and shops, and the restaurants rival anything you see in the major culinary meccas. If you’re visiting Asheville, or just driving through, do stop and enjoy one of its many restaurants. I guarantee, there’s not a clunker in the bunch.
I was kind of afraid to try quinoa. Frankly, it scared me. See, here’s the thing about healthy eating: when I was growing up eating healthy meant eating a lot of rabbit food, or heavy, bland whole grains. I know things have changed since back in the day, but I still haven’t gotten past the healthy=bland thing. I don’t like lettuce and I’m not a fan of dense, grainy food.
My other issue with healthy food is that I can’t always get my family to try stuff that’s different or exotic. If my son could live on mac & cheese he would, and my husband loves his carbs like rice and potatoes (not brown rice, mind you) and for him the key to losing weight is to just say no to the junk food that’s in the house. As a fat chick, I can tell you it’s not so easy. So I decided that this year I will find my own recipes. If my family wants to try them, they’re more then welcome to. However, I don’t mind cooking a separate meal for myself if it means I’ll be healthier.
I saved this recipe some time ago, and have been eager to try it because of all the ingredients. With mango, jalapeno and scallions, how could this possibly be a bland, “healthy tasting” dish? I made one batch and though the original recipe (Ok, so I tweaked, sue me.) serves four, I think one cup for lunch each day will do just fine. Thus, one batch will last an entire week in the right type of container. I’m also so impressed with this dish, I’m making it as a side dish for some cousins who are coming to dinner next weekend.
The mango and honey add a sweetness and the jalapeno gives it a slight kick, but not so much heat that it turns you off from the dish. The scallions and peppers add more crunch and flavor and the quinoa packs so much protein, it makes this dish perfect for those who wish to pass up on the meat. Oh and it’s filling so you won’t be tempted to nosh on unhealthy stuff later.
Quinoa Salad With a Kick
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 mango, cubed
1 red pepper, chopped
1 orange pepper, chopped
3 scallions, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped (and seeded)
3 cups arugula
1/2 cup almond slivers
The Nitty Gritty
- Prepare quinoa by boiling one part of quinoa to two parts water. So for one cup of dried quinoa, you’ll want to add it to a saucepan with two cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered until the water evaporates. Chill. (I put it in a bowl and stuck it in the freezer – this is to avoid cooking the other ingredients when tossed with hot quinoa.)
- Chop all the veggies and toss in a large bowl with the almond slivers. When quinoa is chilled toss that in as well. Once combined, toss in the dressing.
- 4 Tbsp honey
- 1/2 cup lime juice
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
Whisk together and toss into salad.
If you try my kicky quinoa salad, do tell us what you think. Also, if you added your own tweaks, please share that as well!Deb Ng
So Mr. Ng and I are browsing the cookie cutters at Williams Sonoma a couple of weeks ago, and what to my wandering eye should appear, but a box of Star Wars cookie cutters:
We have a standard set of holiday cookie cutters at home. You know, the usual Christmas trees, snowmen and bells and stuff. However, as a geek, this called to me. Plus The Boy is just winding down from a major (and I mean major) StarWars phase.
I’m not an impulsive girl and there’s no way I’d spend $20 for 4 cookie cutters, but these called for me. They even called to Mr. Ng whose wallet is sealed tighter than the Declaration of Independence. So, we left William Sonoma with a box of overpriced cookie cutters.
The Boy loved them and last Saturday we got down to business.
The cookie cutters have lots of nooks and crannies, but thankfully they have those press things on the back to make dough removal easier. However, we did find it easier to dust the cookie cutters with flour a bit. (They’re a bit of a pain to wash, though.)
Oh, wait. You should have a recipe in case you want to play the home game:
Deb’s Sugar Cookies:
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1 1/2 cups softened butter
- 4 eggs
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 5 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
The Nitty Gritty:
- In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar . Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the everything else. Chill for a couple of hours. (I usually leave it overnight which makes for a very impatient 8 year old).
- Preheat oven to 400. Roll out dough and cut with your favorite cookie cutters. Place about an inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet
- Bake 6 to 8 minutes.
When I made my confirmation in 7th grade I asked my mother if I could sit at the grownup table during our celebratory dinner. Certainly a 7th grader who received such a grownup sacrament shouldn’t be subjected to having to eat with mere children. Mom acquiesced. I could tell she didn’t really want me sitting with the adults, but she wasn’t going to say no to me on such a special occasion.
No Kids Allowed
As someone relegated to eating in the kitchen for every holiday and occasion, the mysterious grownup goingson in the dining room intrigued me. First, it was the room itself. The dining room was forbidden. We weren’t allowed to touch or use the furniture, and my parents only spent time in this most formal room during special occasions. When would I be special enough to eat there too?
Then there was the good china. Only grownups got to eat off the good stuff. Maybe I had a couple of accidents with plates now and again, but does that mean I was destined to a life of plastic and Corelle? Not only did grownups get to eat in the dining room, but they got to eat on the good dishes. The dishes that stayed in the china cabinet most of the year only coming out on Thanksgiving, Christmas and certain milestones.
The sounds coming from the dining room were equally as intriguing. Clinking glasses, corks popping, laughter, arguments and even singing. To me, the dining room was uncharted kid waters. I was determined to learn what went on in there.
So Mom said yes, and I got to eat my confirmation dinner in the dining room. I can tell you now that eating in the dining room off of good china while hanging out with the grownups was…incredibly boring.
Back in My Element
I was mistaken. The kiddie table, all my brothers and sisters, and any cousins and kids of good friends, were a lot more welcoming than having to sit in the dining room keep my elbows off the table. I mean, it was at the kiddie table where my sister Dawn threw her chicken bone into Kathy Kemp’s milk. It was at the kiddie table that the girls plotted revenge on the boys. It was at the kiddie table that the beverage spills., name calling and game playing happened.
Think about it. We got to eat in a room with no grownups. We could chew with our mouths open if we wanted to, or shoot peas at each other from across the table. We sang TV jingles and the top 40 hits. We talked about teen hearthrobs and gossiped about our friends and school mates. And if we didn’t want to eat our vegetables, and our older sister wasn’t there to rat us out… well, we did what we had to do. We didn’t have a care in the world. We were on our own.
A few years ago, one of my nephews insisted that he was old enough to sit at the grownup table with the adults. I said to him, “trust me, there’s nothing going on in here that’s more interesting than what’s going on in there.” He disagreed and sat with the grownups.
He never asked to sit with us again after that.
The grownup table is boring.Deb Ng
I have a love/hate relationship with candy canes. I love them because, well, peppermint? Hello? And I have issues because I buy a box and no one ever eats them. I have candy canes that are several years old in my cabinet. And it’s not even that my family doesn’t dig candy canes, it’s just that they’re an investment. You can’t just pop a piece in your mouth and be done with it. You need time and hands to manage a candy cane. Plus, with younger kids they tend to spread the joy a little more and get some of that sticky goodness all over themselves and everything else within reach.
A couple of years ago, I decided to get a little creative with my candy canes and now we don’t have boxes languishing in our cabinets.
Sprinkle the Love
One of my favorite things to do with candy canes is to crush them into powder and sprinkle them on my sugar cookies as soon as they come out of the oven. I also use them to top cakes and my chocolate dipped pretzels. I have also used crushed candy canes to top ice cream and brownies.
Minty Hot Chocolate
When my son and his friends come in from playing outside on a cold day, I like to help them warm up with some hot chocolate. I unwrap a candy cane and put one in each much for stirring. The candy canes melt as they stir and the kids enjoy a warm, minty, chocolaty treat.
Deck the Tree
I’m sure they don’t go bad but some of the really old candy canes are used to decorate the Christmas tree. That was my parent’s trick. They bought candy canes each year for us to hang on the tree, and take down to eat whenever we wanted a sweet treat.
What are some of your creative uses for candy canes?Deb Ng
Three years ago, I left a food blogging gig for greener pastures. I missed it terribly though and still wanted a place where I could talk about food, so I made the decision to start a food blog. I didn’t want a snobby type of food blog, though. I wanted to create a place where home cooks could converge and share tips and ideas. A place where we could share our tried and true recipes and techniques without the real foodies laughing at us.
Cookerati was born.
When I had the idea to start Cookerati, I didn’t necessarily have the time to pull it off. I was blogging for several different clients and I had a child in kindergarten. Cookerati was my stress free project, a place where I could blog without deadlines and editors breathing down my neck. However, I just didn’t have the time to maintain another blog and thought about bringing in help.
Who did I know with a passion for food?
My sister Diana Hayes developed a passion for food early on. When she was in 8th grade she did the cooking for her five brothers and sisters while our parents were at work and school. When she left home to go to college and eventually settle down, she took that passion with her. Whenever Diana came home on vacations, she always had a new dish or treat for us to try. She shared her wisdom and taught us all about herbs and vegetable gardening. It was through Diana that I developed my own passion for food.
Three years later, I’d say this blog is more Diana than it is me. Her passion for food has flowed over to become a passion for this blog and a passion for you, the Cookerati community. If she has a day when she can’t post, she contacts me to make sure I can fill in because she doesn’t want to leave you hanging. If she reviewed a projects and it’s not something she’d recommend, she feels bad because she doesn’t want to bring it to you here, but feels she has an obligation to the brand.
I think she does a pretty good job, don’t you?
Cookerati is Diana Hayes, I’m just a blogger who helps out now and then.
Thank you for allowing us to indulge in our passion. Thank you for reading what we write and sharing with us. Thank you for three years of Cookerati.Deb Ng
Do you know what’s better than Thanksgiving?
The day after Thanksgiving.
Now, we all love the feast, but let’s be honest. You know that your midnight stuffing sandwich or slice of apple pie for breakfast rock way harder than the cold meal served on the actual holiday. ( And don’t deny that half the Thanksgiving dishes are being served up cold because no one has that big an oven.)
Turkey sandwiches with mayonaise, potato pancakes made from the leftover mashed, and let us not forget our pumpkin pie and dinner rolls…you know that the reason you make up too much is because you want to have something to pick at over the next few days.
Warmed in the microwave or eaten cold out of the container, with leftovers you can skip the pleasantries and small talk and get to the matter at hand. You don’t have to set out the good China. nor do you have to find the perfect wine pairing because they go with everything.
You’re probably hoping I don’t mention those special leftovers, the items you don’t want to share with departing guests. Oh sure, you’ll make up little care packages for all who attended Thanksgiving dinner, but other than some supermarket cookies or leftover corn or green bean casserole, you’re pretending the rest of the stuff is gone. Aunt Margaret may think that you’re out of that delicious stuffing, but we know that it’s really in the fridge, tucked away behind the gallon of milk, because you’re not interested in sharing.
It’s OK, we all do that.
We may even go as far as to hide certain items from the rest of the family, but that’s a rumor I can neither confirm or deny.
You may protest a bit after family parties, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with all this food.” you lament to all who are within earshot. The truth is, you can’t wait for everyone to leave so you can make yourself a sammich. Even though you pretend it’s such an inconvenience, you don’t want to share because you know that with a fridge full of leftovers you don’t have to make dinner for the next week. “Hell no, that’s mine!” you think to yourself after cousin Mildred asks if there’s any more of that delicious peanut butter pie left. Instead you answer sweetly that everyone just loved it so much, it’s gone. Funny how that happens with each and every dessert item. Well, except Grandma’s fruitcake. Your guests are more than welcome to take that puppy home.
That’s why dinner guests get the crappy end of the stick. We get smallish containers filled with a couple of bites of certain leftovers, but we know the true reason the host hosts. We know why most folks order a 25 lb bird for five or six people. Don’t worry. You’re among friends. Your secret is safe. Just know that if I don’t come next year, it’s because I want my own leftovers, darnit.
Thanksgiving has its purpose, but it has nothing to do with food. Truly, the real gluttony happens once all your guests are gone.Deb Ng
I love my husband. It’s because I love him that we leave our home every Thanksgiving and spend two hours navigating the congested roads leading in to New York city to spend the day with his family. Now, don’t take this the wrong way, because I enjoy spending time with my husband’s family, but on Thanksgiving I’d rather be at home.
I know I’m not the only one.
I have a friend who is the product of divorced parents. Her husband is also the product of divorced parents. Each Thanksgiving and Christmas they have to spend equal time at four different households in order to keep the family peace. She doesn’t want to be at any of their houses, but she sucks it up and goes because it’s easier than explaining that she wants to stay home, darn it, and cook for her family or that the last thing she wants to do on a holiday is drive from house to house to house.
People who don’t leave the house for the holidays don’t really understand that some of us would also rather not leave our homes on the holidays. We enjoy entertaining or spending time with our families, but sometimes we’d like to handle the hosting, you know? To speak out is to break tradition and to try and suggest new traditions is unheard of and brands us as difficult. The kind of person who everyone whispers about behind her back because she doesn’t do things the way “the family” would do it.
Sometimes we do what’s easiest or what will hurt the least amount of feelings rather than do what we truly want.
We may be thankful about the usual gifts – family, a roof over our head and everything else we’re supposed to say – but I’m willing to bet some of us aren’t as happy to visit for the holidays as we would lead everyone to believe.
It’s not about the family, it’s about the plan
Again, this isn’t about liking or disliking inlaws or family members. It’s about keeping the family peace and not wanting to make waves because I’d rather cook my own damn turkey and make the sausage stuffing I love so much. I also want to be able to enjoy a couple of glasses of wine and not be the only one. I would like for everyone to sit at the same table instead of grabbing their plates and heading to the different television sets around the house. If I’m going to have to sit in front of a television all day, I want to watch the shows I want to watch. I don’t like football and there are only so many cooking and home improvement shows I can sit through without reaching for the remote.
I want my own Thanksgiving. And Christmas for that matter.
This isn’t to say I have a bad time on the holidays, because I don’t. I always bring my fun and try to enjoy myself to the fullest, even if the day isn’t what I had in mind. I play well with others, enjoy the conversation and help out as much as I’m allowed. I chat and play board games and joke and laugh. And I enjoy the food because it’s good.
Sometimes, though, I wish others were more willing to change and adapt.
Am I thankful? Heck, yeah I am. I’m thankful that I have family to go to and spend time with on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m thankful that my son gets to spend time with grandparents and cousins. I’m thankful that my family is happy. But just once, I’d like to suggest everyone come here for a holiday without be greeted by total shocked silence. Just once, I’d like for someone to say, “Deb, it’s not fair that you have to drive 90 minutes every holiday to come here. Why don’t we visit you for a change?” Just once, I’d like to not feel as if I’m difficult for not wanting to do the same thing as last year.Deb Ng
Diana sent me an email the other day asking if we should talk about “National Make Dinner Day.” My first instinct was to roll my eyes and ignore the whole thing. But then, I thought, “why not blog about it.” Every now and then it’s fun to share some of the sillyness happening on the web.
Not My Men
I don’t know about you, but my husband doesn’t need a special day to make dinner. He does so almost every weekend. During the summer grilling months (and even during somewhat chilly times) he can be seen rocking the grill on weekdays too. In fact, I don’t know of one man who doesn’t make dinner for his family at least once a week.
One of the reasons I never bought that whole men as bumbling idiots thing is because I’ve never seen anything to indicate this is so. My dad’s favorite thing to do was cook and he enjoyed testing new gourmet recipes every weekend. My Grandpa Montgomery used to cook dinner for my grandmother every weeknight because she arrived home from her store later than he did. My brothers and brothers in law are pretty decent cooks to0 and make us all Sunday breakfast during family get togethers.
When my husband and I lived and worked in New York City, I always arrived home to dinner on the table because he came home from work an hour before I did. Most of my friends have husbands who cook as well. In fact, every man I know has a specialty dish and especially enjoys grilling on the weekend. Even my eight year old son spent a couple of seasons at the Junior Chef Academy.
Oh and speaking of chefs, your most popular celebrity chefs are….
…wait for it….
Men Are Not Incompetent Fools
I don’t know why women have to portray men as being inept. Whenever I go out of town on business I’m asked if I’m worried about leaving my son alone with my husband.
If I can’t trust my son with his father, I can’t trust him with anyone. Maybe they’ll go out for fast food one night while I’m gone, and maybe he’ll stay up a little later than I’d like on the weekend, but not only can my husband expertly handle his child alone for a few days, but he allows sleepovers too.
This business of making men out to be lazy buffoons has to stop. Not everyone likes to cook, but that doesn’t make them incompetent. I mean, if we had a “National Women Repair Your Roof Day” or “National Fix Your Own Damn Car Day” there’d be an uproar.Women would come out of the woodwork to insist they’re more than capable, thank you very much, or that they do more than enough work throughout the year to warrant a day to do some job off a honey do list.
Well, I’m starting an uproar on behalf of men. I know of no man who doesn’t help out with the cooking. Not one. Maybe some use the microwave or there may be a few who only know how to boil hot dogs or pasta, but you know what? I know of more women who “don’t cook” than men. Why don’t we get on them too?
Also? I’d especially like to note that National Men Make Dinner Day is held on the first Thursday of Novemeber each year. A week day.
Well, maybe the last thing a guy wants to do after working for ten hours is make dinner. I get it, because it’s sometimes the last thing I want to do too.
As I type this, Mr. Ng is in the kitchen marinating up some of his famous Korean barbecue. Later on tonight, we’ll wrap that scrumptious bit of meaty goodness in some lettuce leaves and have at ‘er. Tomorrow, you can bet he’ll be cooking up something else that’s wonderful and delicious.
No, I don’t have to get on my husband to make dinner now and then and I’ll bet you don’t either.
National Men Make Dinner Day my…eye.