Menu planning is one of my favorite and least-favorite times of the week. I have plenty of great ideas for main dishes but I tend to cycle through the same few vegetable sides over and over. Lately, it has been roasted broccoli and roasted asparagus.
I could eat roasted asparagus and broccoli every other night of the week and never get tired of it. And The Little adores “green sticks” and “baby trees”… even though she requires “white sauce” (ranch dressing) along side them both for dipping.
But hey. At least it’s not ketchup?
The other 1/3 of our household – not so overly crazy about roasted asparagus, ranch dressing or not. But since I had it on the menu three times this week, I decided to fancy it up with a little bacon.
Because If I’ve learned anything over the years about trying to make something green more appealing to picky eaters, it’s that bacon is usually the first – and only – step that you have to take. Last night’s roasted asparagus with bacon vinaigrette was no different.
And it’s a pretty easy dish to throw together, albeit in a bit of organized chaos. While the asparagus is roasting in the oven (right along side your main dish), chop the shallot and fry the bacon for the vinaigrette. By the time the asparagus is done, so is the dressing. And by the time I finished the side and chopped a quick green salad and shoved the entire contents of my “leftover bowl” cabinet back into the cabinet (do kids ever grow out of that stage?), the main dish was ready.
Organized chaos. It’s a delicious thing.
And so is bacon.
Roasted Asparagus with Bacon Vinaigrette
Roasted asparagus dressed up with a warm bacon vinaigrette.
For the asparagus:
1 1/2-2 lbs asparagus, woody ends trimmed
For the vinaigrette:
3 slices bacon, diced
3/4 cup chopped shallot (~1 1/2 medium shallots)
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp dijon mustard
Preheat the oven to 400 (or if you're baking a main dish alongside, whatever that recipe requires and then adjust the cooking time for the asparagus).
Line a baking sheet with foil.
Drizzle the asparagus with just a little olive oil - just enough to keep it from sticking to the foil - and bake on the lined baking sheet for ~15 minutes (thinner stalks a few minutes shorter, extra thick stalks longer).
Over medium-high heat, fry the chopped bacon to a crisp in a medium pan.
Transfer bacon pieces with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving behind as much fat in the pan as possible.
Reduce heat to medium and saute the shallots until softened, 3-5 minutes.
Turn off the heat and add the white wine vinegar, stirring and scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Stir in the mustard and olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
If the dressing seems a little strong, add another teaspoon of olive oil. (I personally like the sharpness but you might want to tone it down with the extra olive oil.)
Pour dressing and bacon over asparagus, lightly toss, and serve.
If you're planning to have leftovers, reserve some of the cooked bacon to top just before serving, otherwise, it loses it's crispness.
Yields: 6-8 servings
Vinaigrette adapted from The New Way to Cook Light
We now have a 3 year old! A 3 year old who eats things like quinoa, kiwi, prosciutto, and even a bite of sushi now and then. The crazy thing is that I can distinctly remember the first time I tried each of those foods – because I was far, far older than 3. But the small town I grew up in didn’t have fancy grocery stores that carried “fancy” foods – and on the occasion that they did, they most definitely wouldn’t have fit into our family’s small budget.
Growing up, vegetables that didn’t come from our garden came from a can, which means I also can remember the first time I had fresh broccoli (with ranch dip!) and cauliflower (with ranch dip!) and even fresh spinach. And even better than ranch dip? The spinach was in salad-form, coated in the late 90’s-early 2000’s trendy warm bacon dressing.
I immediately came home to recreate that magical, fancy salad for my family… only I didn’t wash the spinach well enough so I served my family a huge bowl of gritty spinach salad with warm bacon dressing. True story. One I have yet to live down. (Is that spinach? Did you wash it this time? IT WAS OVER 15 YEARS AGO!)
And occasionally, I have this dream where I’m catering some gigantic, super special event and I realized that I forgot to wash the spinach that the President (or the Queen or Peyton Manning – the really important people) is about to eat. Another true story.
My to-be sister-in-law brought this salad to a family get-together a couple of years ago and it has been one of my favorites ever since. It’s fresh spinach (triple-washed at the farm and then washed again at home!), quinoa (cooked and then chilled – so plan ahead), toasted pine nuts, and crumbled goat cheese tossed in a simple vinaigrette.
It’s as easy to make as it is to go back for seconds.
Spinach and Quinoa Salad with Goat Cheese
An easy salad with fresh spinach, quinoa, goat cheese, and pine nuts tossed in a simple vinaigrette.
For the salad
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 oz fresh baby spinach, chopped (half a bag or clam shell)
4 oz goat cheese (about 1/3 of a log)
For the dressing
Juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp finely chopped shallot
1 Tbsp spicy brown or dijon mustard (I use Creole)
1/3 cup olive oil
Cook quinoa in water according to package directions.
Spread the cooked quinoa on a plate or other shallow dish and refrigerate until completely cool, stirring once or twice if you're in a hurry.
In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the pine nuts ~2 minutes and then shake the pan and heat for another minute.
Transfer to a small plate and let cool.
In a large bowl, add the chopped spinach, cold quinoa (it must be cold so it doesn't wilt the spinach), crumbled goat cheese, and cooled pine nuts.
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, shallot, and mustard.
Slowly stream in the olive oil while whisking and add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.
Before serving, toss the dressing with the salad and serve.
Leftovers will keep a couple of days covered in the fridge.
Because I regularly volunteer for sweet potato duty, that traditional dish has evolved to be the revolving the door at Thanksgiving every year. My mom always makes a small dish of Candied Sweet Potatoes – you know the kind, sweet potatoes, brown sugar, a stick of butter, all buried under a bag of jumbo marshmallows.
And then I make something else for the marshmallow haters.
Maybe it’s twice-baked sweet potatoes sprinkled with a cinnamon-brown sugar streusel, or mashed sweet potatoes served alongside cinnamon honey butter, or the recipe that still remains my family’s favorite to this day – sweet potato wedges with bacon vinaigrette.
This year, I took the flavors (maple syrup, butter, bacon) from that family favorite and worked them into a lower maintenance recipe. Because the last thing I want to do on a busy holiday is fuss with flipping two baking sheets-worth of sweet potato wedges. And standing over a sizzling pan hanging out of a hot oven is the last thing I should be doing on a day when the first bottle of wine is opened before 11am.
We started with a plain Hasselback Sweet Potato, the prettiest way to serve a sweet potato by the way, and slathered it with a simple maple-cinnamon butter and then crumbled crispy bacon over top. The preparation is simple (recruit an inlaw to help with hasselbacking duty), the butter can be made days ahead of time, and… there’s bacon!
Some tips for hasselback-ing your potatoes:
– Look for potatoes that are similar in size and shape to ensure even cooking.
– Find each potato’s “flat side” and use that as the bottom – nothing will roll around on the baking sheet while you’re cutting or transferring to/from the oven.
– Use a sharp knife.
– Be prepared to need a couple of potatoes to hit that hasselback-ing groove.
– Don’t panic if you cut too far, a toothpick can easily rejoin an accidentally unjoined hasselback potato.
And just a note: the green garnish (a random green leaf from a bag of lettuce) in the photo was simply added to help my camera out and I pulled them off later My camera is remarkably unkind to photos of orange food with brown skin, topped with brownish-orange food and yellowish-orange butter. If I had had any green onions, I would have used those – and them left them there.
Hasselback Sweet Potatoes with Maple-Cinnamon Butter
Hasselback sweet potatoes served with a sweetened maple-cinnamon butter and crispy bacon are an impressive twist to traditional holiday sweet potato dishes,
For the maple-cinnamon butter:
1 stick butter, very soft
1/4 tsp cinnamon (more to taste)
2 Tbsp maple syrup
Pinch of salt
For the potatoes:
8 medium sweet potatoes
4 slices of bacon, cooked to a crisp.
To make the maple cinnamon butter, mash together very soft butter, cinnamon, maple syrup and a pinch of salt until uniform.
Taste for cinnamonness and sweetness and add more to taste if desired.
Lay a ~12-inch piece of plastic wrap on your work surface.
Spoon the butter into a line about the length of a stick of butter, and wrap into cylinder.
Pick up the butter and twist to seal the butter in the plastic wrap.
Chill until firm (this can be done several days ahead).
Using a sharp knife, cut 1/4-inch slits about 2/3 of the way through the potato.
Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Bake for ~45 minutes, until tender all the way through (stick a fork near the bottom side, where there are no cuts to check for doneness).
Serve warm, with slices of maple-cinnamon butter, and topped with crumbled bacon. Because there's so much food at the holidays, cutting them in half will probably still be a plenty big enough serving.