I’m such a sucker for seasons. Each fall, I revel in the last blasts of colorful leaves before they fall to the ground and the first brisk morning that requires a jacket and boots. When winter arrives, the first snowfall leaves me breathless at its beauty. Then, as the days lengthen and spring erupts out of every bulb and tree bud, I wonder how I ever functioned without it. I swear, as appealing as climates like San Diego sometimes feel, I really don’t know what I’d do without the anticipation and satisfaction provided by shifting seasons.
At the moment, I’m clamoring for summer. For late evening walks in short-sleeved tees and sunlight after 8pm and COOKOUTS and mini golf. This weekend, after several days of positively gorgeous weather that hinted at the season to come, I quite simply couldn’t take it anymore and I pretended it had arrived right in my own kitchen by whipping up a batch of barbecue pulled pork and a simple, delightful potato salad that tastes just like summer.
I freakin’ love potato salad, and this one checks all the boxes I look for in a ideal scoop. Smooth chunks of potato still in their skins, a tangy assortment of crunchy mix-ins, cool and crisp, and most importantly, LIGHTLY DRESSED. I’m not interested in swimming through an ocean of mustard-flavored mayonnaise to uncover the 2-3 pieces of potato that may be hidden within, thank you very much. Most importantly, this salad is composed of pretty basic ingredients that I almost always have on hand and comes together fairly quickly.
Comfort food, thy name is Biscuits and Gravy. This is usually my first stop on the menu at a new breakfast or brunch joint, and there’s no way I want it to be anything other than a soft, fluffy biscuit nestled in a wave of rich gravy and crumbled breakfast sausage. Woe to the trendy places that try to gussy it up.
But this hearty meal is also incredibly easy to make at home. So maybe it’s really woe to me for not doing so every damn weekend.
First up, the biscuits. These ones are super easy and super fast. The ingredients are pretty basic, and I keep most of them on hand on a regular basis. No raising, very little kneading, and just a few passes with a rolling pin and we’re on our way to biscuit magic.
Next, the gravy. Which honestly, is even easier than the biscuits. All it takes is a pound of sausage, some flour and milk, and a little seasoning. I love my gravy a little herb-y, so I like adding rosemary or sage, too.
It’s funny how some foods are portrayed in pop culture. Spinach will make you strong, like Popeye. Thanksgiving turkey is always cut on the table. Cakes are always dripping with pink icing and a cherry on top, which is a look I’ve rarely (if ever) seen on an actual cake. Broccoli is frowned upon by kids who eat it only when forced to do so by their parents.
And Brussels sprouts? I grew up knowing, from some ubiquitous source I can’t identify, that Brussels sprouts were just the worst. A vegetable that no one enjoyed. This seeming fact was so ingrained that for years, I avoided them.
Oof. SO much time wasted.
Fortunately, like sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts have been rescued from the soggy casseroles of old that may have contributed to their bad rap and have been resurrected as trendy, tasty sides and appetizers at millennial-bait restaurants around the country. And I couldn’t be happier! After a few tremendous restaurant experiences, I began to notice these green little balls of goodness everywhere and can rarely resist tossing a pound or two into my grocery bag.
Do you need some comfort food? Something that invites your soul to snuggle up against some memories of simpler times, of peaceful days when the world made sense? Something that fills your belly with a perfect medley of carbs, fat, protein, and flavor?
This fall has been crazy. In mid-August I dove headfirst into some projects at work that required every ounce of creativity, planning, and time that I possessed. I took on a leadership role in my choir. I volunteered for an election that, well, let’s just say it didn’t go the way I’d hoped, and since then have still had trouble finding my bearings in this strange, post-election world. Sharing new recipes with you just hasn’t been at the top of the list.
But now it is! As the flood recedes, I’m finally finding myself looking through cookbooks again, browsing the wild and wonderful internet for tasty new things to cook. Which is how I found this one.
Ever since I developed my recipe for fajita seasoning, I’ve been pretty lazy on the taco recipe front. The fajita seasoning is sooo versatile: virtually any taco, fajita, quesadilla, etc. can be fully-flavored with it. Plus, it’s quick to make with spices that I always have on hand. I go through batches of it at a fairly rapid clip.
But in the throes of my recent love affair with sweet cherries, I stumbled across this recipe. Pork, rubbed with a paste of garlic, lime, and ground chipotle and topped with charred onions, peppers, queso fresco, and a bright, cherry salsa studded with cilantro and lime? Um, YES.
These tacos are delightfully flavorful. The smoky chipotle plays nicely with the bright, sweet, fruity cherries and limes. And while I typically look to chicken or steak for my tacos, the pork is really the best canvas here. The rub and the salsa can be made well in advance, but they certainly don’t have to. This is definitely a weeknight-worthy operation.
If heaven is real, then I really don’t think it’s made of puffy clouds and golden harps. I rather imagine it must be filled with endless tables, buckling under the weight of all the chips, dips, cheeses and crackers (all calorie-free, OBVIOUSLY) that a person could possibly want. Really, is there a better way to eat than scooping up succulent dips and salsas with crisp, salty shards of simple carbohydrates?
My obsession with chips is pretty severe. I’m hopeless at Mexican restaurants. Those continuously re-filling bowls of free chips and salsa at the start of the meal virtually guarantee that I’ll be in a food coma before my main course even arrives. I’m pretty shameless about them at potlucks and dinner parties, too. But unless I am hosting a party of my own, I actually avoid buying them: if I have chips in the house, there’s like a 70% chance that I’ll skip cooking dinner and simply dine on chips and salsa instead, strangely able to justify it by pretending they are vegetables. Sad, I know.
But I’ve found a little loophole. As long as I have corn tortillas in my fridge (which is pretty regular) I can make teeny batches of chips whenever I like! Satisfy my cravings without overdosing! Plus they are baked, which in the chip world, is code for healthy! (Right?)
It’s shockingly simple. Cut tortillas. Spray with cooking spray and salt. Flip over and repeat. Bake. Eat.
One of the most amazing but frustrating things about moving all the time is that I am constantly re-learning local produce. While most of the produce itself has remained the same from city to city and state to state, the timing has shifted a month or two or even three in different climates. But tree fruit. Tree fruit has been the one genre of produce that has just been completely unpredictable as I’ve moved from place to place. DC’s tree fruit scene was insanely awesome. Durham, on the other hand, not so much (though GOD I miss the blueberries.) Columbus had great apples and decent peaches, but not really any cherries or plums to speak of.
Moving back to Colorado, I knew I would return to a land of great, high-altitude peaches from Palisade and other farming communities on the Western Slope. But I did not expect the cherries.
Oh em gee the cherries!
Colorado has had rather a bumper crop this year, and I’m obsessed. For weeks now, I’ve been eating them faster than I can buy them. In fact I COMPLETELY missed strawberry season because I was so distracted by these round little rubies. Which, actually, is fine with me because the cherry is my new number one.
I have this issue with cheesecake. The issue is that if it is in my fridge, or available for purchase on a dessert menu, or available for purchase within walking distance, or even capable of being created with ingredients in my apartment, I have exactly 0% ability to resist it. As a result I make a point of not buying cream cheese very often. If I don’t have that one essential component, I can pretend that I’m happy living a life where I don’t eat cheesecake every single day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, right? Right??
I live for good cheesecake. But I am kind of picky about what makes one good. There are few things more disappointing than cheesecake that looks delicious and is, well, meh. If it’s too lemony or too dry or too rich or too dense or has too much topping or not enough or has too many mix-ins or just a gross combo of them or the crust is too thick or some crazy person put CINNAMON in it I get really cranky.
Most of the time, when it’s time to make cheesecake again, I fall back on two, trusty recipes I’ve used for a long time. The first is a classic, baked cheesecake that, actually, I’ve only shared here in a version dressed up for Thanksgiving. The other I fashion exclusively in miniature form, a holiday tradition in my family as essential as the tree and the Home Alone soundtrack.
But this summer, I’ve been reveling in the availability of locally-grown sweet cherries (difficult to obtain in both Columbus and Durham), and a cherry cheesecake seemed like just the ticket. And while we are “enjoying” the high-nineties here in Denver, I’m pleased to report that the oven was only on for a few minutes, and even that is not totally required if you don’t want to.
Over the last few years, I’ve grown out of my delusions of I’m-young-and-can-eat-whatever-I-want and now do boring things like pack salads for lunch and box up half of my pasta when we go out for Italian. Le sigh. But there continues to be one thing that, when placed in front of me, I have absolutely no control or willpower to stop myself from eating.
Chips and salsa.
Whenever I dine at a Mexican restaurant, it’s a sure bet that I’ll eat my weight in free chips and salsa before my meal arrives. I know that I’m gonna feel like I’m dying within a few hours, but I just can’t help it. Too spicy? Doesn’t matter, I’ll cry through the pain. Not hungry? That’s literally not a thing.
Typically, when I make salsa at home, they are collections of diced vegetables and herbs. But sometimes I just want a nice, runny, completely blended, restaurant-style salsa.
This particular recipe includes a crap-ton of cilantro and a couple of chipotles en adobo. The combination of bright, herb-y flavor from the cilantro and the deep, smoky spice of the chiles creates a unique spin on the classic restaurant salsa.
Perhaps the best part of this salsa is that it’s SO FAST to put together. Once the onion and cilantro are chopped, everything else gets tossed in a food processor and whirled into salsa in just a few seconds flat.
Last summer, while in the midst of packing up my Ohio life for our pending move to Colorado, I was also menu planning a dinner for almost 20 people at a remote, 9700′ mountain lodge with gas refrigerators, gas ovens, and limited electricity. For dessert, I wanted something that was easy but impressive, required neither baking nor freezing, was cheap to make but wasn’t boring, could feed a crowd, and overall, was heartbreakingly delicious.
A unicorn, I thought.
BUT THEN. Icebox cake. To the freakin’ rescue.
Why, in the name of all that is good and delicious in this world, did I only start making this last summer? I mean, who knew such a perfect summer dessert could exist?
Did you guys know?
WELL. If you, like me, were in the shadows, let me show you the light. (more…)