Future dinners!

Two years ago, I wrote a rather desperate post about my first experience in bulk tomato canning. I scarcely realized the task I had undertaken, did not have pots quite large enough or a food mill worth its weight in feathers, and I had unwittingly committed to waaaaay to many products for a two-day stint. At the time, I wasn’t sure it was worth the effort, and there are least a few moments that tears dripped down my tomato-flecked face.

But over the course of that year, I grew quite fond of the sauces I had made and became rather dependent on them in my cooking. When tomato season rolled around again, I decided to tackle the project a second time with a few changes. I reduced the variety of products, but I also added about 25% more tomatoes since I had run out of many favorites in the weeks previous. However, the project still produced a vast amount of stress. I had to do my canning at a friend’s apartment (I didn’t have the right kind of stove to manage it), which meant packing up all my supplies and commandeering a kitchen that was not my own. More tomato-stained tears were had.

Liquid rubies

They say third time is the charm, and in this case I agree: I tackled my tomatoes this year with some MAJOR upgrades that turned this somewhat dreaded experience into an exciting one.

I know many of you are completely uninterested in large-scale canning. Even with upgraded equipment and a few years of experience, putting up 120 pounds of tomatoes (!!!) is a massive amount of work. However, if you are interested but have not approached the craft because it seems too daunting, I want to share with you a few of the things I’ve learned that I wish so much I had known the first time around.

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Green Chile and Sweet Corn Mac

I’ve found, in my eleven years living outside of Colorado, that many people don’t imagine Colorado as a place where much food can grow. People always sound surprised when I tell them that the hardiness zone for growing fruits and vegetables in Denver is approximately the same as that of Columbus, Ohio. And while it may be impossible to grow prolific gardens in the high mountain towns, there are many areas of the state known specifically for their produce.

In fact, many of the most anticipated foods of the summer are identified by the town in which they are grown. I’ve already mentioned Palisade peaches, and that area is also a significant producer of apples, plums, and cherries. Rocky Ford melons are some of the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. Olathe sweet corn is grown so prolifically that it appears in heaping mounds at even the most basic grocery stores, not just at boutique food shops and farmers markets. And, though it’s a town in New Mexico, we always look forward to the arrival each fall of Hatch green chiles.

Summery ingredients

Green chile is a bit of a sport in the Southwest. Most natives will argue that there is NOTHING that can’t be improved by these versatile foods, whether you like your chiles mild (like me) or screamin’ hot. The smell of roasting chiles tumbling around in giant metal barrels outside every grocery store still elicits strong memories of back-to-school evening errands with my parents and anticipation for the imminent changing leaves. Interestingly, I did not like green chiles at all as a kid. It’s only now, as an adult and returning Colorado resident, that I finally appreciate the obsession.

Charring corn

And so, I’m on a quest to learn how to cook with green chile beyond simply sprinkling it on my eggs, my pizza, my fajitas… though those are all excellent decisions. And this quest starts with something I’m supremely comfortable with: mac and cheese! For a Colorado-autumn twist on my go-to recipe, I paired my green chile with sweet corn, another fall favorite of mine.

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Ravioli with Mushroom Sauce

As much as I enjoy the pride that comes from highly crafty cooking projects, from hand-making pasta and pie crust and pizza dough, it’s just too dang much work most days. It’s not that I’m ready to abandon my stove and commit to microwave dinners. But I am constantly on the lookout for meals that can be thrown together in just a few minutes with minimal chopping, mincing, grating, or cooking time.

Mushrooms and dairy

Sometimes, those recipes are as close as the back of a package of pasta I bought on a whim. And this one quickly became a household favorite.

Minced grated and chopped

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Peach and Almond Crumble

I write to you now from a new home! In mid-July, Brad and I packed up our lovely Ohio apartment, left our jobs, and drove nearly 1300 miles across the continent to Colorado. It’s a domestic destination I’ve had for a long, long time: having spent eleven years away, I’m finally living back in the land of dry air, big skies, and seemingly endless sunshine. And our new apartment, full of windows and light, has the view to prove it.

The view from home

It’s so great to be back!

And spectacular vistas aren’t the only benefit Colorado has to offer. It’s peach season here, and Palisade, Colorado is famous for growing wonderful peaches. They’re so perfectly delightful raw — juicy and cool and bursting with flavor — that I can rarely justify breaking them down for cooking. But I’ve been on a fruit crisp kick in recent months, so I thought I’d give one a try.

Simple ingredients

Originally, this recipe was designed for halved peaches, with their skins, and with a buttery almond mixture smushed across the face of each before baking. The peaches form their own little baking dishes this way, and there’s no hassle of peeling or slicing. However, I found the peach skin to be someone irritating, so I gave it a shot in a more traditional slices-of-fruit-buried-by-crumbly-goodness format. I definitely prefer the latter.

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Corn and Bacon Hash
Finally, the corn has arrived! More than burgers, more than blackberries, more than plump red tomatoes and endless mounds of zucchini, fresh-shucked corn tastes like pure, delicious summer. Though I still love it straight off the cob, plain and warm, it’s also now one of my favorite ingredients to add to other dishes.

Simple summer ingredients
And it’s not just for dinner! I’ve now become quite obsessed with using corn in breakfast. In this particular one, it joints a few other mid-summer veggies (also bacon) as a really, really good hash.

Let the chopping begin Read on »

Magic Pasta
Last August, I canned 118 pounds of tomatoes. Broke ’em down one-by-one and divvied up them up into whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, plain tomato sauce, pizza sauce, and marinara sauce. And while I certainly do use those the other products, the biggest motivator is the marinara sauce. Which I ration carefully across the year for one dish and one dish only.

Magic Pasta.

The makings of greatness
Having stumbled across this delightful combination of ingredients by pure accident, I accidentally discovered a meal that Brad and I both find so perfect, so delicious, that I have to work really really hard to make anything else for dinner. Originally hatched as a way to use up the previous year’s supply of home-canned marinara sauce, this dish now holds permanent quarters at the top of our favorites list. I know that “Magic Pasta” doesn’t really indicate the components of the meal particularly well, but it’s all we call it. If you prefer, you can call it Pasta with Amazing Tomato Cream Sauce and Italian Sausage.

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Strawberry Cake
The arrival of summer, in Ohio, means that trips to the farmers market finally yield treasures beyond eggs, meat, and cheese. I grew rather spoiled in North Carolina where there really is a selection of fresh produce all year long. Sure, January is primarily sweet potatoes and greens, but even the flashy summer-show-offs like asparagus and strawberries begin to appear in early March.

But here, I stalk the market every Saturday in May hoping that this is the week when those photogenic strawberries will finally make their annual debut.

Berries front and center

The trouble is, I have very little self-control when I secure, at last, these scarlet gems. The bulk discounts for buying more than one quart literally always get me, and I arrive at home suddenly doubting that I’ll be able to use up multiple quarts of berries before they wither and rot in my fridge.

This time, I was ready.

Pretty pretty berries Read on »

Simple Perfect Lemonade
The impact that holidays have on my mood is real. I don’t even have Memorial Day off, but a feeling I can only describe as three-day-weekend anticipation built on Friday afternoon anyway, as I watched the clock tick toward 5pm. The lack of social commitments and spectacular weather of these two days feel like a luxurious break on their own.

There aren’t many things that can break me out of my water-all-time-time beverage habit, but the arrival of summer weather is one of them. And lemonade is usually first in line for my liquid-y cravings. Amazingly, though, I’d never made it from scratch until earlier this spring during the citrus extravaganza following my trip to California.

I can’t believe I waited so long.

Just lemons and sugar

Woe to the time I’ve wasted buying lemonade from the grocery. Woe to the powdery mix that’s walking around emulating this precious elixir. Using only a few lemons, you can make the most perfect, delightful lemonade with hardly any effort at all. Please do so as soon as possible.


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Watermelon small
Despite the seasonally cold and rainy weather that has swept across the majority of the US over the last few days, the beginning of summer is approaching in all its three-day-weekend glory. I love the bookends that Memorial Day and Labor Day offer to summer: for many, they mark the first and last travel weekends, family weekends and most significantly, cookout and potluck weekends of this productive season.

I always look forward to summer potlucks. As someone who hates to eat just one thing for dinner, the wide array of casserole dishes, salad bowls, and serving platters squashed together on an eight-foot table is a favorite sight of mine. I also relish the chance to pull out a few of my favorite recipes that are either too large or too high-calorie to cook for our two-person household. I imagine you have a few of these recipes of your own.

But if you don’t, or if you’re looking for something new to bring to any festivities you may have planned for the weekend, I dug through the archives for my favorite summer dishes that make for good sharing.

Broccoli Cauliflower Salad

Side salad
While I first learned to make this salad as a light, fresh foil to rich and heavy holiday menus, I find it really shines at summer cookouts and potlucks. It does take some time to prep as all the ingredients must be chopped and layered, but this can be done a day in advance. By adding the dressing immediately before serving, the result is a textured, satisfyingly crunchy salad that you cohorts will love. It’s almost a sure bet that your salad bowl will come home with you completely empty.

Caramelized Onion Dip

Dippity dip dip
This dip is easily one of my favorite culinary discoveries. Piles of onions are caramelized down to the soft, sugary, sultry versions of themselves. Then, mixed into Greek yogurt and mayonnaise, a delectable ambrosia emerges. I make this exclusively parties and potlucks: it’s not particularly high-calorie on its own, the thick-cut potato chips are a different story. Spread the calorie love!

Strawberry Rhubarb & Goat Cheese Toasts

Fancy breakfast
‘Tis the season for strawberries and rhubarb! And it’s ALWAYS the season for goat cheese and toasty bread. Give your party-goers a little DIY fun with these easy toasts.

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Fresh Sweet Pea Potstickers
A while back, I made a batch of potstickers that ruled over all other potstickers I had eaten. They were savory and rich and perfect, and as a result I dedicate time each year to can Ginger Apple Chutney, the driving force behind them.

As far as Brad is concerned, they are the only potstickers worth eating – why even bother, he asks? I, on the other hand, have yet to find a filling for these fried little dumplings that I don’t like, so I occasionally play with alternatives. This is, currently, my favorite alternative.

Spring greens!
If the Pork & Ginger Apple potstickers taste like autumn, these ones taste like spring. The ingredients are fairly simple: crisp green onions and peas accompanied by sautéed spinach and mushrooms. The bright flavors of the onions and peas are balanced out by the dark, earthy spinach and, my favorite, mushrooms sautéed in butter and soy sauce.

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