Archive for the ‘Easy!’ Category

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

I realize that I’m a month or two late for the PUMPKIN-EVERYTHING craze that annually arrives in September, but I finally gathered the time, the initiative, and the pumpkins to try my hand at making my own pumpkin puree. I’ve always been a big fan of Libby’s, but I’m pretty pleased with both the results and the ease of making this myself. Right after Halloween, it’s easy to find pumpkins for just a couple dollars, so it’s a great time of year to stock up for all your coming holiday desserts, as it freezes wonderfully.

And it’s sooooo easy. I urge you to give it a try for your own pumpkin recipes this year! Here’s how it’s done:

1. Select 1-2 small-ish pumpkins, or as many as you want to make in one batch. You can definitely puree pumpkins of any size, but they flavor and texture will be better from smaller pumpkins. These are often sold as “pie pumpkins” or “sugar pumpkins”.

Sugar Pumpkins

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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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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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How to Bake a Potato
I write this post on behalf of the baked potato. Of that simple, humble item that too often only finds itself offered as a side dish on restaurant menus, sandwiched on the side-dish-health-o-meter between the french fries and the steamed broccoli. And most of us just take the plunge and go with the fries – or is that just me?

A fleet of baked potatoes
A couple months ago, while trying to develop some easy, fairly-healthy meal options that also allowed me to keep the oven on for an hour in an effort to ward off Midwestern winter, I made baked potatoes for dinner one night. Not as a side, but as the whole damn meal. And you know what? It was AMAZING. Why was this not part of my regular meal routine? It is now, by the way: I’ve repeated this tasty dinner several times since the inaugural attempt, and I’ve learned a lot about baking a delightful potato in the meantime.

Here’s how it’s done:

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Blood Orange Salad
I’m not sure if it’s due to years of academic schedules featuring a week-long break in March, or if it’s exhaustion from darkness and grayness and coldness of mid-west winter, but I always catch a travel bug sometime this time of year. Every year. And most of the time, I just bundle up and wait out the long weeks until warm weather returns. But not this year! In a truly fortunate turn of events, Brad’s presence was requested at a conference in Malibu, California, and I tagged along for the price of a plane ticket and half of a rental car.

The timing could not have been better. Three and a half days of sunshine, ocean breeze, and t-shirt weather was a welcome break from the chilly winter in Ohio.

California Montage
When I travel, I love visiting local farmers markets, especially if my destination boasts a lengthy growing season. Because I limit my “exotic” produce purchases in Ohio to very special occasions, I jump at the chance to buy them when they’re grown just a few miles away. In southern California, I was after two things: citrus and avocados. And I came back with plenty of both! Definitely worth packing lightly so I could stuff my carry-on with produce on the flight home.

But how to use my precious cargo? I kicked it off when a bright, fresh, totally California salad.

Precious ingredients

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Dark Chocolate Amaretto Pie
I don’t make a lot of pie. I grew up in a cake house, you see. My mom always preferred baking cakes and cookies to pies, and my sister and I expanded on this behavior as 4-H cake decorating students for several years each. Pie, which has taken on a role of symbolic role of domestic culinary prowess in our culture, was simply not something I learned to make as a kid.

The pies my mom did make were never, ever, double-crusted fruit pies. If we did have a pie for dessert, it was typically composed of a pre-made graham cracker crust, a box of pudding mix, and a mound of Cool Whip.

And you know what? I freakin’ loved it.

A motley crew
To this day, while I will certainly eat a slice of apple, cherry, or other fruity pie if it’s presented to me with a sizable scoop of vanilla ice cream, the pies that I dream of are the cold, creamy, pudding-ish pies that I grew up on.

This pie follows in that tradition, though with some notable modifications. First, I love making my own graham cracker crusts. I like a heavier crumb with more crunch, and I like that I can control the level of sweetness and stickiness by adding as much or as little sugar and butter as I like when whirling it together myself.

Graham crackers Read on »

Easy Breakfast Burritos
When I moved to Columbus last January, Brad and I encountered a major first: we began working on the same schedule. With my former life in theatre and Brad’s many years of graduate and then law school, we always operated on schedules that left us with very few hours that we were both at home. But now, both working very regularly-scheduled jobs close enough that we actually carpool, we suddenly found ourselves facing a dilemma: who has to get up first?

Simple ingredients
For lots of reasons, I was the lucky winner to set my clock earlier and use the shower first. I like to pack my lunch in the morning, I blow-dry my hair, I could daudle around a bit. And one day, for a treat, I made us a hot, freshly-cooked breakfast. It wasn’t a major affair: there were no biscuits, no gravy, no French toast or quiches. But it was hot, it was savory, and it was DELICIOUS.

It was this breakfast burrito. Don’t be afraid! These take about 10 minutes to make, start to finish, and they take fairly basic ingredients. Sure, you can gussy up a breakfast burrito with sausage, bacon, peppers and onions, all kinds of things: but the basics are utterly delightful and allow for quick, weekday breakfasting.

Eggs and cheese in butter Read on »

Weeknight Roasted Chicken

Like many of you, I assume, I grew up eating chicken at home primarily in the form of boneless-skinless chicken breast. Legs and thighs were treats found mostly on coveted fried chicken platters that showed up at potlucks, or in occasional bucket o’ chicken. And whole chickens? Even more rare!

I decided a few years ago that I wanted to try to buy as much of meat from local producers as I could, which is admittedly more expensive than trays of shrink-wrapped meat from the grocery store. For some cuts, it was oppressively expensive: boneless-skinless chicken breast ran anywhere from nine to fifteen dollars a pound (gulp). As a result I began to explore other cuts of meat, and one of my favorites was the whole chicken. Not only does a whole chicken yield a variety of cuts and flavors, but I can split a whole chicken into at least three meals for Brad and I. And I can use the spare parts for stock. Definitely the biggest bang for my buck. Sometimes I choose to break the chicken down for parts while it’s still fresh (using an excellent how-to video that I swear by) and sometimes I choose to cook it whole.  And, for a number of reasons, this is my favorite way to do the latter.

All the ingredients you need
Reason #1: It’s fast. Seriously, from start to finish, this chicken can be ready to eat in an hour. There’s very little prep – no stuffing, to tying of feet, no oiling, and no slow-roasting. This bird cooks HOT for 45-50 minutes. And though the original recipe recommends seasoning at least two days in advance, I’ve never been disappointed in my method of seasoning immediately before cooking.

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