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.
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…)
I’m a pretty big fan of lemonade. Last year I finally nailed down a recipe for a delightful home-squeezed version, and I find lots of excuses to make it when it’s hot outside and all I want in this world is a glass of sweet, tart, cold, perfect summer beverage. Mmmmmmm.
I also love orange juice. After my recent trip to San Diego, I brought home five precious pounds of oranges and could think of no better use for them than to squeeze them into juice. So I did and it was perfect and glorious and I had no regrets except that I don’t have a citrus grove in my Colorado apartment complex. I would almost give up my life in Colorado to live in a place with orange trees. Almost.
Have you ever worked with blood oranges before? They are just so… provocative. Their skin is thin and blushes slightly, but upon slicing one open, you are met with simply stunning color. They vary: some are flushed with just a bit of red, like an orange with a sunburn, some are bright pink, and some are so deeply purple you can hardly believe they are same species of fruit. On their own, these oranges make the most MAGNIFICENT juice. If you have a happen to have a blood orange tree, please tell me that you make lots of blood orange juice. Also please send me your address so that I can move in with you.
I’ve done something. Changed something. Opened some sort of magic box, some secret portal to a new world. And now that I’ve glimpsed the other side, I rather doubt I’ll be the same again.
It all started with an innocent breakfast suggestion. On my recent winter escape to Oregon, all we wanted was a place to eat one misty Wednesday morning in Portland. Instead, we ordered a plate of food that, rather than fading from my memory as most meals do, has haunted my daydreams ever since.
It was praline bacon. And within moments of eating it, I knew that I wanted to, nay, that I must! try to recreate it at home. This weekend I finally had the time, the health, and the daylight. It took four failed attempts, but I finally found the balance I was looking for. And the best part? It’s so absurdly, ridiculously easy.
Obviously, we start with bacon. Then we have pecans, maple syrup, brown sugar, a little salt, and some cayenne pepper.
THAT IS ALL, PEOPLE.
Instead of pan-frying the bacon, I baked mine. It helps the bacon stay flat (necessary for topping with sugary pecans later) and the excess fat drains into the pan below. I may actually start making all of my bacon this way.
While the bacon cooks, chop up some pecans. I’ve seen some versions where the pecans are food-processed into oblivion, but I prefer a larger cut. Smaller than a rough chop but bigger than a fine chop, does that make sense? About the size of a tooth? (Is that gross?)
I eat rather a lot of pasta. When I started writing this post, I had to go back to see what stories I’ve already told you about my lifelong noodle-y obsession, just to make sure I wasn’t repeating something.
I’ve already mentioned that as a kid, I loved spaghetti with butter and parmesan cheese above all other things, and in fact I rarely tolerated the annoying hindrance of spaghetti sauce. It was sloppy, acidic, and mostly just not my thing. I still remember the first time I actually enjoyed a smear of red sauce atop a mound of pasta. Bizarrely, it was on a camping trip. In our open-air kitchen of two camp stoves and a picnic table, Dad carefully cooked a pot of pasta in one pot and in another, he combined a can of basic tomato sauce with a seasoning mix. I don’t know why I opted to try the sauce that time, but I suddenly realized this red sauce thing wasn’t necessarily so bad after all. To this day, however, I’m still pretty picky about my red sauces and rarely order them at a restaurant as a result.
There are a few brands and varieties I’ve discovered at the grocery over the years that I like rather well, but once I began canning my own basic tomato sauce, I felt it was time to finally find the homemade version I was seeking.
Since there are approximately one gazillion recipes for spaghetti sauce out there, each one claiming to be better than the last, it was a bit intimidating to know where to begin. Some swore by the addition of carrots and peppers, others piled on the sugar, and still others demanded the tomatoes be practically raw to achieve pure spaghetti sauce bliss. Fresh herbs, dried herbs, lots of spice, none at all – there really are so many ways to do this. How was I to know what I liked the most?
For the better part of middle and high school, I was usually up in time to make breakfast for my mom and sister while they continued bustling about, getting ready for school. Most days, this breakfast consisted of “tortillas with cheese”, which is just exactly what it sounds like: three flour tortillas, each with a layer of rough slices of cheddar or colby cheese, heated in the microwave for 30 seconds or so before being rolled up in paper towels for a to-go breakfast of champions.
At some point later, upon partaking the joys of quesadillas that popped up on restaurant menus all over the place, I made the connection that I’d been making quesadillas all along (freakishly simple though they were). As with most of my cooking projects, though, I’ve stepped up my game and now make quesadillas not for hurried breakfasts on the go, but for sit-down dinners at home.
And you should too.
I will say one thing though, and don’t freak out: these quesadillas don’t have much cheese.
I know. I know. What sort of monster cuts the cheese so significantly in a dish that is literally NAMED after cheese? But I tell you, it’s possible to have a delightful quesadilla that doesn’t have puddles of gooey cheese oozing out the sides and sizzling on your frying pan. Trust me on this.