Archive for the ‘Easy!’ Category

Wedge Salad for dinner
It’s amazing how quickly the thrills of summer transform into those of fall. It’s not just about the temperature, either (in fact, that hasn’t particularly changed). The tree outside my apartment has begun dropping leaves to the ground, and with each trip to my car in the morning, those leaves announce the arrival of autumn with a delicate crunch beneath my feet.  The light deepens to gold a bit more each day, and the anticipation I’ve grown accustomed to feeling around this time each year is beginning to grow.

And yet a week ago, my heart was full with summer. And so was my pantry. I’d harvested the last batch of tomatoes from my garden, and after celebrating some of them with some BLT sandwiches, I wanted to try them in a different configuration: as a salad!

Wedge Salad

This salad is inspired by one that Brad and I usually split at one of our favorite restaurants, and it’s simple enough that I’m frankly stunned I’ve never attempted something like it at home.

It starts with iceberg lettuce.

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Homemade Ranch Dressing
Raaaaaaaanch dressing!

Is there nothing it can’t improve?

Obviously a delicious dip, for veggies, chicken wings, chips, crackers, french fries, pizza (?)… but ranch is also a tasty mix in for mashed potatoes or even pasta, an excellent salad dressing, and of course, a pizza topping. I have no idea if its popularity extends to other continents, but in the USA, ranch dressing is king.

Herbs and seasoning

Now I know that most people probably have a favorite brand (or brands) of ranch. For many of us, this might be the one we had in elementary school but don’t know the name to. There’s a gazillion varieties in the grocery store. I have on occasion, in an effort to expand my ranch dressing horizons, tried branching out and away from the Kraft and Hidden Valley I grew up with. Sometimes, these are successful ventures, and sometimes, they are gross.

This week I ventured VERY far and tried my hand at homemade ranch. I’ve always been curious about doing so, but honestly, it’s difficult to justify buying a quart of buttermilk when all I need is half a cup. This weekend, however, I had the fateful alignment of both buttermilk AND sour cream in my fridge for other projects, and with fresh parsley and chives in season, the time was ripe.

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Smooth Garlic Hummus

I think I was in sixth or seventh grade when I first heard about hummus. One of my classmates probably brought it in their packed lunch, with a pack of carrot sticks or some pita bread. My hometown was (and still is) definitely the kind of place where sixth graders are excited about eating hummus and carrots for lunch.

Unfortunately, I was horrified by the idea of eating hummus. For the better part of my childhood, I thought that hummus (ground chickpeas with tahini paste) and HUMUS (fully decomposed soil) were the same thing. I was all for eating the fruits of the earth, but the earth itself? NO WAY.

The connections one makes as a child are truly fascinating, aren’t they?

Smooth Yummy Hummus

Now, however, I know the truth. I know that in fact, that extra “m” makes a HUGE and delicious difference. What’s more, hummus is an incredibly easy and inexpensive snack to make.

And it starts, of course, with chick peas.

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Hot and bubbly

Summer produce is just the best, isn’t it? Each week, I have to hem and haw and force myself not to buy everything I lay my eyes on. It’s so easy to literally have my eyes bigger than my stomach… or my weekly menu.

But squash is something I buy every week when it’s in season. Sometimes zucchini, sometimes yellow squash, mostly both. And most summer meals in our house, coincidentally, contain these delicious and prolific veggies, so I try to mix it up and try new methods to cook them. This one is one of my new favorites.

Pretty yellow squash

Adding a bit of parmesan and pepper to thin strips of squash turns them into long, skinny chips of a sort. To help with that long and skinniness, I use a mandoline, a tool that I resisted for years (why not just use a knife) but now adooooooooore.

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Perfect little roasters

For most people in the US of A, myself included, french fries are the primary way that we consume potatoes. Sure, we eat mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving and heaped atop shepherd’s pies, and certainly a fair number of potatoes turn into potato chips. But mostly, we eat fries. I even figured out how to make my own a few months ago, and boy oh boy are they delicious.

But I’d like to propose that we overthrow King French Fry from its mighty throne over potatoes everywhere. I don’t want to kick ‘em out, just bring them back down on an equal plane with other potatoes.

And in the vacuum, let’s make THESE instead.

Tiny Roasted Potatoes

Despite the fact that I grew up enjoying new potatoes from my grandparents’ garden every summer, I had never once before this spring considered buying a batch of teeny little potatoes to make at home. My dad was in town to visit so I decided to try out a recipe I’d been eying in the beautiful Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. The author herself (eeeee! I met her!) said that her Flat Roasted Chicken with Tiny Potatoes seems to be one of the more popular among her readers, so with an excellent excuse like company in the house, I gave it a shot. The chicken was delicious, but it was the potatoes that stole my heart.

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Rhubarb dessert

Making two wedding cakes in less than a year has involved many, many practice cakes. Almost every weekend since early September, I’ve tested at least one recipe to see if it was worthy of inclusion in one of these two celebration cakes. And though I do have a crowd of chipper undergrads more than happy to polish off any test cakes I bring to the office, you’d think I’d avoid baking so soon after completing the wedding cake was done, right?

False.

False, at least, if I have a gift of gorgeous pink rhubarb falls in your lap.

Pretty red stalks

One major perk of wedding cake-baking for a wedding in Madison, Wisconsin was the opportunity to stay with my aunt and uncle, who aside from allowing me to take over their kitchen for several days also have a beautiful stand of rhubarb. On my last morning in town, my uncle was kind enough to cut me a couple pounds of the prettiest, pinkest rhubarb I’ve ever seen.

But how to use this precious windfall? I’ve baked with rhubarb a few times before, as part of a cookie, in a fruity appetizer, and as a co-star in a classic pie, but I really wanted to try something where the rhubarb played the lead. Something simple but essential.

Rhubarb Crisp, anyone?

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Homemade popcorn

With another wedding cake baked and spring semester in my rear-view mirror, I finally feel like summer has begun. No, summer isn‘t quite the same as it used to be; the three-month vistas of free time I enjoyed from age 5-22 no longer lie ahead. I’ve been nostalgic for those childhood summers lately: sleeping in, spending the day flitting about town with mom, attempting badminton on the lawn with my sister, eating dinner off the grill in the cool Colorado evenings. Bliss!

After the sun set, summer nights in our house usually involved a movie. And where there are movies, there sure as Sam was gonna be some popcorn.

Popcorn!

Admittedly, most of the popcorn I remember eating at home was microwave popcorn, though there was also brief stint where Kelli and I found an air popper almost as entertaining to watch as whatever movie was selected for the night. I do remember, quite vividly, one attempt to pop corn on the stove and the ensuing clouds of smoke that followed when it cooked too fast and burned to a crisp. Perhaps scarred by this event, up until recently I had mentally relegated popcorn popping to the arts of yesteryear, one that I was unlikely to ever master. But then, after seeing some friends pop corn at a party — quite casually and deliciously and with no clouds of smoke, I might add — I bravely bought a bag of cheap yellow kernels and decided to give it a shot.

OMG.

Revelation. Perfection. Obsession. Sublime happiness.

It turns out making popcorn is really easy. And really fast. I’m really not sure now what happened that fateful night as a child when I developed a fear of popcorn-making, but I am now here to say that if any of you have similar fears, give them up! Tonight! You can make freshly-popped popcorn with just a few kitchen tools that you already have.

Here’s how:

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Veggie flatbread

After a lengthy winter (for usually balmy Durham), the recent arrival of warm weather has caused a SURGE of greens in my garden. I was a bit over-zealous in March when I planted spring crops (er twelve Romaine plants and six spinach), and now, I can frequently be seen toting bags of freshly-picked lettuce to work and bequeathing it to friends willing to eat a lot of salad. Combined with the arrival of everything fresh at the farmers market, I have to exercise a lot of control to make sure I’m using up these greens before they go to waste. I tire of salads quickly, so I thought I’d try a different take.

Springtime for pizza

In a move that surprised me, the staunch supporter of cheese pizza with as few toppings as possible, this flatbread pizza has almost nothing on it except vegetables. I coupled a large wad of my most recent harvest of spinach leaves with some young onions and green garlic, two ingredients I rarely work with but was curious to explore.

Fresh and green

And because I couldn’t quite bring myself to omit cheese entirely, just a bit of asiago, which is ever the friend of garlic-y, onion-y things.

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Strawberry Ice

The last three days, I think I’ve been on my first faux-cation. That’s right. A vacation that’s not real. It’s not like I’m actually even on vacation but just not going anywhere, which is a staycation. I’m not on one of those. I just emerged from one of the more intense periods of work I’ve ever experienced, culminating in a hugely successful film festival. It was fun in that mind-bending, 17-hour work day sort of way, ya know? Rewarding, exhilarating, but exhausting. And since we wrapped up late on Sunday night, it has been nearly impossible to force myself to do ANY activity that remotely resembles work: putting dishes in the dishwasher, cooking at all (seriously, I feel like I’m at the beach, we’ve been eating at restaurants with patios to take advantage of the nice weather), grocery shopping, nothing. Each time I’ve tried to get something done, I drift into daydreams of real beach vacations, lazy days in the sun, and the slower pace that simply MUST be coming soon.

But I miss you guys. I miss testing recipes, playing with food, editing photos, and writing to you. So I finally got myself back on track, though admittedly, the “recipe” that follows is vacation-inspired, and possible even in a stress-triggered faux-cation.

I made some dang strawberry ice.

Strawberry Iced Lemonade

Why? Because summer is coming, which brings lemonade. And strawberry lemonade is the best lemonade, and hiding strawberries in ice cubes seemed like fun! It’s an easy, splashy way to step up your beverage game at summer cookouts and spring brunches. And all you need to make it is ice, sugar, water, and your favorite ice cube tray.

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Fancy breakfast

There are some foods that have always been magic to me. Tortillas, croissants, tortellini, cream puffs… those dreamy little bites that all seem borderline impossible for a person in a home kitchen to make. Incidentally, jam also mystified me. Perhaps it was really the canning part that seemed so out of reach, for until a couple years ago, I never canned my own.

I’ve learned, however, that jam is actually quite simple to make, and it doesn’t necessarily require large batches and canning. It seems you can boil together almost any fruit and have jam in a matter of minutes, ready to serve warm or to store in the fridge for many days.

This treat is a celebration of quick jam, a blend of two early harbingers of spring: strawberry and rhubarb.

Pretty little berries

While bundled stalks of rhubarb have graced the tables of the farmers market since early February, strawberries have only recently returned to the scene. Last week, a few pints of these precious red fruits have appeared between towers of broccoli and leafy greens, and just like every year, I could hardly wait to get my hands on some.

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