The Fourth of July is upon us, and while many people will be prepping grills and wood piles for their festivities, can I interest you in an alternative? One that doesn’t require standing over a flaming rack of meat in the peak of American summer and does most of the cooking work on its own over the course of a day?
If so, this pulled pork is for you!
It’s taken me a long time to come around to pulled pork. I’m not generally a fan of shredded meat… it often makes me feel like I’m eating like, I don’t know, hair or something? But lately I’ve been unable to resist the ease of dumping a pork roast in the slow cooker, going to work, and coming home to a ready-made dinner that will last us for DAYS.
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.
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.
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’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?)
Are we far enough into January that I can talk about dessert?
I’d really like to. I know, a lot of you who are still in that “never eating dessert again” phase of January. I can tell we’re still in the window of active New Years resolutions: the gym is still full of people (I just need one elliptical, folks) and social media is crowded with photos of green smoothies and raw vegetables.
But when you’re ready to return to the light, I urge you to make these little bars.
Rather like lemon bars in their consistency, these bars feature a crisp shortbread crust topped with a luscious, citrus-y custard. But instead of lemon juice, these bars are brought to life by the vibrant, impossibly pink juice of blood oranges.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!