If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the kitchen, it’s that failure is real. It happens a lot. I share a lot of my successes here, and I have more on the way, but I want to make sure you all are perfectly clear that I do suffer some total, utter failures in this little kitchen of mine. Sierra has been lobbying me for a while to do a post on these disasters, so I sifted through some of my unpublished recipes this week to find the best worsts.

I keep all the photos I take when I shoot recipes, sorted into folders, and let the folders sit in an “Unpublished” folder until a recipe is posted on the site. It turns out that I have almost as many unpublished recipes as published ones. Sometimes they sit unpublished because the photos are hideous, sometimes because their moment in seasonal cooking has passed, and sometimes they are abandoned on my hard drive because the recipe itself (or my execution of it) was a total failure. Here is a sampling of some of those disasters.

Maple Pecan Muffins

Maple Pecan Muffins

Pretty, right!? Ooooooh I was so looking forward to this recipe. Maple syrup, chopped fresh pecans, a thick, warm crumb supporting a pat of melting butter… how could they possibly be bad? This is one I wanna try again because seriously, I still don’t know what happened. The muffins were far too dense, flavorless, hard as hockey pucks on the outside, and crumbling to pieces when removed from the wrappers. See how the batter is sitting far below the top of the muffin wrap? They hardly raised at all! Things only got worse the second day, at which point the whole batch was virtually inedible. So much for the world’s best muffin I was hoping for.

Simple Winter Fruit Salad

Simple Winter Fruit Salad

I suppose, in terms of scope, this doesn’t totally qualify as a disaster. Just more of a meh. When I discovered that someone at my farmers market grows kiwi that ripens in early December, I flipped out. How could such an exotic fruit grow somewhere that I live? In an effort to use up fruit already in my fridge before heading to Colorado for Christmas, I decided to feature the kiwi in a little fruit salad. And in truth, it didn’t taste bad. But it was way, way, WAY too acidic. Kiwis, I discovered, are used in some areas as a substitute for tomatoes in salsas. Pomegranates and apples, of course, are also fairly tangy and acidic. The combination of the three, with nothing like a peach or banana to break them up, made this a really, really tart experience that made my mouth feel the way too many Warheads does. Not a condition I would wish on anyone else.

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Skillet Corn with Zucchini & Onion

For most of my life, I’ve eaten corn one of two ways: from a can or on the cob. (And I’m talking about kernels of corn here, not the corn syrup, corn meal, corn starch, and other corn products that certainly make up most of the “corn” in the average American diet.) In the summer, there was no greater thrill than Dad bringing home a bag full of fresh Colorado sweet corn, and I still look forward to the arrival of corn on the cob every time the season rolls around.

But it’s really only in the last few years that I’ve started appreciating fresh corn as an ingredient, as something more than just a cob of kernels slathered with butter. Fresh corn has flavor and texture that give everything from pizza to fajitas a little something extra.

In this dish, corn is not just an ingredient, it’s the star of the show. With two of my other favorite veggies to support it.

Simple summer veggies

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Swiss Meringue Buttercream

For the first several years of my training as a cake decorator, I used an icing composed primarily of Crisco and powdered sugar. And I’ve gotta admit, for someone decorating 1-2 practice cakes (and in later years, simply styrofoam cake forms) every month, there was nothing better: it’s snow white, doesn’t take long to bring to room temperature, holds it’s shape  and consistency even as it gets warm in the piping bag, and seemingly never spoils.

That icing served me well for a long time. But as I grew older I started to grow wary of the mysterious ingredients in Crisco, and the gritty texture of the powdered sugar irritated me more and more. I started to think perhaps it was time to up my game in the icing department. And it only took a teensy bit of digging around the cake-baking community to know that I needed to learn, above all other things, the art of Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

The very best buttercream
And boy am I glad I did. Each batch I make reaffirms my obsession with this icing: impossibly smooth and creamy, light and airy, shiny and stable, and delicately sweet. It freezes well, so it can be made in large batches even if you only have a small cake to bake. Because the sugar is dissolved, there is no grittiness whatsoever. It’s stable once applied, gives strength to your cakes, and is gorgeous enough to be used as an outer icing with no need for fondant. Plus, it can be adapted to just about any flavor you want.

I’ve now used this buttercream for two wedding cakes, a birthday cake, cookie icing, cupcake icing, and dinner party cakes. It’s extremely versatile and soooo tasty.

So today, I want to share it with you. And it’s not scary! Though it is a bit time-consuming, it’s pretty straight-forward to make. So let’s dive in and make some SMBC!

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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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Little Tomato Pasta
It hardly seems real to me that the summer, which seemingly only just began, is now drawing to a close. What once looked like a vast expanse of time in which to accomplish projects and execute plans that I’ve had on my list for some time now is now behind me, with very few of those items marked off.

I suppose that’s the way it goes, isn’t it? Perhaps there’s a reason those projects are still on the list: they simply don’t take priority when other things come up. Sometimes it’s dinner with friends, sometimes a movie, sometimes it’s work.

This time, it was a MASSIVE harvest of tiny tomatoes that would be heartbreaking to waste.

All the tomatoes in America
Up until a couple of years ago, I only ate cherry tomatoes raw, usually in salads or from the veggie tray at parties. And as someone who is not a particularly big fan of raw tomatoes, I typically only ate one or two.

Now that I am growing my own, however, I must find other ways to use them up. I actually dried most of this batch, but I’ve been curious about what a tomato sauce made from these tiny, sweet tomatoes would taste like, so I decided to give it a shot. And while it is certainly more labor-intensive than pulling a jar of Ragu from the pantry, it’s quite a delightful way to make the most of the tomato-harvest of August.

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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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Lemon Cookies with Blackberry Buttercream

Oooooooooooooh blackberry season is here! It’s been summer here for a long time, but blackberries have always signified summer for me more than any other bounty the garden has to offer. Usually, between Brad and I, fresh blackberries don’t last long enough for me to put them into baked goods. They’re just too damn delicious raw and fresh! But this year, with a half batch of leftover buttercream lurking in the freezer from a round of wedding cake recipe-testing, I decided I’d test out a flavor combination I’ve been curious about for some time now: blackberry and lemon.

Blackberries and lemons

Perhaps it’s my love of sweet and tart flavors. Perhaps it’s the purely aesthetic bliss of bright purple icing against a mellow yellow cookie canvas? I don’t know. But this was the year! I would not let blackberry season pass me by without trying out the union of blackberry and lemon. I thought about making a layer cake, or maybe cupcakes, but since there’s been a lot of cake around here lately, cookies seemed like the way to go this time around.

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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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Southwest Chicken Pasta

A few days ago, I escaped the humid crush of the Eastern United States with my annual return to my childhood home in Southwest Colorado. Each summer, I look forward to this return with great anticipation, but each year I continue to be humbled and amazed by how much I love this place. To be sure, living in the mountain desert has its hardships: this year’s drought is threatening to run our well completely dry, and the cool dry air that normally greats me when stepping off the plane was this year flooded with smoke from the West Fork Fire Complex, a wildfire raging in the high country just an hour away. My parents keep large stock pots in each bathroom so that we can catch the gray water from our showers, haul it outside, and attempt to help our adolescent trees survive the long, dry summer.

Despite all this, I miss the Southwest. I miss watching the summer monsoons boil over the mountains, occasionally releasing precious rain to the parched earth below. I miss the abrupt landscape shifts from spruce tree forests, the sagebrush meadows, and the bare sandstone mesas and canyons. I miss the cultures, celebrations, people, and flavors.

When I’m out to eat, I frequently seek out southwest-y meals on a menu. A few weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised by a meal at a Chapel Hill favorite that I urgently wanted to recreate at home, and after Brad and I completely consumed multiple batches, I’m sure this will remain on my own home menu often.

A Southwest Chicken Pasta

I really don’t know why I didn’t think of this pasta sooner. Perhaps because I so strongly associate pasta with Italian flavors. But friends! I urge you to release pasta from it’s bonds in tomato sauce and alfredo. It is equally at home surrounded by black beans, red peppers, and spicy red chili.

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