I have a little garden plot in a rooftop garden at my job in Columbus. It’s a challenging thing, really, to grow food on a cement slab 30 feet above the ground, but for one reason or another, my tomato plants are thriving. In an effort to keep up with the continuous supply of plump, crimson tomatoes I’ve enjoyed for the last few weeks, I’m trying to expand my repertoire of fresh tomato recipes. With the first breaths of autumn already trying to make their way into Ohio, I just can’t quite stand the idea of peeling these tomatoes and cooking them into a slurry of marinara or bolognese. I started with this, a common salsa where fresh tomatoes are the stars of the show.
Friends, I have a confession.
A lot of the recipes I post on this blog are ones that I cook quite often. Lots of dinners, side dishes, breakfasts, and even desserts that you’ve seen in the last three years make regular appearances in my kitchen or in the kitchen’s of friends and family when I’m visiting. It’s actually pretty convenient to have my very own personal recipe book at my fingertips in any kitchen, grocery store, or farmers market that has data or free wifi.
But I’ve been holding out on you. I haven’t shared with you one of the treats I cook most often, a recipe that I know so well I haven’t looked at the recipe card in years, a recipe that continues to be Brad’s most-requested dessert.
My mom’s chocolate chip cookies.
My mom has been baking these cookies since long before I was born, and truth be told, they’ve gained rather a lot of fame at the staff meetings, potlucks, and holiday gatherings in her little corner of Southwest Colorado. This is also one of my mom’s memorized recipes, complete with a snappy little mnemonic jingle that I learned growing up and use to this day to remember the order of ingredients.
So why wasn’t this recipe at the top of my list to share when I started this blog? I’ve shared numerous other treasured recipes from my childhood: Almond Toffee, Lasagne, Favorite Party Mix, to name a few.
Here’s the truth. Most of my life, my mom used butter-flavored Crisco for her magical chocolate chip cookies. And while I had tried using butter and liked the results, it just felt odd to make such a vast departure from her recipe and then post it as “hers”. Irrational? Probably. But it held me back. I was writing a blog about eating less-processed, locally sourced ingredients. Butter-flavored Crisco is none of those things.
But then, a few months ago, my mom informed me that she had switched to butter for her cookies. Liberation! Now I could honor this, my “Mom’s recipe”, without the mysterious yellow shortening. I’m so excited to finally share these with you. (more…)
There are so many magical things you can do with an egg. Having grown up with them almost exclusively scrambled, hard-boiled, or whipped into cake batter, I’ve recently worked on expanding my egg repertoire at breakfast. Sometimes I’ll roll them up in breakfast burritos, other mornings I’ll toss them on an English muffin, and some mornings I’ll make one of these beauties.
But on super-special mornings, I’ll buy a precious avocado and smear it across toast to a beautiful, green canvas for a gently fried egg.
I’ve loved avocados for a long time, but I was previously skeptical of their ability to translate to breakfast. Lord, I was so wrong. The flavor and texture of the avocado and the egg together are fantastic. The avocado needs no additions, though admittedly, I did try mixing in salsa one day, and while it was delightful, I still preferred it all by itself.
The eggs, while you’re smashing avocado, fry gently with their yolks unbroken. If you’re not a fan of runny eggs, don’t worry, just break the yolks with a fork and cook them a bit longer on the second side for a firm yellow center.
This simple breakfast is super-quick for rushed weekday mornings when you want to pretend, just for a minute, that it’s already the weekend. And it’s fancy enough even for the weekend. Why go out for breakfast when you can stay in your pajamas and have this?
Egg & Avocado on Toast
Makes 2 servings
1/2 an avocado
1/2 T butter
2 slices of bread
Scoop the avocado out of the skin into a bowl. Crush the avocado with the back of a fork until it is mostly crushed. Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Once warm, add the butter to the pan and coat the bottom of the pan as it melts. Crack the eggs into the pan without breaking the yolks, keeping the eggs separate. Sprinkle lightly with seasoned salt and black pepper.
While the eggs cook, toast the bread and smear avocado evenly over both pieces. After eggs have cooked for about two minutes, flip carefully with a spatula and sprinkle the opposite side lightly with black pepper. After about 30 seconds, gently lift the eggs onto the toasts, placing them on the avocado.
Serve and enjoy immediately.
After such a long and unpleasant winter, I’ve been really, really savoring the return of warm weather. The twiggy trees outside our apartment are now lush with foliage, the sun is up when we awake and its light lingers in the sky long after we’ve arrived home from work, and laundry goes so much faster since sweaters and jeans have been replaced by tank tops and light, swishy skirts. ‘Tis the season of sunglasses and short haircuts and flip flops and farmer tans (the only kind of tan I get, thank you).
But above all else, ’tis the season of local produce, each week appearing in more abundance and variety at farmers markets around the city. And though leafy greens tend to be the very first fresh items available, the truest harbinger of the coming summer bounty is the mighty asparagus spear.
These tender shoots are the rock stars on the local produce stage, producing a short-lived but iconic album every year to their adoring fans. For a brief moment, there is a glut of asparagus, piled high on market tables for eager customers to sort through, seeking the perfect stems. And then, just as suddenly, the harvest is over. This year, during these short lovely weeks of asparagus, I stumbled across this simple recipe that has quickly become my favorite.
This may not come as much of a surprise. But, when I go on vacation, one of my favorite activities is seeking out and buying whatever edible bounty hails from my destination. And I’m not just talking the best local restaurants: if I can swing it, I try to bring back enough to stock my pantry and freezer. From Phoenix, I toted back a bag of the most splendid grapefruits. From Maryland, a trunk full of apples, pumpkins, and cider. From Wisconsin, a backpack full of cheese, accompanied by an ice pack which thankfully was not confiscated at the airport.
And from our recent weekend getaway to the Grand Strand beaches of South Carolina, I brought back a few pounds of fresh-caught shrimp.
Having grown up in a rather land-locked state, I never had many opportunities to enjoy fresh seafood. Shrimp was always something I liked to eat, but I mostly knew it only in its breaded, popcorn form, or cold and pink around the shores of a cocktail sauce reservoir. With this rare opportunity to buy it right from the waters of the Atlantic, I wanted to try a dish I’ve been thinking about ever since I was served something similar at a friend’s after their own return from their beach house in the Outer Banks: a pasta dish studded with shrimp and lightly coated with a buttery, flavorful sauce.
Have you noticed that onion and mushroom pizzas are all the rage these days? It seems that every pizza parlour around now features a caramelized onion pizza topped with mushrooms and pungent gorgonzola cheese. And who can blame them? The rich, sultry flavors of these three ingredients make for an surprising and exciting change from red- or white-sauced pizzas.
But we’re not here to talk about pizza. In fact, it was the glut of all these pizzas popping up on menus that made me wonder how the same flavors would work when painted on a different canvas… say, perhaps, a knot of whole wheat pasta?
Caramelized onions are, in my book, one of life’s greatest pleasures. From topping crostinis to starring in homemade onion dip, they enrich almost everything they encounter. I’ve been known to eat them plain, with no cares about the odorific consequences that might ensue. As I expected, they make an excellent base for this pasta sauce.
My grandmother, who I’ve talked about quite a lot on this site, passed away this week just a few days before her 97th birthday. She was an inspiration to me in almost every way that affects this blog: canning, gardening, cooking, and even just appreciating the delight of fresh, homegrown food. She always insisted that the best recipes were the simplest ones, and that “modern recipes” just had too many unnecessary ingredients. I frequently watched her shake her head and scoff at magazine recipes bedazzled with so many obscure herbs and spices that you’d hardly be able to taste the feature of the dish (let alone afford to make it). Since she was renowned for what she could do with food from seed to table, I usually find it’s best to heed the advice she seemed to live by: grow food, buy fresh, cook simply, and savor the resulting meal.
To honor my grandmother, I want to share with you some of the simple, basic recipes that I rely upon heavily in my daily cooking. I admit, I feel both ridiculous for sharing them and also ridiculous for keeping them from you for so long. Sometimes it’s hard to decide what to share here in this space, and I often think, “nah, they don’t wanna hear about this, it’s nothing fancy.”
But then I remember that many of these dishes have entered my kitchen in only the last few years: why should I assume that they are already in yours? It seems unfair to keep them to myself. Plus, while I’m sure we all love the idea of elaborate culinary projects resulting in surprising and impressive dishes, my guess is that most of you (like me) are ultimately just trying to put dinner on the table every night without relying on a microwave dinner or a frozen pizza. For me, having an repertoire composed of simple, savory dishes is the key to making this happen.
This is one of my favorite side dishes both in flavor and style, it goes well with just about anything, and it starts and ends with a bunch of carrots. Though many of us get our carrots mostly in the form of stripped-down nubbins that appear on veggie platters at office parties, this dish uses the whole thing. For this particular dish, I like to use the thinnest carrots I can find.
I have enormous respect for the power of marking a year, whether it’s a birthday, New Years, an anniversary, or a blogoversary. Anniversaries of any kind give us the chance to stop and think about how we’ve spent our time in the last revolution around the sun and what we plan to do in the next one. April 22 marked my three-year anniversary of this blog, and it sort of sneaked up on me. It turns out that I haven’t logged in to this site in over a month, due primarily to a significant case of writer’s block. And photographer’s block. And kitcheneer’s block.
The truth is I have struggled over the last few months. Despite the fact that I work fewer hours, have more days off, and enjoy a kitchen filled with natural light, I’ve found myself groaning over the notion of cooking even familiar meals and not in the least bit interested in climbing atop a step stool angling for a shot. The muse that once perched on my shoulder whispering words, recipes, and stories into my eager ears seems to have folded her arms and sealed her lips. I’ve become increasingly frustrated that I can’t seem to get back into the productive rhythm to which I had grown so accustomed in North Carolina and have spent a lot of time trying to figure out why. Did I really manage to pack up everything I owned but forget to bring with me my inspiration, my drive for sharing this locavore’s story? Is it still sitting on the counter in my dimly-lit kitchen, or perhaps hiding in the grass next to my ever-fertile community garden plot?
Or did it survive the move after all, frozen but intact despite this deeply unpleasant winter, but is simply too nervous to peek its head out for fear of another frost?
As someone who bakes rather a lot of cake, it might surprise you to know that I actually don’t bake many cookies. If you invite me to a dinner party, you’re more likely to answer the door to find me carrying a teetering stack of tender cake layers, smeared with berries and whipped cream, than a plate of half a dozen cookies. Well, I should clarify: I make a LOT of chocolate chip cookies, as it is Brad’s favorite and one recipe that I could likely make in my sleep. No, I haven’t posted that recipe here yet, but I promise I’ll remedy that situation soon.
In the meantime, though, I desperately want to talk about this cookie.
We start with a pretty basic array of ingredients. Flour, baking powder, and salt combine to form the dry set, butter and sugar cream together to form the base, and egg, vanilla, and just a bit of almond extract wrap it all up.
It’s entirely possible that I’m the last person to arrive at this party, but these days I find I really, really like soft-cooked eggs. Growing up I thought I only liked scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, and deviled eggs (who doesn’t?) but recently, I’ve discovered the pleasure of the slightly runny yolk.
And THIS, it turns out, is the best way I’ve found to enjoy it. I feel a little generous even calling this a recipe because it’s SO quick, SO easy, and amazingly, deliciously good.
I’ve seen this recipe with a number of different names. Egg in a Hole, Frog in a Hole, Egg in the Middle… but the principle remains the same. You take a piece of bread. And you punch a hole in it. And then you put an egg in the middle and cook. Simple!
I like using a round cookie cutter for this, but you could get cutesy and use a heart, a square, or whatever shape you want. The important thing is to not make it too small. Trust me, if there isn’t enough hole, the egg will just overflow and not cook and you won’t be able to flip it and all will be ugly for your breakfast.