Report from New York

by Elissa

Last weekend, Josh and I were lucky enough to travel to New York for three whole nights by ourselves. We ate and drank very well while we were there, so I thought I'd share some of the highlights.

Best pasta: the ricotta gnocchi at Lupa.  I first had them with Katherine back when she was living in New York, and this was one of those rare dishes that lived up to my memory!

Best cocktail: the custom cocktails that we ordered at Lantern's Keep, the bar at the Iroquois Hotel near Times Square.  Basically you give the bartender a liquor or a theme to work with, and they will design a drink to suit your tastes. Mine involved London dry gin, lemon juice, orgeat, and absinthe. I'm going to try and re-create it at home, but will have to mix up a batch of orgeat (almond syrup) first. Runner up: The Guthrie Inn on the Upper East Side, a funky speakeasy-type place.

Best overall dish: the vanilla doughnuts we had during brunch at Perilla in the West Village.

The doughnuts were served hot from the fryer with a somewhat tart apple butter, which was a brilliant flavor combination.

Best food souvenir we brought back to DC: tie between a box of Kee's chocolates and a hunk of gruyere we bought at Murray's

We had an amazing weekend despite the frigid temperatures. Thanks again to Donna and Joanna for taking such good care of the kids while we were away!

Fun with Zoodles

by Laura

You get a pretty big bowl from 5 small zucchini but beware, they shrink when you cook and it is less filling than pasta!

You get a pretty big bowl from 5 small zucchini but beware, they shrink when you cook and it is less filling than pasta!

If you haven't heard of zoodles, they are noodles made from zucchini spun through a spiralizer, the newest gadget addition to my kitchen. I bought the Premium Vegetable Spiralizer off of Amazon for $15 and can't believe how easy it is. You just rinse the zucchini (I think yellow squash or even carrots could work well too) and spin it while putting a little pressure on it and you get long, thin noodles. You can top with any sauce and I have tried a few, but find that a saucy but hearty sauce like bolognese makes it easier to forget you're eating vegetables instead of pasta. Ina Garten's weeknight bolognese works well. You can also mix it up so it is half noodles and half zoodles if you're nervous about going full zoodle. 

Half zucchini noodles, half linguini with Ina Garten's Bolognese.

Half zucchini noodles, half linguini with Ina Garten's Bolognese.

SPIRALIZER IN ACTION

SPIRALIZER IN ACTION

Healthy Muffin File: Oatmeal Applesauce Muffins

by Elissa

I have written before about my quest for the perfect healthy muffin. While I love the morning glory muffins from my earlier post, they are a bit of a project. The other day I wanted to see if I could come up with a not-too-decadent option using ingredients that are easier to prepare. I adapted this recipe for oatmeal applesauce bread from King Arthur Flour and was pretty delighted with the results. 

They are excellent with cream cheese. I always freeze the leftover muffins; after 20-30 seconds in the microwave they make for a quick and delicious weekday breakfast.

3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla 
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 /2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup oats--you can use either quick oats or rolled oats
1/2 cup applesauce
1 apple, peeled, cored and grated.

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a muffin tin or put paper muffin liners in the wells. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder and soda, and spices, and add them to the wet ingredients in the bowl. Mix in the oat flakes, applesauce, and grated apple. Scoop into muffin tin and bake for 16-18 minutes. 

Desperately Seeking Mexican: How to Make Corn Tortillas

by Elissa

One of the things I miss most about living in California (besides my family and the weather, of course) is good Mexican food. Most of the Mexican food in DC just can't compare. I had read about making corn tortillas from scratch, and last weekend I decided that we were going to attempt the project. The only ingredients are masa harina (a special kind of corn flour) and water. A tortilla press isn't strictly necessary, but after doing some reading I decided that we'd have a much better final product if I acquired a press.  I found the masa harina at Whole Foods and the tortilla press at Sur la Table, and we were ready to get started.

Note that the tortilla press was "hecho en Mexico"--we took that as a good sign

Note that the tortilla press was "hecho en Mexico"--we took that as a good sign

I combined the masa harina with hot water according to the directions on the package and let the dough sit for an hour. Then it was time to get our tortilla assembly line going--fortunately Lane agreed to be my helper. We rolled the dough into plum-sized balls, pressed them in the tortilla press, and cooked them quickly on the griddle. Lane also worked on the guacamole--thank goodness for child labor!

The raw tortillas were very fragile--it was easy to tear the edges when extracting them from the press.  I used Kenji Lopez-Alt's trick of lining the press with a cut open Ziploc bag, which worked pretty well. I was amazed at how quickly they cooked--just a minute or two per side, which made it hard to multi-task while making them. But the tortillas stayed warm wrapped in a dish towel for a little while.  I decided to use our tortilla masterpieces in this fish taco recipe from Sam Sifton of the New York times--even though it was freezing last weekend I was determined to enjoy a dinner that reminded me of sunshine and the beach. 

Fish tacos with guacamole, lime crema, tapatio  hot sauce, and red cabbage slaw

Fish tacos with guacamole, lime crema, tapatio  hot sauce, and red cabbage slaw

The kids refused to eat any fish or cabbage, but they were enthusiastic about the fresh tortillas with guacamole and shredded cheese. While these weren't the best tortillas I've ever eaten, they were a huge step up from store-bought corn tortillas. And Josh and I thought that the fish tacos were terrific. Now we just need to plan a family vacation to Baja to compare our handiwork to the real thing!

Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad

by Laura

We can all agree that the main reason brussels sprouts have surged in popularity is that we figured out that if you fry them or add bacon they taste way better. Steamed brussels sprouts are the worst. And I never would have thought I'd like them raw but this salad has become one of my favorites that is in my regular rotation. As with most salads, improvisation is encouraged based on what you have in the fridge and personal preference. Adapted from Food52.

1 bag shaved brussels sprouts (if you are an over achiever and want to shred them yourself, it is about 3 cups)

1/2 cup very thinly sliced red onion

1/3 cup almonds, sliced and toasted

1 avocado

1/3 cup grated pecorino

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 tsp honey

1 tbsp dijon mustard

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Soak the red onion in cold water for about 15 minutes or however long it takes you to assemble everything else. Juice your lemon (you may need 2 depending on size and juiciness) into a jar or bowl. Add honey and mustard in same bowl. Whisk in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Combine brussels sprouts, almonds (any nut will do!), avocado, red onion and the pecorino. Shake up or whisk the dressing one more time before drizzling over the salad and serve immediately.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

by Elissa

While my weeknight dinners are by necessity pretty simple, I still occasionally like to pull out all the stops with an ambitious baking project. I don't feel like we've gone overboard for any of our kids' birthday celebrations -- elaborate decorations and creative goody bags are not my thing -- but I do like to make the cake from scratch. I usually opt for cupcakes, as it makes serving so much easier. This year I decided to branch out into Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, which is definitely more difficult to make than your basic buttercream.

While basic American buttercream is made with butter and confectioners sugar, Swiss meringue buttercream involves heating egg whites and sugar together, whipping them into a meringue, and then beating in the butter. I wanted to try it because it's less sweet than basic buttercream and because it's supposed to hold up better at room temperature. I did a lot of reading in advance; I knew that this had the potential to be tricky and wanted to make sure that I was familiar with the process.  These posts from Smitten Kitchen and Annie's Eats convinced me that Swiss meringue buttercream was worth the extra effort, and this tutorial from Sweetapolita was very helpful. 

For Lane's birthday in March, he requested banana cupcakes with chocolate frosting.  Ina Garten has a recipe for a chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream that sounded pretty divine, so I decided to give it a try. I heated the egg whites and sugar to 160 degrees (measuring with an instant read thermometer) to make sure we didn't have any food safety issues. Then I started whipping with my trusty KitchenAid.

Billowy meringue

Billowy meringue

It did't take long for the egg whites and sugar to begin stiffening up. But I left the mixer on for a really long time because I wanted to make sure the meringue was fully cooled before I started adding the butter. My butter was a little cooler than room temperature. It took a long time to beat in a pound and a half (!) of butter, but the texture held together. And Ina's recipe calls for a pretty insane amount of chocolate (almost two pounds), but the frosting held up well as I added in the cooled melted chocolate.

The birthday boy approved of the frosting

The birthday boy approved of the frosting

At this point, I decided to refrigerate the frosting overnight, which in hindsight was a mistake. I think it would have been fine at room temperature, and I had a hard time getting the frosting back to its original consistency the next morning. But I was able to pipe it onto the cupcakes, and the flavor was amazing, so I'm going to call it a success. 

Chocolate meringue buttercream on banana cupcakes

Chocolate meringue buttercream on banana cupcakes

While the frosting was delicious, the chocolate flavor was so strong that it didn't taste all that different from a whipped chocolate ganache (which is normally my favorite chocolate frosting). I saw some recipes for a chocolate meringue buttercream that called for barely any chocolate at all, and I wanted to make sure that my chocolate frosting packed a real punch. Bottom line: although it was delicious, I'm not sure the extra effort was worth it for a chocolate meringue buttercream.

When Elenor turned three in July, I decided I wanted to try my hand at vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream. And this time, the effort definitely paid off. The texture of the frosting was unbelievably silky, and it was decided less sweet than frosting made with confectioners sugar. It is very buttery, but that's a plus in my book! And the frosting held up beautifully to heat and humidity. Rather than refrigerating the frosting overnight, I frosted the cupcakes the night before and then froze them, frosting at all. I took them out of the freezer 2-3 hours before serving and they were perfect. 

Vanilla bean Swiss meringue buttercream (the black specks are vanilla seeds, not dirt)

Vanilla bean Swiss meringue buttercream (the black specks are vanilla seeds, not dirt)

I whipped up some more Swiss meringue buttercream in the fall, when I made three dozen cupcakes for a fundraiser for Lane's school. I tried a salted caramel variation, and it was pretty heavenly.

Clockwise from back left: salted caramel, chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream, and lemon with lemon cream cheese frosting.

Clockwise from back left: salted caramel, chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream, and lemon with lemon cream cheese frosting.

Next I can't wait to try a fruit variation.  While Swiss meringue buttercream is not an everyday undertaking, I think it's worth the hassle for special occasions and large scale baking.

Lemony Baked Seabass with Breadcrumbs

by Laura

Seabass is my favorite fish, and SURPRISE, it is also super expensive, so I will start by saying you can use any budget-friendly mild fish (e.g. tilapia). Some reviewers of the original recipe even said they tried it with good results on chicken, which I may try next. If you need to make a meal for a special occasion though, I recommend splurging on the seabass. The recipe below is for just two, so make adjustments as necessary.

Seabass with Breadcrumbs

adapted from Dave Lieberman

2 Chilean Seabass filets (about 6 oz. each)

1.5 slices bread (I used an old loaf of multigrain sandwich bread I was trying to get rid of!)

2 tbsp butter plus one pad large enough to coat whatever baking dish you're using

1 lemon

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves chopped

2 cloves garlic

1/3 cup flat parsley leaves, chopped

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 and place your baking dish with the pad of butter in the oven to melt the butter. Cut the bread into small pieces. I cut the bread into about 6 narrow rows and then again in the opposite direction to make small crumb-size pieces. (The original recipe has you do this with a food processor but this took just a couple minutes and no food processor to wash!).

Heat the remaining butter plus the smashed garlic cloves in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat. Once it starts bubbling a little bit remove it from the heat. By now the butter should be melted in the baking dish. Remove it from the oven and place your fish filets in the dish. Season with salt and pepper. Zest the lemon over the fish and sprinkle thyme over that, followed by a healthy squeeze of lemon juice. 

Going back to your melted butter garlic mixture, remove the garlic clove if you're scared of too much garlic. Alternatively, you can kind of mash it up in the butter with a spoon so it is in a few pieces. Add the breadcrumbs, parsley and salt and pepper to the butter mixture and stir. Place spoonfuls of the breadcrumbs over the fish (I had more than would fit on top - don't throw it away! Just add them around the fish - they end up crunchy and delicious!)

Bake fish with breadcrumbs in the oven for 12-15 minutes. So good!!

Final product served with baked sweet potato disks and sautéed spinach and kale. 

Holiday Snack Mix

By Katherine

I love sweet, spicy nuts - to snack on, to top my salads, and to give as holiday gifts. In the last several years, I have made candied pecans and spicy brittled peanuts, but last week a new recipe caught my eye. It is from David Lebovitz, one of my favorite food bloggers/cookbook authors, and when I saw that he called this one of his "greatest hits," I knew I needed to pay attention. And after making it, I'm quite sure this is going to become a holiday tradition for me. 

The full recipe can be found here. Instead of re-typing it here, I will just give you a quick rundown. You toast two cups of your favorite raw nuts (I used a combination of pecans, cashews, and almonds) for ten minutes at 350, then mix them with melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, cayenne, and maple syrup.  Add 2 cups of mini pretzels (I used Trader Joe's Multi-Grain Pretzel Nuggets, which worked quite well, although the original recipe calls for mini twists) and 1 tablespoon flaky sea salt (such as Maldon), and return everything to the oven to toast for another 15 minutes or so.  If the pretzels you are using are especially salty, you may want to reduce the amount of added salt. This is a wonderfully easy recipe, and I haven't been able to stop sneaking handfuls - so much for the hostess gift I was planning to bring to our Christmas celebration later this week! Happy holidays!

Winter Quinoa Bowl with Goat Cheese

by Laura

Thanksgiving weekend was its usual calorie-fest and so when I got home, I wanted to make a big batch of something healthy to eat the following week for lunch. As the title suggests, you can substitute any vegetables for the kale and brussels sprouts, but I think this combination came out really great, so I recommend starting here.


Winter Quinoa Bowl

adapted from Stuck on Sweet

Rinse the quinoa before cooking for best results

Rinse the quinoa before cooking for best results

Ingredients

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed

3 cups chicken broth (water works in a pinch!)

3 tbsp olive oil

1-2 cups brussels sprouts, cut lengthwise

1 bunch kale, stems removed and roughly chopped

1/2 cup almonds

1/4 - 1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup dried cranberries (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and drain quinoa and cook according to package instructions. Using broth helps give it a little extra flavor, but it is not necessary! While it cooks, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan and add butternut squash and season with salt and pepper. Cook until you can cut through it with a fork without too much effort - about 12 - 15 minutes.

Remove the squash and set aside. Add remaining olive oil to the same pan and add the brussels sprouts. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring several times. Add kale to pan with the brussels and cook until it is slightly wilted - just a minute or two - add salt and pepper to taste.

Remove veggies and place in the bowl with the squash. In the same pan, toast the almonds for 2-3 minutes. By now, the quinoa should be done and you can start assembling your bowls. Scoop a layer of quinoa in the bottom, followed by squash/vegetable mixture, followed by nuts, followed by goat cheese followed by a sprinkle of cranberries. 

It is tasty right at that moment, cold out of the fridge, or reheated. I am already planning it again after Christmas when I feel horrible about myself all over again!

Butternut Squash "Cream" Sauce

by Laura

This is a great meal when you are looking for something comforting but not trying to eat a 1000 calorie, cream-laden bowl of pasta. The pureed butternut squash makes the sauce creamy without adding any dairy and I used Barilla Plus pasta, which has added fiber and protein (and tastes much better than whole wheat pasta in my opinion!). It is also great leftover for lunch!

Served with roasted brussels sprouts and balsamic

Served with roasted brussels sprouts and balsamic

Sausage, Spinach and Butternut Squash Pasta

Recipe base from Skinny Taste

8 oz. pasta (I used penne)

4-5 links of spicy italian turkey sausage (chicken or pork would work too!)

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup chopping red onion

2 cloves garlic minced

1 lb butternut squash peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes (the pre-cut and peeled kind at the grocery store works great)

2 cups baby spinach

3 tbsp grated parmesan

5-7 sage leaves thinly sliced

Red pepper flakes to taste

Heat a large frying pan on medium heat. Remove the casing from the sausage and cook sausage until browned through, about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. While sausage is cooking, boil a large pot of water and cook the butternut squash until soft enough to easily stick a fork in it - about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the squash and place in a blender, keeping the water boiling for the pasta. Cook pasta according to the package instructions. If you can remember (I never do!!) reserve one cup of pasta water before you drain the pasta. Season the squash with salt and pepper and then puree it. I needed some water to get the squash to actually puree, so add a little if you need it. Remove sausage once cooked through and set aside. In the same pan, add the oil and cook onions and garlic until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the pureed butternut squash, spinach and parmesan into the pan and stir until spinach is wilted. Add sage and stir again. Add sausage and pasta and combine until the whole pan of is heated through. I topped mine with some red pepper flakes and another sprinkle of parmesan. Enjoy!

Celery Soup

by Laura

My roommate (now he could also be called my fiance - woohoo!) is generally very easy to please when it comes to food and complimentary of my cooking. However, there are a just a couple of foods he really doesn't like that I enjoy, so every once in a while I try to sneak it into my cooking and convince him he actually does like whatever it is. If my dad hates cheese but can love lasagna, I thought surely I could get John to like celery if combined with the right ingredients. Well, I was wrong. Because this celery soup was so good and not even all that healthy, and still...not for John. 

I thought it was delicious but second guessed myself without a second opinion. So, I took leftovers to work and got confirmation that it is, in fact, very tasty to anyone who doesn't hate celery. Also, easy to throw together and could be made much healthier by reducing both cream and butter quantities (which I already did from the original recipe).

Just one photo - sorry. Working on it!

Just one photo - sorry. Working on it!

Celery Soup

adapted from Bon Appetit

1 head of celery, chopped

1 potato (I used russet), peeled and chopped

1/2 of a large onion, chopped

1/2 stick butter

1 tbsp olive oil

3 cups low sodium broth (chicken or vegetable)

1/4 cup fresh dill plus extra for garnish

1/3 cup heavy cream

Olive Oil and flaky sea salt for serving

Heat butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add celery, potato and onion. Season with salt and pepper and cook stirring until the onion softens, about 10 minutes. Add the broth and simmer until the potato is tender, another 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the dill and puree with an emersion blender (or transfer to a blender and puree).  Stir in cream and serve right away with drizzled olive oil and flaky sea salt. Garnish with fresh dill or celery leaves.

Weeknight Dinner File: Spaghetti Marinara

by Elissa

In order for a meal to enter the weeknight dinner rotation at our house, it has to clear a couple of challenging hurdles: 1) it cannot take more than 40 minutes to prepare, from start to finish, and 2) it has to be something that all four members of our family will at least contemplate eating (bonus points if everyone is enthusiastic). I also try to fix meals that are reasonably healthy. I thought I'd try to highlight one of our standbys, in case any of you face similar challenges.

Earlier this year, the New York Times ran a recipe for classic marinara sauce (adapted from Lidia Bastianich). The total time for this recipe was 25 minutes, so it met our time limit. It's a very simple tomato sauce, but it hits all the right notes. Josh and I love it, and the kids will sometimes try it (don't get me started about how much they loved tomato sauce as babies and toddlers and how they refuse to eat it now!)

Because this recipe is so simple, the quality of the ingredients really matters.

 I'm partial to these San Marzano crushed tomatoes, and Bionaturae's whole wheat spaghetti is my new favorite whole grain pasta.

 I'm partial to these San Marzano crushed tomatoes, and Bionaturae's whole wheat spaghetti is my new favorite whole grain pasta.

I also try to buy California olive oil, either this type from Trader Joe's or the California Olive Ranch Everyday Olive Oil (sometimes our local Safeway has it on sale for a great price). 

I also try to buy California olive oil, either this type from Trader Joe's or the California Olive Ranch Everyday Olive Oil (sometimes our local Safeway has it on sale for a great price). 

The recipe has you slice the garlic cloves, rather than crushing them.  The accompanying article claims that this makes for a less overpowering garlic flavor. 

Sliced garlic cozying up with plenty of extra virgin olive oil

Sliced garlic cozying up with plenty of extra virgin olive oil

Then it's just a matter of adding a 28-ounce can of tomatoes, along with a little water and a pinch of red pepper flakes. After about 20 minutes of simmering, you've got some excellent homemade marinara. I use that simmering time to throw together a salad. Add some al dente spaghetti, some parmesan cheese, and a glass of Chianti and you've got dinner!

Weeknight Marinara (adapted from the New York Times and Lidia Bastianich)

1/4 cup olive oil

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 28-ounce can tomatoes (I like the San Marzano crushed tomatoes)

pinch of red pepper flakes

sprig of fresh basil (optional)

salt to taste

Slice the garlic while you put a large skillet on medium heat. Add the olive oil and the garlic and cook for just a minute or two, before the garlic browns. Pour the tomatoes into the pan, and pour about a cup of water into the empty can. Use the water to rinse out the can and pour into the pan. Add the red pepper and a pinch of salt, put the basil (if using) on top of the sauce.  Simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened. Remove basil, taste for salt and serve on top of spaghetti or other pasta. 


Plum Torte

By Katherine

Elissa sent me this plum torte recipe years ago, and it is a keeper. It is so much of a keeper that the New York Times bowed to reader demand and made its appearance an annual fall tradition for twelve years. The key to this cake is the Italian prune plums that crown it; they are smaller than regular plums and egg-shaped, and are typically available only in September and October. 

I saw these beauties at my local market last week and snapped them up immediately.  Prior to arriving at the store, I was planning to make a pluot galette for a family birthday celebration, but my plans changed as soon as I spotted the Italian plums. And I have to say, this cake is definitely easier than a galette - no pastry crust to deal with and the chilling and rolling that goes with it. You just mix sugar, butter, flour, baking powder, eggs, and salt all together and put the batter in a springform pan. Then you arrange the halved plums over the top, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake. You can easily have this cake in the oven within 20 minutes of starting (though you do need softened butter, which requires a little planning ahead). 

As the cake bakes, something magical happens to those plums. They turn jammy and sour-sweet and sink down into the cake batter. The finished product is truly excellent with vanilla ice cream. 

Find the full plum torte recipe here

Peanut Chicken Broccoli Salad

By Katherine

I have a love-hate relationship with using Pinterest to find new recipes. I find it's a great way to flag recipes that interest me on a variety of sites, and I occasionally find something that looks good just by trolling Pinterest's food and drink section, but there is also a heck of a lot of unhealthy garbage on there. I'm happy to say that this salad is one of my Pinterest success stories. I found it during one of my browsing sessions, and I made only a couple of minor modifications to the original recipe. I love that it is super simple to pull together (especially if you have leftover cooked chicken), and it is equally great for dinner or to pack for lunch the next day.  Do you use Pinterest? If so, connect with me here!

Peanut Chicken Broccoli Salad

Adapted from Sunset

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 lime's worth)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
  • garlic clove, minced
  • 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 1 pound broccoli, cut into small florets
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro

In a large bowl, whisk the first eight ingredients together until smooth. Taste and see if you think it needs some added sweetness (if you use natural peanut butter, this may be the case). If so, add the sugar and whisk. Add the remaining ingredients and toss until the dressing is evenly incorporated. 

Cilantro Lime Gluten Free Chicken Marinade

by Laura

If you know me well - or if you have ever shared a meal with me - you probably know that I am a big fan of gluten (or rather all the delicious things that happen to contain it). A number of friends have recently either been diagnosed with Celiac disease or have gluten sensitivity or are trying to be skinnier and blame gluten.

image.jpeg

I tend to have anxiety when I am in charge of cooking and there is a gluten free person in the mix, which is never really necessary since there are plenty of delicious meals that don't have it. I found this recipe by Googling "gluten free chicken marinade"  when a big group of college friends rented a house in Calistoga, one of whom has been recently diagnosed with Celiac disease. (For the record, this friend has a legitimate Gluten allergy as evidenced by her giving up beer - no one used to love Coors Light like J. Gal!)

This recipe is so simple and really delicious--I have already made it again for a non-gluten free people (but with a side of toast this time, obviously). It is great as tacos, over a salad or just on its own.

Adapted from Gluten Free Anna

Ingredients:

1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts or tenders

1/3 cup olive oil

Juice of 4 limes

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/2 red onion sliced in wedges (that are big enough to not fall through the grill grates if you're grilling)

1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

Salt and Pepper

Place all ingredients into a large ziplock bag and kind of massage the marinade into the chicken breasts and let sit for 30 minutes to several hours. Preheat grill over medium-high heat and grill until cooked through (about 6 minutes per side depending on how thick your chicken breasts are).


Chickpeas, Chorizo and Goat Cheese

by Laura

I have been on a major goat cheese kick lately -- adding it really makes almost every recipe taste better! So when my friend Lisa sent me this recipe from Food 52 and said it was done in 20 minutes and delicious, I was sold. I have made it twice now - once with chicken sausage and once with vegan soy chorizo from Trader Joe's. I actually prefer the soy option but if that is not your cup of tea, any sausage will work! This recipe is truly versatile so don't feel constrained to these ingredients. Poach an egg and throw it on top. Serve it next to toast or rice if you need carbs (ahem, looking in the mirror). Add spinach as the original recipe suggests. Go crazy. 

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 red onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

These are one of my favorite new discoveries at TJ's. Great in salads, pasta or this dish! **Trader Joe's marketing people, let me know if you want to start paying me for all these endorsements - thanks!

These are one of my favorite new discoveries at TJ's. Great in salads, pasta or this dish! **Trader Joe's marketing people, let me know if you want to start paying me for all these endorsements - thanks!

2 Trader Joe's Hot and sweet cherry peppers, chopped into small pieces (could also use raw bell peppers or roasted red peppers packed in oil)

6 oz. Trader Joe's soy chorizo (note the casing on this is actually plastic so definitely remove it!)

Small dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Small dash of paprika

1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Chives 

Parsley

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions, garlic and peppers and cook stirring frequently until the onion is soft - about 5 minutes. Add the chorizo breaking it up and mixing it with onion mixture. Add paprika and cayenne and cook another 3 minutes or so until the chorizo is warm. Add chickpeas and heat through. Remove from heat and add goat cheese, parsley and chives. Serve warm and save the rest for lunch tomorrow.



Tipsy Palmer Cocktail

By Katherine

Last weekend I was trying to come up with a drink to take along to a picnic. It was going to be a warm day, so I wanted something refreshing and cool. My thoughts turned to an Arnold Palmer, which is a classic combination of iced tea and lemonade, but I wanted to give it a little kick. I started googling and learned that many people add vodka to an Arnold Palmer (and some call that concoction a John Daly). You can also cut out a couple of steps by serving sweet tea vodka (Jeremiah Weed and Seagram's both make versions, along with several other brands) with lemonade. However, I'm not a big fan of vodka, and the sweet tea version is a little too sweet for me.  When I think of iced tea and lemonade, I think of sitting on a porch somewhere in the south, and the spirit that best matches that setting is bourbon. After a little more searching, I found this article, which calls the combination of iced tea, lemonade, and bourbon a Tipsy Palmer.  My new favorite drink of the summer was born. 

The ingredients (from left): lemonade, lemons, bourbon, iced tea, simple syrup

The ingredients (from left): lemonade, lemons, bourbon, iced tea, simple syrup

The Tipsy Palmer

2 parts iced tea

2 parts lemonade

1 part bourbon

Ice

Lemon slices for serving (if you're feeling fancy)

Stir all ingredients together and serve over ice. This is a very basic formula and you can make it as do-it-yourself (or not) as you like. I initially intended to make my own iced tea and lemonade, so I could control the sweetness, but I reconsidered when I saw the price of lemons at the store (I was making a big pitcher for a group, so it would have taken a lot of lemons). I decided instead to use bottled lemonade but then tweak it with some fresh-squeezed lemon juice and simple syrup as needed. I found the Trader Joe's lemonade I used was plenty sweet for me, so I didn't end up adding any additional sweetener, but I know there are those who like their iced tea super sweet (looking at my brother-in-law Josh right now).  I did make my own iced tea by brewing black tea according to the directions on the box and then chilling it for several hours. You could definitely experiment with different types of tea, or start with bottled iced tea if you're pressed for time.  For a party-sized amount (about 12 servings), I used 6 cups iced tea, 6 cups lemonade, 3 cups bourbon, and the juice of 4 lemons.  Find a porch somewhere and enjoy!

Black Bean and Corn Salad

By Katherine

I consider black bean and corn salad a summertime staple - it showcases sweet summer corn, and it's great for picnics and barbecues because it travels well (and pairs great with burgers and other cookout food). This is something I make without a recipe, and it's a little different every time, depending on what I have lying around. I've used red onion instead of green, red wine vinegar instead of or in addition to lime juice, and I've added avocado, tomatoes, and even a diced mango before, all with good results. In case you don't already have your own favorite black bean and corn salad in your repertoire, I thought I'd share my basic formula. 

Black Bean and Corn Salad

Serves 6

4 ears corn

2 green onions, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 15.5-oz. cans of black beans, drained

2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo (or to taste), minced

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Juice of 2 limes

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons salt

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, lower your corn cobs into the water carefully, and cook for 3 minutes.  Remove the corn from the water and set aside. Allow the corn to cool while you prep the other ingredients. As you chop the other vegetables, add them to a large mixing bowl. 

When the corn is cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off of the cob. I like to cut the (non-stem) end off to create a flat surface to brace against the cutting board while I cut the kernels off vertically. I also just ran across this technique online, which I may try next time I make this. Add the corn kernels to the other vegetables in the mixing bowl, as well as the drained black beans, chipotle peppers, and cilantro, and mix. Squeeze the limes over the mixture, add the cumin and salt, mix again, and taste for seasoning. If you have the time, allow the salad to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld. 

Sausage Orecchiette

by Laura

Orecchiette! One of the best underused pasta shapes and it is ear-shaped -- is there anything more appetizing?! Sometimes they can be tough to find at a smaller market or Trader Joe's, but they hold a not to saucy sauce perfectly so next time you see a bag/box in the pasta aisle, do yourself a favor and grab one. This recipe requires just a few basic ingredients and can easily be thrown together on a weeknight. Adapted from The Food Network.

Ingredients:

Chop all this up while the water is boiling for the pasta...

1/2 package (6 oz) orecchiette

2-3 pork or chicken sausages, casings removed

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 scallions

1 clove garlic sliced

1/2 carton (4 oz) crimini mushrooms, sliced

1/2 carton mini heirloom tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes), sliced in half

1/2 cup grated parmesan

2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped

Red pepper flakes to taste

 

Bring salted pot of water to boil to cook pasta. Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan and add sausage, breaking it up as it browns. Once cooked through, add garlic and onions and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook three minutes then add mushrooms. Add cherry tomatoes. Once the pasta is cooked through, use a slotted spoon to transfer it into the sauce pan with all of the other ingredients (bringing a little bit of the pasta water along with it to smooth out the sauce). Give it a few stirs, add parmesan, fresh basil and red pepper flakes if desired and serve!

Maybe even better as leftovers!


Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint

By Katherine

I am posting a quick shout-out today to my favorite summer salad of late: a refreshing combination of arugula, watermelon, feta cheese, and mint. If you haven't tried this combination yet, you should right away. The watermelon and mint make it taste like summer in a bowl, while the arugula lends a bit of a spicy punch, and the feta gives it always-welcome creaminess and saltiness.

I originally had this combination of flavors at one of my favorite San Diego restaurants, Urban Solace. Sadly, they no longer have the watermelon salad on the current menu, but as I recall, they also added cucumber, tomatoes, and dried currants to their version. There are lots of ways to play with these ingredients, but recently I have been following the recipe of one of my tried-and-true cooking gurus, Ina Garten.  You can find her recipe here.  The only change I made was to add 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts for a little extra texture. I also found that I had plenty of vinaigrette left over for a second salad a few days later; alternatively, you could skip making Ina's dressing and use any other vinaigrette you have on hand.  We have eaten this salad three times in the last week (in part because even the baby watermelon that I bought yields a ton of watermelon) and we're not sick of it yet - I hope it makes it into your summer rotation too!